I have no problem with trimming the play. Everybody does it and with good reason. Avon Bill never used one word when he could use ten, and it's hard enough for modern audiences to interpret the language. And in spite of what some people would have you believe, it is not finally the language that is the most important aspect of Shakespeare's work, impressive though his language is - it's the plot and the emotions.
Here is the scene as written:
SCENE I. Elsinore. A platform before the castle.
FRANCISCO at his post. Enter to him BERNARDO
Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.
Long live the king!
You come most carefully upon your hour.
'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
Have you had quiet guard?
Not a mouse stirring.
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
I think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS
Friends to this ground.
And liegemen to the Dane.
Give you good night.
O, farewell, honest soldier:
Who hath relieved you?
Bernardo has my place.
Give you good night.
Say, What, is Horatio there?
A piece of him.
Welcome, Horatio: welcome, good Marcellus.
What, has this thing appear'd again to-night?
I have seen nothing.
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we have two nights seen.
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one,--
Peace, break thee off; look, where it comes again!
In the same figure, like the king that's dead.
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.
Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio.
Most like: it harrows me with fear and wonder.
It would be spoke to.
Question it, Horatio.
What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak!
It is offended.
See, it stalks away!
Stay! speak, speak! I charge thee, speak!
'Tis gone, and will not answer.
How now, Horatio! you tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.
Is it not like the king?
As thou art to thyself:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown'd he once, when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
In what particular thought to work I know not;
But in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-labourer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?
That can I;
At least, the whisper goes so. Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--
Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,
And carriage of the article design'd,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other--
As it doth well appear unto our state--
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost: and this, I take it,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch and the chief head
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
I think it be no other but e'en so:
Well may it sort that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch; so like the king
That was and is the question of these wars.
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse:
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.--
But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
Speak to me:
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid, O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
Speak of it: stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus.
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?
Do, if it will not stand.
We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard,
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
So have I heard and do in part believe it.
But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
Break we our watch up; and by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?
Let's do't, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.
Almost everybody these days leaves out the part where Hamlet is gossiping with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about the boy theater troupes - both the productions I saw did - and it's fully justifiable - Shakespeare was just being catty about his rivals, which, as much as I enjoy it, is not essential for the plot.
Also the "dumb show" - the mimed version of the murder of Gonzago which directly precedes the non-mime version of the murder of Gonzago, is hardly ever included. I think I've only ever seen one production that used it, the BBC's version with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet. And really, it's astounding that Shakespeare himself would use it, it's so incredibly excessive - talk about hammering home the point. Hey Bill, whatever happened to brevity being the soul of wit? And it's not like the play needs padding, it's already plenty long without it.
But in spite of the free and easy hand directors have with Shakespeare's plays (and much too free and easy for the most part in my opinion), you should NOT leave out the opening of the play.
First of all, it's exciting. It's got a ghost in it. And this is important for two reasons: first because it establishes that Hamlet is not crazy for thinking that he sees his father's ghost - in the world of the play everybody except Hamlet's mother sees the ghost whenever it shows up.
And second because then it absolutely ruins the joke of Scene 2:
Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
My father!--methinks I see my father.
Where, my lord?
In my mind's eye, Horatio.
It's pretty hard to read this as anything but a great gag that Shakespeare deliberately threw into the scene. It's hysterical when Hamlet says "methinks I see my father" and then Horatio looks around nervously (or in terror depending on the direction) because he thinks that Hamlet sees the ghost.
Both productions left this part in and even played it for laughs - but damn it, it doesn't work unless we've seen Horatio see the ghost of Hamlet's father!
Granted, in I-1 there is some long-ass exposition about Fortinbras, about which nobody gives a damn. I'd be fine if they wanted to cut that down a little. But the third reason you should not leave out I-1 is because we get to see Horatio. He bookends the play. He's vitally important to establishing Hamlet's character. And you are a damn fool if you leave this out of the play:
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted deadAnd also, Hamlet later tells Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy - Act I Scene 1 shows this is literally true. After the soldiers tell Horatio they saw the ghost, Horatio says:
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets:
HORATIOAnd right after that, the ghost shows up. Suck it, Horatio!
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
And one more thing to all would-be directors of HAMLET:
ENOUGH with the mixing up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern! It's not in the play - some director, at some point, had Claudius get them mixed up and then Gertrude corrects him, and it's used by every director ever since. But it's a good bit. Not as good as "methinks I see my father" but still, it's pretty funny and most importantly, plausible. You know why? Because the king and queen have never met Rosencrantz and Guildenstern before. But in the production I saw yesterday, goddman HAMLET gets them mixed up too, and that's just stupid. Not only does it ruin a good joke with repetition, but it makes Hamlet look like an idiot. These are friends of his, of course he knows which one is which.