On Seeing Hamlet

As part of the online course Shakespeare’s Hamlet I’m supposed to write an imaginary blog post in the person of an Elizabethan spectator who has just seen a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Here’s my contribution.

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At the theatre today. Came out disappointed. But now, I’m not so sure. Went with Rodick. He’s heard about the play from some friends of his. But apparently, it was a different play, or at least the same play but by a different author. Anyway, he was disappointed. We had quite an argument over it. He was looking forward to something quite different. A real swashbuckler with blood and thunder with an avenging hero. To be honest, I felt a bit like him but couldn’t help feeling that what we got was something far more satisfying. No satisfying is not the word. How can revenge – blood revenge – be satisfying. Yes sure, if you’re God with a God’s eye all seeing perspective, then satisfying probably is the word as there can be no doubt. But for humans, there must always be some kind of nagging doubt.

To be honest, all this is only coming to me now that I’ve had a chance to let it settle and think things through. When we came out, I argued quite strongly with Rodick, but wasn’t really sure what I thought. I felt there was just something about this play which set it apart from others. Some of the things I said were quite stupid. For example, when I declared the role of Ophelia was only there to tantalize the audience with the prospect of a bit of bawdiness before the end of the play. Well, both Polonius and Laertes seem to pave the way for this when they talk to her. But would such a master playwright really stoop so low. Maybe. But this guy is different. He goes deep. He poses questions and suggests the answers may be totally different from what we’re used to. That’s what I think now anyway. But with Rodick I just wasn’t able to get this across. Maybe, the play just needs time to meditate on before coming to any conclusions. That’s why I want to go back tomorrow. Still not sure how I will find the penny entrance. Maybe I can sweet talk Rosa into getting me in as one of the hands.

I guess that’s what it really boils down to. Getting to see the play as often as I can and hoping it somehow rubs off on me. Then, I argue things through with Rodick again; this time from a much more informed position. He wants to go and see the version by Kyd and want me to go with him. But from what he tells me, I don’t find it all that appealing. There’s a lot of action, sure but the depth which I only began to scratch at earlier, just isn’t there. Well, perhaps I will go. Maybe, I can make a deal with him to go and see that and then go and see Shakespeare’s version again. Perhaps something will rub off on him.

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The moment the band announced The Bear’s Circle, I pulled my sister-in-law up onto the dance floor with a previously unknown vigour. Janet’s surprise was visible but she said nothing. Now I just had to make sure we were standing close enough to her that we would meet before the music was over. With this number of participants, not every would get a turn with everyone else. Anyway all I’d get would be ten seconds; ten fleeting seconds to get her to notice me.

I had no idea who she was. I didn’t even know why I found her particularly attractive. She wasn’t one of the beauties Janet was trying to persuade me to ask for a dance. And she wasn’t being asked by other men very often either. There was just something about her, something that made me want to get close. Of course, I could just have gone up to her and asked her to dance. Like Janet was trying to persuade me to do with her list of eligibles. But I just know, I could never do that. I’d either freeze up or start babbling away like an idiot. So I stood in the circle, Janet to my right and counted the couples between us and her: Five. That should mean I’d get my ten second fling – in and out, in and out, circle around and swing – before handing her on to the next partner. Actually, with this band, the usual ten seconds would probably last another two or three. Not that that made any difference. If I couldn’t make my mark in ten seconds, an extra three weren’t going to help. But how was I to get her to notice me? I’d smile, of course, but that wouldn’t go far. I may even be able to put in a word, but which one? What would impress her?

