Excerpt from Hamlet Z


ACT I

Scene I. Elsinore. The castle battlements.  Elongated shadows cast from the torchlight below flicker and lurch across the stony walls, and the groans of the unquiet night can be heard from time to time.

[Francisco at his post. Enter to him Bernardo.]

Bernardo.
Who's there?

Francisco.
Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.

Bernardo.
Long live the King!

Francisco.
Bernardo?

Bernardo.
He.

Francisco.
You come most carefully upon your hour.

Bernardo.
'Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.

Francisco.
For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.

Bernardo.
Have you had quiet guard?

Francisco.
Aye, the silence of Tartarus.
Your jest like a physic of mead doth pierce
The icy plate that shields the heart,
And warm the cockles beneath. In truth,
The unquiet night is suffice to despair,
Of loneliness, void, and want of God's mercy.

Bernardo.
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

Francisco.
I think I hear them.—Stand, ho! Who is there?

[Enter Horatio and Marcellus.]

Horatio.
Friends to this ground.

Marcellus.
And liegemen to the Dane.

Francisco.
Give you good night.

Marcellus.
O, farewell, honest soldier;
Who hath relieved you?

[A groan, and shambling shadow passes.]

Francisco.
There is no relief to be had.
Bernardo has my place.
Give you good night.
[Exit.]

Marcellus.
Holla, Bernardo!

Bernardo.
The less the Cry, the lesser the Hue!
Discontent with Diana's silv'ry blue cast,
Seek you to stain the canvas of the night
With sanguineous tints, and the shades of the grave?
Moderate thy tone, lest thy watch anon be
Like fallen dove by ants beswarmed.
What, is Horatio there?

Horatio.
A piece of him.

Bernardo.
Welcome, Horatio. Welcome, good Marcellus.

Marcellus.
What, has this thing appeared again tonight?

Bernardo.
I have seen nothing.

Marcellus.
Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us:
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night;
That, if again this apparition come
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.

Horatio.
Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.

Bernardo.
Scoff you at ghosts when the dead walk the Earth?
O’erlooking a sea that writhes with serpents,
T'would scorn the reflection of a dragon above?
Though one carve clouds and the other foam,
Are not both bound in the same deep blue?

Horatio.
Speak not to me of mere belief;
The ambling dead I may vouchsafe by touch,
I remark their shuffling tracks on the moor,
Scent their wand'ring decay on the wind,
Their growls do readily prick my ears,
And were I but to stand me still,
In stubborn doubt and disbelief,
In despair of all my sense and perception,
Why, their teeth in my head would console me.
But regarding your ghost and your joint discernment,
I remain disconsolate.

Bernardo.
Sit down awhile,
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story,
What we two nights have seen.

Horatio.
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Bernardo speak of this.

Bernardo.
Last night of all,
When yond same star that's westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one—

Marcellus.
Peace, break thee off; look where it comes again!

[Enter Ghost, armed.]

Bernardo.
In the same figure, like the King that's dead.

Marcellus.
Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.

Bernardo.
Looks it not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.

Horatio.
Most like:—it harrows me with fear and wonder.
Yet do I apprehend a haunt, or sovereign remains?
A devil clad in kingly raiment?

Marcellus.
See how it glides, not the lurching gait
Of hungry wand'ring; its flesh not in tatters,
But whole in its luminance.

Bernardo.
It would be spoke to.

Marcellus.
Question it, Horatio.

Horatio.
What art thou, that usurp'st this time of night,
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? By heaven I charge thee, speak!

Marcellus.
It is offended.

Bernardo.
See, it stalks away!

Horatio.
Stay! Speak, speak! I charge thee speak!

[Exit Ghost.]

Marcellus.
'Tis gone, and will not answer.

Bernardo.
How now, Horatio! You tremble and look pale:
Is not this something more than fantasy?
What think you on't?

Horatio.
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.

Marcellus.
Is it not like the King?

Horatio.
As thou art to thyself:
Such was the very armor he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frowned he once when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.
'Tis strange.

Marcellus.
Thus twice before, and jump at this dead hour,
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.

Horatio.
In what particular thought to work I know not;
But, in the gross and scope of my opinion,
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.

Bernardo.
Think you thus truly? And what pray tell
Eruption hath of late come forth,
In lust of flesh and bloody chaos
Descending now toward Elsinore?
What Angel of Death like as slew the Egyptians,
With ambition not circumscribed by order of birth,
But desiring all men with abandon?

Horatio.
Go to;
Thy point is made. Speak, I’ll listen.

