“Hamlet in Love”
Play in two acts, first presented November 4-14, 2010, by Re-genesis in the Black Box Theatre at Silverton High School, Silverton, Oregon. It was directed by the author with the following cast:
|LAERTES||Alfred St. John Smith|
|Set assistance||Doug Ousterhout|
|Lighting design||Michael Smith|
|Stage manager||Karyl Carlson|
“Hamlet in Love”
Characters (in order of appearance)
|Ghost Voice||(accompanied by a single deep chime)|
The castle at Elsinore; late morning.
HAMLET: To be or not to be. That is not the question. Being is the given and then it’s over, like it or not, you die. The question is what to do now. I never asked to be noble, I am stuck with it. I might as well be king. But I want to do other things too, live different places, be other people besides myself. I might jump into anybody’s life, be the prince version of one of you, for example, wear your clothes, putter about in your little rooms, eat your food, brush your poor teeth, sleep in your bed. Alas I am stuck with myself, and aren’t we all! I am not idle, I have a busy little mind. But what am I really doing? Nothing! This is it? I don’t think so!
LAERTES (enters): How now, Hamlet?
HAMLET: Laertes. Thanks for coming.
LAERTES: What’s up?
HAMLET: I wanted to see you. Do I need a reason? What is more important than a friend? Nothing in this empty world.
LAERTES: Only a special friend. I mean, someone you love. Love is not empty.
HAMLET: I am no lover but here alone in my consciousness of ruin too bleak to share. It would not be love to wish it on another. I was once in love. The price was too high.
LAERTES: And what of Ophelia? Has she no say?
HAMLET: Are you reproaching me?
LAERTES: She knows you and cherishes a tender hope. How can you bear to wake from nightmare and find no other body in the aching bed? No one likes to eat alone. What kind of dinner can you make for yourself? Why bother?
HAMLET: It’s not that bad. I read. I dine at the royal table, as you know.
LAERTES: Tell me the truth.
HAMLET: Sometimes…sometimes the loneliness comes on me after we part…but part we must.
LAERTES: She would marry you.
HAMLET: I love her. But I cannot take her on. It is too much. She would change me.
LAERTES: You are making yourself wretched. Why fear change? Is she not desirable?
HAMLET: Are you kidding? She is a total fox.
LAERTES: Then what’s the problem?
HAMLET: It is myself. She cannot save me from my fate.
LAERTES: Of course not. Only you can do that. Are you still mad at your mother? Do you still want to kill your father?
HAMLET: He is not my father.
LAERTES: No, no, of course not. But he does make love to your mother, and here you are, and the king is dead. You did not make yourself. What she did before is best forgot.
HAMLET: My father…oh I cannot speak of it…
LAERTES: You need not.
HAMLET: He speaks inside me.
LAERTES: What does he say?
HAMLET: I know I should not listen. I am my own. But…
LAERTES: Surely you don’t believe in ghosts.
HAMLET: Only this one. She is not fair. Your sister is fair, I know too well, but I am wounded, and my wound wounds her. She wants to heal me, but no one can heal the bleeding world. You think that’s a cop-out. Do you know what I think?
LAERTES: You think too much.
HAMLET: Why are you here? Why are you not in battle, killing?
LAERTES: I came for the royal nuptials, as you know. The war has not started yet.
HAMLET: It will ere long.
LAERTES: And I do not kill. I am an officer on the general staff and work at headquarters. You should join us, the work is challenging.
HAMLET: I have no taste for blood.
LAERTES: Some say you shirk your duty.
HAMLET: My duty is to be myself, not further filthy wars.
LAERTES: These are schoolboy attitudes. You could be the king, and end it, or win. Claudius would yield if you would take the crown.
HAMLET: So they say but I don’t believe it. Who gives up a throne? They think I am too young and have no judgment. What they mean is, I am on the other side, the side of youth, of change, of a new world that makes them useless. I don’t want to be here. They disgust me.
LAERTES: France will help you if he resists.
HAMLET: That thought is treason, Laertes. You presume too much.
LAERTES: I speak the truth.
HAMLET: What I want from France is not fighting men but joie de vivre. Let it go on without me. Let me go back to school.
LAERTES: Be an honest prince and learn to rule yourself, and you will have the kingdom. I am ready when you see the way.
HAMLET: Thanks. I need a friend.
LAERTES: Will you see her?
HAMLET: If I must. What else is here for me? (bitterly) I am a prisoner of love.
LAERTES (laughing): That is not so terrible.
HAMLET: I have lost the thread of mirth, my friend. This is a desert. Everything in Elsinore is thorny and guards its moisture, living in disguise, pretending to be dead. The future threatens to come true. I am special but not superior.
LAERTES: Here she comes.
HAMLET: Tie my hands or I will strangle her. If I could separate her into parts, I would. The one is pure, the other filth. The temporary king loves me as a “son” but loves her permanently as a bedmate. Oh I know, love is love and sex is good. Why then am I alone, if I don’t want to be?
LAERTES: Not the queen. It is Ophelia.
HAMLET: Worse and worse. She has the truer reason to despise me.
LAERTES: Why, what’s the matter?
HAMLET: I will not see her. Tell her I have gone.
LAERTES (restraining him): You owe it to her, or to me. Do you trifle with us? I will not let you go.
HAMLET (pulling a knife): Is this a trifle? (LAERTES springs back) I thought not. You underestimate me, as you always did.
LAERTES: Put away the knife before you hurt yourself.
HAMLET: Are you afraid? You should be. I am not myself.
LAERTES: She turns the other way. Nay, she comes. I’ll go.
HAMLET: Pray stay.
LAERTES: She would be alone with you.
HAMLET: Then hide yourself behind the curtain and protect her secretly.
LAERTES (hiding): Am I invisible?
HAMLET: You do not exist. (reads, paces)
OPHELIA (enters): What words take away your mind, my lord?
HAMLET (as if reading): I am not your lord, I am your other brother. Be a sister to me, not a lover.
OPHELIA: Who is the writer? Are they yours?
HAMLET: Aye, more than my own speech. Ophelia, be my friend. Your brother is compromised like all the rest. I am not free to love.
OPHELIA: You cannot go, but you are free, within these walls. Love will free you. Try and see.
HAMLET: Who can laugh while others weep? Who can play while others die? The better part of me once loved you well. I kept it close but lost the key when the second-hand king sent my soldiers off to war. Laertes is a captain. You cannot love us both.
OPHELIA: There is no lock to need a key. Open the door.
HAMLET: Call back the army.
OPHELIA: I would, of course. My heart is broken by it too. Beyond that, I am afraid, I am not like you.
HAMLET: Your father has some influence.
OPHELIA: Only by evasion. The space between his words conceals a regiment. (uncovers LAERTES) Why are you hiding?
HAMLET: I wanted you alone.
OPHELIA: You wanted me to think we were alone but wanted not to be. I am not your enemy to be spied upon. Who else is watching us?
HAMLET: I hoped that he might understand.
OPHELIA (to LAERTES): Explain.
LAERTES: He has a knife.
OPHELIA: And you are afraid that he will hurt himself? (to HAMLET) You never would. It is against your nature. (to LAERTES) He won’t hurt you. He is trying to be funny. (to HAMLET) I am the one who understands. He didn’t kill your father, but he may kill you.
HAMLET: He has done it.
OPHELIA: Don’t be so dramatic. This isn’t working. Study something different.
HAMLET: Like what, for example? Accounting? Astronomy? Zoology?
LAERTES: You don’t need me.
HAMLET: Don’t go.
OPHELIA: Why don’t you love me? Say again.
HAMLET: This is the conversation I wanted to avoid. Because you are a strumpet. Because I am a jerk. Because your brother is a murderer. Because my father is but two months dead, nay, not two, and already my mother…
LAERTES: She has the right.
