The Queen was in her chamber with Horatio and a courtier- they tried to both pacify the Queen and arrange a meeting between the Queen and Ophelia, at the young lady’s request.
“I will not speak with her!” the Queen said furiously.
“Oh, she’s insistent, mad even,” said the courtier. “Her mood will lead you to pity.”
“What does she want?’
“She speaks constantly about her father,” the courtier said. “She says the world is crafty, shouts and yells. She seizes every opportunity to go into a bad mood. She talks such gibberish that listeners have to work out her meaning for themselves. They take all her botched words and try to find some modicum of sense. From her winks, nods and gestures you’d think everything she said was profound, but everything seems ambiguous.”
“It’s best that she be given an audience,” Horatio advised. “Otherwise she might feed the rumour-mongers.”
“Oh, let her in,” Gertrude relented.
The gentleman of court left to bring in Ophelia.
“It is the true nature of sin,” the Queen said to herself while looking in her mirror, “that every little incident is just the prologue of something grim. Guilt is so clumsy that it spills what it is trying to contain.”
Ophelia entered obviously suffering mental and physical pressure.
“Where is the beautiful Queen of Denmark?”
“How are you, Ophelia?’
Ophelia stared at the Queen and then began to sing.
“How should I from your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff
And his sandal shoe.”
“Alas, sweet lady, what is the relevance of this song?” the Queen interrupted.
“Pardon? Listen!
“He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a tombstone.
Oh!”
“No, but Ophelia-” the Queen said.
“Listen, again: White was his shroud as the mountain snow-”
The King entered the chamber.
“Alas, look at this, my lord!” the Queen exclaimed.
Ophelia continued to sing:
“Larded with sweet flowers
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true-love showers.”
“How are you, pretty lady?” asked the King.
“Well, God’s blessings to you! They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but not what we will become. God be at your table!”
“This has been provoked by the death of her father,” the King said.
Ophelia continued, “Let’s not squabble but when they ask what this is all about just say this:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And opened the chamber door,
Let in the maid that when she left
Never was a maiden anymore.”
“Pretty Ophelia -” the King began, but Ophelia couldn’t be stopped.
“Without a vow, I will bring the story to an end:
“By Jesus and Saint Charity,
Alack and fie for shame!
Young men will do it if they come upon it-
By cock, they are to blame.
She says, ‘Before you bedded me,
You promised me to wed”
“Then the man sings:
“So would I have done, by yonder sun,
If you hadn’t already come to my bed.”
Ophelia giggled wildly at the end of the song.
“How long has she been like this?” the King asked.
“I hope all will be well,” Ophelia interrupted. “We must be patient. But I cannot stop weeping when I think how they buried him unceremoniously. My brother will hear about it! And so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach. Good night, ladies, good night. Sweet ladies, good night, good night…”
Ophelia’s condition was so much worse than the Queen ever imagined.
“Follow her, Horatio. Keep an eye on her, will you?” the King asked. He then turned to his Queen: “Oh, this is the effect of deep grief! All caused by the death of Polonius. Oh, Gertrude, Gertrude, sorrow never comes on its own but always in battalions. First her father murdered, and then your son exiled by his own actions. My subjects are baffled, uncertain and suspicious in their thoughts and chatter about Polonius. A clandestine burial was a mistake. Poor Ophelia, deprived of her faculties, without which we might as well be animals. Last, and certainly not least, her brother has secretly returned from France. He is listening to all the rumours and indeed fanning the flames with incendiary accounts of his father’s death and my involvement, which grows as fast as the maliciousness spreads. All this is like a hail of artillery.”
The royal quarters were now disturbed by the sound of a scuffle. Voices were raised and expletives exchanged outside the door.
“What is that noise?” the Queen asked.
“Swiss Guards, where are they? The door!” the King yelled.
A messenger arrived.
“What is the meaning of this?” the King asked.
“Save yourselves, my lord! Not even tidal waves sweeping across Denmark could have greater force than young Laertes and his rebels. They call him Lord, as if everything that has gone before has never happened, as if they are free to create lineages for themselves. They shout, We’ve chosen. Laertes for King. Caps and laughter reach the sky. Laertes the King.”
“Ah, these stupid Danish dogs laugh as they follow the wrong scent!” the Queen yelled.
The doors crashed open.
“Where is this King?” a voice boomed. It was Laertes. He turned to his inflamed followers, “Gentlemen, you wait outside.”
