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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Villainy of Hamlet (Part 1 of 2), Ian Singleton, Cont'd

                     Now his smile has fallen and
he quaffs until just foam lies buzzing from
his lips. Again he hands the tankard back

but of a sudden takes the swabber’s hand
and whispers close to him, “Pour’st out and let
us probe some liquor. Then we’ll find what sense
there is in crapulence.” The jolly lad
turns out a thick and heavy jug from down
below and pours out cups of clear-hued drink.

Dear Rosencrantz drinks down his beer and raises
his hand up in affront. “Forget’st not Rosencrantz,
my boy, for no one here may yet declare
a greater need.”

The swabber turns and sighs
for all the burdens of his duty,
for duty grants that fools fall into high
positions. After we have drunk our fill
we see red splinters in the eye and croak
out foul-breathed curses on the other.
art foolish just the same to utter curse,
for thou know’st not how few thy friends now count.”

I turn my head down low as if to smell
dear Rosencrantz’s underlip. Before
I speak, a glimpse of dead Polonius
makes stir within my mind. “Aware am I
of how I am so hated. The same, I count
myself in luck to know who ‘tis that hates
me so. I then can kill him. Those I love
must suffer all my worried words.”
comes Guildenstern’s retort, fast snapping at
the heels. 'Twas ready as my words began.
“Be not astounded, Rosencrantz. Thou speakest
true to call him fool when all he does
is inverse morals, turn the world on end
and make preposterous utterance. ‘Tis naught

but knavery such as would speak a boyish
bos’n, as simple as our swabber here,
a villain’s trick.” His lips still dribbled thick.

“He doesn’t drink his beer he’d rather lick!”
I cry. I stretch my hand and nod to tell
the swabber, bring more liquor yet to sip.
“Thou hast now found me out, and yet thou addest
insult calling Denmark’s Prince a low
and thoughtless villain. Say’st thou there is honor
for the house of Hamlet?” Here I pause.
“Can it be true? Thou thinkest of me so?”

“Not but to prove a point,” whines Guildenstern.
“None but a fool would wonder so!” He laughs
out hoarsely, then he grabs the shoulder of
the nearby Rosencrantz and holds himself
to goad more wind from out his gullet.

not smiled for long. Who could at jokes like that?
I wonder what gives Guildenstern such petty
confidence, such pride in speech, as if
he knew some punctuation lay outside
my reach.

                      Then Rosencrantz speaks almost as
alarm. “Oh wait! Wait for finitude
for thou art not the only one who has
the mind for villainy!”
                                             Again, I pause
and train my gaze. The words still strike me. I
turn pale. My callous friends, one wheezing out
his laughter while the other grins same as
the dead. What rancor they import, what hate
my friends so spurned by witty words but yet
so full of blackest treason. “How have I
so wronged you, friends, dear friends and cousins
mine? Why don’t we seek an end to all
this parley, all this whine?”

                                          “Thou criest out
now for thy wounds,” spits Rosencrantz, tongue touched
to teeth. “Dost see him, Guildenstern. I think
he’s drinking tears. Beware then, for ‘ere soon
thou shalt not swallow anymore.” With this,
he slides his hand along his throat and scowls
with glassy eye and humor venomous.
But as his finger nicks the apron of
his ear, the hand of Guildenstern enfolds
inside a fist what Rosencrantz would tell.

He says, “He knows not what he does, dear prince!”

“I’m sorry, friends, you feel it’s such. But must
it come to blows? Must ev’ry word we say
be slaughter?” Yet again Polonius’ ghost
pierced through my mind. I drop my head down low.

“You’re right, dear friend, I’m sorry for what I
have said,” the somber Guildenstern replies,
still clutching mad and sobbing Rosencrantz.

“I’m sorry too for what I said. Let us
rest peaceful on our journey.” Then I raise
my head and singly nod then lay it down
to rest, for not since I committed my
most mortal act have I had any sleep.
When once again I raise my head, I find
myself alone amongst ‘midships. They all
have left me, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
and even my beloved swabber. True,
tomfoolery has taken all: the wrong
man’s life, my friends, my love. My head must drop.


Art by Tom Besson,

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