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August 23, 2021

The Hamlet Wars

Hadley Griggs

Our town has two high schools—an east and a west—with a standard adolescent rivalry. It has never troubled us much before—just the occasional scuffle at football games. But this year, somehow, both schools decided to put on Hamlet. The East announced it first, with a post on the school’s official blog, and then two days later the West announced it louder, with a sleek commercial filmed in the woods just outside of town. My wife and I didn’t pay much attention—our kids are all graduated and moved away—but we heard that some of our neighbors with teenaged kids became embroiled in fierce online comment-section spats.

Then, one morning, the local paper ran photos of West’s auditorium lawn, with red paint that spelled out USURPERS. Two days later, the East cast went into their dressing room to find all of their costumes riddled with scissor-holes—even, our neighbor emphasized, Osric’s little hat! It seemed like a final straw for our neighbor, though we weren’t even sure where Osric figured in the play.

Not much later, we turned on the eight o’clock news hoping for an update on the incoming cold front, only to see the breaking news: a brawl in the city park. They showed shaky cam of two crowds shouting and marching until they converged. The kids were all in costume, wrestling each other in garters and nightgowns, biting and shrieking what sounded like snippets of lines, while the reporter intoned: Hamlet versus Hamlet, Gertrude versus Gertrude. We thought we could make out the shape of our neighbor, swinging something that looked like a fencing foil. The clip became quite a sensation in the tri-county area.

Eventually, the schools announced that they would be putting on one joint performance of the play, having lost a number of their cast members to broken wrists or detention. My wife and I attended the show one mild spring evening; we thought the young king was especially convincing, but were distracted when it became apparent that neither cast had been able to supply a Rosencrantz, leaving Guildenstern to opine on stage alone.