To be, or not to be,believed

On tour, my wife and I did something in Denmark that William Shakespeare never did. We visited Elsinore, which is really Kronborg, the royal castle where "The tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," unfolds. Had Shakespeare done so, he would have spared himself a boo-boo in the opening moments of his drama, where he wrote, "But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill: ...."

We had gone to the castle of Hamlet before breakfast, enticed by that very invitation, thinking it would be proper to begin "Hamlet" again at the very hour. The sentinels would have greeted each other, the opening rustle of the groundlings would have subsided, and all would be ready to begin.

The morn, in russet mantle clad, would have walked o'er the dew.

It wasn't exactly like that.

Denmark is low, and has no hills beyond what a Maine farmer would classify as a pasture knoll. Hamlet's castle is situated so the only thing you can see from the platform is a flat sugar-beet field in Sweden, across the water on an island.

This, at first glimpse by the dawn's early light, is not what we'd had in mind. The two sentries on Shakespeare's platform, security officers of the new-day King Frederick's household, turned when we appeared and challenged us with, "Good morning."

Somewhere in less-public quarters, their majesties were still a-slumber and unaware their modest dwelling was really a shrine. And we surmised the Royal Family moonlighted by taking in overnight guests.

Well before we got there, the castle was swarming with tourists from Japan.

The Japanese tourists we saw in Europe were not at all like the Ugly American. They were openly polite, bowing and smiling a great deal, eager to find things out and know. Each seemed to wear a half-dozen Leica cameras about his neck on straps. The bus that had brought them was parked by the portcullis with its engine running, giving a monoxide flavor to Rosencrantz and Matsushi-stern.

That same day I heard, from a Danish businessman, about the two competing Danish firms that have an unusual policy about rivalry. It happens they are both brewers, which explains the German soliloquy, "Tuborg oder nicht Tuborg, das ist die Frage!"

One of these two companies is prosperous and its annual earnings are high. The other, sadly, is "just getting by," and many times a quarter ends with so little profit that the business is on the verge of folding.

In this situation, the successful business decided to divert some of its earnings to its competitor, and many times this pleasant generosity has kept the less-well-heeled company in business.

It was good to hear about this in a Shakespearean context, and I wished the Bard might have visited Elsinore and heard about it himself. Working that theme up would come out better than "As You Like It," anyway.

Just the other day, after the game, my TV had a talk show about regulating the networks. I dozed and didn't bother to push the mute. And I heard some fathead say that above all the networks must remain competitive.

I roused, wondering why we've got to be competitive. What's wonderful about being at each other's throat every moment so we can make a buck before the other guy grabs it? What's the matter with us?

I have a small parable to offer here to show what happens when your total ambition is to trim the other gentleman into disaster. Thus:

When Clevie Bickford, our Ford dealer, got a Fordson tractor on a "must sell" order from Henry, he realized that - short of a miracle - he was stumped. The Fordson had a torque problem, and would rear up and tip backward on its driver, and farmers didn't admire that.

But Clevie tried, and he told his salesman, Phil Sugg, to do what he could. Phil, who could sell anything, came back to the garage in the evening and told Clevie, "Well, we sold the Fordson."

Clevie said, "You didn't!"

"Yes, we did. Sold it to Henry Buck, the man from away who just bought the Osgood place on the River Road."

Clevie said, "What did we make?"

"Well, not too much in money. I got two dollars in cash."

Clevie said, "And...?"

Phil brought a list from his shirt pocket and began to read.

"I got as follows: One pony harness. Two boxes used quart preserving jars. One Snowe and Neally double-bitted ax, no handle. One box Captain Billy's Whizz-Bangs. One barrel header, two garden hoes, and a manure fork. One apple crate of Dwight Moody sermons. Two tea kettles - one copper, with leak. Seven lamp chimneys and a package of wicks. Bundle prize ribbons from Topsham Fair. Two butter paddles.

"This one I can't make out: I had a stub pencil. Wheelbarrow wheel. One bird cage. Two boxes leg bands for hens. Egg candler. Niddy-noddy and swift. Bag of glass alleys. Two cherry pitters. Bunch old keys. Oh, yes - and a surprise."

"What surprise?"

"A lot in Grove Cemetery."

"I already got a lot at Woodlawn."

Phil said, "Well, now you got two."

And Clevie answered everything at once. He said, "Who needs two?"

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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