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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 23 THE PLAY'S THE THING

THE PLAY'S THE THING

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Your Majesty, I believe that further meetings between us will serve little purpose - until the Guardians have delivered their judjment.

KING TO ARCHDRAXITE NELL

Your Grace, I agree with you. When do you mean to summon the wise ones, and where will they assemble? I understand they come only when the Moon is full.

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Your Majesty, the Guardians will come when I summon them. They choose the place. When all is done, I shall send you a full report.

KING TO ARCHDRAXITE NELL

Your Grace, I assume there will be observers present, who will be able to verify any pronouncement?

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Indeed so, Your Majesty. I shall have with me two members of my household of unimpeachable integrity. Captain Terson and Butler Rollo are greatly respected by Diken, who is an excellent judge of character. After the wise ones have spoken, I am sure that these gentlemen will be happy to report to you in person.

KING TO ARCHDRAXITE NELL

Your Grace, I shall look forward, in the fulness of time, to meeting the gentlelmen you have named. The trustworthiness of friends of Diken will not be in doubt.

I once behaved very badly to the boy, and I have long repented of it. I am sure that you have given him a better life than he enjoyed here, and I thank you for it.

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HAMLET

Your Majesty, I have tried to do my best for my 'birthday present'! He is a good boy, and he is loved here by all.

KING TO ARCHDRAXITE NELL

Your Grace, what you say about Diken pleases me much. I wonder if you would be kind enough to let him have this little gift, and my letter to him? You might think it is but a slight thing, but it is a fine edition of my favourite play. I hope he may enjoy reading it.

ARCHDRAXITE TO KING HUGO

Your Majesty, having run my eyes over bits of the 'play', I'd say rather him than me! But Rattlelance may have his day.

Hamlet's sigh of relief after reading this final note was a qualified one. 'I may have found a chink in Nell's armour,' he thought, 'but what about Dikens? Even if he sees there is a game afoot, will he be prepared to play it? And can I think of a single reason why he should?'

********

When the Mistress of Pages brought me my gift I was both amazed and thrilled. The accompanying letter was lovely.

Dear Diken,

I once treated you very badly, and I am sorry for it. However, I have reason to believe that joining Her Grace's household was not necessarily the worst thing that ever happened to you! I am most grateful to your benefactress.

As a token of my desire to make all things well between us, I offer you this small gift. I had thought about giving you those binoculars, with which we did a little 'spying' together from that attic window - do you remember? - but I was not sure that Her Grace would approve! So, I have settled for this book. You will perhaps recall that I am rather fond of Rattlelance; well, 'Village'* is my favourite play of his. I hope you may find something in it to enjoy.

'Take your fair hour, Diken; let time be yours,

And, as it please you, spend it at your will.'

[Act 1, Scene 2. Lines 63, 64, amended.]

So fare you well. And what follows? Well, my boy, if we should meet again, I hope we may be better friends.

Repentantly and affectionately yours,

HAMLET LAST

*'Village' is not a place, but the name of the play's hero. Why not 'City'? you may ask, or even 'Hamlet'?

I liked the letter so much that I read it through a second time, then a third. I picked up the beautiful leather bound, gold embossed book; oh, the feel of it, the look of it, the smell of it! I'd much sooner have it than those binoculars. How kind of His Majesty. This makes up for all. Big Bertha strikes nine, and I am going to be late for school.

Before lunch, I took Finola up to my room. So far as she was concerned a book was just a book; but she was excited by the King's letter. "But you said he wasn't a nice man, Diken," she accused.

"No I didn't. I said he wasn't nice when he gave me away as a birthday present."

"Well, he must be nice now, or he wouldn't have given you a present, would he? Or written such a smashing letter."

I was happy to agree with my friend, who was looking at bits of the play. "Its written in a funny way," she said.

"I think Rattlelance wrote all his books like that."

"Are you going to read it?"

"Course I am. I'll start in bed tonight."

"I bet it sends you to sleep."

"Might do."

We went off to the dining hall together.

