Simanaitis Says

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YESTERDAY’S WHO DOTH DUNITS had Shakespeare’s Italian crime families and cross-dressing lawyers. Today, there’s a rich British guy and his trio of daughters, two bad, one not; and a whole Danish family caught up in noir murder.

The Inheritance Con. There’s this rich guy, Lear, with three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. The elder two, Goneril and Regan, are angling for his inheritance, even before the guy dies, for goodness sake.

Cordelia, the youngest, his favorite, and evidently a patient type, refuses to take part in the premature inheritance con. She says of her daughterly love, “No words can properly express it.” What’s more, she admits to saving half her love for a future husband.

Guess who gets the pre-demise inheritance.

Three Daughters of King Lear, by Gustav Pope. The blonde is evidently Cordelia.

It takes until Act V that Regan is poisoned by Goneril who then offs herself, Lear carries in Cordelia’s executed corpse, and he finally dies.

Lear and Cordelia have had better days. William and Clara Rousby, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 1873, This and following images in
The Annotated Shakespeare: Three Volumes in One, edited by A.L. Rowse, Greenwich House, 1984.

Talk about a con gone terribly awry.

Murder Most Noir. “To Be, Or Not to Be?” is as noir as you can get. Hamlet is clouded with ambiguities, even though we know who doth dunit: King Hamlet got poisoned in the ear by his brother Claudius, who then married Queen Gertrude and crowned himself king.

The crime occurs even before Act I Scene 1.

The guy in the hoodie is Claudius, brother of King Hamlet, who’s getting the ear dose of poison. Image from thinglink…

How does Prince Hamlet find out about this? His father’s ghost tells him in Act I Scene 5.

Ghost: “I am thy father’s spirit.” Lithograph by Eugene Delacroix, 1835.

Note, if ghostly evidence were admissible in court, this would be an open-and-shut case and a short play indeed. As it is, Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the longest of his plays, at 30,557 words. Many of them memorable.

Act III Scene 2 is significant: It’s the one where Hamlet has the players perform The Murder of Gonzago, a play featuring poison-in-the-you-know-where.

“No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i’ the world,” Hamlet says to his uncle.

“What do you call the play?” Claudius asks.

“The Mouse-trap,” Hamlet responds.

The play within a play, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 1730. Engraving from Universal Magazine.

Catching the perp through recreation of the crime scene has become a meme of whodunits today. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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