Not for the first time, I imagine the arrivals in the after life for these characters. Hamlet turns up moments after Laertes who has arrived moments after Claudius who has arrived moments after Gertrude. These folks would have a lot to work out. Especially if Ophelia, Polonius and King Hamlet are there waiting for them – and possibly also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, depending on when they arrived in England and how quickly the King of England executed the order of execution.
Of course, this afterlife I’m imagining demands that these folks haven’t been sorted for heaven and hell. Or else they’re just all in hell. Because who, truly, is not ending up there in this play? We’d like to think this exchange between Laertes and Hamlet would do the trick but I’m not entirely sure.
So – it’s a more neutral afterlife. We’ve got, like, Elsinore No Exit here.
Hamlet appears in a light. He is disoriented. He has just died. Flights of angels have sung him to his rest and he lands in this quiet pool of light. He looks around, tries to make sense of his surroundings.
HAMLET: The undiscovered country? It’s a lot quieter here than I’d have expected. Hello? Hello?
LAERTES: (in his own pool of light) Hello? Hello?
HAMLET: Who’s there?
LAERTES: Who is he that calls?
The lights expand to include them both.
HAMLET: I guess we’re dead.
LAERTES: Sorry about that.
LAERTES: I think I may have died before I got to ask for forgiveness for that and before I could give it.
HAMLET: No, you did. I got it.
LAERTES: Oh good. That’s a relief.
HAMLET: Are we the only ones here? It feels very quiet for an afterlife. I mean, I’m assuming Claudius went to hell.
CLAUDIUS: How do you know we’re not in hell?
HAMLET: If you’re here then we must be – though my father mentioned fire and sulphorous flames so it seems like this isn’t that.
LAERTES: It could be a holding station – a sort of middle way. After all, we’ve all just died and we all, more or less, killed each other. Maybe they haven’t decided what to do with us yet.
HAMLET: It seems a bit cruel to lump us all in together. He’s the last person I wanted to see in the afterlife.
CLAUDIUS: How do you think I feel?
GERTRUDE: I’d very much like to know the answer to that question. How do you feel? You killed me while trying to kill my son. What were you thinking?
CLAUDIUS: I didn’t mean to.
GERTRUDE: Oh, I know. But you didn’t exactly rush to stop it either. And now – look – I died thinking that at least I’d saved my son and now look who’s here. What did you all DO once I shuffled off my mortal coil?
LAERTES: Technically, it was me.
GERTRUDE: Was it? What did you do?
LAERTES: I sliced him with a poison sword.
GERTRUDE: A poison sword. A poison sword.
LAERTES: I’m very sorry.
HAMLET: He is very sorry. He confessed everything before he died.
CLAUDIUS: (to Gertrude) Are you not upset to see me here, too?
GERTRUDE: No. I’d have sent you here myself if I weren’t already dead.
CLAUDIUS: I’m hurt.
GERTRUDE: Not as hurt as I am that you just let me die like that. “She swounds to see them bleed.” Are you kidding me with that? You know I love a bloodsport.
That’s when I knew it was you. I suspected before but that’s when I knew.
HAMLET: I killed him for you, mother. And for me. And for my father. Who he also killed, just, by the way. I was a little bit vague about that with you before but there’s no point in dancing around it now. Claudius killed his brother, my father and took his crown and his wife and my future and all of our lives, now that I think about it.
GERTRUDE: I did wonder. But you know, you tell yourself not to worry too much about things you can’t change, don’t you? Don’t you? When you have no real power but the man on your arm, you just – make do. You know? No, of course you don’t know. Look at this, trapped in the after life with nothing but men. It’s just like court life.
Ophelia enters, takes one look at the assembled group and retreats.
LAERTES: Sweet sister, don’t go.
OPHELIA: My brother. What are you doing here? It was just me and our father. We were doing just fine – singing and what not. How long has it been? And why do you look no older than the last time I saw you?
LAERTES: It hasn’t been long. I went to revenge our father’s murder and got myself killed.
OPHELIA: That was very stupid of you.
LAERTES: I know.
OPHELIA: I do not approve.
LAERTES: Death has changed you, Ophelia.
OPHELIA: It’s very clarifying. You do something for yourself once and you suddenly realize that you missed the opportunity to choose for yourself your whole life. And you realize a few things.
LAERTES: Father’s here, too?
