The finished Horatio retelling is 52 pages long. So, if you want the whole thing …. I’ll be posting it in, like, 10 installments. Let me know. For now, this is just one of my favorite scenes. It opens directly after the scene where Hamlet kills Polonius, Ophelia’s and Laertes’s father.
Horatio and Ophelia:
Hamlet had been promptly sent away to England.
Nobody – not even Horatio – knew where he had hidden Polonius’s body.
Polonius had no Christian burial. Horatio prayed for his acceptance into Heaven despite this skipping of Funeral Rites – he hoped the all-powerful God would understand the circumstances.
Laertes was due to arrive home from France any day – he had sent Horatio a missive, imploring him to inform no one but the King and Queen.
And Ophelia … dear Ophelia was not well.
Horatio himself? He was not sleeping well – if at all.
He approached the throne room, where a page had told him he would find Gertrude. Sure enough, there she was, giving some direction to a steward.
“Your Majesty,” Horatio said with a bow.
The Queen turned. Her face was tired, her eyes restless and full of grief. She missed Hamlet, as much as he was trying the kingdom. “Horatio. What is it?”
“Your Highness, I think you should speak to Ophelia.”
Queen Gertrude turned away and walked out of the throne room. The steward kept pace, and Horatio hurried after.
“I don’t wish to see her,” she said.
“She is quite far gone,” agreed the steward quietly. “It is very sad.”
The Queen turned to the steward. “Does she say what ails her? Have you heard?”
The steward replied, “She doesn’t give an explanation in so many words. But she does often speak of her father and his death. Beyond that, her speech is mostly senseless. She sings often. She always carries herself with great sadness.”
“Yes,” Horatio said urgently, “and that is why it is important that you speak with her, Your Highness. An injured mind left alone is dangerous, and she is so lost in grief – she needs someone to love and listen to her, and you, Your Majesty, is the closest she has to a mother.”
At this, the Queen paused. “I will speak to her.” She turned and returned to the throne room, and the two men followed her. She sat in her throne, back straight and face set. She looked to the steward. “Bring her in.”
Horatio and the Queen stood in silence while the steward went out. Soon, they heard Ophelia singing, growing louder as she neared the throne room. She entered, and the steward followed at a slight distance, looking harried.
Ophelia stopped singing abruptly. “Where is Her most beautiful Majesty of Denmark?” Horatio heard no sarcasm.
The Queen gathered a breath. “I am here, Ophelia. How are you, my dear?”
Ophelia didn’t respond – she merely resumed singing. No song that Horatio knew.
“What do you mean by the song, Ophelia, dear?”
Ophelia smiled. “Oh, nothing.” She began a new song. “He is dead and gone, lady/He is dead and gone; At his head a grass-green turf/At his heels a stone. Understand?”
Gertrude’s brow wrinkled. “No, I do not. Ophelia – ”
Ophelia’s demeanor suddenly turned grave and she grabbed both of the Queen’s arms, making the monarch start. “Please. Listen.”
The words sent a shiver down Horatio’s spine, but years of experience in the palace allowed him to keep his expression passive.
Ophelia began to sing once more, wandering away from the Queen.
The King entered the room and paused, taking in the scene. Gertrude went to him.
“Look, my lord – it is truly sad,” she said quietly.
“Larded all with sweet flowers; Which bewept to the ground did not go/With true-love showers,” Ophelia sang.
“How do you fare, my lady?” Claudius asked cautiously.
“Well, God bless you,” she replied. “They say the owl was the baker’s daughter; Lord in Heaven, we know what we are but we do not know what we might become. God be at your table.”
The King smiled indulgently and turned back to the rest of the room, his smile dropping. “It must be due to her father,” he said.
From behind him, Ophelia said, “Let’s not talk about this any more, please. But if anyone asks you what it means, you say: Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day/All in the morning betime/And I a maid at you window – ”
The king interrupted, “Dear Ophelia – ”
Ophelia did not stand for the interruption, and her demeanor turned serious once more. “I promise, I’ll be done singing in just a moment.” Only a few moments more, the rest of the room deadly silent, and she kept her word and quieted.
“How long has she been like this?” Claudius whispered.
Nobody had time to answer before Ophelia spoke up: “I hope everything will all be well. We must be patient, but I cannot stop myself from weeping when I think about them burying him in the cold ground. My brother needs to be told, he must know. And so thank you all for speaking to me. Come along, my carriage! Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night. Good night.”
With that, she made her exit. Horatio, Claudius, Gertrude, and the steward could all hear her singing echoing through the hall.
King Claudius turned to Horatio. “Follow her. Watch her closely, I ask of you.”
Horatio hurried after the singing lady. He came upon her sitting in a window, still singing. To see her so close to the edge, his heart leapt with a bolt of fear.
“Lady Ophelia,” he said, not too loudly, worried to start her.
She paused in her song and peered at him for a moment. Her face lit up with a smile after a moment. “Why! Horatio! It is so good to see you!”
Horatio refrained from telling her that she had seen him only moments before in the throne room. “You, as well, my lady. I wonder, Ophelia, if you might consider coming down from the window, there?”
Ophelia looked around at her perch, considering. “I do not see why not, if it troubles you, my dear friend.” She hopped down, unworried. She turned to look back out of the window. “Horatio, come, quickly!”
Horatio obliged. “Yes?”
Ophelia pointed down to the green in the courtyard below. “Aren’t those flowers lovely?”
“Yes, my lady, they certainly are.”
They were silent, save Ophelia’s humming.
“I would like to go pick some flowers for the court,” she said abruptly.
“Very well. We can pick some flowers.”
Ophelia sang loudly, somewhat startling Horatio, as she turned and ran down the stairs. Horatio followed, and found her on the green, studying the flowers intently.
“It is difficult to choose who should have which blooms,” she muttered, so quietly Horatio hardly heard. She looked up with a smile. “But not for you, dearest,” she amended. She bent and picked two stems out of the ground. “For you. Always so good to me.”
Horatio studied the flowers. Chrysanthemum, to say “you are a wonderful friend.” Cyclamen, to say – “Goodbye?” Horatio asked, holding up the flower.
Ophelia smiled, her eyes unreadable. “I think we must get some rosemary for my dear Laertes when he arrives.”
Horatio nodded, brow wrinkled as he tucked the flowers into his tunic. “I think that is a wonderful idea, my lady.”
So. That’s that. If you want the full 52 pages, tell me. If not, I’ll probably post a few more excerpts and call it a day.