Reese T. Basile was awarded the Dawson Prize in Drama in the 2015 Prison Writing Contest

At the departure of Ophelia in 4.5.192, both the Queen and Ophelia (at the behest of the Queen) make their way toward the gardens of Elsinore, where the Queen and Ophelia can speak privately (under a willow tree) on matters pertaining to Ophelia’s mental state: Hamlet’s repudiation of Ophelia, the tension within the family due to the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, and the dangers that young Hamlet seemingly presents to the throne and what will become of the Prince. The Queen utilizes this time to try and extract information Ophelia may possess concerning young Hamlet, her father Polonius, and King Claudius. In order to secure Ophelia’s trust, the Queen shares some earth-shattering information that turns Ophelia’s world upside down, resulting in a most tragic occurrence.

Enter Ophelia and Queen.

Queen: Come now, dear Ophelia. Let us walk through Elsinore’s most precious gardens.

Ophelia: Ay, my Queen?

Queen: These men, knavish beneath their breastplates of armor and stately tone, shall send me to my darkest hour. Fair Nature, adjutant to His power, yet they know not of her worldly vigor, only calling upon the stars for the strength they hath deemed but only for themselves. A king, a prince, a councilor and son—Oh most noble men! Nay, not so much really, set forth in their most laborious ambitions. They know not the satisfaction and unsinewed allure the most sacred feminine exalts. Thou must, like a hedge-cock—no, ‘tis not a hedge-cock, a hedge sparrow. . . a Dunnock. . . an Accentor. . . No, a lark! Oh, yes, a lark! Thou must like thy lark but dance and fly and sing, caring not of what which these men devise. Come now, oh fruitful dame! Let us walk these grounds, two larks ay, seeking the liberty of thee willow and its forlorn limbs.

Ophelia: Take me you for a lark, my Queen? Hast thou before seen a lark shed tears of discord? Dost thou, lark, so full of sorrow weighted by thy guilt of its erroneous actions find thy Savior’s wind at its back when starting toward the safety of the heavens, far and away now from the villainous vane of thy archers arduous arrow? How does, your honour, find thee such a peace amidst a sea of distress?

Queen: Oh, little song bird, cry not. Neglect of thy man’s ego is most fit for Nature’s daughters. Speak not of words I share. There’s matter fit not for a mere maid but for a princess soon to be.

Ophelia: A princess you say? Has’t young Hamlet spoke to thee of such? Marry? Why dost thou not treat me as a princess, only with anger and madness spilling forth like an orator amongst the crowd before condemnation of man to the stocks like vinegar to the palate?

Queen: He feigns madness, my dear. Has’t thou brought attention to such quandary? I know not, other than his father’s departure—rest his excellence’s soul—and his defiance of discourse, that which hath made him so boisterous and dissenting. Though sovereign king to be, he speaks not to his own dowager mother—fleeting time dost marking Claudius’s reign.

Ophelia: Sick is he, my Queen?

Queen: Nay, he’s but a student, young in years and many moons to come.

Ophelia: Nay, my Queen. Your king. Has’t thou been privy to some affliction that brings thy Dane to his knees? Cholera?

Queen: Thou must not speak words I have shared this day—have I your word, fair lady?

Ophelia: I shan’t, my Queen—rend my heart, for thy words shall remain within.

Queen: So loving to thy father, and relative of his deathly disposition, my prince hast with me shared intentions of a most regicidal ambition.

Ophelia: My Queen! Dost thou assay him against such thoughts?

Queen: It has so fallen from my tongue on many occasion. Base lunacy, madness he feigns, that he may begird our excellence as thou might a criminal with his garrote. So fustian in his speech that he might not consider the benevolence which with his dear mother—Queen—aft with devotion of her only son imparts against him.

Ophelia: What will come of it, my Queen?

Queen: Thy King shall send Hamlet thence to England. He shall cast off tomorrow with the two lads… Guildencrantz and Rosemstem is it? Oh, how their names escape me. Tis good for thy prince to be in the hands of such beloved friends. The more senior of the two, Rosenguild, bestowed upon him such uncanny ability to call thy coin in “double or quits.” Had another run of luck swept thy Kings purse, the King might be left crestfallen and the lad’s head left rolling.

