I was asked to rewrite a scene from Hamlet, specifically Act III, Scene I, where they conspire to get Hamlet and Ophelia to meet. I was to infer what I thought Gertrude would do if she remained in the room, eavesdropping on the conversation. What would she say about the conversation? About her son? About her new husband? About Ophelia?
Well, here’s what I thought:
It was a dark evening, when those courtiers showed, without my son, to speak to my husband. My new husband. We are a justified, validated Denmark again, and we shall remain that way, but what of my son, who suffers great injustice in his heart? How must I reconcile such madness within him, so we are indeed whole? Claudius sends me away, for I am too frail, with this weak constitution of mine as a female, to hear his words or to see the conspiracy he has thickened with such enviable haste, that only Polonius can thin with the use of his daughter. But my shadow is small and my breath, untraceable. They will never know. They never see me away.
I give the beautiful Ophelia, my other child, the girl I held close to me as if she were my own, a kiss on the forehead, a blessing on this night, for I know she will need it. Her heart beats only for my Hamlet, but even I have begun to doubt his own interest. Where does his heart lie, truly? Does he even know? Perhaps their trap will rekindle his sensibilities, but he is too much like his father. Stubborn and wild. I offer a squeeze to her hand as I walk away, knowing she will need the reassurance, for Hamlet takes what he wants and destroys what he does not. I pray he does not destroy the precious child tonight. I pray that his sensibilities return to him, that he remembers the tenderness which is Ophelia, who reached to him in his youth, tapping into the greened heart and made it blossom. I pray this seed germinates and my Hamlet once again blooms in the sun, instead of withers in the darkness. But when was the last time my prayers were answered, my gods? When did you hear my tepid whispers in the dead of night? I’ve lost faith in you too.
Their reasoning is poor. Claudius and Polonius. They don’t understand the woman’s heart and here they toy with it like children. Instructing Ophelia to pinken her cheeks in prayer and vespers, alone in the chapel, as any chaste young girl would do. Her eyes give her away. There is no prayer in her eyes. Only longing. He will note this. How could they have not? And now they hide, leaving her with her desire pounding within her chest, her breath heavy, her eyes straining to read the fine words of the Psalter. They know not the woman’s heart. This is not what I would have done. But who am I but a frail woman, with a second husband who doubts her capabilities, because she allowed it. How I rue the day I handed over my abilities to man! At least my first King recognized the fire in my belly, unlike my second.
I know their play. They seek information. My poor Ophelia is a pawn in their game to better understand the son Hamlet. He will not address his concerns with Claudius, and the rumors abound that his madness came from the sea. Was it the sea? Or was it the Brits? The Norse? Or was it just his own mind? Will I ever know? My son deteriorates, before me, and my hands are idle to help. How can I, a mother, be without a solution? In the distance, I hear the deepening breaths of Claudius and Polonius, as they salivate on the words falling before them. He is indeed mad! Their energy radiates in thick waves throughout the room. Surely Hamlet feels their presence, as I do. It is smothering.
Does he speak for their benefit then? Perhaps mine? His eyes betray him and dart to the inkiness I reside in, but I freeze and he continues on, satisfied that I am not there. That it is just a shadow.
I hear my son, rambling his thoughts through and through his mind, spoken aloud, as he has begun to do, working the problems to their solutions, if there are solutions.
To be or not to be, that is the question–Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against the sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep–
This is not him. This is a voice working through him, a specter from the other side puppeting his lips to speak such depressions. What troubles his mind to the point where his words are no longer his own? These are not thoughts which should settle in my son’s head, and yet here they are, darkening his brow, distressing him so great. Who planted these thoughts?
Oh, she speaks! My child, speak your heart. Ignore what they instructed you to do. Tell him your desires. Perhaps that will awaken his memory to who he is. Forget the prayers. Throw down the Psalter! Speak your heart and give it to him. They have misled you into believing this coquettishness will open his thoughts, but it will not. He is smarter than this chess game. Do not…oh she speaks such dreadful words to him. He is not nice? And he laughs, taking the insult as a compliment. She is lost, just as he. Neither speak their truth and neither will walk away from this with a wholeness they deserve. Oh my gods, hear my prayers again. Let this end. Let their truth speak through their lips, their hearts pour forth so that reason is understood and these fallacies are no longer dancing amongst their thoughts. Pray to thee, hear me!
He continues to speak such atrocities. What sinners does he speak of? His own self? His new King? All of Denmark? Who does he speak of? Get thee to a convent, indeed. If he continues to speak of such lies, then yes, Ophelia, run to the nearest convent and forget the notion of love…It is not worthy of you. Forget Hamlet. He is not worthy of you either. His footfalls heavy on the stone, as does the beautiful Ophelia’s tears, shattering my heart into pieces. He turned her away. Demanding her to forgo the idea of the idea, and dedicate herself to a cause greater than herself.
I hear the men, they stumble in, dumbfounded but resolute in the information they gathered. This was no match made, in hopes of marriage, but a chance to crawl within Hamlet’s mind to see what he planned. How decayed was it? In my shadow, I find his words hollow. An attempt to drive away the one he cared for, in order to save her from what lurked in the shadows with me. Their connection was successful, but not the length they require. Now I will be brought in, to find more words and madness, in order to better understand the son. My son. Unwatched, indeed. Perhaps it is not the son they should watch. Perhaps it is their own selves they should monitor with greater understanding. But my words will fall short, much like Ophelia’s, much like Hamlet’s. They only hear what they want and leave the rest of the syllables to dry on the floor and float away when the next sway of my dress swoops by. This will be the death of us. This lack of listening. I fear for us all.