Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

The evening was beautiful, but the killing didn’t stop, not for hours. Under stars that hung low and a moon that rose white and silent over the park, people kept dying—by stabbings and poisonings and drownings and execution. By the end of the play, nine of eleven main characters in Hamlet had died, one perhaps at her own hands and the rest at the hands of brothers and lovers and in-laws and erstwhile friends.

Something, for sure, was rotten in the state of Denmark.

My husband shifted in his lawn chair.

“The more they kill, the easier it gets,” he whispered to me.

But I didn’t answer; the last act was beginning.

In a cemetery, Hamlet and Horatio happen upon a jovial gravedigger.

“Has this fellow no feeling of his business,” Hamlet asks about the gravedigger, “that he sings at grave-making?”

Horatio answers: “Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness.”

The gravedigger may be easy, but Hamlet isn’t. Especially when the gravedigger uncovers a skull and tells him it belonged to Yorick, the court jester.

“Alas, poor Yorick!” Hamlet says. “I knew him.”

Hamlet mourns that Yorick’s lips are rotted away. And with them have gone Yorick’s jokes and pranks and songs.

And Hamlet, who has been surrounded by death, suddenly feels sickened. He sees the loss death brings.

I confess that I missed a few scenes after that, thinking about students I have known, who are no longer with us, dying at their own or someone else’s hands. Students who once joked and pranked and are now silenced, by death or by despair.

Sitting there with the stage lights up and the moon and stars shining down, I wished I could redo times I taught with a “property of easiness,” accepting sad and defiant looks as the middle school way rather than as a plea for help.

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