“No. Let us come in!”
Claudius and Gertrude were terrified at their prospects.
“I ask you to wait here.”
“We will, we will,” the mob agreed reluctantly.
“Thank you. Now guard the door.”
The followers left and allowed Laertes to confront King Claudius.
“Oh, you vile King! Give me my father.”
“Calmly, good Laertes!” the Queen interjected.
“If one drop of my blood was calm it would make me illegitimate, make my father a cuckold and make my mother a slut!”
The King felt bold.
“Laertes, what has provoked such an uprising? Gertrude, don’t restrain him. Do not fear for me. Divinity protects a king from anything more than a view of treason. Tell me, Laertes, why are you so incensed? Gertrude, let him go! Speak up, Laertes!”
“Where is my father?”
“Dead.”
“But not by the hand of the King,” Gertrude said.
“Let him air his demands, Gertrude!”
“Why is he dead? I want the truth. To hell with allegiance! I’ll make my oaths to the devil! Conscience and Grace can go to hell! Damnation doesn’t frighten me! Both this world and the next are irrelevant to me. I will avenge my father’s death come what may!”
“Who can stop you?” asked the King.
“Only my will. Nothing on earth! As for my means, I will manage them well. I will go far with very little.”
“Good Laertes, in your desire to get to the truth, will your impulses sweep away friend and foe?”
“Only the enemies.”
“Do you want their names?”
“To his good friends I will open my arms and if necessary sustain them with my own life.”
“Now you sound like a good son and a true gentleman. That I am in no way implicated in your father’s death and grieve for him will be made clear to you.”
From outside the door, in the midst of the now silent mob there could be heard singing.
“Let her come in,” the King ordered.
“Who is singing?” asked Laertes.
Ophelia entered, crazed as before. Laertes was stunned at the sight of his sister.
“I wish I had now lost my reason! My tears at this sad sight will ruin my eyes! My revenge will match your madness in its fury! Justice will be done! Rose of May! Dear kind, sweet sister, Ophelia! Should a young maid’s wits be as mortal as an old man’s body? Nature is fair in love. It sends an example of love to the departed love.”
Ophelia, oblivious to Laertes, began to sing again:
“They bore him barefaced in the coffin,
Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny,
And in his grave rained, many a tear-
Farewell, my dove!”
“If you were sane and demanded revenge, it would not be as lucid as this,” Laertes said gazing at his sister.
Ophelia turned to the King: “You must sing A-down a-down”
Then she turned to the Queen: “You sing Call him a-down-a. It goes round and round! It’s about a devious sheriff who eloped with the lord’s daughter!”
“I can’t find any sense in this,” Laertes said in despair.
Ophelia danced around the room and began distributing the posy of flowers she was holding. She began with Laertes.
“This is rosemary, it’s the flower of remembrance. Please, love, remember. And these are pansies, they are for thoughts.”
Laertes clutched them pitifully.
“A lesson in madness. Thoughts and memories are appropriate,” he said
Ophelia continued her dance, offering flowers to the Queen.
“I have fennel and columbines for you!”
Laertes noticed these flowers were customarily regarded as being for loose women. Ophelia came to the King.
“Here’s rue for you! I’ll take some, too! On Sundays they call it the ‘herb of grace’ you can wear it to church! Rue suits you!”
Again, Laertes realised this was the plant of regret and wondered how far Ophelia had lost her senses. She offered the King more flowers.
“Here’s a daisy! I’d give you violets but they withered when my father died. They say his ending was peaceful.”
She danced again and began another song: “For bonny sweet robin is all my joy.”
“Sorrow, affliction, suffering, and hell itself she makes charming and pretty,” Laertes said.
Ophelia continued to sing:
“And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?
No, no, he is dead,
Go to thy deathbed,
He never will come again.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his head,
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan,
God have mercy on his soul.”
Ophelia suddenly stopped: “And on all Christian souls. I pray God be with you.”
She left without any preamble.
“Do you see this, God?” pleaded Laertes.
“Laertes, I must share your grief, if you will permit me. Now go and use you wisest friends to be judge and jury in our squabble. If directly or indirectly I am implicated I will give you my kingdom, my crown and my life. If they judge me innocent then I ask for your patience as we jointly apprehend the guilty.”
“Agreed. His means of death and obscure burial – no gravestone, no swords, no rites or ceremony – give me questions I need answered.”
“You shall have answers. When we find the offender, the axe will fall. Please, come with me.”