O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2.
Act 5. Scene 2 (continued). It is the final scene. The swords are ready. The drums beat. The drums begin slowly. Claudius and Gertrude enter the hall and take their seats. The courtiers fill the room.
Claudius looks first at Hamlet and smiles, then at Laertes. He is happy as a lark. Soon his troubles will be over.
“Gentlemen,” he says, “first shake hands, then choose your swords.”
Hamlet turns to Laertes and offers his hand. “I have wronged you. I was out of my mind. Mad. That is no excuse. For the wrong I have done, I am deeply sorry.” Hamlet too knows this day will bring an end to things in the play.
You can feel the tension in the room. Everyone knows what Hamlet and Claudius know. Deep down.
Laertes takes Hamlet’s hand. “I cannot yet forgive you. But I take your words as sincere.”
“Let us get to it then.” Hamlet is no longer doubtful. Hamlet is at peace, knowing that fate will take care of things. In the end, all will be right in the world.
“Give them swords, Osric,” the king commands, anxious to get on with things. Tonight he will sleep well in his bed. No more worries about his stepson.
Hamlet and Laertes choose swords, each feeling his weapon out, trying it to see its workings. The two move into position, preparing to play.
The king calls for goblets of wine. Into one, he drops a pearl. “When you make a hit, Hamlet, this goblet is yours.” He raises a second goblet. “Salut, gentlemen, and begin.”
The two men move around the floor, scoping each other out. Then Hamlet makes a hit.
“One,” he says.
“No, it wasn’t,” Laertes protests.
“It was,” the judge of the match, Osric, decides in Hamlet’s favor.
“Another pearl.” Claudius drops a pearl into Hamlet’s goblet, knowing Hamlet will never own it. “Hand the goblet to Hamlet,” he commands a servant.
“Not now. Not till I have played this hand out.” Hamlet returns to position and waits on Laertes to strike.
The two go at it, then Hamlet makes another strike. Surprised at how well he is doing, Hamlet says, “Another hit.”
“You did get me,” Laertes admits. He too is surprised.
“My son will win,” Claudius says.
Gertrude reaches for Hamlet’s cup. “To your luck and happiness, my son.” She is happy that all is going well with the match. Soon things will return to normal. Hamlet will be as beloved as he was. She drinks from the cup.
Claudius screams, “Don’t drink that, my queen. It is for your son.” Panic is on his face.
“I will drink it if I want.” Gertrude drinks a second drink from the cup. Claudius’ poison moves through her body. She goes to Hamlet and lovingly wipes the sweat from his brow.
Hamlet and Laertes are at it again, moving like two wolves facing down each other over a kill. Laertes moves in and wounds Hamlet with his poison blade. The two scuffle and drop their swords. Hamlet picks up the weapon of Laertes. They fight again and Hamlet slashes Laertes’ arm.
“Come on again,” Hamlet teases Laertes.
The queen falls to the floor. The poison is doing its work.
“Tend to the queen,” Osric calls out to the servants.
“They are both bleeding,” Horatio says of the two fencers.
Osric sees that Laertes too has fallen. “How are you, my lord?”
Panic is in Laertes’ eyes. He is not sure what is happening. “I have done it to myself,” Laertes confesses.
“How’s the queen?” Hamlet wants to know.
“Oh, she fainted,” Claudius says. “Can’t stand the sight of blood. Women, you know.”
Gertrude with her last breaths calls out, “It was the drink. It was poison. I am dying.”
“What evil,” Hamlet yells. “What evil. Lock the door and let no one leave.”
Osric escapes before the door can be locked. Things are not looking good in the chamber. His motto is to save your own skin no matter the cost.
Laertes now comes to his senses. “We are both dead. My blade was tipped with poison. It is the king. The king has done it to us.”
“Soon,” Hamlet says, “it will do its work and we will all be done.”
Hamlet rushes Claudius. He drives the blade deep into the king’s body. Then he grabs the poisoned wine.
“Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damnèd Dane, drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother, you son of a bitch.” Hamlet forces the wine down Claudius’ throat.
“He got what he deserved. Forgive me, Hamlet,” Laertes begs. Then he dies.
With tears in his eyes, Hamlet stumbles to Laertes’ wounded body. He raises the dead man’s head and looks into his once alive eyes. “Heaven, and I, forgive you. My, how it might have been. Such friends, you and I.”
Hamlet falls to the floor. “Horatio, I am dead.”
Horatio sees that there is poison left in the goblet. He lifts the poison cup to drink.
Hamlet grabs the goblet from Horatio’s hand. “No, you cannot. You must live to tell my story.”
The sound of Fortinbras’ troops are invading the castle.
Hamlet continues, “It is my will that Fortinbras be the new king. He will rule well. Now I am dead.” And so he is.
Horatio blesses the prince who once was, “Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
Now the play is done. The tale has been told. Prince Hamlet sleeps peacefully with the knowledge that justice was done.
It’s been a long slog, this “Hamlet”. The actors have said their lines. Now it’s home for them. Only the furniture is left on the stage. Soon even that will be gone for the halls of Elsinore are empty. Then only the ghosts walk through the rooms, searching for their former lives, wondering when their haunting will be done and they can move on. To another world.