Marcellus.
Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land;
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week;
What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-laborer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?

Horatio.
That can I;
At least, the whisper goes so. It is said
The plague worsens; at our boundaries the walkers amass,
The fruits of foreign wars, and our own brave departed,
Plucked ripe from the earth, and marching as true
As the north star toward Denmark; and by this account,
Our forges fly embers to midnight's embrace;
My credence I grant this hypothesy now,
But there is another, regards our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet
(For so this side of our known world esteemed him)
Did slay this Fortinbras; who, by a sealed compact,
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands,
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror;
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our King; which had returned
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher, as, by the same cov'nant,
And carriage of the article designed,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there,
Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other,
As it doth well appear unto our state,
But to recover of us, by strong hand,
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost: among these conjectures,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch, and the chief head
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.

Bernardo.
I think it be no other but e'en so:
Well may it sort, that this portentous figure
Comes armed through our watch; so like the King
That was and is the question of these wars.

Horatio.
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As, stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of feared events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates,
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have the roaming dead brazenly demonstrated
Unto our climature and countrymen.

[Enter Ghost again.]

But soft, behold, lo where it comes again!
I'll cross it, though it blast me.—Stay, illusion!
If thou hast any sound, or use of voice,
Speak to me:
If there be any good thing to be done,
That may to thee do ease, and, race to me,
Speak to me:
If thou art privy to thy country's fate,
Which, happily, foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,
[The cock crows.]
Speak of it! Stay, and speak! Stop it, Marcellus!

Marcellus.
Shall I strike at it with my partisan?

Horatio.
Do, if it will not stand.

Bernardo.
'Tis here!

Horatio.
'Tis here!

Marcellus.
'Tis gone!

[Exit Ghost.]

We do it wrong, being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence;
For it is, as the air, invulnerable,
And our vain blows malicious mockery.

Bernardo.
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.

Horatio.
And then it started, like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day; and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine; and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.

Marcellus.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

Horatio.
So have I heard, and once did believe it.
Till the cries of perdition did claw mortal air
In the wake of damnation's irresolute stride,
Belying the dropping of Vicar's clod.
But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
Break we our watch up: and by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet; for, upon my life,
This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.
Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it,
As needful in our loves, fitting our duty?

Marcellus.
Let's do't, I pray; and I this morning know
Where we shall find him most conveniently.

[Exeunt.]

Scene II. Elsinore. A room of state in the Castle.

[Enter the King, Queen, Hamlet, Polonius, Laertes, Voltimand,
Cornelius, Lords, and Attendant.]

King.
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe;
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen,
The imperial jointress to this warlike state,
Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy,
With an auspicious and one dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
Taken to wife; nor have we herein barred
Your better wisdoms, which have freely gone
With this affair along. For all, our thanks.
Now follows, that you know, young Fortinbras,
Holding a weak supposal of our worth,
Or thinking by our late dear brother's death
Our state to be disjoint and out of frame,
Colleagued with this dream of his advantage,
He hath not failed to pester us with message,
Importing the surrender of those lands
Lost by his father, with all bonds of law,
To our most valiant brother. In so much
As it has fallen to us to bear his crown,
So too the burdens of his duty as father
Do shift to our shoulders, a burden more heart
Than writ. Those lands are Hamlet's by right,
And Hamlet's they shall remain—so we swear:
Thus Denmark makes ready for war. To that end,
Our lands we decree isolate, cut off from the world,
Our borders fortified with obstructions and patrols,
That none may pass, without or within,
Arrive or depart without our leave.
Fortinbras' scouts shan't breach our kingdom,
Nor his spies in our midst escape with intelligence
Of our fortifieds and stratagems.
In darkness opaque, sans martial clarity,
Uncertain what horrors may, may not, within,
His attack may be blunted, and Fortinbras hie
Himself back to Norway like whipped cur,
With tail 'twixt his legs. Thus we launch this blockade.

Laertes.
Blockade my lord, or quarantine?

King.
What mean you by this, dear Laertes?

Polonius.
This interjection is rude, my son!
My liege, I taught him better and beg
Your forgiveness.

King.
'Tis granted, Polonius, fear not.
The lips of the passionate young in their capers 
Outstrip the constraints of their less agile minds.
Proceed you Laertes.

Laertes.
Dread my lord,
The rarefied air of State is heady,
Beyond my inhale or exhalation.
Nor, I concede, would its saturate powers,
Do aught but make drunk my 'less agile mind'.
But my capering lips must thoughtless now ask:
Is this in all truth the time to wage war,
When in numbers increasing the dead walk the land?
Is not the threat of damnation unleashed
In roaming hordes to randomly feast
On all who breathe air, rarefied or rank,
Of greater import than a parcel of land
That Hamlet, in grief, from his notice has banned?