We were moving by now and I’d already changed partners once. She was a good dancer. I could see her moving out of the corner of my eye. Perhaps if I spiced up the swing a bit, that would make me stand out from the rest. But she didn’t seem the type for those kind of antics. And neither was I. Besides, if I got it wrong we could both end up in a mess on the floor. A few more changes of partners and there she was on my left. Another ten seconds and she’d be dancing with me. How was I going to make them count? In and out, in and out, circle round, swing and… that’s when it happened. He must have been wanting to make an impression too, the guy before me. Just as he was about to pass her on to me, down she went. He stumbled but managed to stay on his feet. Before I knew it, I was down on one knee helping her up. With the others dancers passing us by, I waleked her over to the chairs and sat down next to her. It was only now I realised, I’d missed my chance. But I didn’t really care. For now, I had at least until the end of the dance to make my mark.

Inspired by today’s author’s Write Now prompt: “You have ten seconds…”
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Massacre on Ranton Beach

Well, it will make a difference from the four weeks and still no rain type headings screaming out at me from every newspaper stand I pass.

And the bare facts will no doubt be followed by a detailed description of events so far known. I wonder how the papers will describe it: tragic, inevitable, gory? As to what they will say about the victims, I can’t say… I don’t know myself yet, and won’t know for at least another hour. Doubtless, they’ll all have a go at explaining what made me do it. Experts will pronounce on my state of mind without even knowing what’s in it.

Yet in a way, these headlines come closer to explaining than any of the experts psychobabble. You see, we met here. In those days, there was little likelihood of four weeks sunshine. Myself, I’d waited two days before heading to the beach, but Sam had never been one for procrastinating. That very first evening she’d stretched herself out to soak in those mercurial rays. We met within the hour of my arrival. Three days of bliss followed. She was back the following weekend and our relationship was sealed with a promise: “No, I’ll never leave you.”

Yet, she couldn’t keep that promise, not once the cancer set in. She struggled but the sun had already wreaked its havoc on her once so velvet-smooth skin.

That’s why I come back here: to mourn. But to mourn you have to remember and remember was the one thing I couldn’t do – not with these crowds. I’d see her face everywhere but each time a different face: blankness, confusion. They won’t let me remember. They’d have to go.

And go, they will. As the rains hadn’t come to scatter them, then tomorrow’s headline would. And I would have all the solitude I need to remember.

That’s why I’m here today, winding my way between the laughing groups in search of my prey. Can you see me? Then, get out of the way for your own sake. But you can’t, can you? Oh sure, you can see an elderly, grey-haired man picking his way through the mass of bodies. What you can’t see is the real me, the perpetrator of tomorrow’s shocking headline.

I hear a laugh. My eyes focus in on a familiar scene. So that will be the headline. “Mother and toddler massacred on Ranton beach.”

My hand slips into the pocket of my jacket and my fingers close around the cold metal. I try to repress a smile as I move into range. Just then, a cloud comes over the mother’s face. Her smile disappears briefly. She mouths “No” to her daughter.

Yes, it’s Sam, my Sam just as I remember her all those years ago when she gave me her “no”. I remember, I can mourn. No need for a massacre now. But the newspaper editor will have to come up with another new and interesting way of saying it had been four weeks and one day and still the rains hadn’t come.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in Sunday Scribblings. Indeed, it had been a long time since I’ve written anything much until a few days ago. This week’s Sunday Scribblings prompt is A World Apart.

our eyes have never met
perhaps they never shall e’en so
that gap is bridged
as fingers every day relate
two kindred minds reach out

two lives so different
experienced worlds far apart
melt as words give shape
drawing pictures stoking life
into longing only now avowed

You can read more musings on this theme by going to http://sundayscribblings.blogspot.fr/

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Another Tanka

I have a friend who’s a schoolteacher and sometimes gets frustrated at the lack of reception she gets from her students. She enjoys baking to compensate for this. So here’s a tanka sequence poem in her honour.

these copies repel
red ink tear-smudged offerings
life’s work down to this
where the dreams once so cherished
of touching lives transforming

the sticky mass hugs
kneading fingers pounding fists
beating back the doubt
relief reigns as nose eyes tongue
ravish the golden-brown bake

sorrows amidst joys
precariously balancing
walking life’s tightrope
through all-encompassing mists
and sparse slants of simmering sun

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FGC #7 Tanka

This week’s Form and Genre Challenge is to write a Tanka. A Tanka is a five line Japanese poem which uses 31 syllables in all. This is my first attempt at writing a Tanka although I have tried my hand at the shorter Haiku form before. For this challenge I wrote several different Tankas. Below are the four I submitted to my beta readers. The top one, written in honour of my daughter’s 20th birthday, is my challenge entry.

