~ Gertrude ~
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
having spoken with my son,
stand with feet shuffling
before Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia and me.
Their eyes look right and left,
but never with clarity into ours.
Ophelia seems greatly disturbed by it all,
but speaks not.
Claudius questions them
with a harsh urgency,
which puts my own nerves on edge.
“And can you, by no drift of circumstance,
get from him why he puts on this confusion,
grating so harshly all his days of quiet
with turbulent and dangerous lunacy?”
Each of Hamlet’s so-called friends
considers for an untoward length of time.
“He does confess he feels himself distracted,”
is Guildenstern’s reply at last,
“But from what cause he will by no means speak.
Nor do we find him forward to be sounded,
but, with a crafty madness, keeps aloof,
when we would bring him on to some confession
of his true state.”
I wonder at this, and ask:
“Did he receive you well?”
“Most like a gentleman,” is Rosencrantz’ answer.
“But with much forcing of his disposition.”
I ask next, if they had success
in drawing him out to any activity.
Anything really, to involve him in matters
not solely of the hidden mind.
“Madam, it so fell out,” says Guildenstern,
“that certain players we brought with us,
knowing the Prince to enjoy their performance.
Of these we told him;
and there did seem in him a kind of joy
to hear of it: they are about the court,
and, as I think, they have already order
this night to play before him.
And he asked with much eagerness
to entreat your majesties
to hear and see the matter.”
Claudius thinks on this, and then approves,
sending the two men away.
So we shall see a play!
Well, it is progress of a kind.
If it delights my son, well then it shall delight me.
When the two men are gone,
Claudius looks to me, his expression
most serious and grave.
“Sweet Gertrude,” he says, “leave us too;
for we have sent for Hamlet,
so that he, as if it were by accident,
may here find Ophelia:
her father and myself
will so bestow ourselves that,
we may of their encounter frankly judge,
and gather by him, as he is behaved.
If it be the affliction of his love or no
that thus he suffers for.”
I sigh, and nod, glad in a way
that I will be spared having to be
my son’s judge;
for perhaps I would look for sanity and hope
with too-eager eyes,
and find it even where it lacked.
“I shall obey you.” I say.
“And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
that your good beauties be the happy cause
of Hamlet's wildness: so shall I hope your virtues
will bring him to his accustomed way again,
to both your honors.”
Ophelia looks at me with eyes
that I cannot doubt are filled
and yet to me seem also desperate, and afraid.
Would that I could ease the lot of these young people!
“Madam,” she says, “I wish it may.”
I hear Hamlet coming as I withdraw,
and all the rest to their places.
Let this go well, I pray,
that we may finally emerge
from this doubt, this most terrible doubt.