The Rest Is…


“All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down.

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death?


I should be glad of another death.”    —“Journey of the Magi” (1935). T. S. Eliot.

I know how it feels to die.

Nothingness encroaches, pressing upon your throat with Everything’s weight. It is as if the galaxy has imploded around you. Gravity aims only to compact and churn you into an infinitesimal qwark of Nothing.

Forget breathing. You cannot anyway. Forget screaming. You cannot—you cannot breathe. Forget weeping. Forget making any raucous protest against Fate or Gravity or Nothingness, any plea for pity, any lament of regret. No one will hear you. The rest is…

I know how it feels to die. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2010 production of Hamlet, directed by Bill Rauch, taught me how it feels to die.  In Act V, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s script, four characters perish: Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet. All poisoned. Hamlet’s last words are, “The rest is silence.” Fortinbras enters, surveys the carnage, and bids the soldiers “bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage.” He will hear Horatio’s story and honor Hamlet; for had he lived, he would “have proved most royally.”

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet ends with Hamlet choking out his final line. Then, a stern-faced, regal Fortinbras condescends to an immediate coronation and orders a lavish military funeral for Denmark’s dead prince. Fortinbras may rule Denmark, but Hamlet won.

Bill Rauch’s Hamlet ends with Hamlet—the son of a deaf king—speaking his final line and signing the words in American Sign Language. Yet the word “silence” never passes his lips. Unlike Branagh’s Hamlet, who barely articulates the last word before dying, Dan Donahue’s Hamlet dies with the final word. Hamlet signs “silence” and dies in silence. Then, a camou-clad Fortinbras kicks over Claudius’ chair and prances about the stage, spitting Shakespeare’s words in a ridiculous accent. In Rauch’s modern production, if Horatio could be a hobo, than Fortinbras could be Borat. This Fortibras shows anything but respect for Denmark’s royal dead. Fortinbras rules Denmark. Hamlet lost.

The light dims. A spotlight illuminates only Hamlet. The King his father, in military uniform, steps into the lit circle and takes his son’s body in his arms. The deaf King’s head lowers. And we are deaf to his weeping as the spotlight shrinks around the father and his son until death’s oblivion swallows them.

Is this how it feels to die?

Is the whole world made deaf by Death, so that no one can hear one’s dying cry: “This is not what I wanted”?

Does Death destroy everything that is good in the world? Prompt incest, condemn a sensible young woman to madness, make Denmark a prison for Danes and home for tyrannical Swedes?

Is Death invincible?

What is, besides silence and nothingness and Death?

If “the rest is silence,” what is “the rest” that is not “silence,” but noise, the harbinger of life?

The rest is.

“For Thine is

Life is

For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper.”   —“The Hollow Men” (1925). T. S. Eliot.


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Filed under Being a Bookworm, Randomness

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