Small and fragile in my arms
now small, not fragile
twenty years on still such joy.
Soon roles reversed as
me she cradles in her arms.

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This one was written after last week’s Wales v France rugby match. Before the game I sang alone – I was the only Welshman present – the Welsh national anthem much to the surprise of most of the gathered Frenchmen:

My voice rings out, pride and joy
shatters silence, shocks.
Welsh you know, how can I ought.
Birds fly, lions prey,
Welsh, our song ne’er will fail.

And this one was written at the library contemplating the mass of books available to me and other hungry readers:

Big and small and fat and thin
novels, essays, more;
their voice rings out
t’is honey to my mind,
but to my heart, bitter herbs.

I’ve just finished reading a book by a friend about the experience of widowhood. Hence this last one:

One last time the flame climbs high
I hope vain, false hope
such hope betrays, lets me down.
And solitude reigns
as stiffened eyes I close

Please read the other entries in this week’s challenge and vote for you favourite on the Write Anything website.

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FGC #5 Reversal

Victim of the Man bites dog incident, Qi stared as he deposited the muzzle in front of me. Never had a sentence been so eloquently pleaded.

(139 characters)

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GFC #1 Mercurial

Friday afternoon in the park. The sun smiled down on players and spectators alike. Thanks to the now experienced park-keeper and the early morning rain that day, the greens were immaculate. Everyone was looking forward to an excellent evening’s bowling. Club championship. First round. 64 of the best bowlers in the club pitting their skills against each other. And for the first time a woman had made it into the first round. Ginetta had won the junior championship three years running. Last year she had also partnered the club captain to the final of the pairs, losing only to her grandfather and his long-standing bowling partner. Polite applause, the closest thing you’ll get to enthusiasm in bowls, accompanied the arrival of the club secretary with the pairings. In his best monotone voice he read out the names, hesitating when he got to the fourth pairing:

“Mercetto Brintini…” He raised his eyes towards Mercetto before adding “… Ginetta Brintini.”

Try as he might it took at least three minutes for order to be re-established. This was going to be the game of day. For years Mercetto had been after the club championship; ever since he had been seduced to leave their oldest rivals and come and join them in Garwledd. It was the only prize to elude him. Pairs, fours, mixed pairs… some several times. But never the championship. Never, that is, until the previous year. Fate had smiled on him that year. A storm had brought a postponement of the original date set for the final. The rearranged tie was fixed for the day of Mercetto’s 60th birthday. The whole Brintini clan turned out to see him. His opponent had little choice. Win and get lynched or put a brave face on things.

Most people were convinced Mercetto would retire from championship bowls after that. He himself, had no such thoughts. He was the title holder, he was determined to defend his title. Walking towards their rink, a smile on his face, he proclaimed for all to hear:

“The chit will win the first two sets but then I’ll wipe her off the green.”

Ginetta herself, was delighted to be playing against her grandfather. She was a chip off the old block if ever there was one, but today it was her wisdom which shone through. She simply kept her mouth shut and let her bowling do the talking. Not that that had much to say, mind you. Despite her best efforts she lost the first set badly. Her length had gone to pieces and she wasn’t able to get any real draw on the woods. In the second she faired a little better but still lost, scoring just two points.

Mercetto was exasperated. He walked off the back of the rink and up to the club secretary who was refereeing their game.

“What did I tell you about letting girls into the championship. Girls were born to play girls. They have no business playing with us. They can’t even win when you let them.” And arms flaying he poured out a torrent of insults against his granddaughter. The referee stepped up and warned him but Mercetto continued.