********

I suppose that by the time I was ready for bed that day I must have read the King's letter at least a dozen times, and I pretty well knew it by heart. When I was comfortably propped up on my pillows I opened the play, not at the beginning, but at the bit Hamlet had quoted in his letter. (The only change had been 'Diken' for 'Lairties'.) Then I went back to the start of the scene. I did not understand it all, but I soon began to enjoy the language and the rhythm. I thought the end of the scene was terrific.

'My father's spirit in arms! All is not well.

I suspect foul play. Would the night were come.

Till then, rest quiet my soul. Foul deeds will arise,

Though all of Ee-arth hide them from men's eyes.'

As there was only one scene before that one, I decided to start reading from the beginning of the play. There was quite a wind getting up, and as I read of sentries shivering in the bitter cold of the battlements I thought of the real life ones at Draxy Palace and at my previous home, and snuggled down into my bed.

When I reached the end of the first scene I began the second one again. I was beginning to get the hang of the way it was written, and I read bits of it out loud, just to enjoy the sounds of the rich words in their phrases. One speech in particular appealed to me, and I read it twice before moving on.

'It is not just my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor the usual suits of solemn black,

Nor the windy sighing of forced breath,

No, nor the flowing river of the eye,

Nor the sadness which ravages my face,

Together withh all forms and moods of grief,

That can describe me truly. These indeed seem,

For they are actions that a man may play;

But I have that which passes all adorning -

These but the trappings and the suits of mourning.'

I decided to give myself just a taste of things to come before getting my head down for the night. I began to skim through the text, stopping at anything which caught my eye. One piece near the end of the play I really liked: there is a great burden laid upon our hero which only he can shoulder; he is sure that everything will be resolved, but he knows not when; he says to his best friend Horace, 'If it be now it is not to come. If it be not to come it will be now. If it is not now then it will come. The readiness is all.'

That seemed a pretty good place to finish, so I lit my candle, got out of bed, and turned out the oil lamp; but once back between the sheets I had a sudden urge to read the letter just one more time.

After that bit from the play, about taking my 'fair hour' and such, there were some other words which suddenly seemed familiar to me also, as though I had read them somewhere else, and not long ago, either. I picked up the book again and soon found what I was looking for. It was at the end of the scene in which Village is told that his father's ghost has been seen on the battlements.'So fare you well,'' Hamlet writes in the letter, before asking, 'And what follows?' When I had first read it I had thought it an odd sort of question, or at least a funny way way of putting it. Well, what follows in the letter is the King saying to me, 'If we should meet again, I hope we may be better friends.' That is what folLows in the letter. BUT WHAT FOLLOWS IN THE PLAY?

'On the platform between eleven and twelve,

I'll visit you.'

I'd read the letter so many times that I knew staright away what he meant by 'the platform'; not what Rattlelance meant, but what he meant. 'I had thought about giving you those binoculars, with which we did a little spying together from that attic window - do you remember? Well, of course I jolly well remembered, as he knew I would have done! He asked the question just to remind me of what we had been looking at together - those children, walking in a tree, as though on level ground. "There must be a platform," the king had said. Indeed there had been one, though it was gone now. Nell had had it removed - before I came - when a small boy had fallen from it, braking an ankle.

I got out of bed, and went to the window. I opened it wide and stuck out my head. The wind was chilling, but I cared not; in fact I cared nothing much about anything!

Clouds cleared from the soon to be full Moon, and the great oak tree, the 'platform', stood out starkly, dramatically, and threateningly! It threatened my peace and happiness, my very life at Draxy Palace. I had no idea why, but I was absolutely convinced that the King wanted to meet me in that tree - where the 'platform' had once been - in the dead of night, and that the letter and what I had fondly thought of as just a lovely present had been merely devices towards achieving that end! Hamlet trying to make up for past cruelty? Not a bit of it! Oh, how pathetically deluded I had been.

I closed the window and went shivering back to bed. As I was blowing out the candle I resolved that in the morning I would tell Nell all about the base treachery of this King!

The saddest boy in all the world at last sobbed himself to sleep.