Kill Shakespeare Absolute Edition

Volume 1 / Issue 1:  A Sea of Troubles

Annotations by Katie Musgrave

1)     COVER #1; The Hand of Shakespeare (KS): This signature cover depicts what is assumed to be the dead hand of Shakespeare, loosely gripping a quill stained with a bloody ink. The image implies both the playwright’s own potential murder and his hand in composing deadly narratives – which in turn suggests Shakespeare’s agency in scripting his own fate in KS.

2)     COVER #1B: Graveside Hamlet (Ham. 5.1): This cover features the faces of Hamlet, Richard III, and Lady Macbeth looming over the figure of Hamlet, who kneels before a gravestone, clutching a sword and a dagger. This situation is quintessential to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as the highlighted skulls evoke Hamlet’s famous graveside lament over the court jester’s skull in 5.1 of Shakespeare’s play (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”). The bloody quill sits on top of the stone, symbolizing the playwright who penned Hamlet’s fate. It remains to be seen whose death this image is forecasting in KS.

3)     TITLE; “A Sea of Troubles” (Ham. 3.1): This title is derived from Hamlet’s famous “To be, or not to be” speech in 3.1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which Hamlet contemplates: “Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them”. This decision is made for KS’s Hamlet when he is forced from his ship into the sea, and washed up on hostile shores (see notes 7 and 8).

4)     Page 1, Panel 3; “Shadow King” (KS): This mock title for Hamlet, used throughout KS, underscores his characterization in Shakespeare as a would-be king with a dark disposition (see note 6). Hamlet is seemingly denied his royal birthright by succession when his uncle assumes the Danish throne upon Old Hamlet’s death, and this suggests that he is “less than a true king” (Page 28, Panel 2). Page 1, Panel 3 is foreshadowing future events as it depicts an unconscious Hamlet, marooned on a foreign coast.

5)     Page 2, Panels 2-3; Old Hamlet’s Funeral/Gertrude’s Marriage to Claudius (Ham. 1.2): Horatio refers to Hamlet’s “father’s funeral” in 1.2 of Hamlet, but the event is not dramatized in Shakespeare as it is shown in KS. In the play Hamlet bitterly conflates that solemn ceremony with his ‘mother’s wedding’ to his uncle, and Horatio agrees that the nuptials “followed hard upon” the king’s death (Ham. 1.2). In KS the two events are juxtaposed accordingly.

6)     Page 3, Panels 2-4; Murder of Polonius; “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!” (Ham. 3.4): This depiction of Hamlet’s accidental slaying of Polonius corresponds to that action in 3.4 of Hamlet. As per Shakespeare’s stage direction, “Polonius hides behind the arras” (Ham. 3.4) and is stabbed through by Hamlet, who thinks he is killing Claudius. The dialogue is close to that of Shakespeare’s text (Hamlet: “How now, a rat? [...] Polonius: “I am slain!” […] Gertrude: “Oh, what a rash and bloody deed is this!”), and KS adds in Gertrude’s explicit indictment of her son (“Murderer! Murderer!”).

7)     Page 4, Panel 3; Page 5, Panel 4; The Antonio (KS): In KS, the good ship that carries Hamlet into exile is named ‘Antonio’, recalling two seafaring Antonio characters in Shakespeare: the first is captain Antonio of Twelfth Night – the sea-rescuer and admirer of Sebastian – whom Duke Orsino calls a “notable pirate” and a “salt-water thief”(TN 5.1); the second is Antonio of The Merchant of Venice, the virtuous shipping businessman who becomes indebted to the villainous moneylender Shylock for a pound of flesh. The name is therefore well suited to Hamlet’s vessel in KS, which is besieged and imperiled by bloodthirsty pirates.

8)     Pages 5-6, 8-11; Rosencrantz & Guildenstern/Intercepted Letter: In KS as in Shakespeare, these two schoolmates of Hamlet are hired by Claudius to spy on the prince and to transport him to England, with a letter instructing the King of England to have Hamlet killed. Shakespeare’s Hamlet sees through their ruse and foils their plan. Conversely in ­KS, these “excellent good friends” (Ham. 2.2) serve Hamlet faithfully by confessing their mission and aborting it themselves, tossing the deadly letter into the sea (Page 10, Panel 5; Page 11, Panels 1-4).

9)     Pages 11-13; Character of Hamlet: These pages in KS refer to Hamlet’s ambivalent, tormented, and suicidal nature in Shakespeare: Rosencrantz indicates that Hamlet is unsure as to “how one makes a difficult choice” (Page 11, Panel 4); Hamlet’s sleep is troubled and he calls out to his father for forgiveness (Page 12); Hamlet drinks and contemplates throwing himself into the sea that “invites” him (see note 10) as an apparition instructs him to “seek…peace” and “silence the hammering” of his “mind” (Page 13, Panel 2-3). These examples demonstrate the “inky cloak” of Hamlet’s disposition in Shakespeare (Ham. 1.2).