Hamlet.
Of what value is this plot of soil?
My noble father was not buried there.
He cannot be buried in several graves.
The thing is no matter to me.

King.
And yet,
Time heals all wounds, and when yours are scabbed,
You'll thank us for this, the defense of your land.

Laertes.
But what of these horrible flesh-eating monsters?
Before the blockade you so recent erected,
Word had come down from the neighboring lands,
Rumors disquieting, whispers of doom,
That from all points of compass, like needle to North,
Th' undead are approaching, converging on Denmark.
They march like an army, slowly but sure,
Deterred oh but briefly, to lunch on a peasant,
To dine on some children that luckless did draw
Their eye, or blank socket, when crossing their path,
But once dead, devoured, that peasant or child,
Doth rise up and join them—to Elsinore march!

King.
'Tis doubtless these dark times auger great evil.
These unnatural animates claw at our sanity,
Which tears with the ease of our entrails, and bleeds
A sanguineous fear. This panic spawns rumors,
Each worse than the last, all baseless in fact,
The cluck of old hens and cowards. Take heart;
This rumor is poppycock.

Laertes.
Yet it has twin—
This blockade of your kingdom, not Fortinbras aimed,
Is a quarantine 'gainst the invading damned,
And the outward news of their invading.
So rumor has't.

Polonius.
Alas Laertes!
Be silent! Enough, I'll brook this no further!
My liege, would that my name had been Onan,
These halls would be spared this cacophonous rant!
[Aside.] Though the floors not be spared an additional stain.

King.
We are not deaf to the cries of our subjects;
Laertes but voices their unfounded tremblings.
We are not offended. But come, take our comfort.
As the familiar breeds contempt, so does novelty qualm.
Let us shed light on the myst'ry, and christen
This nameless terror.

[The King gestures.  A caged shambler is brought into the room, frothing and snarling.  The King circles the cage as he speaks, the undead thing lunging at him all the time.]

King.
These refugees from the flames of Gehenna
Are but frail things, in a full reckoning.
Fearsome in aspect, as they decay,
Rot hems their rapidity, makes sluggish their step.
An old man outruns them, a mere child may ring them
As round a rosie in play.

Laertes.
And when fresh?
The newly reanimate, ‘tis merry of chase.
And they speak, so ‘tis said, when first they return,
With the devil's own crafty and honey-tongued charm.
Mellifluous in their constructions of logic,
They make of an empty cavity a reasonable proposition,
Whilst tremb'ling fingers do pry at the crown
That whole shelters reason from the lunatic moon,
And the hungering talons of crows; they pluck
The pink-hued king from its skull-bound throne,
Leaving the unghosted machine to grind on,
Ungoverned by aught but ravening hunger,
The avatar of plague.

[The King takes up a spear.]

King.
Laertes, take heed.
Dead anew or long departed,
These tattered rags of our cast-off finery
All crumple just the same.

[The King impales the shambler in its head with the spear. It thrashes, then is still.]

King.
Less fearsome than knight with helm of iron,
Are these the stuff of nightmare?

Hamlet.
True—
One wasp the merest swat may dispatch,
But ringed with the buzzing wrath of a hive,
The greatest knight must doff his arms
And cower 'neath a lily pad,
In farmer's pond—to wit, submersed.
And iron rusts, my liege. It rusts.

Laertes.
My lord, pardon me if offensive I seemed—
These rumors do pluck at my nerves with abandon,
And play me a most solemn instrument.
Concern for my father and sister propel
My tune in its frantic and jarring tone,
That and the safety of State, thine own person.
By your gracious word, I will take my leave,
Depart Elsinore and our borders to find
Fortinbras' army, if such thing exists, and more:
The truth of the coming or going of corpses,
And return thus to warn of calamities dire,
Or with tidings that Denmark's sweet hills are secure.
My liege, will you let me pass?

King.
Your suit I am loath to reject, Laertes.
The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
We cannot stake his heir on a frivolous gamble.
Fortinbras' army is real, forsooth—
Though the legion of dead on approach is a lie,
An obvious fabricate; they band not together—
Danger, in the final sum, must upend our scales.
You shall not leave, Laertes, for his sake
And yours. For thee this blockade is a prison,
Or perhaps a safe haven, if your mind bends it so.
But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son

Hamlet.
[Aside.] A little more than kin, and less than kind!