OPHELIA: He is. I’m sure he’d like to see you – though also not – because it means you are dead and he is not going to be happy about that – though certainly he might not be displeased about the rest of you meeting your ends. Especially you, Father Killer.
HAMLET: I’m sorry, Ophelia. Really. It was an accident. He was spying behind the arras and I thought it was the king so I killed the king, I thought, but then it wasn’t the king.
OPHELIA: No it wasn’t.
CLAUDIUS: See – I was right to send him to England. Trying to kill me.
HAMLET: To avenge my father’s death.
CLAUDIUS: How do you know I wasn’t avenging mine?
CLAUDIUS: You think you’re so righteous but how do you know I wasn’t avenging my own father’s death, just like you?
HAMLET: Are you saying my father killed his father?
CLAUDIUS: I’m not saying he did and I’m not saying he didn’t. I’m just saying you don’t know.
HAMLET: But Grandpa Hamlet died of a heart attack.
CLAUDIUS: Or did he?
POLONIUS: Laertes. I thought I heard your voice. I’m so glad to see you but also very upset! What are you doing here?
LAERTES: I died avenging your death, Father.
POLONIUS: What a good boy, killing my killer. Thank you, son.
LAERTES: You’re welcome, father.
POLONIUS: Though I do wish it had not killed you.
LAERTES: Me, too.
A sound goes off. Like an alarm – the lights go dark. Rosencrantz appears in a spotlight.
ROSENCRANTZ: Did they miss? Did I pass out? Do I still have my head? I still have my head. Guildenstern, are you here, too? Have we been pardoned?
Guildenstern appears in a spotlight.
POLONIUS: New arrivals.
OPHELIA: Poor things. It always takes them awhile to work this afterlife thing out.
GUILDENSTERN: Rosencrantz? Is that you? But you have your head. I saw you lose it.
ROSENCRANTZ: Then we haven’t been spared.
ROSENCRANTZ: We were really just summarily executed by the king of England for no good reason.
GUILDENSTERN: So it would appear.
ROSENCRANTZ: And this is the afterlife.
GUILDENSTERN: It’s just you and me here? What a weird afterlife.
ROSENCRANTZ: Well, as long as King Claudius isn’t here. That guy scared the beejeezus out of me.
CLAUDIUS: (appearing to them) Hello Rosencrantz and Guldenstern.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scream and run into one another’s arms.
CLAUDIUS: I did not expect to see you here so soon.
ROSENCRANTZ: Where’s here? Back in Denmark? Is this Denmark?
GUILDENSTERN: Hamlet did say it was a goodly prison. You remember when he said that?
ROSENCRANTZ: I do.
GUILDENSTERN: I think we maybe should have listened to him.
HAMLET: I think so too.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who have slowly separarated leap back into one another’s arms.
ROSENCRANTZ: Hamlet! He’s – Uh. We though the Pirates had taken you.
HAMLET: They did.
GUILDENSTERN: Is that what happened? We’re all dead and in hell and you got killed by pirates?
HAMLET: Not quite.
ROSENCRANTZ: I just don’t understand anything. All I know was we were supposed to take you to England and then we got accosted by Pirates but they only took you –which I thought was weird. Didn’t you think that was weird, Guildenstern?
GUILDENSTERN: What –
ROSENCRANTZ: When those pirates just took Hamlet and sent us on our way to London. That seemed very unpiratelike behavior and I was confused by it.
GUILDENSTERN: I don’t find it nearly as confusing as why we suddenly got our heads chopped off after delivery official documents to the English king. It seems like a very rude way to treat messengers.
CLAUDIUS: It is. I am shocked and appalled to discover that my emissaries were treated this way.
GUILDENSTERN: We thought maybe it was your orders.
CLAUDIUS: My orders? Why would I have some of my best gophers killed? That would be quite mad.
GUILDENSTERN: The commission that the king read right before he killed us had your seal on it. He said it was your special request.
CLAUDIUS: It was not. I promise you. The commission I sent to England asked for Hamlet’s death, not yours.
ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN: What?
HAMLET: Told you.
GERTRUDE: Claudius, how could you?
CLAUDIUS: I hadn’t worked out how to do it at home yet – it seemed the only way – then he came back and Laertes showed up and there it was, the perfect solution – though I cannot imagine how the king of England got those instructions so wrong. I was very clear that it was Hamlet’s head that was to be struck off. Just goes to show that if you want something done right, you really have to do it yourself. Or through an instrument in front of you.