HAMLET: See how he helps me? Because the king holds me prisoner, castrated, passive, implicated in his war like all the rest.
LAERTES: I am a soldier. You are a…what are you, Hamlet? We speak in our roles.
OPHELIA: Laertes, go away. Leave him to me.
HAMLET: I wish I could go with you. No I don’t. Where will you go? To the killing field? To the office? The family business is going well, yes? And I am living on the profits. I am a rogue but hardly peasant, slave only of my name. The joke is bitter on my tongue. (distracted)
OPHELIA: You don’t have to explain yourself.
HAMLET: What else can I do?
OPHELIA: Live. Be a better world yourself.
GHOST VOICE (echoing, fading): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET: Father? Is that you? Wait! I am coming with you.
LAERTES: He is hearing voices.
HAMLET: Don’t you? Don’t you? Are your dead souls silent? They are our teachers. They can teach us how to live.
OPHELIA: Oh Hamlet, that is so pitiful.
HAMLET: The living are too slippery, slipping away even as I reach for them.
OPHELIA: Not me. I do not slip.
HAMLET: Not you. Not me. Perhaps not. Nothing I can say is true. I am a living lie. You must not trust me.
OPHELIA: My truth is trust enough.
HAMLET: For two of us? We three? The whole palace? (the curtain stirs) Who else is here? Whoever is listening is a master of deceit.
LAERTES: Give me the knife.
HAMLET: You don’t need it. You are armed enough. But look to your guards.
LAERTES: What, do you know something? Or is this more foolery?
HAMLET: Ah, but you half believe me. There’s the rub. Madness is a sane response to madness. Shall I pierce the curtain, Ophelia? Or will the villain live?
POLONIUS (emerging): Put up your knife. I am no villain.
HAMLET: Who is, then? For there is villainy abroad.
OPHELIA: You make it so.
HAMLET: I? I am the soul of gentleness. I would be the counselor of peace. Instead they kennel me with hounds of war.
POLONIUS: If my master is a dog, your mother is a bitch.
HAMLET: Aye, that’s simple. I have said so. If you mean to offend me, try more.
POLONIUS: Apologies. I joked.
LAERTES: Never joke with Hamlet. He is a serious man.
OPHELIA (to LAERTES): Be serious.
POLONIUS: Who holds the leash must guide the walk.
HAMLET: Enough about dogs, Polonius.
OPHELIA: Are you spying on me?
LAERTES: Or me, your honest son?
HAMLET: Nay, on me. I am the leading character in this play, capering because I cannot run away. Take turns plucking my strings, and I will meekly sing your tunes. But someone else directs my true desire.
OPHELIA: I knew it. Who is she?
HAMLET: Is death a woman? (She runs to her father) I thought as much. This dagger is for me.
LAERTES: Say not.
HAMLET: Will you give me your sister for it?
LAERTES: She is not mine to give.
HAMLET: Whose, then? Her father’s? Surely not her own.
LAERTES: I do not like this jest.
HAMLET: So make me another.
LAERTES: I am your friend.
HAMLET: You were, when I was alive.
LAERTES: I am your friend beyond the grave, if you take my meaning.
HAMLET: I miss the wit. If we be serious we are in serious danger. The fall is far advanced, the larder empty, the wood pile rotted, the blankets full of moths.
LAERTES: Father, make him stop.
OPHELIA: Hamlet, no more!
HAMLET: Our bones are brittle, our teeth are rotten in our mouths, our socks and soles are wearing through, our hair gone thin, our pissing weak.
POLONIUS: Speak for yourself, Hamlet. If it be so, be easy. If not, it is a building toy of words, to reassemble as you will. Try others till you find a happier fit.
HAMLET: Stop the war and set me free.
POLONIUS: We were attacked.
HAMLET: I would attack if I were able.
POLONIUS: We know, and must disable you.
HAMLET: Not for hate but love.
OPHELIA: Love me. I offer tender warmth and closeness, arms to hold you, eyes to admire your precious form.
LAERTES: Love me. I offer action, manly brothers, heroic tasks. Spend yourself in the charge of duty.
POLONIUS: Love your country, and be more patient. Thine own self, prince, can only rise to destiny when the pear tree bears.
HAMLET: I want to scream. Stop talking. Leave me alone.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET (distracted): No, father, no, it is too late for you but not for me. (Exit)
POLONIUS (after a shocked silence): This is excess of grief. His father was a noble man and died. I served him honorably and well. It is not treachery now to serve his brother.
OPHELIA: Of course not, father.
LAERTES: No one says so.
POLONIUS: His point was for me. If you brandish a dagger, someone gets hurt.
OPHELIA: Why must you always utter the obvious?
POLONIUS: Someone has to. When what we know is not acknowledged, we doubt ourselves.
LAERTES: I will take it from him. (Exit)
OPHELIA: I thought you never were in doubt.
POLONIUS: I am doubt’s enemy, and it is mine. It fights me at every opportunity. No thought is safe.
OPHELIA: Is the court in any danger? Tell me if you know.
POLONIUS: The state has reasons reason cannot compass.
OPHELIA: That is such nonsense, father. You can do better.
POLONIUS: I mean I have to watch my step. The ground is slippery, and gravity is strong. Give me your arm. (a cry offstage)
OPHELIA: Hamlet! Brother! (she runs out)
POLONIUS: Who is leaning on whom, that is the question. Who is too young, or am I not yet old enough? Would I be more myself if I could stand alone? If I stood alone, the world would be a blank. This is the very future the past predicted, if we only knew. If we only knew, we would be wise.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
POLONIUS (not hearing it): We would be wise if we listened less to ourselves and more to one another. I go on talking even if no one is listening. If no one is listening, all I understand is still worth utterance, or so I tell myself to relieve the silence. But here is the king. I need not hide. He does not see me.
(Enter CLAUDIUS in intimate converse with GERTRUDE)
GERTRUDE: We must be more discreet. My rapture offends my son.
CLAUDIUS: You have a right to it.
GERTUDE: Do I? Am I not obliged to mourn?
CLAUDIUS: You mourn in your heart.
GERTRUDE: He was a good man.
CLAUDIUS: Better than me?
GERTRUDE: In some ways, yes. In others, as you know, I never was awake with him.
CLAUDIUS: Let his spirit go, and get on with the celebration of your life. I did not kill him.
GERTRUDE: No one says you did but Hamlet, and he is mad.
CLAUDIUS: But I am glad he’s dead. He was not afraid of death, which lifted his many burdens. Now that I am king, I would not greatly mind my own, except for leaving you. What more is there to win? I can only lose at war.
GERTRUDE: Why then wage it?
CLAUDIUS: It is what kings do.
GERTRUDE: Can not you break the mold? Hamlet would be cured, or so he thinks. I think not. He fears sanity and models his own defeat.
CLAUDIUS: It is you I would not lose and feign would not leave lonely.
GERTRUDE: How sweet of you to say so. I mean the same. To openly love you has long been my ideal. But no mother cares more than for the happiness of her child.
CLAUDIUS: A platitude worthy of Polonius, but more clumsily put. (to POLONIUS) How now?
GERTRUDE: Let him go. If you don’t mind the danger, I do.
CLAUDIUS: I have a taste for present threat. It sharpens the mind and makes the tender moments sweeter.
GERTRUDE: And so do I, but not to lose another husband.
CLAUDIUS: He will not kill me. He is more dangerous abroad. He sympathizes with the enemy.
GERTRUDE: He is philosophically inclined.
CLAUDIUS: We are too, but of another school, prince only in passing, and glad to be needed.
GERTRUDE: I need you.
CLAUDIUS: And I you, my dear. Otherwise my claim was dubious. Solitude is impotence. I do not have a taste for it.
