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Foggerty's Fairy and Other Tales/Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

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ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN.

 

AN ORIGINAL TRAGEDY IN THREE ACTS, FOUNDED ON AN OLD DANISH LEGEND.

 


 

Argument.

King Claudius, when a young man, wrote a five-act tragedy which was damned, and all reference to it forbidden under penalty of death. The King has a son—Hamlet—whose tendency to soliloquy has so alarmed his mother, Queen Gertrude, that she has sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to devise some Court revels for his entertainment. Rosencrantz is a former lover of Ophelia, to whom Hamlet is betrothed, and they lay their heads together to devise a plan by which Hamlet may be put out of the way. Some Court theatricals are in preparation. Ophelia and Rosencrantz persuade Hamlet to play his father's tragedy before the King and Court. Hamlet, who is unaware of the proscription, does so, and he is banished, and Rosencrantz happily united to Ophelia.

 

ACT I.

Interior of King Claudius's Palace. Claudius discovered seated in gloomy attitude. Queen Gertrude at his feet, consoling him.

Q. Nay, be not sad, my lord!
Cl. Sad, loved Queen?
If by an effort of the will I could
Revoke the ever-present Past—disperse
The gaunt and gloomy ghosts of bygone deeds,
Or bind them with unperishable chains
In caverns of the past incarcerate,
Then could I smile again—but not till then!
Q. Oh, my dear lord!
If aught there be that gives thy soul unrest,
Tell it to me!
Cl. Well-loved and faithful wife,
Tender companion of my faltering life.
Yes; I can trust thee! Listen then to me:
Fifty years since—when but a headstrong lad—
I wrote a five-act tragedy!
Q. (interested). Indeed?
Cl. A play, writ by a king—
Q. And such a King!—
Cl. Finds ready market. It was read at once.
But ere 'twas read, accepted. Then the Press
Teemed with portentous import. Elsinore
Was duly placarded by willing hands;

We know that walls have ears—I gave them tongues—
And they were eloquent with promises!
Q. Even the dead walls?
Cl. (solemnly). Aye, the deader they,
The louder they proclaimed!
Q. (appalled). Oh, marvellous!
Cl. The day approached—all Denmark stood agape.
Arrangements were devised at once by which
Seats might be booked a twelvemonth in advance.
The first night came!
Q. And did the play succeed?
Cl. In one sense, yes.
Q. Oh, I was sure of it!
Cl. a farce was given to play the people in—
My tragedy succeeded that. That's all!
Q. And how long did it run?
Cl. About ten minutes!
Ere the first act had traced one-half its course
The curtain fell—never to rise again !
Q. And did the people hiss?
Cl. No—worse than that—
They laughed! Sick with the shame that covered me,
I knelt down palsied in my private box,
And prayed the hearsed and catacombed dead
Might quit their vaults, and claim me for their own!
But it was not to be!
Q. Oh, my good lord.
The house was surely packed!
Cl. It was—by me.
My favourite courtiers crowded every place—
From floor to floor the house was peopled by

The sycophantic crew. My tragedy
Was more than even sycophants could stand!
Q. Was it, my lord, so very very bad?
Cl. Not to deceive my trusting queen, it was!
Q. And when the play failed, did'st thou take no steps
To set thyself right with the world?
Cl. I did.
The acts were five—though by five acts too long,
I wrote an Act by way of epilogue—
An Act by which the penalty of death
Was meted out to all who sneered at it.
The play was not good—but the punishment
Of those that laughed at it was Capital.
Q. Think on't no more, my lord. Now, mark me well!
To cheer our son, whose solitary tastes
And tendency to long soliloquy
Have much alarmed us, I, unknown to thee.
Have sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern—
Two merry knaves, kin to Polonius,
Who will devise such revels in our Court—
Such antic schemes of harmless merriment—
As shall abstract his meditative mind
From sad employment. Claudius, who can tell
But that they may divert my lord as well?
Ah, they are here!

Enter Guildenstern, who kneels.

 
Guild. My homage to the queen!

Enter Rosencrantz.

 
Ros. In hot obedience to the Royal 'hest
We have arrived, prepared to do our best.
Q. We welcome you to Court. Our chamberlain
Shall see that you are suitably disposed.
Here is his daughter. She will hear your will
And see that it receives fair countenance.

[Exit King and Queen.

Enter Ophelia.

