HAMLET AND JULIET
Up and down the room he paced, muttering and troubled as usual by all the suffering of being or not being. Suddenly he spied her from the corner of his eye.
Had she overheard his mutterings? Poor lady. Still waiting in the wings for a kind word from him. Well, not precisely in the wings. Desperate enough to stand smack in the middle of the room. Had she no shame? No purpose served in losing face now. Go on, Hamlet, he encouraged himself. Pull yourself together. Raise your voice a notch. Just go on talking. Don't look at her. A hint of mockery won't hurt either.
"Nymph," he enunciated, "in thy orisons be all my sins remember'd."
How queer he acted. She could hardly bear to look at him. Not that she could blame him for feeling out of sorts. What she couldn't get, though, was the wave of coldness and scorn that emanated from him. But then she thought she understood after all, and her heart nearly missed a beat. Was he about to take his leave? Already? And was the farewell to be like this? Shouldn't he hold her in his arms and comfort her? They might not see winter together. Or even the next spring. He shouldn't steal last moments from her like this, with his words and eyes and arms a thousand thoughts away already. Of course everything was bound to seem cold and cruel now, she told herself. Everything would seem unnatural and all too soon. Timidly she stepped behind him and leaned against him, her hands on his shoulders, her forehead pressed against his back. In a tiny voice she asked:
"Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day."
So she was indeed going mad. A shame really. Bound to happen, of course. The familiarity of her touch startled him, though. A strange sweetness slid through his nervous system like a shudder. Heaven forbid. He had to put a stop to this. All sweetness was folly and danger.
With one abrupt motion he jerked himself loose from her tender hands and she went stumbling backward, shielding her face with her hands. And well it was for her to be ashamed. The preposterousness of it: As sure as he was Prince of Denmark, she stood in front of him dressed in nothing but a diaphanous nightgown. For shame. What if anyone in the castle were to see them together like this? Lord, did the maid no longer know what she was doing? Did she expect to be bedded right here, pathetic creature? He turned away from the sight of her like a man. Someone in high heaven, pity her soul.
As though to confirm his suspicions, she now was indeed half demented. Her thoughts tumbled incoherently. Mostly "no" and "yes" and "why?" and "no" again. What had she done to offend him? Why would he shove her? Was there no destined touch to cling to? Were there no destined words? It was the nightingale, and not the lark. But no, it seemed that all the words were broken. Merciful God, let this but be a fever in my brain. Reluctantly she parted the fingers in front of her eyes to look at him. Suddenly her hands fell to her side. Her dark eyes widened with terror. What was meant to be a cry came out in a whisper:
"What . . . what are you? What . . . what are you doing here?"
Grimly he answered: "Lady, count your blessings!" He tossed his head back and shot a defiant gaze at her.
Then blood seemed to curdle in his veins. "Lady, who are you? A ghost? Another ghost?"
"Ghost?" she asked, turning another shade paler. "Did you say ghost? Are you a ghost?" She pressed herself against the wall furthest from him.
"I am Hamlet," he said, hoping that the louder the proclaimed it, the more it would prove to be true.
"I am Juliet," she said with similar intensity. Her voice was brittle.
"Juliet?" he repeated after her. And did ghosts really shed tears? But why would she appear to him of all people? He racked his mind. To the best of his recollection he had never known anyone called Juliet. Certainly, he reassured himself with frail relief, he had never wronged anyone name Juliet. Ghost or not, though, he had to get to the bottom of this matter. How utterly incomprehensible. If only to satisfy his own curiosity, he had to take a closer look. As he reached out with his hand, she slid to one side, trembling. Even so, inquisitive fingers brushed her arm.
"You're no ghost," he said. "I could feel you just now. You're flesh and blood."
After a moment's confused silence, she agreed. "You're no ghost either." Her breath quickened. "All the same, you don't belong here. This is my bedroom. And where is Romeo?"
"Who?" Hamlet asked. She didn't answer.
Something had to be done. Her eyes flitted around the room. They lit on the balcony. It was in her nature to think of leaping from high places at the first sign of trouble. Or to reach for a dagger. But there was no dagger in sight. And this was trouble indeed. What terrible designs did this ill-mannered, if also handsome stranger have on her? Forgive me, Romeo, she thought, while placing one hand on the balustrade. Better death than . . . what? Well, anyway, the real question was, would the fall be deep enough?