GERTRUDE: I am content, or would be if Hamlet were only free and easier.
CLAUDIUS: We should tell him the truth at last.
GERTRUDE: He could not bear it. He would hate me.
CLAUDIUS: How do you think that makes me feel? I envied not the throne but acknowledged fatherhood, and now I have the one I value less.
GERTRUDE: Do not prevaricate with me. You know the all, you feel what any father feels, and still you rule. My body knows the royal seat so I know how you feel. My haste seems a mite unseemly, but your judgment is not in question.
CLAUDIUS: Would that it were so. Let me speak to him.
GERTRUDE: Don’t. If anyone is ever to tell him, it must be me. But if you do, good luck.
HAMLET (entering; to POLONIUS): Your son is kind but less than kin. See to him.
POLONIUS: What, is he wounded?
HAMLET: Mainly in the vanity. His envy banishes his wit. His elder cousinness could not disarm me. My blade meant not to harm him—I would give it to him freely. I would gladly be banished, but instead am constrained to vanish here at home.
CLAUDIUS: Cheer up, Hamlet. And speak more simply.
HAMLET: Are you here, King? And Mother too?
CLAUDIUS: This is our house. You should be more gracious as our son and guest.
HAMLET: And prisoner.
GERTRUDE: We will not let you go in this dark mood.
HAMLET: Your tender arms like ivy strangle the sapling reaching for the sun. I will be cheerfuler in French.
GERTRUDE Do not forever with thy veiled lids seek for thy father in the dust. Thou know’st ‘tis common, all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.
HAMLET: Ay, madam, it is common.
GERTRUDE: If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?
HAMLET: Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.” ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, nor customary suits of solemn black, nor windy suspiration of forced breath, no, nor the fruitful river in the eye, or other forms, moods, shapes of grief that can denote me truly. These indeed “seem,” for they are actions that a man might play. But I have that within which passeth show—these but the trappings and the suits of woe.
CLAUDIUS: ‘Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, to give these mourning duties to your father. But you must know, your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound in filial obligation for some term to do obsequious sorrow. But to persevere in obstinate condolement is unmanly grief. For what we know must be. Why should we take it to heart? Fie, ‘tis a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, to reason most absurd, whose common theme is death of fathers. We pray you throw to earth this unprevailing woe, and think of us as father now. For let the world take note, you are the most immediate to our throne. We beseech you, bend you to remain here in the cheer and comfort of our eye, our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son. We will school you in the duties and regard of power.
GERTRUDE: Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet. I pray thee stay.
HAMLET: I shall in all my best obey you, madam.
CLAUDIUS: Why, ‘tis a loving and a fair reply. Be as ourself in Denmark. Madam, come. This gentle and unforced accord of Hamlet sits smiling to my heart. No jocund health that Denmark drinks today but the great cannon to the clouds shall tell. Come away. (exeunt)
HAMLET (alone): O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew. Or that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon against self-slaughter! Oh God! God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on it, ah fie! ‘Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely. That it should come to this! (enter LAERTES, bandaged) Friend of my youthful heart, forgive me.
LAERTES: The fault was mine.
HAMLET: True, but my knife made the cut. Where is it now?
LAERTES: Beyond your reach, or e’en my own. Let it sleep.
HAMLET: Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honor’s at the stake. How stand I then, that have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d, excitements of my reason and my blood, and let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see the imminent death of twenty thousand men, that, for a fantasy and trick of fame, go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, which is not tomb enough and continent to hide the slain? My tongue thickens as I age. We used to have fun, or I did, when you let me.
LAERTES: You slander our spontaneous innocence. I was kind enough. The truth is, our ignorance protected us. Yours, unhappy prince, is still intact.
HAMLET: I knew more then than I do now. My mind has never been so agile since. It was an ideal world, and I was the perfect princeling.
LAERTES: Ideal because you saw it so.
HAMLET: Ignorance of what? Is there something else not being said? Mais oui, toujours. These threads tie us lightly to the tiny pyre. Speak what you are hinting at.
LAERTES: You are asleep, my friend. I dare not wake you.
HAMLET: Am I dreaming then? I think I am awake, but I have been fooled before, dreamed I woke, and woke deranged. If you are my friend, tell me what I need to know. Will it cure me or plunge me deeper in this quicksand, where every motion pulls me further down? Is it villainy or madness?
LAERTES: Neither, lord.
HAMLET: Am I the author of my fate or no?
LAERTES: I like your questionings.
HAMLET: Then answer me, if you are honest, or ask your own, and we will bat them back and forth like birds. I would rather play than work.
LAERTES: Ophelia is not playing.
HAMLET: Nor is the king, I wot. My mother, on the other hand, plays too freely for my comfort. I worry her to keep her chaste.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET (to GHOST): I know, I know, oh let me be! (to LAERTES) Enough about Ophelia! Where fares she now?
LAERTES: She speaks of retreating to a nunnery.
HAMLET: Can she not wait on me a little more?
LAERTES: She is called, or so she says. It is nothing personal.
HAMLET: Everything is personal. I am not objectively myself.
LAERTES: I think you love her.
HAMLET: I did, and might, if she would wait and keep her head.
LAERTES: Is this a test? ‘Tis cruel.
HAMLET: Her prayers will do no harm. I hope she prays for me. My sanity and very life are hers if they are mine. I am the examinee, constrained to concentrate if I hope to pass. Pray say nothing of this to her. I speak lightly. Love is the light in the dark of night. Let it glimmer.
LAERTES: Come, let us to table. This emptiness may be mere hunger. (exeunt right)
(Lights fade out. A cannon is heard. Lights rise.)
GERTRUDE (entering left, pursued by POLONIUS): Let me be, Polonius. I doubt myself, I always have, I don’t need you to prod my useless remorse. I want to like my bed.
POLONIUS: What did I say?
GERTRUDE: You looked at me strangely across the lunch.
POLONIUS: I was preoccupied. It is an affair of state.
GERTRUDE: Very funny!
POLONIUS: Lady, you presume too much understanding. You see but are not seen behind the modesties of public virtue and your mourning veil.
GERTRUDE: It is not modesty but a fitting prudence. My son would not forgive me.
POLONIUS: What are you protecting now? The man is gone.
GERTRUDE: His goodness did not reproach me. It was not perfidy, it was private. I think you know too much.
POLONIUS: I know the truth.
GERTRUDE: You know some fragmentary facts, that the king and I were not, shall we say, well suited, that his brother and I were better friends, that the kingdom needed to be ruled. Nothing had any need to change, all three of us were happy, but change has forced itself upon us, and now we are content again. If Hamlet misled is tippy in his wits, he would be capsized by too much truth. Let it rest. Advise the king. He needs it more.
POLONIUS: My children are crying through me. Truth will out. Laertes more than suspects the false paternity, and Hamlet’s distress has broken Ophelia’s heart.
GERTRUDE: Let her learn to live with it. I am sorry to be cruel, but we all have to grow up. Hearts are broken. Healing is the way that they grow strong.
POLONIUS: I will use that thought. But it is not much comfort at the time.
GERTRUDE: There is no alternative. Was your heart never broken? I have only known you solitary.
POLONIUS: Only a lover can break a heart. Love doesn’t die, it must be killed, and when she died our love was still alive, nay, borning, blooming, radiant as the flowers in the spring. You were a little girl, and we lived privately. She lives within me. I do not desire another.
GERTRUDE: Your love is precious to us, old man.
POLONIUS: Tell him now.
GERTRUDE: I can’t. It is too late. The late king agreed. He would not forgive me for lying all these years.
POLONIUS: It was wise to wait. He deserved the confidence of legitimacy, and was a constant light-hearted prince. But now he turns against his blood. I suspect he is plotting with our enemies.
GERTRUDE: Surely not! I don’t believe it! What is the evidence?