“Mercetto docked one point for misbehaviour,” he announced.

“Mercetto docked one point… docked one point. You could dock me a hundred bloody points and I still couldn’t lose. She doesn’t know the first thing about bowling.”

The referee stood his ground. Any more of this and he would disqualify Mercetto. Then he caught sight of the tears streaming down Ginetta’s eyes. The girl was visibly shaken by the outburst but in her eyes he also saw the steely coldness of the Brindinis. She didn’t need a knight in shining armour to come to her rescue. She could do that herself.

“Play on!” he called out.

Now it was Mercetto’s turn to stutter. He lost the next set without winning a single point, before taking six straight points at the beginning of the next. With victory in sight, his smile came back but his bragging had stopped. Which was fortunate for him as Ginetta fought back and won 21 points in a row to take the set. And so the two locked horns for the final battle.

Ginetta took the early advantage and kept it by constantly changing the length of play. She knew her grandfather hated short lengths but by varying it, she stopped him from getting any regularity into his play. But Mercetto wasn’t a champion for nothing and once he succeeded in gaining a point, he played a series of long lengths and began picking up points. But his lead never extended itself to more than one or two points and when Ginetta took two points on a long jack which Mercetto had set up, they were locked at 19-19. What turned out to be the final rubber was fascinating. Ginetta had one wood to play with three woods were clustered around the jack. To the onlookers it seemed as if one point, maybe two would go to Mercetto. But the decision would be a tough one and would probably require the measure. Ginetta stepped up to the mat wood in hand. She had two options. Thunder the wood down the rink and try and take out her grandfather’s two or try and squeeze through the tiny gap and hope it ended near enough to give her the point. It was the final option she took and a gasp went up from the crowd as the wood drew through the gap coming to a stop just millimetres away from the jack. The point was hers, that much was obvious. The referee stooped measure in hand. Mercetto followed his every move. But he couldn’t fault him in the least. Her second wood must have been almost half a centimetre closer. Mercetto stalked away before the referee even had time to announce the result. Ginetta, a beaming smile on her face turned to acknowledge her grandfather but he was nowhere to be seen. The club captain came up and congratulated her, before leading the referee away into the office. Their deliberation was short and sweet.

The letter, informing Mercetto of his immediate suspension came as he himself was putting pen to paper to inform the secretary of his decision to resign.

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The Dead End Man

I couldn’t help wondering how many days he’d before I actually noticed him. I’d probably never even done that if it hadn’t been for Julia.

“Get out, find people, observe them, draw them and let them talk.” Those had been her closing words to the small group of would-be artists huddled around the café table. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I was very much of the let-your-imagination-wander school and had had some success with that. Still, it could do no harm trying.

What drew my attention to him was the fact that he was standing in the middle of the square, head slightly raised. He piqued my curiosity when he started muttering. I couldn’t catch what it was he was saying and after a few minutes, I moved on. He was back the next day. This was interesting. A real live Julia guinea-pig right on my front door. I took out my sketchbook and sat down. Some 20 minutes later I was just finishing up a rough sketch when he turned and went. He was back and I was able to finish in a few minutes. First the lines, then the shame… My shame that grew line by line as the guinea-pig was transformed into The Dead End Man.

Divorced. Early forties… But these were nothing but statistics. I looked up, trying to find a way past his leathery hide. The Dead-End Man. That was what his wife had called him before walking out. That was the start of the beginning with an aching chasm spanning the two. He’d not gone spiralling out of control. He’s not descended headfirst into an alcoholic hell. He’d just been pounded from one attempt at life to another by mindless upstarts who didn’t even see in him as much as a guinea-pig. The few times he’d succeeded in scrambling to his feet, a new boot landed. One boot per line. Yet his eyes told another story. One of dignity and confidence, moving on to friendship. The foreman who take time every day to thank him for his otherwise thankless work; the chance to impress taken behind closed doors when no one was looking; the foreman’s acumen in realising it could have been no one else. The summons to hear the boss offer him the chance to train – at his age no one spoke of apprenticeship. Eyes with a shimmer of hope.

