Hamlet by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – Hamlet – Contents

< < < . IV .
. VI . > > >


The play went on. The old man’s prophecy was abundantly fulfilled. The enthusiasm of Kostromsky only lasted out the first act. It could not be roused again by repeated calls before the curtain, by applause, or by the gaze of his enormous crowd of admirers, who thronged into the wings to look at him with gentle reverence. There now remained in him only the very smallest store of that energy and feeling which he had expended with such royal generosity three years ago on every act.

He had wasted his now insignificant store in the first act, when he had been intoxicated by the loud cries of welcome and applause from the public. His will was weakened, his nerves unbraced, and not even increased doses of alcohol could revive him. The imperceptible ties which had connected him with his audience at first were gradually weakening, and, though the applause at the end of the second act was as sincere as at the end of the first, yet it was clear that the people were applauding, not him, but the charm of his name and fame.

Meanwhile, each time she appeared on the stage, Ophelia—Yureva—progressed in favour. This hitherto unnoticed girl, who had previously played only very minor parts, was now, as it were, working a miracle. She seemed a living impersonation of the real daughter of Polonius, a gentle, tender, obedient daughter, with deep hidden feeling and great love in her soul, empoisoned by the venom of grief.

The audience did not yet applaud Yureva, but they watched her, and whenever she came on the stage the whole theatre calmed down to attention. She herself had no suspicion that she was in competition with the great actor, and taking from him attention and success, and even the spectators themselves were unconscious of the struggle.

The third act was fatal for Kostromsky. His appearance in it was preceded by the short scene in which the king and Polonius agree to hide themselves and listen to the conversation between Hamlet and Ophelia, in order to judge of the real reason of the prince’s madness. Kostromsky came out from the wings with slow steps, his hands crossed upon his breast, his head bent low, his stockings unfastened and the right one coming down.

“To be or not to be–that is the question.”

He spoke almost inaudibly, all overborne by serious thought, and did not notice Ophelia, who sat at the back of the stage with an open book on her knee.

This famous soliloquy had always been one of Kostromsky’s show places. Some years ago, in this very town and this very theatre, after he had finished this speech by his invocation to Ophelia, there had been for a moment that strange and marvellous silence which speaks more eloquently than the noisiest applause. And then everyone in the theatre had gone into an ecstasy of applause, from the humblest person in the back row of the gallery to the exquisites in the private boxes.

Alas, now both Kostromsky himself and his audience remained cold and unmoved, though he was not yet conscious of it.

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution,
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action,”

he went on, gesticulating and changing his intonation from old memory. And he thought to himself that when he saw Ophelia he would go down on his knees in front of her and say the final words of his speech, and that the audience would weep and cry out with a sweet foolishness.

And there was Ophelia. He turned to the audience with a cautious warning “Soft you, now!” and then walking swiftly across the stage he knelt down and exclaimed:

“—Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d,”

and then got up immediately, expecting a burst of applause.

But there was no applause. The public were puzzled, quite unmoved, and all their attention was turned on Ophelia.

For some seconds he could think of nothing; it was only when he heard at his side a gentle girl’s voice asking, “Prince, are you well?”—a voice which trembled with the tears of sorrow for a love destroyed—that, in a momentary flash, he understood all.

It was a moment of awful enlightenment. Kostromsky recognised it clearly and mercilessly—the indifference of the public; his own irrevocable past; the certainty of the near approach of the end to his noisy but short-lived fame.

Oh, with what hatred did he look upon this girl, so graceful, beautiful, innocent, and—tormenting thought—so full of talent. He would have liked to throw himself upon her, beat her, throw her on the ground and stamp with his feet upon that delicate face, with its large dark eyes looking up at him with love and pity. But he restrained himself, and answered in lowered tones:

“I humbly thank you; well, well, well.”

After this scene Kostromsky was recalled, but he heard, much louder than his own name, the shouts from the gallery, full with students, for Yureva, who, however, refused to appear.

< < < . IV .
. VI . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin -Hamlet – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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