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Mark Twain
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Excerpts from the Digital Text at Project Gutenberg.

This excerpt concerns two con men who have joined Huck and Jim on their raft.  The men, who have announced that they are actually Duke Bilgewater (of England) and the rightful king of France, decide to raise money by putting on a play.

(NB: Paragraph numbers apply to this excerpt, not the original source.)

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After breakfast the king . . . went to getting his Romeo and Juliet by heart.  When he had got it pretty good him and the duke begun to practice it together.  The duke had to learn him over and over again how to say every speech; and he made him sigh, and put his hand on his heart, and after a while he said he done it pretty well; "only," he says, "you mustn't bellow out ROMEO! that way, like a bull -- you must say it soft and sick and languishy, so -- R-o-o-meo! that is the idea; for Juliet's a dear sweet mere child of a girl, you know, and she doesn't bray like a jackass."

. . . After dinner the duke says:  "Well, Capet, we'll want to make this a first-class show, you know, so I guess we'll add a little more to it.  We want a little something to answer encores with, anyway."

"What's onkores, Bilgewater?"

The duke told him, and then says:  "I'll answer by doing the Highland fling or the sailor's hornpipe; and you -- well, let me see -- oh, I've got it -- you can do Hamlet's soliloquy."

"Hamlet's which?"

"Hamlet's soliloquy, you know; the most celebrated thing in Shakespeare. Ah, it's sublime, sublime!  Always fetches the house.  I haven't got it in the book -- I've only got one volume -- but I reckon I can piece it out from memory.  I'll just walk up and down a minute, and see if I can call it back from recollection's vaults."

So he went to marching up and down, thinking, and frowning horrible every now and then; then he would hoist up his eyebrows; next he would squeeze his hand on his forehead and stagger back and kind of moan; next he would sigh, and next he'd let on to drop a tear.  It was beautiful to see him. By and by he got it.  He told us to give attention.  Then he strikes a most noble attitude, with one leg shoved forwards, and his arms stretched away up, and his head tilted back, looking up at the sky; and then he begins to rip and rave and grit his teeth; and after that, all through his speech, he howled, and spread around, and swelled up his chest, and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever I see before.  This is the speech -- I learned it, easy enough, while he was learning it to the king:

To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to
But that the fear of something after death
Murders the innocent sleep,
Great nature's second course,
And makes us rather sling the arrows of outrageous fortune
Than fly to others that we know not of.
There's the respect must give us pause:
Wake Duncan with thy knocking!  I would thou couldst;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The law's delay, and the quietus which his pangs might take,
In the dead waste and middle of the night, when churchyards yawn
In customary suits of solemn black,
But that the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns,
Breathes forth contagion on the world,
And thus the native hue of resolution, like the poor cat i' the adage,
Is sicklied o'er with care,
And all the clouds that lowered o'er our housetops,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.  But soft you, the fair Ophelia:
Ope not thy ponderous and marble jaws,
But get thee to a nunnery -- go!

Well, the old man he liked that speech, and he mighty soon got it so he could do it first-rate.  It seemed like he was just born for it; and when
he had his hand in and was excited, it was perfectly lovely the way he would rip and tear and rair up behind when he was getting it off. . . .

[Later] we had OUR show; but there warn't only about twelve people there -- just enough to pay expenses.  And they laughed all the time, and that made the duke mad; and everybody left, anyway, before the show was over, but one boy which was asleep.  So the duke said these Arkansaw lunkheads couldn't come up to Shakespeare; what they wanted was low comedy -- and maybe something ruther worse than low comedy, he reckoned. 

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