Mohamlet in Manhattan

by Albert Ehrenstein (1942)


translated by Sheldon Gilman and Robert Levine





We all know how strictly the immigration laws in the United States are and must be enforced against people who seem to have blood on their hands. All the greater was my surprise, then, when I recently had occasion to leaf through an early, yellowing Jubilee edition of "Manhattan" (from the year 2867). An article dealt at length with the fact, considered obvious, that Prince Hamlet had extended his stay in N.Y. – while the Facist epidemic in Europe was breathing its last gasp.

My astonishment at this anachronistic, world-class event only diminished when I became aware of how few fragments of Shakespeare had survived the chronic bombardments of that century. In a time of matriarchy, during which the authorship of the works of Shakespeare were of course attributed to women – for example, Othello, to Mrs. Beecher-Stowe. Apart from that, we have only summaries and phrases of her work, from Hamlet only the quotations that follow. Disbelievers might be convinced by a reprint of the local news report of places or "historical reminiscences", in which, we should point out, the name of the Danish prince has been garbled. Let me begin:

From fragments of the works of an earlier, well-known writer of Old English history named W. Shakespeare, we know that she was also concerned, in her undoubtedly reliable annals, with the intricate fortunes of a melancholy Prince Mohamlet of Denmark. Few of our learned readers, however, may have guessed where and how he died. We can have no doubt about it: in New York State. How this murderer of several men happened to obtain a U.S. visa can no longer be determined exactly. Probably this bloody avenger, who, on several occasions , acted in self-defense, slipped in under another noble title. That Mohamlet, in the process, eliminated three stupid diplomats -- fork-tongued courtiers and horse thieves – named Rosenkranz, Guildenstern, and Polonius, hardly merits being strung up on the gallows. For particularly in this Polonius Shakespeare seems to have glorified the Polonius-like nature of most nations and leaders. But in the throes of a violent step-father-and-mother complex, Mohamlet killed his throne-robbing uncle, the treacherous murderer of his father and seducer of his mother. Only the fifth killing (of a young fencing master, Laertes), blamed on the Dane, might not have happened, but rather may be an inartistic interpolation, an obscure insertion. For Laertes belongs clearly to another, older cycle of sagas; he generally is an ancient avatar of the Trojan horse-breeder Ulysses of Ithaca, and thus could not very well have killed Mohamlet with a poisoned rapier. Moreover, accompanied by his friend Horatio (Nelson, who, according to subsequent English chronicles had fallen out of favor as a result of his flirtation with Lady Hamilton, and in whose honor a New York telephone exchange is still called Trafalgar), Mohamlet came to New York, apparently on board the Aprilflower. The exact words with which he greeted the soil of this city, "Camel or Chesterfield, that is the question," seemed to have something to do with the human sacrifices or preferred tobacco with which the redskin Indians of that time filled their peace-pipes or painted cheeks.

The very informal scene in which Mohamlet appears has had an influence on the informality of men’s fashion for a long time:

"Mohamlet, with his doublet all unbraid

No hat upon his head; his stockings foul’d,

Ungerter’d, and down-gyved to his ankle;

Pale as his shirt."

In reverential memory of this, many gentlemen in the subway today wear loose socks barely covering their ankles.

How did Mohamlet support himself in New York?

"Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral bak’d meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables."

From this a gluttonous scholar, who certainly had not studied in Wittenberg, would draw the logical conclusion that Hamlet was the bartender in a Danish seamen’s bar. Popular with sports fans because his royal father had been a fine hockey player, as this passage reveals:

"So frown’d he once when, in an angry parle,

He smote the sledded pole – on the ice."

But by no means should one believe an irreverent, completely disgusting tale, which claims falsely that Mohamlet earned a living as a ventriloquist, wiggling his fingers to project shadowy figures on the wall, using the ghost of his father to tell fortunes. That was not necessary for Mohamlet, especially since, as Shakespeare’s most profound creation, he understood, as some of his remarks demonstrate, more about the theater and acting than any critic on earth. Certainly Hollywood would rather have entrusted the Burial of Hecuba to him than to anyone else, including director Max Reinhardt.

But Mohamlet in fact lived so far from a world of bars or ventriloquist’s makeup that he would never have even dreamed of yielding to a snobbish billionaire. He, who says of himself:

"Man delights not me, no, nor woman neither".

He lived in his memories, and the people he killed – too much! At the end he believed that the Statue of Liberty was pursuing him with offers of marriage. One foul day he rented a boat (without rudder, sail, or motor – about this learned men have twisted their beards into pigtails). He had himself towed close to the statue of freedom and shouted incessantly through a megaphone: "Go thy ways to a nunnery."

Now he might have feared a tyrannically rough future, – what is certain, however, is that an inquiry by the New York police produced the soothing information that the statue of freedom, the most endurable virgin in this world, had made no advances of any sort towards him.

If the writings of a doctor of psychology can be accepted as evidence, Sigmund Freud, in any case, psychoanalyzed him – because "something is rotten in the State of Denmark."

According to highly trustworthy reports, Mohamlet was brought to a hospital, something very much like a monk’s cloister, located in the midst of nature, run by Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, according to the "system of Doctor Tar and Professor Feather," a convenient mental hospital which we believe we can recommend most warmly to our gentle readers.

"Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!"