It was my fault. How inadequate these words seem, especially in light of the bloodshed and tragedy that has warmed over the throne of Denmark and the remnants of the royal family. Had I known the results, I would have never spoken to Hamlet that particular evening, would have kept the sighting of the apparition to myself, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and would have been able to shake the hand of my dear, dear friend Hamlet to this very day.
Alas, however, I was not as prescient as I would have liked to have been and, when I first encountered the ghost of Hamlet's father -- himself recently slain from causes at that time that were considered more or less 'natural' -- I felt only one compulsion: to find his son, and bring the pair together. I was certain that the ghost of the King, which remained silent and disappeared from the view of myself and Rosencratnz and Guildenstern, would speak to his son. As it was he spoke too much, and the scene which you, Fortinbras, have encountered today was destined to take place.
The ghost of King Hamlet wasted no time in revealing to his son that he did not die in innocence, but was instead murdered -- by his closest family members. The king not only told Hamlet that he was murdered by his wife, Queen Gertrude, and his brother Claudius, but also tasked the young prince of Denmark with seeking vengeance for him. Such an order would have been difficult for even the most battle-weary soldier: to kill one's mother and uncle, who had slain one's father. Hamlet, although as capable as anyone else, was woefully unprepared for the task. He is much too reflective, contemplative, and scholarly for such a shocking order…But I suppose there was none other the King could issue such an order too.
The next several days were extremely trying for the Prince of Denmark. His own behavior, even when around me, became increasingly erratic. Many assumed that he had suddenly been taken by fits of madness -- indeed, a lesser man, one not as mentally astute, very well could have with the proposition that was laid before the young prince. His alleged 'madness', I am certain, was no more than a profound melancholy. Can you imagine, Fortinbras, being in the midst of mourning your father and finding out that your mother and his brother were responsible for his death? Could you imagine actually talking with the ghost of your slain patriarch, and then contemplating a way to kill your mother and your uncle? Whatever madness that Hamlet encountered was actually a dedicated effort on his part to keep others aware of his intentions -- of his father's orders -- while he determined how he could fulfill them.
Consequently, he became increasing distant from almost everyone except those who were aware of the presence of the ghost. Save for myself, there were few others who knew what he had to do. For instance, he had enjoyed something of a friendship with Polinus' daughter Ophelia. Yet, beset as he was by this exceedingly difficult task, he almost violently rebuffed her and made it clear that he wished to have nothing to do with her: even though in happier times, he more than likely would have acted and said things differently.
At that particular moment, however, he was absorbed in determining if what his father had told him about his demise was true. As things turned out, circumstances arose that were ideal for determining the answer to that pressing question. Traveling set of actors happened upon the royal castle shortly thereafter. Clever as he was, Hamlet had a word with the acting troupe and devised a method in which they would reenact the scene as his father had described it that brought about his death. Hamlet was able to describe that scene flawlessly and included a number of intimate details. The evening of the performance, Claudius and Gertrude were watching the play while Hamlet alternated between watching them and watching the reaction of Claudius. The latter was not difficult to do since, at the pivotal moment in the drama in which the King was about get betrayed by his relatives, Claudius ran from the chamber where the play was, seeming very distressed.
At that point on the tragedy began to mount in earnest. Hamlet was more convinced than ever that his father was correct and Claudius had murdered him, and became solely occupied with murdering Claudius. Again, the very fact that he had meditated on this endeavor for so long made him not as incisive as he might have been otherwise. For instance, his best chance of exacting revenge was when, shortly after the events of the play, he found Claudius alone and in prayer. With his weapon at his side, Hamlet was ready to remain true to his word to his father. However, he refrained from doing so because he contemplated the fact that killing a man while in prayer would have ensured that the latter would go to heaven. Personally, I was not and am still not convinced that a rightful death (if ever there were one) can account for a life as wicked as Claudius who not only was guilty of killing Hamlet's father, but also of coveting and sleeping with his wife.
Furthermore, the fact that he found Claudius in such a vulnerable position yet did not kill him did not help what was rapidly becoming a delicate state of mind for Hamlet. For all of the bloodshed that occurred, I am still convinced that the very nature of the initial tragedy -- the slaying of Hamlet's father -- was the centerpiece of this tale I am telling you. Once the ghost revealed the nature of his death, everything that the young student took for granted, his place in the royal family, the love of his mother, father, his extended family in the form of the new king, was put in question. Can you imagine the sort of conversations that Hamlet had with his mother during this relatively brief interval between the ghost's revelation and her untimely death? Can you picture Hamlet's agony? He was mourning for his father and, the person who was closest to his father, who should have helped him to unburden his grief, was one of his father's killers. During one particularly strained conversation between the pair where Hamlet had to rely on all of his power to refrain from outright accusing his mother, he perceived some movement behind her and, hoping it was his opponent, Claudius, impetuously stabbed into it. Instead of killing his father's murderer, however, he killed the mother of his friend Ophelia, Polonius, and thereby truly set in motion the series of events that would result in more deaths and all of those who are involved most intimately in this tale.
Claudius, of course, was by now truly terrified of Hamlet and was looking for any excuse to remove his nephew from his royal presence. He used Hamlet's murder of Polonius as a reason to ship the young man to England. Ophilia, overcome with grief about the sudden death of her father, drowned herself. Whether coincidentally or not, Polonius' son suddenly reappeared in Denmark and learned about the death of his father. Claudius, of course, was only too happy to tell him that Hamlet was the killer, and therefore set the focus of Laertes on exacting revenge for his father on Hamlet. The pair would meet, soon enough, when the ship that Hamlet was sailing on was unable to complete its trip to England. As such, the prince had no choice but to return to Denmark, where a particularly sinister trap awaited him. Claudius could now conspire with Laertes about how best to kill Hamlet. Even worse, the prince received the news about the death of Ophelia badly. He openly grieved, and appeared to count her loss as another way in which his world had suddenly, and irrevocably changed in just a few short days. Even worse, Laertes (the sun) could also blame Hamlet for the death of his sister, which further fueled his efforts for revenge and for the slaying of Hamlet.
The trap that Claudius planned for Hamlet was an insidious as it was cowardly. He arranged for Hamlet to duel with Laertes, but unbeknownst to the young prince, he ensured that the blade of Laertes would be dipped in poison. Thus, all Laertes would have to do was cut Hamlet with his sword and the latter would die. Additionally, Claudius arranged to have a goblet full of poisoned wine that he could resort to in case Hamlet actually proved a better swordsman than his counterpart. In this event, the King would offer Hamlet the poisonous drink and kill him this way. For as long I have known Hamlet, he has not only been unusually smart but, in important instances, prescient. Prior to his duel he and I…