And so he was here, driven not by the desire to put things right or to prove her wrong – she who had dubbed him dead-end. His one desire now was to see the one fruit his eyes had never set eyes on. He’d dropped a photo in the letterbox, The Dead End Man inscribed across the back. Had she got it? Was he interested? How could he know. Yet until he did, he’d stand sentry like the faithful guard who sworn never to desert his post.

It must have been the fifth day after my first seeing him. A window opened on that second floor. A head poked itself out.

“I’ll be right down.”

The shimmer in his eyes turned to fierce anticipation casting off years of waiting.

As the door opened he took a few hesitating steps towards the girl. She moved briskly out onto the square, out past his shaking outstretched hand. Hooking her arm into that of her waiting friend they both descended out of sight.

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Dreaming Is Living

This week’s Fiction Friday prompt is “I have a dream.” And after you’ve read this, you might like to see what others have made of it.

 

I have a dream. Don’t mock! The kids did… at first. I’d have done the same a few years ago; last week even. A dream at sixty-eight and a half… And the only dreams I’d ever had until then were culinary nightmares and vague hopes that grandchildren might come soon.

It came on me all of a sudden. Mitsy was never a close friend. But when I heard she was dying – guess that happens a lot at our age – I had to visit. We spent all afternoon talking about nothing. But she was so glad to see me, to have someone to talk to, so she said. So little, yet she was so happy. Is that what life boils down to? I want more. So, now I have a dream.

At first, my dream was just to dream. You see, I wanted a dream but didn’t know what to dream. So I just dreamt. I dreamt and followed each and every dream along the by-ways and pathways it took me. Until I found the dream… the one I could call my dream.

It gripped me from the first. It sent me into a frenzy of activity. How, what, where, why, when? All those question words my Joseph used to drill into his language students when he was still with us. It was up to me to find answers. Now.

I went to see Gilly. Of course, I hat to tell her. I needed her help. You see she was a surf-whizz-kid. I guess that had been her dream.

Gilly was a real sport. We got onto the internet at once. I was surprised to find others had had the same dream before me. But that didn’t put me off. What did they have that I didn’t. I was going to make it.

Now came the grind. I went back to school, took a private trainer, joined a choir. I wanted to give myself every chance of getting there. That’s when I had to tell the kids. I wish I hadn’t. I only did so because I was never at home whenever they phoned. They wanted to know what I was up to. Wonder what they actually thought?

It turned out the telling was the biggest hurdle. Sure they mocked a bit at first, but they understood, they helped and they promised to come see me if I made it. Not sure I liked that if. For me there was no doubt. I’d get to the stadium if it killed me.

Hurdles one and two came and went. Then, the nerves set in. The day before the final round. The one that was to decide my dream once and for all. My stomach started churning. I went into the forest to let off steam. My voice wobbled. In its indecision it sang all four parts together – a kind of harmonic kaleidoscope. Now kaleidoscopes are beautiful things to look, but try listening to one…

Strangely enough, my battle against nerves never affected my mind. I was more determined than ever to see it through. A good night’s sleep and I sailed through the morning auditions, despite a couple of wobbly notes. In the afternoon I finished a respectable 16th. More than good enough to make the final cut. I was on my way to Cardiff.

That’s my dream. I’m here now. I’m loving every bit of it. We’re being spoilt left, right and centre. This evening, the banquet. Tomorrow, the dream becomes reality. I have a dream. For now, I just want to lie back and savour those words. I have a dream. I’ve lived with it for the best part of a year now. I’ve lived with it, I’ve lived for it. I’m tired. I may not get up for the banquet. I may not even get up tomorrow.

I had a dream. I lived for it. I failed. Who cares? It’s the living that counts. No living without the dream. But I lived. That’s why they’ll put on my tombstone: I have a dream.

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