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STORY OF THE PLAY
Two months had scarcely passed since the sudden death of King Hamlet, when Gertrude, his widow, astounded the people of Denmark by marrying his brother Claudius, a man as contemptible in outward appearance as he was base and unworthy in disposition. Small wonder there were some who suspected that Claudius had murdered his brother and married the Queen in order to ascend the throne of Denmark, to the exclusion of young Hamlet, the son of the buried King, and lawful successor to the throne.
The young Prince loved and venerated the memory of his dead father almost to idolatory, and it is not unnatural that this most unworthy conduct of his mother quickly plunged him into deep melancholy. Not only did he insist on still appearing at Court in deep mourning, but he soon lost his mirth and good looks, and grew weary of the world and everything in it. He, too, had shrewd suspicions that Claudius had murdered his father for his Crown, and at length a rumour reached his ear that an apparition exactly resembling the dead King had been seen by the soldiers on the platform before the palace at midnight for two or three rights in succession. His bosom friend, Horatio, had also seen it, and told Hamlet that it looked pale, with a face more of sorrow than of anger; that its beard was grisly, and the colour a sable silvered as they had seen it in his life-time, and that it made no answer when they spoke to it.
Hamlet, although at first amazed, concluded they must have seen his father's ghost, and thinking that perhaps it had something to impart to him alone he accompanied Horatio and one of the guard, that very night, that he also might have a chance of seeing it. In due course the ghost appeared and Hamlet, in fear, called upon the angels and heavenly ministers to defend them. But the ghost, who looked upon him most pitiously, beckoned him to follow to some more remote place, upon which young Hamlet, ignoring his friend's protestations and warnings, took courage and followed it.
When they were alone together the spirit stopped and told him that he was the ghost of Hamlet, his father; that he had been cruelly murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who, whilst he took his afternoon nap in his garden, had poured poison into his ears which at once cut him off from his crown, his queen, and his life; and the ghost solemnly implored Hamlet, if he had ever loved his dear father, to at once revenge his foul murder.
When the ghost had disappeared Hamlet resolved to instantly forget everything but the memory of what it had told him, and enjoined him to do; albeit the terror which the sight of the ghost had left upon his senses almost unhinged his mind. Before he left the spot he decided that it would be best to pretend he was really and truly mad, for by so doing he thought his uncle would be less likely to suspect that he was meditating anything against him; and Hamlet thenceforth acted the madman so well that the King and Queen were both deceived, although they thought that love was the cause of his malady.
Now, prior to his falling into this state of melancholy, Hamlet had loved the fair Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, the King's Chief Counsellor in affairs of state. But, now that he counterfeited madness, he neglected her. Moreover, the business he had in hand - the revenging of his father's death - scarcely admitted the society of so idle a passion as love, and yet there were moments when soft thoughts of his Ophelia would come between, and in one of these moments he wrote her a letter couched in extravagant and affectionate terms, in which he bade her to doubt the stars were fire, to doubt that the sun did move, to doubt truth to be a liar, but never to doubt that he loved. Ophelia showed this letter to her old father, and he, in turn, read it to the King and Queen, who now felt more certain that the cause of Hamlet's madness was love.
As for Hamlet, his anxiety to revenge his father's murder gave him no rest till it was accomplished. Yet, how to compass the death of the King, who was constantly surrounded with his guards, was no easy matter. The mere act of putting a fellow-creature to death was in itself odious and terrible to Hamlet, whose disposition was naturally gentle. Again, he was sometimes scrupulous as to whether the spirit which he had seen was indeed his father, or whether it might not have been the devil in disguise, trying to take advantage of his weakness and his melancholy to drive him to the doing of so desperate an act as murder. He really wanted more certain grounds to go upon than an apparition, which might be a delusion.
While he was in this irresolute mind there came to the Court certain players, and Hamlet, remembering a speech that had formerly given him pleasure, requested one of them to repeat it, which he did with such power and effect that it drew tears from all who stood by, including the player himself. This little incident set Hamlet meditating on actors and acting generally, and the powerful effects which a well-acted play might have on the spectator. He remembered the instance of a murderer, who, seeing some resemblance in a stage murder, had been so affected as to confess on the spot the crime which he had committed. And he determined that these players should play something like the murder of his father, whilst he would watch the effect it had upon his uncle, and so determine from his looks if he were the murderer or not.
