Last Look

Alas, poor Yorick

Mark Morosse

Mark Morosse

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The turn-of-the-century playwright, director, and Broadway impresario David Belasco was well known for his cast-terrifying temper tantrums, in which he’d yell and gesticulate and stomp his pocket watch to bits. (He had a collection of secondhand watches available for such demonstrations.)

His friend Sir Henry Irving, a British Shakespearean actor, decided to give him a pocket watch he couldn’t squash. This custom-built “Hamlet” watch was a 1903 Christmas present. The skull—which opens and closes at the jaw—was designed to evoke Hamlet’s graveyard scene, in which the melancholy prince encounters the cranium of his father’s late court jester.

The watch, donated by a Shakespeare lover, resides in the walk-in vault of the Elizabethan Club. It’s one of a handful of Shakespeare-themed curiosities in the Lizzie’s collection of rare books, manuscripts, and oddities; the club will publish a catalog of those holdings next year, to commemorate its 100th birthday. Offers of Hamlet-inspired timepieces are rare, says the club’s librarian, Stephen Parks. But “you never know when the phone is going to ring.”  

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