20 May 2021
Hammy, Prince of Denmark
By Neil Tidmarsh
Hamlet: ‘To be or not to be; that is the question: / Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to…’ I was in a very dark place, you see. Thought I was going mad. Even contemplated suicide. I needed help, but there wasn’t any. That’s why I’m speaking out now. For the sake of everyone else with similar problems. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It isn’t weak or cowardly to ask for help. It takes strength. I’m saying let’s be brave, let’s be honest, let’s talk about mental health.
Interviewer: Absolutely. You have our sympathy. We admire your courage. You’re a great poster boy for mental health issues, Hamlet. Always have been, always will be.
Hamlet: ‘…Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles / And, by opposing, end them…’
Hamlet: “…To die, to sleep – / No more, and by a sleep to say we end / The heartache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to – ‘tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wished…’
Interviewer: Er, Hamlet, a piece of advice, if I may? Perhaps it’s time you stopped banging on about yourself? All these soliloquies. You’re beginning to come across as a bit self-centred, a bit self-obsessed. The spoilt little prince isn’t a good look, is it? It isn’t all about you, after all, I’m sure you’d agree.
Hamlet: It’s all my father’s fault. A cold man. Never gave me any cuddles. Never gave me much attention at all, really. Too busy fighting wars against Norway, and Poland. Always wearing armour – cold, hard, iron armour. Too busy to give my mother the attention she deserved, either. Mind you, that’s no excuse, if the rumours about my mother are true. Her and that sleazy scum bag of an uncle, Claudius, my father’s own brother. And poor Ophelia, she has enough trouble with her weird and difficult dad, old Polonius, without all the hassle she’ll get once she joins the royal family –
Interviewer: Er, Hamlet, do you think you should be talking about your family’s private matters, here, in public? Perhaps I should remind you that this podcast is being heard by millions of people all around the world. Your own parents, isn’t all this going to upset them? Shouldn’t you give them a little bit of consideration? Think about their feelings. Shouldn’t you be talking this through in private, with a therapist, or even with your family? Shouldn’t you be showing them a bit of compassion? After all, no parents are perfect. We do what we can, as mothers or fathers, but we all make mistakes, don’t we? We’re all fallible human beings. All families have their issues. Your family is no different to most others. Better than many, perhaps; others are facing more serious problems, and without the privilege and luxury and wealth and servants to cushion things for them. You don’t want to come across as a whinging whiner, do you?
Hamlet: The court at Elsinore, it’s like a zoo. My family, they’re like trapped animals. It’s totally dysfunctional. And there’s absolutely no privacy. That’s why I had to get away, for my own good, I didn’t want any of it, the pomp, the privilege, the glory, the wealth or the publicity. That’s why I came here, to Germany, to the university of Wittenberg, so I could live a normal life as an ordinary student, away from the spotlight and the world’s stage and the glare of the media.
Interviewer; But, Hamlet, you’re not living like an ordinary student, are you? Look around! These aren’t normal student digs!
Hamlet: Aren’t they?
Interviewer: No! You’re living in a millionaire’s villa, surrounded by acres of grounds! And you haven’t turned your back on the spotlight, have you? Here you are, still putting yourself centre stage, positively courting the world’s press! TV, podcasts, social media… You asked for privacy, but you’re turning everything that’s private – not just about yourself but about other people, your whole family – into something that’s public. Doesn’t that look like hypocrisy? And another thing, Hammy – may I call you Hammy?
Hamlet: Yes, of course. Hammy, prince of Denmark and Duke of Schleswig.
Interviewer: Well, that’s the thing, Hammy. You’ve escaped Elsinore, run away from the court and the royal family – fair enough, your choice, if that’s what you want, understandable I suppose (though others might say you’re letting the side down and accuse you of disloyalty) – but you’re still hanging on to your titles and you’re still in line to the throne and you’re still stinking rich. It looks like you’re ditching the duties and responsibilities but keeping the perks and privileges. Doesn’t that look a bit like having your cake and eating it? Like yet more hypocrisy, even?
Hamlet: But it’s all for my worthy causes – those titles and stuff, they keep my profile high so I can speak to the world about mental health and fight all those other woke crusades. I owe it to all my fellow victims to be a voice for them all. I have so much to say, so much advice to give. Like ‘…To die, to sleep. / To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub, / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil / Must give us pause – ’
Interviewer: Yes, Hammy, sorry, if I could indeed just pause you there. You’re banging on a bit again, aren’t you? As I said earlier, your audience will soon get rather bored and irritated with you if you aren’t careful. My advice is, keep your head down, get on with your good work quietly and discretely, or sooner or later you’ll be dismissed as a vacuous media tart. Forget the soliloquies, quit the stage. Do you know how long your play would be if it wasn’t cut severely by the director whenever it’s staged? Five hours! Even five hours of genius Shakespeare is too much for the human backside to sit through!
Hamlet: ‘…There’s the respect / That makes calamity of so long life, / For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, / Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely / The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, / The insolence of office – ’
Interviewer: Sorry to interrupt again, Hamlet. But… I know how exciting it must be for you – after dull, buttoned-down, stiff-upper-lipped upper-class Denmark – to find yourself here in Germany, the land of metaphysics and philosophy and psychiatry and psychology and psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, I know how tempting it must be for you to let it all hang out here and talk and talk and talk, but you must be careful not to let your tongue run away with itself. After all, you of all people have to be sensitive to this place – parts of Germany were ruled by a Danish king, your ancestor, until its citizens threw off what they saw as his tyrannical yoke in their war of independence and established their perfect republic with their famous constitution, which they’re all so proud of –
Hamlet: Oh yes, their constitution! I’ve tried to understand it, but it’s bonkers, isn’t it!
(An awkward and ominous silence.)
Angry voices shouting from outside: Bonkers, is it? It saw your great-great-grandad off, and it’ll see you off, too!
If you don’t like it here, you can bugger off back to Denmark!
Go on, clear off, we don’t want you here!
Hamlet (ignoring them): ‘…and the spurns / that patient merit of th’unworthy takes, / When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin? Who – ’
(suddenly breaks off and screams)
My father’s ghost! Look! There! My father… he’s dead! My mother… Uncle Claudius… I’ve got to get back to Denmark, to Elsinore… Quick!
(He suddenly rushes out of the room.)
Angry voices: And good riddance to you, spawn of royal imperialist oppressors!
Interviewer: Oh dear. I have a terrible feeling about all this. I don’t think it’s going to end happily, do you? But we won’t chase him to Elsinore. We’ll leave that to the BBC.
Cover page image – Beggarstaff Brothers (Creative Commons)