In due course this specially prepared play was represented, the King, ignorant of the trap laid for him, with his Queen and the whole Court, being present. The play showed how one, Lucianus, a near relation to the Duke Gonzago, poisoned the latter in his garden for his estate, and how the murderer, a short time after, got the love of Gonzago's wife.
Soon after the play had commenced Hamlet observed his uncle change colour, and when the poisoning scene was reached the King's conscience was so stricken that he was unable to sit out the rest of the play, and hastily calling for lights he rushed off to his chamber. This was more than enongh proof for Hamlet that the words of the ghost were true, but before he conld decide as to what measures of revenge he should take, he was sent for by the Queen, his mother.
The King had desired her to signify to her son how much his late behaviour had displeased them both, and in order to know all that passed at the conference he secretly ordered Polonius, the old Counsellor of State, to plant himself behind some convenient hangings, where he might unseen hear all that passed. And so Hamlet went to his mother, who straightway told him that he had given great offence to his father, meaning, of course, the present King, his uncle, to which Hamlet indignantly replied: "Mother, you have much offended my father," The Queen said that was but an idle answer. "As good as the question deserved," said Hamlet.
The Queen asked him if he had forgotten who it was he was speaking to? "Alas," replied Hamlet, "I wish I could forget. You are the Queen, your husband's brother's wife; and you are my mother; I wish you were not what you are," "Nay, then," said the Queen, "if you show me so little respect, I will set those to you that can speak," And she was about to do so, but Hamlet seized her by the wrist, and made her sit down. She, fearful that in his lunacy he might do her a mischief, cried out, whereupon a voice was heard from behind the hangings, "Help, help, the Queen!" Hamlet thought it was the King's voice, and drawing his sword stabbed furiously at the curtains, but on dragging forth the body, he found he had killed not the King, but Polonius, who had concealed himself behind the hangings.
"0, me!" exclaimed the Queen, "what a rash and bloody deed hav'e you done!" "A bloody deed, mother," replied Hamlet, "but not so bad as yours, who killed a King, and married his brother." Hamlet had gone too far to leave off now. He represented to her the heinousness of her offence in being so forgetful of his dead father as to so quickly marry his hrother and reputed murderer. He said she had done such a deed that the heavens blushed at, and the earth was sick of her because of it. And he showed her two pictures - the one of her first husband and the other of her second husband - and bade her mark the difference, what a grace was on the brow of his father, the man who had been her husband.
How like a god be looked - the curls of Apollo, the forehead of Jupiter, and the eye of Mars. And then he showed her whom she had got in his stead; how like a blight or mildew he looked, for so he had blasted his wholesome brother. And then he asked her how she could continue to live with this man, who had murdered her first husband, and even as he spoke the ghost of his father, such as he had lately seen it, entered the room, and after reminding Hamlet of the revenge he had promised, and bidding him try and comfort his mother, it slowly vanished.
Of course, the Queen saw nothing, and simply imputed Hamlet's conversation with nothing to the disorder of his mind. However, she promised in response to his tearful entreaties, to avoid the company of the King in future, and be no more as a wife to him, which ended the conference.
The unfortunate death of Polonius gave the King a pretence for sending Hamlet out of the kingdom, and he, therefore, sent him to England, under the care of two courtiers by whom he dispatched letters to the English Court, requiring, for special reasons there pretended, that Hamlet should be put to death. Hamlet, suspecting treachery, secretly got at the letters and substituted the names of the two courtiers for his own. The ship was attacked by pirates, and Hamlet, sword in hand, boarded the enemy's vessel while his own ship bore away, taking the two courtiers, with the letters decreeing their destruction, to England. The pirates made friends with Hamlet, and set him on shore at the nearest port in Denmark, from whence he wrote to the King acquainting him of his return and saying that on the next day he hoped to present himself before His Majesty. His home-coming, however, was the beginning of the end.
Since the death of her father Ophelia had grown distracted, and had gone about giving flowers away, and singing weird songs and allowing her mind to wander in the strangest fashion, until one day she made a garland of flowers and nettles which she endeavoured to hang on a willow that overhung a brook. But the bough snapped and precipitated her into the water. Whilst her clothes held her up she chanted scraps of old tunes like one insensible to her own distress, but soon the weight of her wet garments pulled her down to a muddy and miserable death.