A few long strides brought Hamlet behind her to hold her shoulders.
"For God's sake, let's be practical." He sounded flustered. "I mean you no harm, lady. Something is very wrong here. Forgive me if I mention once again that time is out of joint." Or was it the place?
"What do you mean, forgive you?" Juliet asked.
"Oh, nothing. Nothing." There was no way she could know that he had used that phrase before. Wasn't meeting new people the god-given chance to reuse old slogans without becoming a bore? However, it took wit to recognize wit, and, in his opinion, she didn't seem too well endowed with that commodity. No matter. He had to think hard. So he was in some strange woman's bedroom. Girl, really. No wonder she looked so frightened. He had to reassure her. That accomplished, he would have to try to figure out his own situation. The critical thing was to think and to be rational.
After giving him a longish chance to speak first, Juliet cleared her throat. "Good Sir, I think one of us must be in the wrong play."
Hamlet had not yet, by means of logic, arrived at this conclusion. He had been side-tracked by the puzzling fact of being in a young lady's bedchamber. Once the words were out, he couldn't help but agree. "Yes, I would fain believe, my lady, you are right. The question now becomes: which one of us?"
"It has to be you," Juliet said. "My lord," she added as apologetic afterthought. "After all, this is my bedroom."
"But I am Hamlet." It nettled him to be considered out of place.
"Maybe we're both in the wrong play." Juliet, in woman-fashion, was unable to see a man falter without rushing to his ego's aid.
"As far as I know, I'm in Act Three," Hamlet nodded, half appeased, but still defensive and needing to be in control of the situation.
"But so am I," Juliet said, delighted to hear that they at least had something in common. "Are you early or late in Act Three?"
As if that mattered now. "Early," Hamlet said.
This explained one thing to her. No wonder then that his words had seemed so untimely when she had, wrongly as it now turned out, assumed that he was about to bid her adieu. "I'm later on in Act Three actually," she said.
With that, they reached another impasse.
"This really isn't getting us anywhere," Hamlet finally said. "May I sit on your bed? Thank you. Why don't you sit down as well? It might make thinking easier and calm the nerves. What, young lady, are the two of us to do?"
"I could leave the room," Juliet said eagerly. "Then you could think even better." Or I, she thought. Decidedly she didn't relish the idea of sitting next to this odd-mannered stranger on her bed. For one thing, ever since he had projected her across the room with his manly hands at their first encounter, she didn't trust his temper. Unfortunately leaving the room proved to be out of the question. She couldn't locate a door. What poor stage design.
"There's no help for it. We'll have to brave this out together. Whatever it is." Hamlet was surprised at the relief he felt when there appeared to be no way for her to leave him all alone in this absurdity.
Juliet, however, was far from relieved. She went to the balcony again, this time only to breathe in the night air and to look at the moon and the stars. She didn't know what to say to him. The moon was round and bright. Surely that wouldn't interest an intellectual like him.
How oddly the clouds parted around the moon, weaving mysterious veils. The moon itself looked like a peaceful sleeping face. Gleaming from its silver light, something swooped through the air. Perhaps a night bird. There. Again. She turned around quickly. Look! she wanted to say. But Hamlet sat motionless on her bed, lost in his thoughts, his head cradled in his arms.
Juliet was curious. "What are you thinking about?" she asked in a whisper, so as not to disturb him if he were altogether too far inside his own thoughts.
"What? Oh, matters of state," he replied absentmindedly.
She nodded, realizing that some of his mind had been present. "You're not a ghost, but somehow you are still unnatural." The words were out of her mouth before she could politely refrain from uttering them.
"Unnatural? What makes you say that?"
"I don't know. It just seems that way." She wanted to bite her tongue. Odd how he seemed not at all interested in her, seeing that she was the only other human being around, and a woman at that. True, she hadn't met very many men in her life, and then always under less stressful circumstances. Generally, though, they behaved differently. Perhaps she could learn something from this one, something which neither nurse, mother, father, nor even Romeo had taught her. Certainly he was unlike anyone else she had ever met.