10)Page 13, Panel 2; “I go, and it is done” (Mac. 2.1): This line is reworked by KS for the character of Hamlet from Macbeth’s line in Shakespeare, “I go, and it is done; the bell invites me” (Mac. 2.1). As the death knell prompts questions of morality and mortality for Macbeth, in KS the “sea invites” Hamlet to end his responsibilities and his suffering.

11)Pages 15-20; The Pirate Attack (Ham. 4.6): In Shakespeare, the pirate attack upon Hamlet’s ship happens offstage, and is reported in a letter from Hamlet to Horatio, which is delivered by the same sailors that return the prince to Denmark (Ham. 4.6). Hamlet recounts that a pirate ship gave chase to their own, and that in the ensuing battle Hamlet boarded the pirate ship and was captured. KS in turn depicts the attack as a full-scale battle between the two ships, with swords and cannon fire, in the midst of which Hamlet is knocked overboard and cast away. Notably, while Shakespeare did not dramatize the pirate attack, Tom Stoppard does so in his absurdist tragicomedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), which expands the lives of Hamlet’s friends somewhat laterally beyond Shakespeare, as KS does more briefly (see note 8).

12)Pages 23-25; Character/Setting of Richard III: KS represents the character of Richard III, Duke of Gloucester in the “deformed” (R3 1.1) physical likeness of his Shakespearean counterpart: as a “bunch-backed” figure (R3 1.3, 4.4) with one hand “like a blasted sapling withered up” (R3 3.4; Page 23, Panel 5; Page 24, Panel 3). Richard’s description to Hamlet of the civil strife “within” his country’s “borders” (Page 25, Panel 3) implies the historical context of the War of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York, during which Richard reigned briefly from 1483 to 1485, and which Shakespeare’s dramatizes in his 1/2/3 Henry VI-Richard III tetralogy. This effectively sets the stage for the war in KS between Shakespeare’s supporters and his enemies in England.

13)Pages 14, 25-31; “Destiny”/”Fate(s)”/“Chance”/“Prophecy” (KS): This rhetoric is heavily present throughout the first issue of KS, and refers to the theme of Fate versus Free Will that is the crux of many of Shakespeare’s plays, including those most prominently featured in this issue: Hamlet, Richard III, and Macbeth. Richard explains “the words of the prophecy that foretold [Hamlet’s] coming” (Page 25, Panel 3). In response Hamlet claims to be “no tool of the fates” (Page 26, Panel 1), but Richard and his “wise women” say otherwise (Page 26, Panel 3; see note 15).

14)Page 26, Panel 4; Worms (Ham. 4.3; 1H4 5.4): In KS Hamlet indicates here that his “father is dead and the worms of Denmark feast upon his bones”. After killing Polonius, Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells Claudius that the old man is “[n]ot where he eats, but where… worms are e’en at him” (Ham. 4.3). The concept is also found in Shakespeare’s dramatization of the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1 Henry VI, where Harry Percy’s dying words are to declare himself “dust, / And food for–”; Prince Hal then completes Hotspur’s thought for him: “For worms, brave Percy” (1H4 5.4)

15)Pages 7-8, 13-14, 26-31; The Witches/Hecate/Incantations’; “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Mac. 1.1; Page 29, Panel 1): Richard’s “wise women” correspond to the androgynous and prophetic “Three Witches/Weird Sisters” of Macbeth. As in Shakespeare, they appear early in the action of KS, speaking to the king-to-be and telling him of his “destiny” (Page 8, Panel 2-3; Page 14, Panel 1). Similar to their roles in Macbeth, their rhyming incantations predict events to come (Page 28, Panel 3), and they make use of Shakespeare’s famous chiasmic phrase – “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Mac. 1.1) – to forecast a significant reversal of order in KS (Page 29, Panel 1).

16)Page 31, Panel 6; Page 32, Panel 1; Character of Lady Macbeth: This first appearance of Lady Macbeth among the Witches and next to their cauldron points to her characterization in Macbeth as yet another powerful and transgressive female in that play. Many critics have interpreted her character as a catalyst for evil, citing a popular view that Macbeth would not have murdered King Duncan without her influence. It is fitting, then, that she appears early in KS as part of the plot to incite Hamlet to kill the great Shakespeare. Her first words in KS, “It is done” (Page 31, Panel 6), echo those of her Shakespearean husband (see note 8) and suggest that, thanks to her and the witches’ magic, “the charm’s wound up” (Mac. 1.3) for KS’s Hamlet.