POLONIUS: He speaks of it. Peace is code for surrender.
GERTRUDE: It is too depressing here. I don’t blame him.
POLONIUS: The darkness is artificial. Open the blinds!
GERTRUDE: Mayhap we will show it to him in a play. Fiction is easier to bear than bare facticity.
CLAUDIUS (entering): Why are you two thus in solitary conference? I would see you separately, in cabinet and closet.
GERTRUDE: Don’t be paranoid, darling. We are plotting the end of plots.
CLAUDIUS: Hamlet would have us watch him act a play. I do not like these amateur theatricals.
GERTRUDE: What is the matter?
CLAUDIUS: He calls it “The Mousetrap,” or else “The Murder of Gonzago.”
GERTRUDE: My ears distrust the ring of that.
CLAUDIUS: Mine too. We have more taste for comedy.
GERTRUDE: Speak for yourselves. I was never joking. My life is perfectly serious.
CLAUDIUS: I know that, love. I mean upon the stage. Let us see what he imagines. Then after, perhaps, if we will act the truth, it will free us all from lies. Come join us now in the royal nap. (to POLONIUS) If there be news, let it wait upon our pleasure. (exeunt)
LAERTES (entering in conversation with OPHELIA): Can you really mean to flower in a cloister garden? Have you no regret for others’ eyes? Your beauty is too rare to be concealed.
OPHELIA: Those women more purely worthy may inspire the dedication I require.
LAERTES: Don’t go.
OPHELIA: I may not choose. Hamlet forces my hand. If he would soften…
LAERTES: He may. My hardness enables me to see both sides, although a certain haze still hangs about the queen and present king. Have they not long known each other very well?
OPHELIA: What are you suggesting?
LAERTES: Does not Hamlet’s resemblance fall in the less likely way?
OPHELIA: Can you mean…? He would hate to hear it.
LAERTES: I know. He worships the one who has gone before and wanted to follow him. I took his knife. Now he wounds himself with writing a pantomime. Twisted, he would accuse the king of murder. I know his mind.
OPHELIA: Let it unravel. I like him better unknotted.
LAERTES: It will whether we allow or no. But here he is.
HAMLET (entering): There’s ne’er a villain dwelling in all Denmark but he’s an arrant knave.
LAERTES: There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave to tell us this.
HAMLET: Why, right! You are in the right! And so, without more circumstance at all, I hold it fit that we shake hands and part; you, as your business and desires shall point you, for every man hath business and desire, such as it is; and for my own poor part, look you, I’ll go pray.
OPHELIA: Pray do not mock me, Hamlet.
HAMLET: How can you think it? Are your prayers not sincere? Do not be offended by my antic words. I need your good will to play my parts.
OPHELIA: What parts are those? I know not parts.
HAMLET: I mean the would-be king and my former mother. Here are parts for each of you. Do not peruse them now but meet me in the garden and we’ll practice. The one performance is tonight. I will be my parted father before he was a ghost.
LAERTES: And you mean to show this to the court? What is your purpose?
HAMLET: I hope they will be amused. The plastic person in the funhouse is not so different from ourselves. There is wild joy in such true mirrors.
OPHELIA: Here is royalty. Brother, leave us a moment alone.
LAERTES: I dare not.
HAMLET: Dare it. You know I am disarmed.
OPHELIA: Fear not the heat of the confusing son. I am well screened.
LAERTES: Call out if you need me. (Exit)
OPHELIA: I’m worried about you, sweetie. You seem to be not yourself. Why all these provocations?
HAMLET: Am I not provoked? If my mother has so changed, so must I, to keep the balance in the world.
OPHELIA: Only her situation changes. She herself is as she was.
HAMLET: She did not lie with her husband’s brother. How can I lie with you?
OPHELIA: I only want the truth.
HAMLET: And you are brave. Allow me this creative fit. I hope it will transform my character. Melancholy is not my favorite mood, you may recall. If the play infects the players, the scribbler is to blame, but there are viral facts behind it.
OPHELIA: You purge them with dangerous herbs!
HAMLET: Raise the stakes, my master taught me. If I offend, I may be banished. We can live in France, on better fare.
OPHELIA: I would be sorry to leave my father.
HAMLET: No such magnet holds my compass true, alas. Will you play your part?
OPHELIA: I am nothing like the queen. How would you have me act her?
HAMLET: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounce it to you, trippingly on the tongue. Let me see, let me see— ‘The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms, Black as his purpose, did the night resemble When he lay couched in the ominous horse, Hath now this dread and black complexion smear’d With heraldry more dismal; head to foot Now is he total gules; horridly trick’d With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, Baked and impasted with the parching streets, That lend a tyrannous and damned light To their lord’s murder: roasted in wrath and fire, And thus o’er-sized with coagulate gore, With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus Old grandsire Priam seeks.’ So, proceed you.
OPHELIA: I hope I can remember my lines.
HAMLET: Go make you ready.
OPHELIA: I will linger in the light to get the text.
HAMLET: I will wait upon you. (exit)
OPHELIA (alone): Deeper and deeper. He is obsessed with his invention. So I am to be his instrument. If I act too well, I may earn his mother’s enmity, which no one’s marriage can comfortably endure. If I am feeble in the part, I fear his critical barbs. I will endeavor to acquit myself. When the curtain parts, the play begins.
POLONIUS (entering): How now, Ophelia?
OPHELIA (conceals the script): Father, you approach too silently.
POLONIUS: I have the habit of spying, it is well known.
OPHELIA: Are we nowhere unobserved at Elsinore?
POLONIUS: What are you hiding?
OPHELIA: It is an after-dinner pantomime Hamlet has devised to entertain the court.
POLONIUS: Let me see it.
OPHELIA: It would ruin the surprise.
POLONIUS: What is the matter?
OPHELIA: So please you, something touching the king and queen.
POLONIUS: Marry, well bethought! ‘Tis told me he hath very oft of late given private time to you, and you yourself have of your audience been most free and bounteous. If it be so—as so ‘tis put on me, and that in the way of caution—I must tell you you do not understand yourself so clearly as behooves my daughter and your honor. What is between you? Give me up the truth.
OPHELIA: He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders of his affection to me.
POLONIUS: Affection? Pooh! You speak like a green girl, unsifted in such perilous circumstance. Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?
OPHELIA: I do not know, my lord, what I should think.
POLONIUS: Marry, I will teach you! Think yourself a baby, that you have taken these tenders for true pay.
OPHELIA: My lord, he hath importuned me with love in honorable fashion.
POLONIUS: Ay, fashion you may call it. Go to, go to!
OPHELIA: And hath given countenance to his speech with almost all the holy vows of heaven.
POLONIUS: Ay, springs to catch woodcocks. I do know, when the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both even in their promise, as it is a-making, you must not take for fire.
OPHELIA: Is this not every father’s jealousy?
POLONIUS: I know not, never having been a daughter.
OPHELIA: I hear you and am warned.
POLONIUS: You will not show it?
OPHELIA: Nor gifts before the occasion, as you and my mother taught me.
POLONIUS: You know her mention helplessly disarms me.
OPHELIA: I use it sensibly. With all respect, the time escapes.
POLONIUS: Go on, then. (exit OPHELIA; aside) I follow. (exit)
GERTRUDE (entering): I wander through the palace like a character in another play. All I ever wanted has come my due, but for Hamlet’s discontent. He is my bad conscience although in fact my soul is pure. I did not betray my husband but saved the honor of his manhood. He connived in it as well, and if his brother won a larger part of my heart, it was happy chance. But Hamlet and the general had to be misled. Now the snake bites its tail and cannot stop revolving.
HAMLET (entering): The sun has wasted its light. Bring on the night.
GERTRUDE: Hamlet, we are looking forward to your play.