The poor girl's funeral was the first thing that Hamlet encountered on his arrival home. He saw the Queen throw flowers into her grave, saying, "Sweets to the sweet! I thought to have decked thy bride-bed, sweet maid, not to have strewed thy grave." He saw her brother, Laertes, leap into the grave, and heard him bid the attendants pile in mountains of earth and bury him with her. In a flash Hamlet's love for Ophelia came back to him, and he also leaped into the grave, whereupon Laertes, knowing him to be the cause of his father's and his sister's death, grappled him by the throat until the attendants parted them.
The King was more than ever determined on Hamlet's destruction, and under cover of peace, he persuaded Laertes to challenge him to a "friendly" trial of skill at fencing, which Hamlet accepted. On the appointed day the courtiers laid great wagers upon the match, as both combatants were known to excel at sword play. Hamlet, who did not suspect treachery, used the recognised blunted sword, but Laertes, by order of the King, made use of one with a poisoned point. At first Laertes allowed Hamlet to gain some advantages, which the King purposely applauded; but at length Laertes gave him mortal blow. In the scuffle Hamlet exchanged his own innocent weapon for the other's poisoned one, and with a thrust at Laertes justly repaid his opponent.
At this crisis the Queen shrieked out that she was poisoned. The King had thoughtfully prepared a poisoned bowl for Hamlet but had forgotten to warn the Queen. She died a moment after she had drunk from it.
Laertes now confessed that he was the traitor and spoke of the poisoned sword, and warning Hamlet that he had not long to live, he died, himself, whilst accusing the King of being responsible for his treachery. Then Hamlet rushed upon his uncle, the King, and piercing his villainous heart with the still poisoned sword he fulfilled the promise he had made his father's spirit to revenge his foul murder. And thus satisfied the noble heart of Hamlet cracked; and Horatio and the bystanders tearfully commended his spirit to the guardianship of angels.
So much for the story of "Hamlet," the revival of which is so thoroughly well done at the Adelphi Theatre. Even if this was a place for criticism, which it is not, it would be late in the day to talk of the acting for which the newspapers, weeks ago, had nothing but praise; but I think this pictorial record ought to include the bare facts that Mr. H. B. lrving, who (at about the same age as his father, Sir Henry Irving, was when he essayed the role), now plays Hamlet for the first time in London, simply carries his audience with him from first to last. His performance is a brilliant triumph, more than gained by thoughtful ability and genuine dramatic power. Nor could one wish for a more beautiful, touching performance than Miss Lily Brayton's Ophelia, or for a more imposing Claudius than that given us by Mr. Oscar Asche.
DRESS AT THE ADELPHI
HAMLET is not a play which gives the Chronicler of Modes much chance, and considering the social status of Queen Gertrude and Ophelia it is surprising that these good ladies did not possess a more extensive wardrobe. As it is, we, in these latter days, must display our ingenuity by making the most of a small capital, and therefore from the costumes worn by Miss Lily Brayton and Mrs. Tree in this play we can at least get two capital ideas for a modern teagown. Illustrated here are two designs which will assuredly find favour with most of us.
Miss Lily Brayton's gown is in a soft shade of lime green with the square cut decolletage displaying a band of white cloth embroidered in turquoises and gold, a similar band encircling the waist, and a very elaborate girdle of turquoise and metal falls to the feet. Mrs. Tree shows a little more diversity in style, her first gown being of royal purple with much silken embroidery on the hem, and at the neck, the long pointed sleeves being lined with vivid green. Over this she wears an elahorate State mantle of rich brocade in many hues. Quite adaptable for modern purposes is her gown illustrated here, which is made of royal blue silk, the embroidery being carried out in white silk. The vest displays touches of green and purple silk, embroidery, and the under sleeves are of tight fitting purple silk, touches of purple also appearing at the side of the gown, where it is cut up to display a glimpse of the underdress.
Another impression likely to be left by this play, in the near future, on the World of Fashion, will undoubtedly be the "Hamlet sleeve," which with its square cape-like arrangement at the top of the sleeves worn by the melancholy Dane will offer a welcome change from the puff and balloon shapes which are now so much in vogue.
EDITH WALDEMAR LEVERTON.
SCENES FROM THE PLAY