Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Story: Carnal, Bloody and Unnatural Acts

You want me to tell you Hamlet’s story? It’s not a happy one, I warn you. You know the ending, of course. Hamlet dies. The king, the queen, the advisor and both his children, the two false friends, all of them died. That’s when you showed up, my Lord Fortinbras.

I wanted to die too. Hamlet has been my friend for years. Living on while he’s in Heaven – it just doesn’t seem right. I suppose I should start at the beginning, though.

I went to Castle Elsinore several months ago to pay my respects to the dead king. I hadn’t expected to be assailed with tales of ghosts the moment I stepped onto the grounds. Bernardo and Marcellus are two guards of the castle. When they told me they had seen King Hamlet walking the castle grounds, I of course didn’t believe them. Ghosts? Simply tales made up to scare small children. At least, that’s what I’d thought.

Bernardo and Marcellus convinced me accompany them on their watch and see if the ghost appeared. I was surprised and terrified out of my mind when the ghost actually did appear. I was expecting a trick, not a real ghost.

Marcellus and Bernardo asked me what they should do. The only thing I could think to do was tell Prince Hamlet what we had seen.

Why Prince Hamlet and not King Claudius? Hamlet had always been my friend, and I knew that he would know I would not joke about this. I didn’t know at the time that King Claudius had killed King Hamlet, but it never even occurred to me to tell Claudius what had happened. Hamlet would want to know first, and that was reason enough for me to tell him.

When Marcellus and I found him, Hamlet was upset about the marriage of his mother and his uncle so soon after his father had died. Who wouldn’t be? It was a rather abrupt wedding. Hamlet was the only one who seemed to still be mourning the dead king.

Hamlet was as intrigued by the ghost as I’d thought he would be. He joined Marcellus and me the next night. The ghost appeared and bid Hamlet follow it.

Of course I tried to stop him. Marcellus and I both did. Though the ghost had the form of King Hamlet, we knew it could simply be a demon’s trick. Hamlet knew too, but he just didn’t care. He was that eager to hear his father’s voice again. He would not be stopped. Hamlet went so far as to threaten us when we tried to stop him.

We weren’t going to leave Hamlet alone with the ghost in such a state. We ran after him. When we’d caught up, the ghost was gone. Hamlet refused to tell us what the ghost had said, but he did make us swear by his sword never to tell what we’d seen. To this day, I never have, but Hamlet asked me to tell his story to the world, and the ghost is important.

It wasn’t until later that I found out the ghost’s message. He had told Hamlet that his death had not been a natural one. King Hamlet had been murdered by his brother, Claudius.

Hamlet had already disliked Claudius for marrying his mother so soon after his father died. Knowing the full story, though, made Hamlet loathe Claudius.

It was after learning the nature of King Hamlet’s death that Hamlet’s madness began.

I say madness only because that is what everyone called it. Hamlet was never mad. He pretended to have lost his mind to allay suspicion while he proved the ghost had been telling the truth and avenged his father. I’ll admit, there were times even I doubted his sanity. I worried that he took the act too far, and I blamed myself for telling him about the accursed ghost.

He was sane, though, and he thought of the perfect test. A play mimicking the death of King Hamlet as the ghost had told it. If Claudius had killed the King, he would be unable to hide his guilt when faced with such a clear representation of it. Hamlet asked me to watch for the King’s reaction so that we could compare after the show.

It went even better than we could have hoped. The King stopped the play after the murder scene and demanded light. Hamlet knew the ghost had spoken true, and he knew he had to kill King Claudius to avenge his father.

Have I mentioned Polonius at all yet? He was the King’s spymaster and advisor. He also was a bit of a fool, and very fond of the sound of his own voice.

He was there when Hamlet went to speak to his mother. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know Hamlet killed Polonius and hid the body. It had been an accident, but I don’t know any more than that of the circumstances.

The king sent Hamlet to England to have him executed. He did not know that Hamlet planned to kill him, but he was afraid. He sent Hamlet off with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two so-called friends of Hamlet who traded loyalty to their friend for the favors of the king.

While Hamlet was away, things only grew more rotten. Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia, lost her mind and drowned herself. Laertes, Polonius’ son, came pounding on the castle doors, yelling for revenge.

Luckily, Hamlet never arrived in England. He ended up on a pirate ship, and they brought him back to Denmark. Before even meeting the pirates, he switched the death warrant that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern carried with one asking for the immediate death of the bearers. That is the only reason that they were killed.

After Hamlet and I reunited, we found ourselves watching the funeral procession for Ophelia. I had not had a chance to tell him of her death.

Laertes jumped into the grave and demanded to be buried alive with Ophelia. Hamlet couldn’t take Laertes’ dramatics. He had loved Ophelia. He snapped. He jumped into the grave with Laertes, and the two of them fought.

When we had separated them, Hamlet told me more fully of his short trip. We received the message that the King had placed a bet on Hamlet’s dueling skills. He wanted Laertes and Hamlet to fence before the court.

Hamlet was uneasy about it, but he refused to be dissuaded. He agreed to fence Laertes.

He had been right to be uneasy. Laertes and Claudius had plotted Hamlet’s death. One of the blades had been sharpened and dipped in poison so potent that a cut would be deadly. In case that wasn’t enough, the king had poisoned Hamlet’s drink.

You’ve seen the result. The queen drank the poisoned cup, Laertes slew Hamlet with the poisoned blade, Hamlet slew Laertes and the King, and he stopped me from drinking the poison to follow him.

That is how all of these deaths came to pass. It was Hamlet’s dying wish that you, Fortinbras, should become Denmark’s new ruler. He asked me to tell you. I shall continue to live and tell his story. Good luck with Denmark. It may have begun to heal, but there’s a long way yet to go.

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