 
Ros. Ophelia! [Both embrace her.
Oph. (delighted and surprised). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!
This meeting likes me much. We have not met
Since we were babes.
Ros. The queen has summoned us,
And I have come in a half-hearted hope
That I may claim once more my baby-love!
Oph. Alas, I am betrothed!
Ros. Betrothed? To whom?
Oph. To Hamlet!
Ros. Oh, incomprehensible.
Thou lovest Hamlet!
Oph. Nay, I said not so—
I said we were betrothed.
Guild. And what's he like?
Oph. Alike for no two seasons at a time.
Sometimes he's tall—sometimes he's very short—
Now with black hair—now with a flaxen wig—

Sometimes an English accent—then a French—
Then English with a strong provincial "burr."
Once an American and once a Jew—
But Danish never, take him how you will!
And strange to say, whate'er his tongue may be.
Whether he's dark or flaxen—English—French—
Though we're in Denmark, a. d., ten—six—two—
He always dresses as King James the First!
Guild. Oh, he is surely mad!
Oph. Well, there again
Opinion is divided. Some men hold
That he's the sanest far of all sane men—
Some that he's really sane, but shamming mad—
Some that he's really mad, but shamming sane—
Some that he will be mad, some that he was
Some that he couldn't be. But on the whole
(As far as I can make out what they mean)
The favourite theory's somewhat like this:
Hamlet is idiotically sane
With lucid intervals of lunacy.
Ros. We must devise some plan to stop this match!
Guild. Stay! Many years ago, King Claudius
Was guilty of a five-act tragedy.
The play was damned, and none may mention it
Under the pain of death. We might contrive
To make him play this piece before the king.
And take the consequence.
Ros. Impossible!
For every copy was destroyed.
Oph. But one!
My father's!

Rol.Eh?
Oph.In his capacity
As Chamberlain he has one copy. I
This night, when all the Court is drowned in sleep,
Will creep with stealthy foot into his den
And there abstract the precious manuscript.
Guild. That's well-bethought, in truth! but take good heed.
Your father may detect you.
Oph. Oh, dear, no.
My father spends his long official days
In reading all the rubbishing new plays.
From ten to four at work he may be found:
And then—my father sleeps exceeding sound!

 

 

ACT II.

Apartment in the Castle. Chair R.

Enter Queen, Rosenceantz and Guildenstern.

 
Q. Have you as yet planned aught that may relieve
Our poor afflicted son's despondency?
Ros. Madam, we've lost no time. Already we
Are getting up some Court theatricals
In which the Prince will play a leading part.
Q. That's well-bethought—it will divert his mind.
See—here he comes.

Ros. How gloomily he stalks!
As one o'erwhelmed with weight of bitter care.
He thrusts his hand into his bosom—thus—
Starts—looks around—then, as if reassured,
Rumples his hair and rolls his glassy eyes!
Q. (appalled). That means—he's going to soliloquize.
Prevent this, gentlemen, by any means!
Guild. We will, but how?
Q. Anticipate his points,
And follow out his argument for him;
Thus will you cut the ground from 'neath his feet
And leave him nought to say.
Ros. and Guild. We will!—we will!
Q. A mother's blessing be upon you, sirs! [Exit.
Ros. Now, Guildenstern, apply thee to this task.

Enter Hamlet; he stalks to chair, throws himself into it.

Ham. To be—or not to be!
Ros. (R. of Chair). Yes—that's the point!
Whether he's bravest who will cut his throat
Rather than suffer all—
Guild. (L. of Chair). Or suffer all
Rather than cut his throat?
Ham. (annoyed at interruption, resumes). To die—to sleep—
Ros. It's nothing more—Death is but sleep spun out—
Why hesitate? [Offers him a dagger.

Guild. The only question is
Between the choice of deaths which death to choose. [Offers another.

Ham. (in great terror). Do take those dreadful things away. They make

My blood run cold. (Resumes.) To sleep, perchance to—
Ros. Dream.
That's very true. I never dream myself,
But Guildenstern dreams all night long out loud.
Guild. With blushes, sir, I do confess it true!
Ham. This question, gentlemen concerns me not.
(Resumes.) For who would bear the whips and scorns of time——
Ros. (as guessing a riddle). Who'd bear the whips and scorns? Now let me see.
Who'd bear them, eh?
Guild. (same business). Who'd bear the scorns of time?
Ros. (correcting him). The whips and scorns.
Guild. The whips and scorns, of course. [Hamlet about to protest.

Don't tell us—let us guess—the whips of time?

Ham. Oh, sirs, this interruption likes us not.
I pray you give it up.
Ros. My lord, we do.
We cannot tell who bears these whips and scorns!
Ham. (not heeding them, resumes). "But that the dread of something after death——"
Ros. That's true—post mortem and the coroner—Felo-de-se—cross roads at twelve p.m.

And then the forfeited life policy—
Exceedingly unpleasant.
Ham. (really angry). Gentlemen,
It must be patent to the merest dunce
Three persons can't soliloquize at once. [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern retire up.

(Aside.) They're playing on me! Playing upon me

Who am not fashioned to be played upon!
Show them a pipe—a thing of holes and stops
Made to be played on—and they'll shrink abashed
And swear they have not skill on that! Now mark——
(Aloud.) Rosencrantz! Here!
[Producing a flute as Rosencrantz comes down.
Exit Guild.