Ophelia: Oh, dear!

Queen: Thou mustn’t worry. ‘Twas it not thy Prince’s schoolmate, thy King may have lost his temper. But let us speak of matters, of faults throughout this most wretched Elsinore. What hast thou learned of thy Prince’s contemplations?

Ophelia: Nary a word was said. Not a bit, my Queen. I cannot conceive of him. I sue to know what encompasses his mind’s eye. I study thy Prince deservingly so, and tis as if he’s gone mad – nothing more can publish of his state. He doth wield a most impenetrable cloak of secrecy, imparting not the least of which has overrun his mind. No longer am I felicitate in thy Prince’s company. What shall the Queen speak?

Queen: Gertrude… For you, my dear, in this time and place, refer to me as Gertrude. Thy Queen’s crown hast no place in the sing-song of two lady birds. Perchance, shall I share with thou a most dark and odious tale?

Ophelia: Ay, your Highness. . . Gertrude.

Queen: Are thou partaking of thy Prince’s devious play on thy King of Denmark?

Ophelia: No. Why he…

Queen: Tis true. He has bred me on the bond that his father’s ghost bequeaths him. Fall will thy King if thy Prince has his way.

Ophelia: Ho! No!

Queen: It is this lunacy interested with thy father Polonius’s death.

Ophelia: Oh, how Scythian! First my father and now Claudius?

Queen: All in the name of large effects, of majesty, of power. Oh, come not between the rabid wolf and his wrath!

Ophelia: What else, my Highness?

Queen: The death of Denmark, the sovereign King Hamlet, but a pawn in a larger game than that of chess. With reservations, turned I did, a blind eye to the loss.

Ophelia: Oh, most hideous! On thy life say so you?

Queen: On my heart of hearts. Those words ring true. Denmark’s father need be slain for infirmities of character did so besiege his Highness. By day and night he wronged me, wronged Denmark.

Ophelia: What infirmities dost thou speak of? So wicked! And cry you not of such loss?

Queen: Cry. Cry. Cry like Niobe? Turned into a stone, forever wet with tears. Not I. Alas, I stand with Claudius and an opportune moment for this kingdom with smiles for a twelve-night. Fair Nature’s eye has risen! My emotion, tis not of rash condition, but of a mother’s love of her future.

Ophelia: {Aside} And not of her son?

Say you no more! Rend my heart for knowing of such misdeeds!

Queen: Hath you no knowledge of the world and its machinations? Of how things mustn’t stay the same? Even a lark molts but once a year, perennial in its beauty – but change it must, or it withers and dies. Thy Prince is murderous in thought but not in action. He shall not know the hanging tree, for no harm’s been done. Your father. . . better off in the afterlife, my dear. Rest he in eternal peace. Had he been of royal blood something might’ve been done: the stocks, the noose, the flame, but he was a councilor, not royal.

Ophelia: No harm say you? Not in action? My father is dead at his hellacious hand! Oh, Hamlet –Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint!

Queen: Lame he is, as was his father who hath been for some time. . . One-fourth of a four-score… Ere twenty years. When thy King abandoned this kingdom in the name of war. ‘Twas the Poles . .. No, the Norwegians . . . Yes, the Norwegians. . . Tis not important. What is, is the fact that during this most trying time, thy King, sired a child, ‘twas twerking ‘tween the sheets of a most unrighteous whore, before he marched his weary way to war. Another woman had he in his bedchamber! Frailty, thy name is man! Married I a most wanton knave! Then killed her after she was with child.

Ophelia: Why has’t my father allowed such travesty?

Queen: Ambition, my dear. Ambition.

Ophelia: Seeketh you revenge, my Queen?

Queen: Alas, I have. Tis the reason for my decadence. ‘Twas your mother old King Hamlet bedded.

Ophelia: Oh, no! My mother say you? My mother? So lily-livered are thou to not have told me of this most heinous act! And what said my father of this most despicable indiscretion?

Queen: He knew. He reared you, a waif, in order the kingdom not collapse upon learning of such infirmity. Ay, ambition.

Ophelia: So I. . . I am a princess? I am a prin. . . a waif!?

Queen: By agnation, tis so. By outward appearances, nay. . . never. . . not.

