David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HAMLET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 1 and 2

— 4.1 —

In a room of the castle, King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern were meeting.

“There’s a reasonfor these sighs, these profound heaves,” King Claudius said to Queen Gertrude, who was upset by her encounter with Hamlet. “You must translate them into language we can understand; it is fitting that we understand the reason for these sighs.

“Where is your son?”

Queen Gertrude said to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “Leave us alone here for a little while.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left the room.

“Ah, my good lord, what I have seen tonight!” Queen Gertrude said.

“What, Gertrude? How is Hamlet?”

“Hamlet is as mad as the sea and wind, when both contend in a storm to see which is the mightier. In his lawless and uncontrollable fit, Hamlet heard something stir behind the arras. He whipped out his rapier and cried, ‘A rat, a rat!’ Then, suffering from a delusion, he killed Polonius, the unseen good old man.”

“What a heavy and grievous deed!” King Claudius said. “I would have been killed, if I had been there. Hamlet’s liberty is full of threats to everyone: to you yourself, to us the King, to everyone.

“How shall this bloody deed be explained? Responsibility for it will be laid on us, whose providence should have kept this mad young man restrained and out of circulation, but we loved him so much that we would not understand what was the best course of action. Instead, I acted like someone suffering from a foul disease, who rather than let knowledge of it become public, let it remain uncured with the result that eventually it fed even on the essential substance of life.

“Where has Hamlet gone?”

“He is removing the body he has killed,” Queen Gertrude said. “Even in his madness, he weeps over the corpse and feels remorse. This remorse is like some pure gold that shows itself in a mine of base metals.”

“Gertrude, come away!” King Claudius said. “The Sun no sooner shall touch the mountains and bring the morning than we will ship Hamlet away from here. We must, with all our majesty and skill, both accept responsibility for and excuse Hamlet’s vile deed.”

He called, “Guildenstern!”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern returned to the room.

King Claudius said to them, “Friends, go and get some men to assist you. Hamlet in his madness has slain Polonius, and he has dragged him away from his mother’s private chamber.

“Go and find Hamlet. Speak politely and respectfully to him, and bring the body into the chapel. Please, hurry and do this.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left the room to carry out their orders.

King Claudius said, “Come, Gertrude, we’ll call up our wisest friends, and we will let them know both what we mean to do and what has been unfortunately done. Oh, come away!My soul is full of discord and dismay.”

— 4.2 —

In another room of the castle, Hamlet said to himself, “The corpse has been safely stowed away.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern called, “Hamlet! Hamlet! Hamlet!”

“What noise is that?” Hamlet said. “Who is calling for me? Oh, here they come.”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern entered the room.

“What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?” Rosencrantz asked.

“I have mixed it with dust, to which it is kin,” Hamlet said.

He was thinking of Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Hamlet had not buried the corpse; he had simply placed it in a dusty room.

“Tell us where it is, so that we may take it from there and carry it to the chapel,” Rosencrantz said.

“Do not believe it,” Hamlet said.

“Believe what?” Rosencrantz asked.

“That I will do what you want me to do and not do what I want to do,” Hamlet said. “When a sponge demands something, what reply should the son of a King make?”

“Do you think that I am a sponge, my lord?” Rosencrantz asked.

A sponge is a parasite who lives off other people. A sponge soaks up other people’s money and other good things.

“Yes, sir, you are a sponge who soaks up the King’s favor, his rewards, his powers. But such officers do the King best service in the end. He keeps them, like an ape does an apple, in the corner of his jaw. The ape first puts them in his mouth and then later swallows them. When the King needs what you have gleaned, he will squeeze you, and, you, sponge, shall be dry again.”

Hamlet was warning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that King Claudius was using them. Once King Claudius was done using them, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be discarded. Although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were hoping for rewards from their master, serving a dangerous master would likely harm them.

“I do not understand you, my lord,” Rosencrantz said.

“I am glad that you do not,” Hamlet replied. “Fools are unable to understand irony.”

“My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go with us to the King,” Rosencrantz said.

“The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body,” Hamlet said.

Hamlet meant more than one thing here.