HAMLET: Do you speak as queen or mother?
GERTRUDE: Mother first, but I was queen before. The habit of royalty is second nature.
HAMLET: Do you believe that I am mad?
GERTRUDE: You certainly are mad at me. Believe me, it is ill deserved.
HAMLET: I do not believe you, sadly. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.
GERTRUDE: If I were to lay the truth before you naked, would you turn away your eye?
HAMLET: Truth? You lie at every opportunity. I mean with the pasteboard king. I cannot bear it. Can you not dissemble? Let me go, and you can rut at will.
GERTRUDE: Oh, Hamlet, you hurt me with your rudeness. Is this the style of mind you learn among your fancy Paris friends? It is not like that. I am worthy of your respect and love.
HAMLET: I know what happened! I will show it in my play and bid farewell to innocence and be done.
GERTRUDE: How can I convince you that my love, while unconventional, is honest?
HAMLET: You dare to speak of love? To me? Why it is scarce two days since my father died.
GERTRUDE: It is twice two months. Be real, for heaven’s sake—for your own sake, and mine!
HAMLET: Real is what I cannot bear, Mother. I have to live with this shame, but must I laugh at the villain’s charmless wit.
GERTRUDE: I know you loved your former father, but hating Claudius is worse than unwise. (aside) Oh, I wish I could level with him!
HAMLET: Will he murder me too?
GERTRUDE: Don’t be so melodramatic. Pray control yourself. The king’s patience is not unlimited.
HAMLET: Nor is mine. Let me go and lose myself in philosophy and science.
GERTRUDE: I fear too much for your equanimity. Your lurid fantasies open you to seductions and manipulations that could even harm the state, which our blood is committed to cherish and sustain. You could rule if you would get your act together, Hamlet, and block this war we never wanted.
HAMLET: Lies upon lies. How can I credit anything you say? The truth must out, and if it outs your incestuous love nest, sorry and so be it. The play’s the thing with which I’ll catch the conscience of the king. (storms out)
GERTRUDE (alone): I should have told him years ago, but it seemed too confusing when he was young. It had to be a secret, for the purposes of rule, and we wanted him to grow up open and easy. He was such a sweet boy, nothing but a joy to his parents and his uncle, who never wanted to be king.
CLAUDIUS (entering): Hamlet seems unhappy with your interview. His eyes looked daggers as he passed me in the corridor.
GERTRUDE: You know what his play is going to suggest.
CLAUDIUS: I do. He thinks I killed his father. But I am his father, if he only knew.
GERTRUDE: How can he allow you to replace the one he loved and lost? He is already half unhinged.
CLAUDIUS: Let him say the worst. It may harm us at first in the opinion of the court, but everyone must know. I crave if not his love at least the open pride of fatherhood. Let it come out. The truth can only be a relief. (LAERTES passes through, deferential) Captain, a word.
CLAUDIUS: Are you a loyal friend of Denmark?
LAERTES: I am ever mindful of my duty, General.
CLAUDIUS: Ah, but duty to whom? Am I not the rightful king?
LAERTES: They say so.
CLAUDIUS: Do you doubt it? I command you to speak honestly.
LAERTES: Not the entire legitimacy, but perhaps the path.
CLAUDIUS: Your father talks too much. It is a wearisome fault.
LAERTES: He is discreet. I have witnessed the steps of the dance with my own eyes.
CLAUDIUS: Only those that we have shown. Never mind. I hear you are conniving with Hamlet in a play.
LAERTES: The plot is his. I fear it will offend you, sir.
CLAUDIUS: Fear not my offense, but do not mistake the fiction for the fact. Do what he says, short of treason. And after, I pray you, play a corrective of mine own.
LAERTES: What is my character in it?
CLAUDIUS: The late king. I know it is implausible, you are obviously too young to be the prince’s father, but Polonius is a terrible actor, I’m afraid. I have tried to use him in the past. He can’t remember lines, he wears me out with rhetoric, and he looks ridiculous on the stage. We will trick you out in suitable adornments. How goes the war?
LAERTES: We cannot win.
CLAUDIUS: It is treasonous to say so.
LAERTES: Do you want the truth, or wishful sightings to confirm your present course?
CLAUDIUS: The course is not mine. We cannot stop others from fighting among themselves by joining in the fray, that’s obvious. I inherited my brother’s drift to war. We agreed about women but not about foreign policy.
LAERTES: Then why do you not withdraw? I have heard you promise victory.
CLAUDIUS: Do you imagine the thoughts I speak are my own? I must espouse belligerence to maintain my dubious throne. If I were Hamlet, with a more perfect claim, they would obey me, and I would cease hostilities at once.
LAERTES: Be brave. Issue the order. That is how kings rule.
CLAUDIUS: The generals would find reasons to disregard it. You are so naive. Their very brass depends upon warring. And where would the privates find employment in the private realm?
LAERTES: The people would acclaim your courage.
CLAUDIUS: Only the few. The mass would scorn me as a coward. We cannot take the risk.
LAERTES: How can you bear to cause such suffering?
CLAUDIUS: I am not the cause. I am a victim too.
LAERTES: Poor king. But I don’t see too much misery in the palace.
CLAUDIUS: My conscience writhes within me, but I am schooled in outward equanimity.
LAERTES: So is the prince. His thoughts are even blacker than his garb.
CLAUDIUS: His flaunted melancholy is a virtue only in your mind! Come, we will share the substance of our tale. (exeunt omnes)
(Trumpets. CLAUDIUS, GERTRUDE, and POLONIUS enter formally and take their places at the side. On stage, a garden with a bench.)
THE FIRST PLAY
(Enter HAMLET as the late King his father with OPHELIA as his mother the Queen.)
HAMLET/KING: Full thirty times hath Phoebus’ cart gone round Neptune’s salt wash and Tellus’ orbed ground, And thirty dozen moons with borrowed sheen About the world have times twelve thirties been, Since love our hearts, and Hymen did our hands, Unite communal in most sacred bands.
OPHELIA/QUEEN: So many journeys may the sun and moon Make us again count o’er ere love be done! But woe is me! you are so sick of late, So far from cheer and from your former state. Now what my love is, proof hath made you know; And as my love is sized, my fear is so. Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear; Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
HAMLET/KING: Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too; My operant powers their functions leave to do. And thou shalt live in this fair world behind, Honored, beloved, and haply one as kind For husband shalt thou—
OPHELIA/QUEEN: O, confound the rest! Such love must needs be treason in my breast. In second husband let me be accurst! None wed the second but who killed the first.
HAMLET (aside): Wormwood, wormwood!
OPHELIA/QUEEN: The instances that second marriage move Are base respects of thrift, but none of love. A second time I kill my husband dead When second husband kisses me in bed.
HAMLET/KING: I do believe you think what now you speak; But what we do determine oft we break. Purpose is but the slave to memory, Of violent birth, but poor validity; Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree, But fall unshaken when they mellow be. Most necessary ‘tis that we forget To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt. What to ourselves in passion we propose, The passion ending, doth the purpose lose. The violence of either grief or joy Their own enactures with themselves destroy. Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament; Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident. This world is not for aye, nor ‘tis not strange That even our loves should with our fortunes change; For ‘tis a question left us yet to prove, Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love. The great man down, you mark his favorite flies, The poor advanced makes friends of enemies. And hitherto doth love on fortune tend, For who not needs shall never lack a friend, And who in want a hollow friend doth try, Directly seasons him his enemy. But, orderly to end where I begun, Our wills and fates do so contrary run That our devices still are overthrown; Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own. So think thou wilt no second husband wed; But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.
OPHELIA/QUEEN: Nor earth to me give food, nor heaven light, Sport and repose lock from me day and night, To desperation turn my trust and hope, An anchor’s cheer in prison be my scope, Each opposite that blanks the face of joy Meet what I would have well, and it destroy, Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife, If, once a widow, ever I be wife!