"Matters of state?" she reminded him.
"Oh, yes. Well, first I thought about this situation here, of course. But I have so many other things weighing heavy on my mind. Important things, you see. My father. Treachery. Politics. Somehow, and if I perish in the process, I must try to restore order."
"Now?" The urgency in his voice made her smile.
"When I get back," he qualified.
"Back to my proper place. My proper play. My destiny. My people. It's my calling in life to think of them."
"Who calls you?" Juliet asked.
"My people, of course. And my father's ghost and memory. My pride. You wouldn't understand."
He was right. Partly because he spoke in riddles. She didn't know him, after all. If he were to explain himself, perhaps he would turn out to be essentially comprehensible, even while he was in the wrong play.
What if we never return? The frightening question was suddenly on both their minds.
Well, Hamlet thought, they would have to see about that when the time came. As long as there was a chance that this was simply a temporary mistake on the part of whatever powers, he couldn't just abandon the character he was used to being. As his father's son, he had his responsibilities. How infinitely luckier girls were in that respect. They had no troubles, no cares. While the whole wide world weighed heavily upon the shoulders of their men.
He measured Juliet with his eyes. She was beautiful, for sure, girlish hips already widening, her young breasts filling. Tomorrow or next year she would find a mate and fill her lap with daughter after daughter, son after son. Thus distracting her husband from his business, or else finding lovers to do the fathering for him, if—and there was little doubt about it by the noble, well-bred looks of her—her husband's business was too important to be disturbed by the frivolities of love. It was always the same treachery, over and over again. And yet, how lovely, how innocent she looked just now. Almost convincing. Almost making him want to reach out and touch her lovely body which promised soft curves and pleasures under the loose gown. And those innocent eyes, that warm round mouth, that thick dark hair, the pretty shape of her arms. What white smooth skin her young body promised, and how delicate her face was, pale, and virtually begging to be touched. Let me not think on't: Frailty, thy name is woman, he thought.
"I must be boring you with my matters of state," he said. "Tell me instead what you are thinking."
Juliet sighed with relief when his long, silent stare was over. "You, I suppose," she said.
"Me?" He was taken aback. "Why on earth would you think about me? We hardly even met."
"Oh, I don't know." She avoided his eyes.
"No, no, I'd really like to know." He was intrigued to say the least. Had to be his charisma that made this lovely girl think about him already. Suddenly, though, he saw her face pucker up in a prelude to fresh tears. Was she afraid to speak her mind?
"I can take anything you say, dear lady," he said. "I do like to hear the honest truth about myself." Especially as it was in the wrong play anyway.
"I'm so sorry," she said. He tears flowed freely now. "I lied. I wasn't thinking of you at all. I was thinking of Romeo."
"Oh." Hamlet was disappointed. She had mentioned that name before. "So tell me, who is this Romeo?"
"My husband," she whispered, looking at the floor. "At least I think so. How can I be sure of anything? What it if all was only a dream? I used to think he was like a dream. What if he was not only like a dream, but dream itself, and only dream? What if my love was only a dream, my one true love?"
Her face was pale and sad. This touched him. He wanted to console. "But, lady, isn't all love just a dream?"
"Oh, surely not mine?" she pleaded. "How could it be?"
The sincerity in her eyes, and their enormous sadness, gave him hope. Perhaps here was for once a woman of different clay from that of which his mother and her ilk were made. And she looked so young, so touching, and so true.
"How long have you been married?" he asked.
This brought on another gush of tears and a trembling voice filled with longing. "Oh, only hours. And he is so beautiful, so loving, and so brave."
"And young?" Hamlet asked.
When she nodded, so did he. Her catalogue of attributes explained a lot. Her wild grief and that great semblance of truthfulness in her. And those enormous tearful eyes. He still wished to take away some of her grief, though. For in spite of its likely insubstantiality, her sadness saddened him too.
"Be patient, Lady Juliet," he said. "Your love will fade. There is no need to suffer from it so."
"My love will fade?" she cried. "But I would die for Romeo."