LAERTES: You really are awful. I can’t believe I let myself be manipulataed by you. I should have gone through with that coup.
POLONIUS: You staged a coup? Laertes! That’s very extreme – even for you.
LAERTES: I did it for you. He just sort of tossed you into a corner after Hamlet killed you. No funeral. No state ceremony. No official mourning period.
POLONIUS: Is this true, Claudius?
CLAUDIUS: I didn’t want to make a big fuss – if we put Hamlet on trial for your death, who knows what he’d let slip.
HAMLET: You knew I knew.
CLAUDIUS: That little play you put on was a dead give away.
HAMLET: The mousetrap caught the mouse.
CLAUDIUS: Did it? Was I the mouse?
CLAUDIUS: Well. I killed you first, mouse.
HAMLET: No. I killed you first.
CLAUDIUS: Wrong. I killed you then you killed me. Just because I died first due to having been killed in multiple ways doesn’t mean you got there first.
HAMLET: Fine. You died first. I got the satisfaction of watching you go before shuffling off myself.
LAERTES: And technically – it was me that killed Hamlet, though I am very happy for the king to take that sin off my plate. If you claim Hamlet’s death, then I’m pretty free and clear in the sin department.
POLONIUS: I am happy for you to have that weight removed – revenge or not revenge.
OPHELIA: Can you all stop bragging about who killed who? It was clearly a crazy bloodbath and I’m glad I got into a nice clean stream when I did because you all are really quite mad about killing.
GERTRUDE: Well said, Ophelia. You seem to have gathered a great deal of sense since we last saw you.
OPHELIA: Death is very clarifying, don’t you find?
GERTRUDE: I do. I do. I mean – all the things I used to care about seem to have fallen away.
OPHELIA: Like caring what men think of you?
GERTRUDE: Yes! Exactly. I find I have not the slightest interest in catering to a single one of these men and I will confess to you, Ophelia, that I used to care a great deal about several of them.
OPHELIA: Me, too. I cared so much that when they were gone, I just figured there was nothing left of me. Boy, was I wrong. I wish I could have stopped mid death because once that process get started, it all started to come into focus.
CLAUDIUS: What are you girls going on about?
GERTRUDE: It is really none of your business, Queen-killer. King-killer. Prince-killer. Were you trying to wipe out the entire line? Well – it looks as though you succeeded. The whole Danish Line is here together dead. We’re going to have Norweigans or Swedes or God help us, the English, going through all of our things. What a nightmare! Oh how I wish I’d had time to prepare. My desk is in such disarray and there are a few letters I really wish I had burned.
LAERTES: Ohhhh letters.
POLONIUS: Ohhhh letters.
OPHELIA: (to Hamlet) You have most of my letters.
HAMLET: I don’t.
OPHELIA: Well, I suppose I never had any privacy anyway. What with my father reading whatever he could find and somehow he always found everything.
POLONIUS: It was for your own good, sweet Ophelia.
OPHELIA: Was it? See – I don’t think so. I thought so before – that’s why I returned those letters even though I really didn’t want to – I thought you were thinking of me but I don’t think so anymore. Now I think you were thinking of youself.
POLONIUS: Fair Ophelia – how could you think so ill of your poor dead father?
OPHELIA: Oh, I didn’t. I thought you were the sun and the moon and the stars and then the sun set on you and everything went dark. But…I know now that you weren’t the sun and the moon and the stars. You were just a person. You were a person who made mistakes and wanted things like any other person. Like me. And I realized that many things that I’d thought you were doing for me, you were really doing for you.
POLONIUS: Ophelia. Be sweet.
OPHELIA: I’m done with that.
POLONIUS: Laertes. Help me.
LAERTES: I don’t know how.
POLONIUS: Talk to your sister.
LAERTES: You’ll work it out.
…And so on.
This is how I ended this bit when I first worked on this line but in getting it ready to post, I realized I really should finish it. Just in case someone, somewhere wanted to do it. Might be fun. I don’t know. So I’m in the process of writing an ending and given how long it takes me to write and then type, I figured I didn’t want to hold up the posting of the rest of these Hamlet lines with that process. SO – I’m giving you the first round now and I will come and update the REST of this play when I have finished it and typed it and such.
Check back for the ending. Maybe in about a week?