HAMLET/KING: ‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here awhile. My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile The tedious day with sleep. (sleeps)
OPHELIA/QUEEN: Sleep rock thy brain, And never come mischance between us twain! (exit to side)
HAMLET (himself): Madam, how like you this play?
GERTRUDE: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
HAMLET: Oh, but she at least will keep her word.
CLAUDIUS: Have you heard the argument? Is there no offense in it?
HAMLET: No, no! They do but jest, poison in jest; no offense in the world. (LAERTES enters in royal guise) This is one Lucianus, brother to the king, and none of us.
OPHELIA (herself): You are as good as a chorus, my lord.
HAMLET: I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying.
OPHELIA: You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
HAMLET: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.
OPHELIA: Still better, and worse.
HAMLET: So you must take your husbands.— Begin, murderer. Pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin! Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge. (as King again, sleeps)
LAERTES/LUCIANUS: Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing; Confederate season, else no creature seeing; Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected, With Hecate’s ban thrice blasted, thrice infected, Thy natural magic and dire property On wholesome life usurp immediately.
(LAERTES pours poison in HAMLET’s ear; HAMLET agonizes, dies)
CLAUDIUS (after an awkward pause): Is that all?
HAMLET: He has killed me. I am dead.
CLAUDIUS: How then do you speak?
LAERTES: What do I do now?
HAMLET: Take the crown, and marry to your sister, if you will.
CLAUDIUS (rising): Give us some light.
POLONIUS: Lights, lights!
CLAUDIUS: Thanks, Hamlet, for your well-rhymed tale. The point is blunt. Stay here a while, and we will entertain you with a corrective of our own. Come with me, captain, wife, and we’ll rehearse. (exeunt)
HAMLET (leaps up): Did you see how he blanched? He could hardly wait to get away.
POLONIUS: The play was a trifle tedious, my lord.
HAMLET: This is the very cast and show of guilt.
POLONIUS: You only perceive what you previously imagined. Expectation dresses perception in colors of its own.
HAMLET: Then how can we ever see the truth? You knew it, Ophelia, did you not?
OPHELIA: An eagerness to try a drama of his own, I think. He watched politely. He would be a dramatist too.
POLONIUS: The Queen has a hand in it, doubt not.
POLONIUS: It was deliberately offensive. Your mother did not like it.
HAMLET: I was not trying to amuse her. Go away, old man, I would be private with your daughter.
POLONIUS: I would rather not.
OPHELIA: Go on, father. I am mindful of what you said, and will be prudent.
POLONIUS: Briefly and in short, I go. (bows out)
OPHELIA: He is worried about me. He thinks I compromise myself by being kind.
HAMLET: Tell me honestly, how did you like my play?
OPHELIA: I liked the wording but not the thought.
HAMLET: Words are only worth what they represent.
OPHELIA; So you say, but is it true? I believe you are enamored of your rhymes and sometimes heedless of your meanings, may I be so bold.
HAMLET: I like your boldness. Can I have a hug?
OPHELIA: Of course. (they embrace closely and at length, sighing with pleasure)
HAMLET: So you don’t believe my theory.
OPHELIA: That your uncle killed your father for the throne?
HAMLET: No, no, for my mother. He would rather not be king, although he likes the pomp. It is too much burden.
OPHELIA: Would you be better?
HAMLET: To me it would be natural. I would end the war, starve the army, feed the children, honor the teachers, clean up the land, and rebuild the roads and bridges.
OPHELIA: The people love you, and so do I, when you are yourself. It hurts me to see you soaked in this ugly anger, which eats your good nature like an acid.
HAMLET: Am I not to revenge my father’s death?
OPHELIA: There is no retribution for the curse of being human—I mean mortality.
HAMLET: You saw the monster rise and flee.
OPHELIA: Would not anyone so accused? It is no proof of guilt. He was remarkably calm considering what you suggested.
HAMLET: My mother hangs on him like a sucking vine.
OPHELIA: She loves him.
HAMLET: Oh I cannot bear it.
OPHELIA: You liked him as an uncle.
HAMLET: I thought you wanted to be a nun.
OPHELIA: It was a whim when I despaired of you.
HAMLET: Really? You still can love me?
OPHELIA: Look, the daffodils are blooming. The winter will give way to spring, and your good humor will return.
HAMLET: The seasons’ round will not release me from my grief.
OPHELIA: In fact it will, and I will still be here, and you will marry me, and reign.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET: Oh how I wish that it were true! But I am cursed with a twisted history I can’t escape. Where is the justice in this speedy transfer of her love? How can I be calm enough to love you?
OPHELIA: Love her as you did before, and forgive the fault you only imagine.
HAMLET: It is not imaginary! I think they loved while he was still alive. I saw them kissing once, and tried to forget, and still am haunted by the sight.
POLONIUS (returning): Are you finished? The others are coming back. Take your places in the audience.
HAMLET: I cannot watch.
POLONIUS: You must. You may be surprised and comforted.
HAMLET: How can you say it? What do you know? (trumpets off)
POLONIUS: Attend, and learn the truth too long obscured. Come, sit with me.
HAMLET: I can’t watch, my mind is swirling, my own drama dementedly playing in my thoughts, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. (exit hastily)
POLONIUS: He must watch. It is his only hope of sanity, our only hope for peace and love.
LAERTES (rushing in costumed as the former king): Where is he going? We are ready to begin.
POLONIUS: He had to go to the bathroom.
OPHELIA: That’s not true, father. I will fetch him back. (exit)
POLONIUS: Why does everything I say have to be true? I am a diplomat. What do they imagine I do all day?
LAERTES: If you don’t say what you know, truly, how can anyone know what is going on?
POLONIUS: You are a fine one to talk. Look at you!
LAERTES (strutting): What do you think? Do I cut a figure or what?
POLONIUS: Who are you supposed to be, if you don’t mind my asking?
LAERTES: The late king his father, of course. Isn’t it obvious? Here they come. (exit)
OPHELIA (entering): He is doing it for me.
POLONIUS: That is very sweet. You deserve a medal.
HAMLET (enters abashed): Sorry, I momentarily lost my head. Of course I will watch. I can hardly wait. (aside) I am acting natural.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
POLONIUS: You will be interested.
HAMLET: Oh, do you know the piece? Do you have a part in it?
POLONIUS: Believe me, I am not the writer, but I suspect I know the plot.
OPHELIA: You will be fine. (they sit at the side)
THE SECOND PLAY
(LAERTES enters as the former king, with GERTRUDE and CLAUDIUS as themselves, younger. GERTRUDE is pregnant. They pose as for a formal portrait, CLAUDIUS and LAERTES each with a hand on her bulging tummy.)
LAERTES/KING: How blessed we three becoming four! My gratitude knows no bounds. We are the best of brothers and happy wives and mothers-to-be, thanks to you, the vessels and vassals of the future prince.
CLAUDIUS (laughing): I wouldn’t go quite that far.
GERTRUDE (complacently): Who will he be, do you suppose? Hamlet the Good, Hamlet the Bad, Hamlet the Happy, or Hamlet the Sad?
LAERTES/KING: All of those and more, we hope. If one father is a pillar of strength, two are a bridge.
CLAUDIUS: No, no, you are the father, Will, absolutely. You be his father, let there be no confusion. (twinkling) My part is more modest. I am the fond uncle. I am the good fairy who sticks around.
LAERTES/KING: Please, please do. You are welcome. I hope you never leave us.
CLAUDIUS: What a wonderful attitude!
GERTRUDE: Stay, oh stay, I beg you, stay.
CLAUDIUS: Ah but my part is finished. Believe me, dearest, I loved playing the substitute lover. As you know, I wanted to help you out and give you the child my brother wanted but could not conceive. I had not expected actually to love you. Particular moments were sublime.