This is a well-toned flute;

Play me an air upon it. Do not say
You know not how! [Sneeringly.
Ros. Nay, but I do know how.
I'm rather good upon the flute—Observe—
[Plays an elaborate "roulade."

Ham. (snatching it from him, peevishly). Bah—everything goes wrong!

[Throws himself into a chair as if buried in soliloquy.

Enter Ophelia white with terror.

Oph. Rosencrantz!
Ros. Well?
Oph. I've found the manuscript,.
But never put me to such work again!
Ros. Why, what has happened that you tremble so?

Oph. Last night I stole down from my room alone
And sought my father's den. I entered it!
The clock struck twelve, and then—oh, horrible!—
From chest and cabinet there issued forth
The mouldy spectres of five thousand plays.
All dead and gone—and many of them damned!
I shook with horror! They encompassed me,
Chattering forth the scenes and parts of scenes
Which my poor father wisely had cut out—
Oh, horrible—oh 'twas most horrible! [Covering her face.

Ros. What was't they uttered?

Oph. (severely). I decline to say.
The more I heard the more convinced was I
My father acted most judiciously!
Let that sufiice thee.
Ros. Give me then the play.
And I'll submit it to the Prince.
Oph. But stay.
Do not appear to urge him—hold him back.
Or he'll decline to play the piece—I know him.
Ham. (who has been soliloquizing under his breath). And lose the name of action! [Rises.

Why what's that?

Ros. We have been looking through some dozen plays
To find one suited to our company.
This is, my lord, a five-act tragedy.
'Tis called "Gonzago"—but it will not serve—
'Tis very long.
Ham. (interested). Is there a part for me?

Oph. There is, my lord, a most important part—
A mad Archbishop who becomes a Jew
To spite his diocese.
Ham. That's very good!
Ros. (taking MS.). Here you go mad—and then, soliloquize:
Here you are the sane again—and then you don't:
Then, later on, you stab your aunt, because
Well, I can't tell you why you stab your aunt.
But still—you stab her.
Ham. That is quite enough.
Ros. Then you become the leader of a troop
Of Greek banditti—and soliloquize—
After a long and undisturbed career
Of murder (tempered by soliloquy)
You see the sin and folly of your ways
And offer to resume your diocese;
But, just too late—for, terrible to tell,
As you're repenting (in soliloquy)
The bench of bishops seize you unawares
And blow you from a gun!
Ham. That's excellent.
That's very good indeed—we'll play this piece.
Oph. But pray consider—all the other parts
Are insignificant.
Ham. What matters that?
We'll play this piece.
Ros. The plot's impossible.
And all the dialogue bombastic stuff.
Ham. I tell you, sir, that we will play this piece.
Bestir yourselves about it, and engage

All the most fairly famed tragedians
To play the small parts—as tragedians should.
A mad Archbishop! Yes, that's very good!

 

 

ACT III.

Room in the Palace prepared for a Stage performance.

Enter King Claudius and Queen, meeting Rosencrantz.

Q. A fair good morrow to you, Rosencrantz. How march the Royal revels?

Ros. Lamely, madam, lamely, like a one-legged duck. The Prince has discovered a strange play. He hath called it "A Right Reckoning Long Delayed."

Cl. And of what fashion is the Prince's play?

Ros. 'Tis an excellent poor tragedy, my Lord—a thing of shreds and patches welded into a form that hath mass without consistency, like an ill-built villa.

Q. But, sir, you should have used your best endeavours to wean his phantasy from such a play.

Ros. Madam, I did, and with some success, for he now seeth the absurdity of its tragical catastrophes, and laughs at it as freely as we do. So, albeit the poor author had hoped to have drawn tears of sympathy, the Prince has resolved to present it as a piece of pompous folly intended to excite no loftier emotion than laughter and surprise. Here comes the Royal Tragedian with his troop. [Enter Hamlet and Players.

Ham. Good morrow, sir. This is our company of players. They have come to town to do honour and add completeness to our revels.

Cl. Good sirs, we welcome you to Elsinore.
Prepare you now—we are agog to taste
The intellectual treat in store for us.

