This skit was performed on stage for an AIDS benefit. Rowan Atkinson’s character is unnamed, but may as well be a Blackadder. The other character was played by Hugh Laurie.
[Blackadder is looking through some papers. There’s a knock at the door.]
BA: Come. [The door opens, and a man steps in.]
BA: Bill! Bill, good to see you. [They shake hands.]
WS: Sorry I was late — the traffic was a bitch!
BA: Good to see you. Well, the play’s going well, isn’t it? Looks like we’ve got a bit of a smash on our hands.
WS: Well, it, er, seems to be OK, yeah.
BA: They always seem to go for the ones with the snappy titles: `Hamlet’. Perfect! Perfect.
WS: Act Three may be a bit long, I don’t know…
BA: Act Three may be a bit long… In fact, generally, I think we’ve got a bit of a length problem.
BA: It’s five hours, Bill, on wooden seats, and no toilets this side of the Thames.
WS: Yeah, well, I’ve always said the Rose Theatre is a dump, frankly. I mean, the sooner they knock it down and build something decent, the better.
BA: Exactly. So that’s why I think we should trim some of the dead wood.
WS: "Dead wood"?
BA: Yeah, you know: some of that standup stuff in the middle of the action.
WS: You mean the soliloquies?
BA: Yeah, and I think we both know which is the dodgy one.
WS: [getting upset] Oh? Oh? Which is "the dodgy one"?
BA: Erm… "To be … nobler in the mind … mortal coil …"; that one. It’s boring, Bill. The crowd hates it — Yawnsville.
WS: Well, I don’t know about that. It happens to be my favourite, actually.
BA: Bill, you said that about the avocado monologue in `King Lear’, and the tap dance at the end of `Othello’.
WS: Absolutely not! You cut one word of that, and I’m off the play.
BA: Bill, Bill… the King has got his costume change down to one minute. Hamlet’s out there ranting on about God-knows-what in that soliloquy of yours, and Claudius is already in the wings waiting to come on with that very funny codpiece — waiting!
WS: [very upset; stands] All right, all right, you can just cut the whole speech altogether!
BA: Bill, Bill, Bill… Why do we have to fight? It’s long, long, long. We could make it so snappy…
BA: Yeah, you know: give it some pizzazz. How’s it begin, that speech?
WS: [sits] "To be."
BA: Come on, come on, Bill.
WS: "To be a victim of all life’s earthly woes, or not to be a coward and take Death by his proffered hand."
BA: There, now; I’m sure we can get that down!
WS: No! Absolutely not! It’s perfect.
BA: [preparing to write] How about "To be a victim, or not to be coward"?
WS: [shrugs] It doesn’t make sense, does it! To be a victim of what? to be coward about what?
BA: OK, OK. Take out `victim’; take out `coward’. Just start "To be, or not to be."
WS: You can’t say that! It’s gibberish!
BA: But it’s short, William, it’s short! Listen, it flows: "To be, or not to be; that is the question." D’de, d’de de de, d’de d’de de de! OK?
WS: You’re damn right it’s the question — they won’t have any bloody idea what he’s talking about!
BA: Well, OK, let’s leave that and go on. "Blah blah blah blah blah, slings and arrows" — good! action; the crowds love it — "take up arms" — brilliant — "against those cursed doubts that do plague on man" — eugh… Getting very woolly there, Bill. Plague’s a bit tasteless at the moment — we’ve had letters, actually. "…and set sail on a sea of troubles" — this is good: travel; travel’s very popular. So let’s just take out the guff and see what we’ve got. "…to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles"! Good!
WS: I resign. [stands]
BA: Bill, it’s brilliant!
WS: It’s absolute crap! What is he talking about? He’s going to put on a bow and arrow and potter down to the seaside? This is Prince Hamlet, not King Canute! He >might as well< kill himself if that’s the best idea he can come up with.
BA: Creative thinking, Bill! Hamlet; perhaps he >should< top himself!
WS: In Act One?
BA: Well, yeah, well, we must think about bums on seats, Bill. Let’s face it: It’s the ghost that’s selling this show at the moment. Joe Public loves the ghost; he loves the swordfights; he loves the crazy chick in the see-through dress who does the flower gags and then drowns herself. But no-one likes Hamlet — no-one.
WS: [disgusted] All right, then, I’ll kill him off for you. [picks up paper and quill] Ermm… [reads] "Aye; there’s the rub. To die, to sleep…" [writes] "Whoops! (Hamlet falls off the battlements)" [puts down paper and quill]
BA: Bill, Bill, Bill; I can see you’re annoyed. I’m sorry. Hamlet has his moments. The mad stuff is very funny. It really is hysterical. But all I’m saying, Shakey, is let’s just shorten this one terribly long speech.
WS: …and all I’m saying is no. You cut one word, and you can take my name off the credits.
BA: All right. I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll trim this speech, and you can put back in those awful cockney gravediggers.
WS: The both of them?
WS: And the skull routine?
BA: Yep — the whole sketch.
WS: All right, then; you’ve got a deal — and we’ll see which one history remembers. [turns to leave]
BA: Bill, I love you!
BA: Tempermental git!