GERTRUDE: I dislike this nostalgic tense. Are you ditching me now?
CLAUDIUS: Really, I don’t want to intrude.
LAERTES/KING: No, I mean it. Nothing needs to change. No one knows. The throne is secure. We like having you near, if you don’t mind living in the royal shadow. There is plenty of room in the palace, god knows. But I would understand if you need to pursue your own career.
GERTRUDE: Not I!
CLAUDIUS: Honestly, in fact, I like the secondary role. I have sometimes been in charge of this or that, and did it well enough, but I never liked it. Let someone else take the heat, and I will do the work behind the scenes. I am not slyly referring to the bedroom, but that too, if it please. You are a fine king. Long may you reign.
LAERTES/KING: Stay, sweet Claudius. The queen is happy, and a happy mother bears a happy child.
GERTRUDE: You really don’t mind?
LAERTES/KING: I am immune to jealousy, as long as I have you with me half the nights, or at least a third if you sometimes want to sleep alone. I like a taste of solitude but not too much. I imagine all our loving arms could seem too hungrily embracing.
GERTRUDE: Fortune smiles on me, within and without. If this is a dream, dream on.
LAERTES/KING: It is no dream, but in case it is, we must not tell or it won’t come true.
CLAUDIUS: Polonius already knows too much, I fear. He practically winked at me this afternoon.
LAERTES/KING: Ah, but he is useful. I am fond of the old fool, and his advice is sometimes necessary cover. Face him down. You are my brother and the future prince’s uncle, it is perfectly proper that you are here. The secret passage between our several rooms is an ancient rumor we can safely not have heard. He will not betray us. He loves us.
GERTRUDE: I love you. I love you both. I am such a lucky woman.
LAERTES/KING: Hold that thought. (exeunt)
POLONIUS (to HAMLET): How do you like it so far? What think you, prince?
HAMLET: I am confused. The sense appears clear, and yet the outlines blur. Who are they supposed to be? Were they talking about me or some other Hamlet? Who made up this tale?
OPHELIA: Father, they say you knew. Is it true?
POLONIUS: What does anyone know? Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
OPHELIA: I don’t believe that. I think they are sweet, and look, a baby is about to be born, surrounded by love.
POLONIUS: Alas, the world is troublesome, and none can escape. But not yet. Hark. Some months have passed and they return.
(GERTRUDE enters carrying a babe in swaddling. LAERTES as king and CLAUDIUS enter behind her and speak apart.)
LAERTES/KING: Do you love her?
CLAUDIUS: Yes I do and always will.
LAERTES/KING: How fortunate that we agree!
CLAUDIUS: I adore the boy.
LAERTES/KING: He has your nose.
CLAUDIUS (laughing): God forbid! He has your eyes and will be keen like you.
LAERTES/KING: The genes are happy to be close.
GERTRUDE (turning): Would one of you kind gentlemen care to hold the future king? My back is killing me.
CLAUDIUS (taking baby): Let me if I may enjoy the privilege while he is innocent. When he understands words we will be more discreet.
GERTRUDE: We should tell him as soon as he is old enough to understand.
CLAUDIUS: Tell him what? It is scarcely something a child wishes to imagine about his parents. General knowledge would be a scandal and smurch the royal succession.
LAERTES/KING: We will cherish the secret more.
GERTRUDE (aside): It sounds as though the men agree. I will be guided by their judgment, I suppose.
CLAUDIUS: Sweet babe, I wish I could love you openly.
GERTRUDE: You can. Everyone can love him.
CLAUDIUS (passing baby to LAERTES): Go to Daddy now. He will protect your happiness to the end of his days. (baby cries)
LAERTES/KING: What’s the matter? Am I doing something wrong? Hush now, little darling. I think he wants his mother. Ooo, what is that smell? (GERTRUDE comes close, sniffs, takes baby, and leaves. Pause. To CLAUDIUS) We probably should get back to work.
CLAUDIUS: Duty calls. (exeunt the other way)
HAMLET: What was the point of that? Am I missing something?
OPHELIA: They want you to know they love you.
HAMLET: Why is everyone always talking about love?
OPHELIA: Because nothing else matters. (thoughtful pause)
HAMLET: Which one is the baby’s father?
OPHELIA: Both of them, I think. What do you think a father is? A drop of sperm?
HAMLET: You know what I mean.
OPHELIA: Dawn is breaking in our east. I am equally astonished.
HAMLET: Am I the baby then? I thought…I thought…apparently nothing I thought was quite the case
POLONIUS: Aha! You are growing up at last! The main thing is to live, and you too can be an old fool someday. It may not seem like much of a goal but it is not so bad. I am not old really, I am just slowly falling apart. The real me is young. You can see me in my daughter as I am.
HAMLET: I’d rather not.
OPHELIA: ‘It is not so bad.’ Is that the whole of wisdom? We are nowhere near old, and if the world is so free, so we are too! (to HAMLET) You thought everything was simpler than it is, but this play is simple enough. His uncle is his father and loves him. His father loves his brother more for giving him his son. His mother loves them all.
HAMLET: Why did he have to die? I barely knew him.
POLONIUS: There is another scene. You were away at school. Here they come again. Be still and watch.
(Twenty years later. LAERTES as king enters enfeebled, supported on both sides by GERTRUDE and CLAUDIUS. They settle him on the bench.)
LAERTES/KING: Settle me here, gentle friends, that I may once again enjoy sweet zephyrs with the flower folk. This was e’er my chosen seat, you know. The velvet cushions of the throne are harder than the stone. I had little heart for the acts of kingship, although I loved to play them well.
CLAUDIUS: You were, you are, the best of kings.
LAERTES/KING: The mantle is about to fall on you.
CLAUDIUS: What do you mean?
GERTRUDE: How do you feel?
LAERTES/KING: I feel all right but I am dying. It is very strange.
CLAUDIUS: You are much too young to die.
LAERTES/KING: Any time is too soon, until it is too late. No one is the ruler of his death. I am content. Our secret project has been a wonderful success, happier than ever we hoped, although the outcome is still in doubt. I mean the prince. I fear for Hamlet’s mind.
GERTRUDE: This death will break his heart. You should have summoned him.
CLAUDIUS: He was so clever as a child, so bright, so eager to please. Of late he seems confused and troubled by philosophy. The subtle thinking of the French endangers us all.
LAERTES/KING: Do not blame the foreign for the native flaw. He thinks in circles, swirling ever deeper in the vortex of expectation.
GERTRUDE: We should have told him everything at a happier time. Now it is too late.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET: No, no, tell me now!
OPHELIA: Sit down, be still, and listen!
LAERTES/KING: Don’t blame me for dying. I would rather live.
HAMLET: So would I!
POLONIUS: Hush! This is a play with a purpose.
CLAUDIUS; What will happen to me when he is king?
LAERTES/KING: He is not ready yet, alas. His ideals are admirable but not realistic. His rule would weaken the nation, which must be defended by a stronger hand. Gertrude and I have discussed it.
GERTRUDE: You must do it until he comes to surer knowledge of himself.
CLAUDIUS: God will it be soon. I am not king material. Spare me, I beg you. Let the queen rule as regent. I will be happier as the consort.
LAERTES/KING: The people will not have it. Polonius advises us. If she were monarch, suspicion would not permit you to remain. Do it or lose love.
GERTRUDE: I will help you privately.
CLAUDIUS: They will not follow me. The war party already celebrate their victory.
LAERTES/KING: There is no victory in war. Everyone loses.
CLAUDIUS: How can I stop them?
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
LAERTES/KING: They are on the side of death, which needs no help in conquest. Drag your feet. The shoes of kings are heavy. I am sinking.