Ophelia: Illegitimate…

Queen: Tis so, and tis not so.

Ophelia: And thou art my own Hamlet’s sister? I shall speak with my. . . Polon. . . Ham. . . Laertes at first chance!

Queen: How, now, dear damsel thou must clear your mind. Have you thought not of the remarkable loss thy kingdom has’t recently suffered? How such a vigorous man seemingly fell ill amidst an illustrious campaign that has enlightened all of Denmark?

Ophelia: What say you, my Queen?

Queen: The Kings death perpetuated by a man of blood, of revenge. Strange to thine own nature it is – to kill.

Ophelia: Oh, these flaws and starts! Murderer! Ho!

Queen: Nay. . . not I.

Ophelia: Then who?

Queen: Claudius. . . Suborned by Polonius. Oh, Hamlet. . .Was by a mousing owl clenched and killed.

Ophelia: But why, my Queen. Why such trifling villainy? And why to his bedchamber have you run?

Queen: Come now, wench. The burden, the sore, steeped in the countenance of the King wore on Polonius’s soul. Giving the King the lie was but a necessity for both Polonius and Denmark’s new father. Thou must not be unmade, my dear Ophelia.

Ophelia: Unmade I am; my tears shall drown the wind.

Queen: Tis necessary certain issue strokes must arbitrate. The outcome decided by blows.

Ophelia: And yet you let me love thy Prince, my own brother! So foul a day I have never before seen. Tis the insane root you have eaten! Instruments of darkness cleave my heart, for I cannot go on…

Queen: But you must, and you will. I so command thee. Tis your duty to the crown, the crown which hath kept you close to its benevolence. Nary a day gone by that reality of life has weighed upon your soul; royalty clothing your frail body.

Ophelia: My Queen. . . I do not. . . I cannot. . . I.

Queen: How, now. Cry to it. Answer me this, what dost thou know of Hamlet’s intent?

Ophelia: Said I before, I know not of any intent.

Queen: And heard have you, anything of your father’s untime demise? Any thoughts concerning thy most speedy ascension to the good grace of thy King?

Ophelia: Nay, my Queen. I knew of nothing other than his allegiance he so professed.

Queen: And what of Claudius? Surely a remark has been mentioned. . . Men always talk amongst men.

Ophelia: As I have life and honor, I know not of such words being spoke.

Queen: And the Court. What words have fallen from the mouths of thy most mutinous and malevolent men – ambassadors?

Ophelia: Swears and lies, my Queen. Tis not for a lady to hear the words that have given rise amongst the Court.

Queen: Speak! Speak now, or I’ll see to it that you sleep fatally beneath thy soil on which we stand.

Ophelia: Oh, no! Hellhound! Help Ho! Gorgon!

Queen: Silence! You wretched thing! Mend your speech.

Ophelia: My queen… I cannot. Revoke my love in the face of such recreance. Fare thee well, Queen—Mother… Mum… Mommy. To thy gods clear shelter, I shall seek comfort. This bodkin shall fall into thine own vein. My heart shall never know such pain again.

Queen: Dost thou know me?

Ophelia: Ay, my Queen. In all its infortune, I do.

Queen: Tis your father, Claudius, young and old Hamlet alike that wear the cozeners robes… Furred gowns hiding their gratuitous ways. A most pitiful sight. Now let thy friendly hand spirit away your sorrows. Have you not an inkling of the goodness I intend upon you? The men have lost themselves and rot they will. Tis but a matter of time till we two alone will sing like songbirds I’ th’ cage while they wear out in a walled prison or lay dead in the ground, three great ones whom ebb and flow by the moon – no more… by Fair Nature’s eye. Show your valiant strain, my dear, for soon thy motherland shall once again belong to a mother.

Ophelia: I dare abide no longer to treachery!

Queen: You will… Now sheath your bodkin… Help! Ho!

Ophelia: Bleed you will… as has my mother… my father… my love… and me! Fare thee well, mother – Queen!

The Queen grabs a rock and heaves it at Ophelia as she advances with the bodkin. The rock hits Ophelia, causing her to lose consciousness. The Queen drags Ophelia’s body toward the small pond in the garden and dumps Ophelia’s body into it. She watches as Ophelia’s heavy dress pulls her body under as her life is snuffed out.