Posts Tagged "patricia c. wrede"

Mad Hamlet’s Mother

by on Feb 5, 2013 in Short Fiction | 1 comment

by Patricia C. Wrede   Her son was mad. She had been certain of it since the cursed night when he turned the players’ play against her husband, killed old Polonius in her chamber, bespoke his father’s ghost, and at last set off for England. The courtiers still whispered behind their hands in all directions, spreading dark rumors of Polonius’ purpose in her bedchamber, of Hamlet’s, of formal duel and backstabbing murder, plot and counterplot. Her husband Claudius muttered into his beard and watched for dispatches from England. His eyes shifted whenever people spoke of young Hamlet’s madness, though he made haste to agree in mournful tones. None of them knew the truth. Only Claudius might believe it, for he had had more chance than any to see the private monster behind his elder brother’s public face. But she could not speak the whole to Claudius, not after what Hamlet had shown her. Had made her understand. “See what grace was seated on this brow,” he had said, thrusting his father’s portrait into her face. And she, looking in terror at her son and not the painting, had seen his father’s image indeed–the same cruel intensity, the same fearful menace, the same threat of violence hovering just beneath the surface, ready to explode at the first hint of disagreement. Her son, her sweet, beloved boy, the one good thing she thought she had salvaged from all the long, suffering years of marriage–her son was not her image, but his father’s. Thirty years with his father had practiced her in the only safe response. She agreed with all Hamlet’s accusations, while her tears fell, not in repentance, but in grief for the child she had borne and for what he had become. And then the ghost had come, in the same armor in which he had been buried. It had taken all her strength to hold to the pretense that she did not see him, but it was all the eggshell safety she could find. From that fragile shelter, she had seen him don his noble, public face; she had heard the words, fierce and tender, with which he drew her son further into his own dark world and threatened the happiness that she had found since his death. As the ghost left the chamber, the candle shone through him, haloed in poisonous green. Poison–she sobbed again as the recent play, Hamlet’s ranting, and the ghost’s words came together in her mind, and she knew what her second husband had done to free her from her first. Later, Claudius had calmed her, soothed her, as he always did, and sent young Hamlet away. She clung to him in the weeks that followed, while her new knowledge lay like a bruise constantly squeezed between her heart and soul. Claudius had done foul murder in secret for her sake, yet still they had not escaped her first husband. His ghost walked, thirsting for vengeance, and her own son was the weapon he would use against them both. Now, just as she had begun to think she might find peace and a sense of safety, Hamlet had returned. Her mother’s eye marked the changes in him, both superficial and deep–the sea-bleached hair and tanned skin, the new hardness and grief. Her heart broke once more; just so had his father looked when he came back from the Polish wars, when his true nature first began to show itself to her. Something more had happened in young Hamlet’s absence, more than the accidental deaths of Polonius and Ophelia, to set this madness so firmly in his soul. Claudius saw it, too. “Good Gertrude, set some watch over your son,” he told her as Horatio and his friends led Hamlet away from Ophelia’s grave. With every nerve alight, she hurried to comply, while the thought beat in her brain: My son is mad, as his father was mad. Thanks be unto God that Claudius my husband has escaped this family curse. She looked first in Hamlet’s chambers, expecting that his friend Horatio would have taken...

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