Perhaps you would at that, he thought. But he doubted it. Most women, as far as he knew, in the end preferred to murder rather than to die. He shook his head without speaking, not wanting to upset her further.
It was she who couldn't let the matter rest now. "To speak like that," she said and pitied him, "I must believe you never loved in all your life."
"Oh, but I did," Hamlet said. "Believe me, there were times when I was half-demented with mere thought of her. But women . . ." Looking at her, he swallowed the remainder of his observation, amending it instead to this: "But love is, let's say, limited. With all the injustices in the world, and all the treachery, and too little reason, there isn't time for love which only always serves to foster further treachery. Or if it doesn't, surely it keeps a man from work, and from creating justice where it's lacking. Justice is the only thing that isn't limited, and therefore it's the only thing worth pursuing."
"Justice?" Juliet was so truly amazed that she forgot her tears. "Justice instead of love? Out of justice my Romeo killed my cousin. Out of further justice he's now banished from this city. And only our love can ever hope to heal that and all further cruel justice before it has a chance to wound us even more. My father, too, speaks of justice all the time. Meaning revenge and bloodshed. Do you know, if I too believed in this so-called justice, I would be compelled to wish for my own husband's death? But I will only believe in love. Which hopes to build where justice only strives to constrict and destroy."
"Dear lady, you take things too personally. The justice I speak of is something of a different order altogether. It is totally within the realm of rationality and intellect." Could she follow him? Carefully he pushed a lock of hair out of his forehead and began scrutinizing the ceiling. "Let me try to explain. It's all based on theories of ethics and their logical applications. For example, when a whole people is affected by some event, some action or some person, then justice has to be meted out. There is nothing personal about it."
"If you want justice, are you not yourself a person?" Juliet interrupted his train of thought.
"Of course, I am," he said, still patient, but growing less so. "But justice goes beyond that, you see. Suppose a king is murdered and his murderer presumes to take his throne. Then justice obviously has to see to it that this second king is punished, don't you see, and that the people will have the heirs of the true king set over them again."
"Love would have seen to it, perhaps, that your two kings would never be in conflict with each other to begin with," Juliet said.
"Indeed not, girl. Love is, as we all know, something very personal. Between a man and a woman, for instance. And so it's something very limited, as I said before, simply because it is only personal, only between two people. In the end, though, there's more to this world than personally attracted pairs of men and women. When you forget about seeing men and women individually, then you call them a people, and a people needs something that governs over them, a set of laws, a system of justice, to which eventually every individual must bow, king or lowliest beggar."
"But where does justice come from then? Who makes it, I mean?" Juliet sounded intrigued.
"Justice isn't made by anyone, except conceivably by God," Hamlet explained. "It's a principle of its own accord, you see. It exists on its own. It only has to be administered."
"By what?" Juliet thought she finally caught the drift of impersonal concepts.
"Not 'by what?' should you ask, but 'by whom?' instead," Hamlet corrected her. "The answer is: by moral people, political people, men who bow to justice and accept its responsibilities. In my example of the two kings, the second one would have to be punished for murdering the first."
"By whom, then?" Juliet was confused again as to the impersonality of the matter.
"By me in this instance," Hamlet said. "For I have, in so many words, told you my own story. The murdered king was my father. When he was murdered, he and his people were wronged."
"I'm so sorry for you. Did you love your father?"
"Love? Well, yes, of course, I suppose. Every son has a duty to love his father."
"But you don't love the new king, do you?"
"Of course not. He killed my father, girl. He married my mother. He plots to take my inheritance from me . . ."
Juliet interrupted him. "Then love might have created peace, but justice asks for enmity and vengefulness."
Instead of replying, Hamlet flattened his hand against his forehead. "We cannot coexist," he muttered. "How long must we coexist?"
"I think I could coexist with you." Juliet pointed her nose high into the air. "I'm sure I could even love you to some degree. It's you who couldn't coexist with me, for I wouldn't fit into the logic of your matters of state and your figments of justice."
Hamlet's nerves vibrated with irritation. He drummed on her pillow with his fingers. That one so young, so female, should answer him like that. He simply wouldn't respond to her. He could only pity her for her ignorance. Therefore he would let her have the last word. But only because of her youth, and because this situation was so ridiculous.