CLAUDIUS: Hold on.
LAERTES/KING: There is nothing to grasp. I am merely sleepy. (to GERTRUDE) Go away now, my love, my greatest joy and comfort.
GERTRUDE: I am here. I am yours, dear heart.
LAERTES/KING: I would rest awhile in the welcoming shade. Come again when the sun is passing noon. (lies on bench, as before; exeunt others)
HAMLET: I wish you did not have to die.
LAERTES/KING: I am sorry you were not here to say goodbye.
HAMLET (rises): I am here now.
LAERTES/KING: Good. At last.
HAMLET: Do I dare to be awake? Misery has been the very center of myself. The fog has lifted and the sun shines through, and I do not recognize myself, or rather glimpse again a self I thought long lost. He did not murder you?
LAERTES/KING: Of course not. I was ill. I died. He was sorrier than anyone.
HAMLET: My mother did not betray you?
LAERTES/KING: I willed their joinery. I wanted a son, more than life itself, and we all were blessed by the happy chance of lasting love.
HAMLET: Not me.
LAERTES/KING; Yes, you! The end is never anything but punctuation, it does not erase intent. Come, sit by me, and comfort me, and close my eyes when I am gone. (HAMLET sits beside him and holds his hand) Hamlet, you are the best of sons. Shine on. (dies; GERTRUDE and CLAUDIUS come in quietly and watch)
HAMLET: Here cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. And so I live, and so the wicked spirit of my thoughts dies with you. Oh, I am sad, for you, not for myself, but mad no more. Thank you for this unexpected visitation. I kept hearing your voice but I never thought I would see you in this world again.
LAERTES (after a pause): Can I be me again?
HAMLET: Do the dead have dreams, Laertes?
LAERTES: How can I know? I haven’t died.
HAMLET: I think they don’t, neither dreams haunting sleep, nor fearsome thoughts on waking, running away like a skittish horse. It is simpler than we can imagine, returning to the nowhere. Meanwhile we are here. Come out of the shadows, mother and uncle, and embrace your recovered son. (they do; to CLAUDIUS) I liked your play.
CLAUDIUS: It lacked your eloquence.
HAMLET: Ah but the import was truer to life, and more surprising. I truly had no idea.
GERTRUDE: Are you O.K. with it? I was so worried.
HAMLET: Mother, there is more of you than I realized. Imagining you constrained in the poses of the Queen of Hearts, I had to invent my own freedom or be the knave. But you held all the cards.
GERTRUDE: I was wrong to deceive you but I never deceived your father.
HAMLET: It is not wrong to want a son, and I believe in love.
OPHELIA: I thought you feared it.
HAMLET: My fear is gone.
GERTRUDE: Can you so easily forgive me?
HAMLET: Don’t worry, Mother. My anger was love turned upside down. Losing the true north of my father I was tumbling through a terrible void, desperate to name the cause of my confusion. You have named it, and it is gone. Thank you, Laertes, for putting away my blade before anyone got hurt. Mother, I admire your equanimity.
GERTRUDE: This is nobility to match the departed king’s.
HAMLET: Polonius, you too. Your advice was not to my advantage, but you meant it well. You are my father too, through our dear Ophelia.
POLONIUS: You sound like a king already.
CLAUDIUS: Well, what does it take? We’ll just announce it.
GERTRUDE: No, he has to have a proper coronation, and give the people an opportunity to rejoice.
CLAUDIUS: Their joy will make them forget their appetite for war, and your French friends will celebrate as well.
HAMLET: Let us make it a wedding too. If the citizenry have any doubts, they will lose them in the revelry. Ophelia, will you marry me?
OPHELIA: You have to ask my father.
HAMLET (to POLONIUS): Well?
POLONIUS: What is the question?
HAMLET: The question has been answered. The next step has revealed itself. My duty is clear.
POLONIUS: I mean what are you asking me?
HAMLET: For your vote, if it comes to that. Am I mad, sad, bad, or am I O.K.? Will this degree of sanity suffice? I need to know.
POLONIUS: Marry, well said; very well said. Look you, sir, inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris; and how, and who, what means, and where they keep, what company, at what expense…
HAMLET: In brief.
POLONIUS: Briefly, yes.
HAMLET (to OPHELIA): Will you?
OPHELIA: With all my heart.
HAMLET: Laertes, if you can be a man of peace, be my first minister and master of my cabinet. We have many and pressing issues to resolve. I fear the venal took advantage of my father’s illness and my uncle’s doubts. Call back the army before it is too late. There are better uses for our treasure.
LAERTES: I never liked war, I only wanted to serve. I will serve you like a brother.
HAMLET (with a glance at CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE): Ah no, I think not. That would be going too far.
LAERTES: I see what you mean.
CLAUDIUS: And have you no words for me, your imaginary enemy? The last I heard, you wanted to kill me.
HAMLET: Be my uncle again, Claudius, and retire with honors and the dowager queen mother. Advise me privately, I will need your help. But be an uncle to me, not a father, if you agree, knowing I love you and know myself blessed that you love me. To be a king I have to be my own father, as I must be father to all—a symbol, merely, but useful to the general happiness.
CLAUDIUS: We are proud of you, Hamlet, for this generosity of spirit.
HAMLET: No more of the royal we, please, nuncle. Speak for your singular self.
CLAUDIUS: I do.
HAMLET: I thank you for your confidence. Now leave us. I mean Ophelia and me. Stay by me, love. I would savor the dawn of clarity in your embrace.
GERTRUDE: Come along, sweetie. (exit with CLAUDIUS)
LAERTES: Come, father. We two too.
POLONIUS: Yes, yes, I will be with you in a minute. I have some advice for the young couple first. It is so difficult starting out, when you barely have the measure of yourselves, much less each other and the world. Allow me to offer a few well-considered maxims, if you have a moment, that I have gleaned from a lifetime of error and regret. My thoughts may save you from repeating my mistakes.
HAMLET: Thanks, Polonius. By all means bore us, I look forward to it, but another time, I pray.
POLONIUS: What did he say?
LAERTES: You are twice the man I took you for, Hamlet, and I liked you well enough the way you were.
HAMLET: You are the same, my trusted friend.
LAERTES: Count on it. Come on, pop. (exit with POLONIUS)
HAMLET: Alone at last.
OPHELIA: I never feared you, Hamlet, I only feared where the play might take you.
HAMLET: I am the author of my lines. The circumstance is not what I imagined. That takes a little getting used to. I must learn to breathe again in the clearer air.
OPHELIA: Do you really love me?
HAMLET: I always did, but I was sore distracted. The frets and alarms of majesty are less daunting than imagined treachery. I shrug it off with joyful ease.
GHOST VOICE (as before): T-o-o — l-a-t-e —
HAMLET: Hush, father, and goodbye. I banish you to the restful shores of memory. This story has a happy ending, in spite of all. And what will you do, Ophelia, while I am busy with the business of the state?
OPHELIA: Plant herbs and flowers in the palace gardens. You think that’s trivial, but flowers are the penises and wombs of beauty, and beauty is a higher vital truth. Will you respect me for it?
HAMLET: I will, I promise. The language of the flowers will complement the steely wordage of the stony throne. Your happiness completes my own, and Denmark smiles again.
OPHELIA: What’s more, I’m pregnant.
HAMLET: I thought as much. So yet another Hamlet will be born, free from ghosts and melodramatic plots. We are poor players on the stage of life. I pray the audience will view us kindly, and know we only seek to entertain. If our contortions have displeased you, silence is enough reproach; but if we gave a measure of delight, be generous with your applause, and we can be ourselves again with lighter hearts, and wiser for the tale. And so good night. Come, friends, and join me in the bows, now that we’ve finished with the whys and hows and shown the story of poor Hamlet in a brighter light.
(enter omnes and bow)