First, Polonius’ physical body was with King Claudius because it was in the King’s castle, but King Claudius was not with Polonius’ body because Polonius’ spiritual body was in Heaven.

Second, King Claudius’ physical body was with him, but the body politic — what makes a King a true King — was not with him.

Hamlet added, “The King is a thing —”

Guildenstern exclaimed, “A thing, my lord!”

Hamlet continued, “— of nothing. Take me to him.”

He then shouted, “Hide, fox, and all after!”

He ran off, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ran after him.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


Edgar Lee Masters: A. D. Blood and Dora Williams and Mrs. Williams (Spoon River Anthology)

A. D. Blood

IF YOU in the village think that my work was a good one,
Who closed the saloons and stopped all playing at cards,
And haled old Daisy Fraser before Justice Arnett,
In many a crusade to purge the people of sin;
Why do you let the milliner’s daughter Dora,
And the worthless son of Benjamin Pantier
Nightly make my grave their unholy pillow?


Dora Williams

WHEN Reuben Pantier ran away and threw me
I went to Springfield. There I met a lush,
Whose father just deceased left him a fortune.
He married me when drunk.
My life was wretched.
A year passed and one day they found him dead.
That made me rich. I moved on to Chicago.
After a time met Tyler Rountree, villain.
I moved on to New York. A gray-haired magnate
Went mad about me—so another fortune.
He died one night right in my arms, you know.
(I saw his purple face for years thereafter. )
There was almost a scandal.
I moved on, This time to Paris. I was now a woman,
Insidious, subtle, versed in the world and rich.
My sweet apartment near the Champs Elysees
Became a center for all sorts of people,
Musicians, poets, dandies, artists, nobles,
Where we spoke French and German, Italian, English.
I wed Count Navigato, native of Genoa.
We went to Rome. He poisoned me, I think.
Now in the Campo Santo overlooking
The sea where young Columbus dreamed new worlds,
See what they chiseled: “Contessa Navigato
Implora eterna quiete.”

NOTE: The inscription means “Contessa Navigato asks for eternal peace.”


Mrs. Williams

I WAS the milliner
Talked about, lied about,
Mother of Dora,
Whose strange disappearance
Was charged to her rearing.
My eye quick to beauty
Saw much beside ribbons
And buckles and feathers
And leghorns and felts,
To set off sweet faces,
And dark hair and gold.
One thing I will tell you
And one I will ask:
The stealers of husbands
Wear powder and trinkets,
And fashionable hats.
Wives, wear them yourselves.
Hats may make divorces—
They also prevent them.
Well now, let me ask you:
If all of the children, born here in Spoon River
Had been reared by the
County, somewhere on a farm;
And the fathers and mothers had been given their freedom
To live and enjoy, change mates if they wished,
Do you think that Spoon River
Had been any the worse?

NOTE: A leghorn is a hat woven from Italian straw.


Lao-Tzu #67: With compassion, you will be able to be brave, With moderation, you will be able to give to others, With humility, you will be able to become a great leader.



The world talks about honoring the Tao,

but you can’t tell it from their actions.

Because it is thought of as great,

the world makes light of it.

It seems too easy for anyone to use.


There are three jewels that I cherish:

compassion, moderation, and humility.

With compassion, you will be able to be brave,

With moderation, you will be able to give to others,

With humility, you will be able to become a great leader.

To abandon compassion while seeking to be brave,

or abandoning moderation while being benevolent,

or abandoning humility while seeking to lead

will only lead to greater trouble.

The compassionate warrior will be the winner,

and if compassion is your defense you will be secure.

Compassion is the protector of Heaven’s salvation.


Tao Te Ching

By Lao-Tzu

A translation for the public domain by j.h.mcdonald, 1996


Aesop: The Old Man and Death

An old labourer, bent double with age and toil, was gathering sticks in a forest. At last he grew so tired and hopeless that he threw down the bundle of sticks, and cried out: ‘I cannot bear this life any longer. Ah, I wish Death would only come and take me!’

As he spoke, Death, a grisly skeleton, appeared and said to him: ‘What wouldst thou, Mortal? I heard thee call me.’

‘Please, sir,’ replied the woodcutter, ‘would you kindly help me to lift this faggot of sticks onto my shoulder?’

We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.


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