|Gilbert > Plays > Rosencrantz and Guildenstern > Times Review 1891
The special performance organized yesterday at the Vaudeville for the benefit of the widows and orphans of the crew of Her Majesty’s Ship Serpent brought out no fewer than four new pieces, one being a comedietta and the remainder burlesques. Of these various novelties, it may be said that the only one possessing any literary or dramatic merit is Mr. W. S. Gilbert’s travesty of Hamlet, a little piece in one act, written for publication a good many years ago, but now acted publicly for the first time.
Parodies of Shakespeare have not been uncommon, and it can scarcely have been reverence for the poet which actuated Mr. Gilbert in so long withholding Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from the stage. He was under the impression that it would not act as well as it read. A short time ago, however, it was performed with great success by amateurs, and that circumstance seems to have induced the author to allow it to be included in the present benefit programme. Happily the plea that charity covers a multitude of sins, however serviceable it may be to the other authors of the occasion, is not one that Mr. Gilbert need seek to shelter himself under. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is thoroughly actable, and withal so amusing, that as the result of yesterday’s experiment it ought speedily to find its way into some regular bill.
It is, in effect, a droll perversion of the story of Hamlet. The young Prince, who is the son of Claudius and the Queen, is engaged to Ophelia. But this lady prefers Rosencrantz, and, with a view to getting Hamlet out of the way, induces him to play before the King a five-act tragedy which Claudius has written in his youth, and which was so effectually damned that ever since it has been death for any one in Denmark to speak of it. Alone at the Court, Hamlet is unaware of the King’s susceptibility upon the subject of his play, so he readily falls into Ophelia’s trap. The King in a rage is about to slay him, when the Queen interposes to avert the death penalty, and the too adventurous Prince is finally banished to the Lyceum.
Lines of the familiar topsy-turvey description abound in the dialogue, and the “business” of the actors, which has also been devised by Mr. Gilbert, is hardly less amusing. In short, the little piece is a great success. It owed something yesterday to Mr. Frank Lindo, the impersonator of the Prince, who attempted a little harmless mimicry of Mr. Irving. The same actor in a burlesque of the story of Chatterton, entitled Shattered ’Un, subsequently gave a remarkable imitation of the voice and manner of Mr. Wilson Barrett, a feat for which he was loudly applauded.
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