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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern met the King in his private chapel.
“I don’t know what he’s up to,” said the King. “Nor do I think it is prudent to allow him to do what he likes in his condition. Prepare yourselves for an assignment. I will send you both to England, Hamlet must accompany you. The King cannot tolerate hazards in the palace.”
“We will get ready immediately,” said Guildenstern. “It is among our vows of loyalty to be wary of threats to the King and to ensure the safety of his loyal subjects.”
“The individual always protects himself from threats,” added Rosencrantz. “But the monarch who is responsible for the lives of many must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure his citizens’ well-being. The death of a king is not one death but like a whirlpool it affects what surrounds it. Or it is like massive wheel, at the top of a mountain, whose spokes have ten thousand lesser things clinging on. When the wheel rolls down the hill, all the little elements are casualties too. The King’s sighs of despair always lead to a chorus from the people.”
The King nodded in agreement.
“Meanwhile, arm yourselves for this urgent voyage. It is time we shackled the feet of this threat which roams so freely.”
“We will hurry,” said Guildenstern.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left. The King was alone with his thoughts for a few moments before Polonius entered.
“My lord, Hamlet will shortly be going to his mother’s quarters. I’ll hide behind the curtains and listen to what is said. I warrant that she’ll get to the bottom of it. And as you so sensibly put it, it’s better that someone else hears, because mothers are so partial to taking the part of sons. Farewell, my liege. I’ll call again before you retire and tell you what I’ve heard.”
“Thank you, Polonius.”
When Polonius was gone the King returned to the festering guilt that was now haunting him.
“Oh, my offence is vile, its odours reach to heaven itself! It is a repetition of the primal crime, the murder of a brother. As much as I want to, I cannot pray. My stronger guilt defeats my strong intentions. Like a man with two options I stand uncertain of what to take first and thereby neglect both choices. If this cursed hand is now encrusted with my brother’s blood, is there enough rain in the heavens to wash it as white as snow? What does mercy do, if it doesn’t confront sin face to face? But what is prayer if it leads us not into temptation, but delivers us from evil? I must take heart! My sin is in the past, but what kind of prayer can redeem me? Our Lord, forgive me my foul murder? That can’t be right since I am still enjoying the benefits of my actions- my crown, my ambition and my Queen. Can one be pardoned and still retain the fruits? In this corrupt world don’t the rich often bully justice, and use their ill-gotten gains to buy the law? But is it not so in Heaven? There is no plea bargaining in Heaven. There the truth is transparent, and we are compelled to be thorough in any account of our faults. What then? What remains? What can repentance offer me? What can it not? Yet what can it do for one who cannot repent? A wretched situation! A heart blacker than death! My soul is trapped! The more it struggles, the tighter the chains! Help, angels! Assist me! Bow, stubborn knees! Heart with strings of steel, be as soft as the sinews of a new-born baby! All may be well.”
The King forced himself to kneel for prayer. As he did so, Hamlet crept into the chapel, just moments too late to hear Claudius’ anguished confession.
“Now might be the most convenient moment, when he is praying. Now I will do it!”
Hamlet drew his sword. He moved closer to the King. The King was oblivious to Hamlet’s presence, so deep was he in his guilty turmoil.
“But he would go to . That would be my revenge. This has to be considered. A villain kills my father, and I as his son and heir kill the offender, and in doing so send the villain to ! Why, this is a reward, not revenge! He killed my father when he was still stained with his sins. How they reckon with this in , only God knows. From here, it looks bad. Is it revenge if I kill him as he kneels? Is he purging his soul? Properly preparing himself for the passage to God? No. Sword, stay clean until the appropriate occasion presents itself! No, wait until he is in a drunken sleep, a rage, in bed with his brother’s wife, swearing and gambling, or some other pursuit that has no trace of reverence in it. Then I’d get him, when his soul was as black as hell, where it belongs. My mother is waiting. This pondering only prolongs his rancid days.”
Hamlet crept out and the King finished his prayers unaware that he was almost killed.
“My words go to , but my thoughts are earthy. Words without sincerity will never reach Heaven.”
The King made the sign of the cross and rose, still the man he was prior to praying.