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

***

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