As Marcellus and Horatio were carefully making their way across the ramparts, draped with a salty mist so dense even the wind couldn’t disperse it, Hamlet was confronting the ghost.
“Where are you leading me? Answer- or I will go no further.”
“Listen,” the ghost said in a deep unnatural voice that seemed to come from the depths of the earth.
“I will.”
“Dawn is approaching, soon I must return to the cleansing flames of Purgatory.”
“Alas, poor ghost.”
“Don’t give me your pity, only your unwavering attention to what I am about to tell you.”
“Speak, I’m duty bound to listen.”
“You will be bound to avenge what I am about to reveal.”
“What?”
“I am the ghost of your father. For a penance of limited time I must walk at night, by day I am confined to fast in the fires which will burn away the misdemeanours I committed in life. If I was not forbidden to tell you the secrets of my fiery prison, I could tell you a tale whose lightest word would terrify your soul, freeze your young blood, make your eyes fly from their sockets like shooting stars, your curly hair to turn lank, and every hair stand on end like the quills of an angry porcupine. But revelations about the mysteries of the afterlife are not for the ears of those still flesh and blood. Listen, if you ever loved your father. Listen! ”
“Oh, God!”
“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”
“Murder!”
“Murder most foul, as the best. This one more foul, strange, and unnatural than most.”
“Tell me at once, so I can exact revenge the moment the method occurs to me.”
“What you have said pleases me. You would be as droopy as the reeds which hog the banks of the river of forgetfulness if this didn’t arouse you. Now, Hamlet, listen. They say that while I was sleeping in the garden I was bitten by a snake. The whole of Denmark has heard a forged account of my death. Know, noble youth, that the snake that fatally stung your father now wears his crown.”
“My prophetic soul! My uncle!”
“Yes, that incestuous and adulterous beast! The witchcraft of smooth talk and traitorous inclinations are what he used to seduce my seemingly-virtuous Queen. Oh, Hamlet what a change for the worse. To lose me, whose love followed the vows of marriage to the very letter, and find a wretch whose natural gifts are scant. Virtue, though, will never be seduced by lewdness. So lust disguises itself as a radiant angel and preys on the garbage to be found in a holy bed. I think I can smell the morning air. Let me be brief. Sleeping in my garden, which as you know was my custom, your uncle crept in when I was vulnerable and poured a vial of poisonous essence into my ear. This substance is so alien to a man that it glides rapidly through the veins and arteries thickening the blood. Instantly my body was covered in crust-like leper sores. As I slept, my brother’s hand deprived me of my life, my crown and my wife. My life was finished when I was still in sin, without any opportunity to confess. Horrible! Horrible! If you love me, don’t permit this. Stop the royal bed of Denmark being a couch of lechery and incest. How you decide to pursue your revenge must not allow your mind to taint your affection for your mother. Leave her to be judged by Heaven and allow her conscience to be stung by the thorns she has sown. I must go. The fading glow-worm shows me that dawn is about to break. Adieu, adieu, adieu. Remember me.”
The ghost vanished and Hamlet was left to tussle with his suspicions and plans for exacting revenge.
“Oh, angels! Oh, earth! Oh, hell, too! No, don’t break my heart! Stiffen my sinews, don’t grow old suddenly, but bear my weight today! Remember you! Yes, poor ghost, as if the memory could never be erased. I will delete trivial memories from my youth and in my head I will retain your command, untainted by frivolity. Yes, by heaven! Oh, that most pernicious woman! Oh, that villain! That damned smiling villain! I must remember that a man can smile and still be a villain. So, uncle, there we have it. Now to my motto, Adieu, adieu, remember me. I have sworn I will.”
Distressed, Hamlet did not hear the anxious calls of Horatio and Marcellus.
“My lord, my lord!” Horatio yelled.
“Lord Hamlet!” Marcellus shouted too.
“Heaven protect him!” Horatio said.
“So be it,” Hamlet muttered to himself.
“Hello, ho, ho, my lord!” Marcellus yelled.
“Hello, ho, ho, boy!” Hamlet called back.
Horatio and Marcellus ran in the Prince’s direction, oblivious to their own safety.
“Is everything fine, my noble lord?” asked Marcellus.
“What news, my lord?” asked Horatio.
“Oh, wonderful!”
“My good lord, tell us,” pleaded Horatio.
“No, you will reveal it.”
“Not I, my lord. I swear it,” said Horatio.
“Nor will I, my lord,” Marcellus said.
“What do you say then, would the heart of man give credence to… But you will keep it a secret?”
“Yes, by heaven,” Horatio and Marcellus said eagerly.
Hamlet gestured to them to come closer. He intended to whisper.
“There is not a villain living in Denmark who isn’t a rogue to the core.”
“We don’t need a ghost to come from the grave, my lord, to tell us this,” said Horatio.
“True, absolutely true. So without any more delay we must shake hands and depart. You go in the direction your business and desires take you – since every man has business and or desire, such as it is – and for my own poor part I will pray.”
“These are wild, whirling words, my lord,” said Horatio.
“I am sorry if they offend you, I really am.”
“There’s no offence, my lord.”
“Yes, by Saint Patrick, there is, Horatio. And plenty of it! The vision here was a true ghost, I can tell you that. As for your desire to hear what it said to me, please try to curtail it. Now good friends, as you are friends, scholars and soldiers, grant me one small request.”
“We will. What is it, my lord?” asked Horatio.
“Never speak about what you’ve seen tonight.”
“My lord, we won’t,” said Horatio and Marcellus.
“No, but swear it.”
“In faith, my lord, I will not speak of it,” said Horatio.
“Nor I, my lord, in faith,” added Marcellus.
“Upon my sword.”
“We have sworn already, my lord,” said Marcellus.
“True, but swear upon my sword.”
Although the ghost had disappeared it was listening from the fires of Purgatory.
“Swear!” the voice of the late King boomed.
“Aha, ghost. Do you agree? Are you there my trusted ghost? Come on, you heard this voice. Consent to the oath.”
“Propose the oath, my lord,” said Horatio.
“Never speak about what you have seen. Swear by my sword.”
Horatio and Marcellus laid their hands on Hamlet’s sword.
“Swear,” the ghost said again.
Horatio and Marcellus repeated Hamlet’s oath.
“Here and everywhere? Then we will shift our ground. Come here, gentlemen, and lay your hands on my sword again. Swear by my sword never to speak about what you have seen and heard.”
“Swear by his sword,” King Hamlet’s ghost bellowed again.
Horatio and Marcellus vowed for the second time.
“Well said, old mole! Can you mine into the earth so fast? Let’s move again, good friends.”
“Oh, day and night, this is bizarre and strange,” said Horatio.
Hamlet nodded in agreement: “And therefore as it is a stranger, be hospitable. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than your philosophy tutors know. But come, once again, swear that you will never, so help you, regardless of how strange or odd I may seem, maybe playing the clown, you will never reveal you know what happened here tonight. I may behave strangely or talk cryptically but you must stay mute about tonight’s happenings. Swear upon this, to your dying breath!”
“Swear!” the ghost ordered.
Again they placed their hands on Hamlet’s sword as the ghost commanded.
“Rest, rest, vexed spirit!” Hamlet said to his father.
He turned to Horatio and Marcellus: “So, gentlemen, I hold you in the highest esteem. Whatever a man as poor as Hamlet can do to express his friendship to you I will do. Let us go in together. Keep your lips sealed, I beg. The order of things has been lost. Curse it that I was born to right these wrongs. No, come let’s go together.”