~ Gertrude ~
The day began well, it seemed.
Claudius and I sat with the envoys of Norway before us,
and words were passed that seemed
to lift the shadow of war from our shoulders.
The army of Fortinbras on our border,
which gave such rise to fear
of vengeful retribution planned against our country,
seems in fact poised to strike a different foe.
Fortinbras, only a boy when my husband killed his father;
while King Hamlet still lived,
that day of blood could never wholly be forgotten.
As the son grew to a warlord of reckoning,
my husband mused often that another hard hand
from Norway would come, seeking his life and kingdom.
But these envoys convey a different spirit
while dealing with Claudius.
Young Fortinbras, they say, wishes only permission
to pass his army through Denmark unmolested;
to engage a patch of ground beyond, in Poland.
Never in my wildest dreams
would I have conceived of so great a blood-enemy
seeming ready to end a legacy of nurtured hate.
In truth, I had thought with grievous worry
to see a day when young Fortinbras
would try to even the score of blood, upon young Hamlet.
Claudius as a diplomat-king is so unmatched!
My new husband, so different from my old.
And as the emissaries take their leave
he shifts with equal politic grace
to a new subject, one bound to my heart
with worry just as keen
as would be the sight of a Norse sword
seeking my son’s heart.
He leans to me and speaks
in the most soothing of voice:
“Now to our son’s seeming-great trouble of mind.”
Why should it trouble me so,
when he speaks of Hamlet as son?
It is true now in its way, but always I seem to catch
an irony in Claudius in those moments…
and I wonder.
But now come in two young men,
introduced as the fellow students of my son at Wittenberg;
promised by Claudius on our wedding night
as friends whose company might ease
my Hamlet’s most scattered and abrasive thoughts.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by name,
they all but literally bow and scrape
before Claudius’ throne,
and as they speak I am not soothed at all,
but deeper troubled.
Not much like the steady and straight Horatio they seem;
more like to well-spoken, but shallow sycophants.
I could better picture my son skewering them
with his potent wit, than speaking of his hurts
to them in quiet confidence.
Oh, how readily they promise
to engage their friend and bring him with speed
and heartfelt love to a more harmonious mind.
Claudius instructs them, not like friends,
but like creeping spies,
to paste their shadows to that of the Prince,
hark to his words,
report his movements.
And suddenly the day seems strange indeed.
The booted army of my dead husband’s enemy
will walk past Elsinore in peace?
These seeming knaves of Wittenberg
will become caring scholars and boon comrades to my son?
I wonder for the first time
at this man who sits beside me on Denmark’s throne;
who kissed and consoled me in furtive corners
while his brother yet lived.
Yet I was equal party to deception in those moments.
But out of yearning, out of sadness and a budding love.
I had thought him willing to stretch the bounds of honor
only for the same reasons.
But now webs seem to be a-weaving all about us,
spun from his hands; my husband’s ready hands.
What new things are to be swept now from unexpected corners
into the light?