Ham. We are ready, sir. But before we begin, I would speak a word to you who are to play this piece. I have chosen this play in the face of sturdy opposition from my well-esteemed friends, who were for playing a piece with less bombastick fury and more frolick. But I have thought this a fit play to be presented by reason of that very pedantical bombast and windy obtrusive rhetoric that they do rightly despise. For I hold that there is no such antick fellow as your bombastical hero who doth so earnestly spout forth his folly as to make his hearers believe that he is unconscious of all incongruity; whereas, he who doth so mark, label, and underscore his antick speeches as to show that he is alive to their absurdity, seemeth to utter them under protest, and to take part with his audience against himself. For which reason, I pray you, let there be no huge red noses, nor extravagant monstrous wigs, nor coarse men garbed as women in this comi-tragedy; for such things are as much as to say, "I am a comick fellow—I pray you laugh at me, and hold what I say to be cleverly ridiculous." Such labelling of humour is an impertinence to your audience, for it seemeth to imply that they are unable to recognise a joke unless it be pointed out to them. I pray you avoid it.

First Player. Sir, we are beholden to you for your good counsels. But we would urge upon your consideration that we are accomplished players, who have spent many years in learning our profession; and we would venture to suggest that it would better befit your Lordship to confine yourself to such matters as your Lordship may be likely to understand. We, on our part, may have our own ideas as to the duties of heirs apparent; but it would ill become us to air them before your Lordship, who may be reasonably supposed to understand such matters more perfectly than your very

humble servants. [Exeunt Hamlet and Players R. and L.

 
Cl. Come let us take our places. Call the Court
That all may see this fooling. Here's a chair [The Court enter

In which I shall find room to roll about

When laughter takes possession of my soul.
Now we are ready.

 

The Curtain rises.—Enter a loving couple lovingly.

She. "Should'st thou prove faithless?
He. If I do
Then let the world forget to woo,
The mountain tops bow down in fears,
The midday sun dissolve in tears.

And outraged nature, pale and bent,
Fall prostrate in bewilderment!"

[All titter through this—breaking into a laugh at the end, the King enjoying it as much as anyone.

Oph. Truly, sir, I hope he will prove faithful, lest we should all be involved in this catastrophe!

Cl. (laughing). Much indeed depends upon his constancy. I am sure he hath all our prayers, gentlemen! (Aside to Rosencrantz.) Is this play well known?

Ros. It is not, my lord.

Cl. Ha! I seem to have met with these lines before. Go on.

She. "Hark, dost thou hear those trumpets and drums?
Thy hated rival, stern Gonzago, comes!" [Laughter, as before.

Q. And wherefore cometh Gonzago?

Ros. He cometh here to woo!

Q. Cannot he woo without an orchestra at his elbow? A fico for such a wooing, say I!

Cl. (rather alarmed—aside to Ros.). Who is Gonzago?

Ros. He's a mad Archbishop of Elsinore. 'Tis a most ridiculous and mirthful character—and the more so for that the poor author had hoped to have appalled you with his tragedical end!

[During this the King has shown that he has recognized his tragedy. He is horrified at the discovery.

Enter Hamlet as Archbishop. (All laugh except the King, who is miserable.)

Ham. "Free from the cares of Church and State
I come to wreak my love and hate.
Love whirls me to the lofty skies—
Hate drags me where dark Pluto lies!" [All laugh except King.

Q. Marry, but he must have a nice time of it between them! Oh, sir, this passeth the bounds of ridicule, and to think that these lines were to have drawn our tears!

Oph. Truly mine eyes run with tears, but they are begotten of laughter!

Ham. Gently, gently. Spare your ridicule, lest you have none left for the later scenes. The tragedy is full of such windy fooling. You shall hear more anon. There are five acts of this! [All groan.

(Resumes). "For two great ends I daily fume—
The altar and the deadly tomb.
How can I live in such a state
And hold my Arch-Episcopate?"

Ros. (exhausted with laughter). Oh, my lord—I pray you end this or I shall die with laughter!

Q. (ditto). Did mortal ever hear such metrical folly! Stop it, my good lord, or I shall assuredly do myself some injury.

Oph. (ditto). Oh, sir—prithee have mercy on us—we have laughed till we can laugh no more!

Ham. The drollest scene is coming now.
Listen——

Cl. (rises). Stop! [Hamlet about to resume.

Stop, I say—cast off those mummeries!

Come hither, Hamlet!
Ham. (takes off robes and comes down). Why what ails you, sir?
Cl. (with suppressed fury). Know'st thou who wrote this play?
Ham. Not I, indeed.
Nor do I care to know!
Cl. I wrote this play—
To mention it is death, by Denmark's law!
Q. Oh, spare him, for he is thine only child!
Cl. No—I have two—my son—my play—both worthless!
Both shall together perish! [Draws dagger.

Ham. (on his knees). Hold thine hand!

I can't bear death—I'm a philosopher!
Oph. Apollo's son, Lycaeus, built a fane
At Athens, where philosophers dispute:
'Tis known as the "Lyceum." Send him there,
He will find such a hearty welcome, sir,
That he will stay there, goodness knows how long!
Cl. Well, be it so—and, Hamlet, get you gone!
[He goes to the Lyceum, where he is much esteemed.

Curtain.

 

BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO., PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.