Juliet went to the balcony once more, sat down, embraced her legs and looked out into the night. Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou suddenly Hamlet? she thought wistfully. Her loose hair fluttered in the cool wind of the night. And if this was the wrong play, how could they each get back to the play in which they rightfully belonged? Or was that too just a dream, that each of them had a play of their own? There wasn't anything to do except to contemplate the one bright star that shone above her head. At least that had been left her from whatever play she fancied she belonged to.
Hamlet, for his part, leaned deeper into the soft cushions of her bed.
Both sat for a long time in silence.
Juliet, of the two, was decidedly better off. She, after all, had her star to watch.
Having nothing better to do, Hamlet was forced to look at her pretty face. At long last he rose and went to stand beside her in order to look at the same star. How oddly that distant star flickered. It didn't at all seem to be merely a glowing mass of matter. How easy it would be to read poetry and mystery and magic into its glitter.
"You live in your own poetry. That's what it is," Hamlet said suddenly with envy.
Both were surprised at sound after so long a silence.
"I wish I could live there too," he added in an attempt to make his words sound less formidable. The effect he achieved was exactly the opposite. Juliet looked up at him, her whole pale face a question. She didn't understand in the least what he was talking about. The question didn't disappear from her face, but since she didn't ask it out loud, a new silence threatened to fall between them. Before it could altogether descend, Hamlet decided to be honest. In the wrong play, what harm could it do?
"I mean, I wish I could kiss you," he said.
"I mean, I understand you are married in another play and time and place and all." His words rushed and tumbled. "I really wouldn't want to disturb you in your poetry of living. I could really only just kiss your hand or something. Besides, you don't have to let me at all, of course, if you don't want to, that is. I don't very much know what I'm talking about because, as you know, I don't know a hell of a lot about love or whatever. I better shut up now, as I am making a complete fool of myself. Forget I ever mentioned anything."
He wanted to say a whole lot of other things, if only they could make what was already said unsaid again. But whatever he said would only make matters worse. They both looked straight ahead, although no longer at any star. Every once in a while their eyes slid sideways and met. When this happened for the third time, Hamlet blushed, then Juliet blushed, and then she laughed lightly.
"You may kiss me, if you like," she said. He didn't hear this right away because he was still preoccupied with his embarrassment and therefore spoke simultaneously and in the same breathless manner as before. "I mean, really, I'm hopelessly confused," he admitted, glad to have an excuse. "It could happen to anyone who was in the wrong play, don't you agree? What did you just say?"
"Oh, nothing," Juliet said.
"You just said that I . . . ."
They burst out laughing. Laughter was better than the words they didn't have for the occasion.
It seemed to her as though he took her hand. It seemed to her that he touched it with the lightest of kisses, then drew away.
"Nymph," he said in banter, remembering the first words he had spoken to her in this erroneous play, "in thy orisons be all my sins remember'd." Meaning this transgression, too, his eyes said pleadingly.
"Good my lord," she said a trifle stiffly. "How does your honor for this many a day?"
Oh. Humble Ophelia to her errant lover. Ophelia? But how? Am I this then, Hamlet again, down to the bone? "I humbly thank you; well, well, well," he said. Something was once again as wrong as it nowadays had a habit of being.
As he pulled his hand away, Juliet feared that he was subject to one of his grim moods again. But she would play his game her way now, to make him remember what she wanted him to remember and make him forget what she didn't want him to remember. Bowing her head in playfulness, she stretched out both her hands until they touched him, drew him closer, while she whispered, "Wilt thou be gone . . . ?"
And then she recognized whom her two hands were holding. This was hardly play, and most especially not wrong. This was the real grief. She had just barely held him once again. She had just barely touched him. No, she wouldn't let him go. So soon? Must she? Oh, Romeo, what powers were so cruel to have made her spend the most precious time of all in the wrong play?
"Wilt . . . wilt thou be gone? it . . . it is not yet near day." She found it difficult to get out the words.
Romeo looked at her with compassion and great longing. Right. So he would lie, die, stay. Anything to not make her suffer like that.
"It was the nightingale, and not the lark," she insisted into his shoulder.
And he believed her. Briefly.