Stories Tragedy

Incapable of Her Own Distress

There is something liberating about losing the love of your life.

Compounded with all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it makes the choice to lose one’s mind easier—not to mention the choice of losing one’s life.

I guess that answers the question whether to be or not to be.

If I were still speaking to you, I’d let you know.

O your mother! Gertrude is so lyrical about my death, letting everyone know my surprising demise at the end of Act Four. She didn’t need to be so glib—no one makes it out of Act Five alive—except for Horatio, but sidekicks generally have a low mortality rate.

What’s ironic is how your mother makes it sound like my death is an accident. But two hundred years from now, John Everett Millais paints the scene accurately enough. One doesn’t just drown while reclining in a shallow, babbling brook, singing among the crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples. It was a logical end after losing you, my father, my mind, and my voice.

What do women do when they no longer have a say in their own affairs?

Incapable of my own distress, indeed.

Also two hundred years from now, Emily Dickinson will finally write what I feel: “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care.” After everything I have been through in your cold creepy castle in Denmark? I simply don’t care.

I don’t care about maintaining propriety and societal conventions any longer. My silent subjugation to my brother and father is at an end. My dating out of my social class wasn’t an issue until my family made it one. Just because my father worked for your father? Just because I’m not a pure blood noble, according to some arbitrary hereditary and patrilineal system? In about two hundred years, Friedrich Engels will have a lot to say about contemporary Marxist views on the family structure. Or stick around and watch free market capitalism burn the aristocracy to the ground. Then let’s see who’s concerned if a prince marries the help.

I don’t care about the hypocritical priest who is overly concerned about my doubtful death. Does he really want my corpse to rot in unsanctified ground until the last trumpet? Definitely what Christ would do. I laugh when the priest quibbles with my brother about my dead body being draped in virginal garlands. Of course I’m not a virgin. Did you not hear my father read your secret love letters in front of your mother, stepfather, and the whole court? No one calls his girlfriend his “soul’s idol” without good reason—and you and I had plenty of reasons.

I don’t care about you and my brother jumping into my open grave to stage an epic “Grief Off.” If this wasn’t the forerunner of toxic masculinity, then to quote Sonnet 116: Shakespeare has never writ, nor no man has ever loved. You and Laertes—drama queens! Laertes holds my water soaked corpse, saying 40,000 brothers couldn’t have loved me more. You vow to drink vinegar and eat a crocodile (?) to prove your love for me. If I were still alive, I would say, “Boys, I don’t think this funeral is about me anymore…”

Frankly, I’ve had enough time to reflect, and Maya Angelou is right: “When people show you who they are the first time—believe them.” In hindsight, you exhibited so many red flags that I am probably a certified vexillologist by now. Agreed, you were going through a rough patch—having your father die murdered, seeing ghosts, having your college friends spy on you for money, working out your Oedipal complex with your mom, determining if your stepfather was innocent, and, of course, losing me.

But just after the play was the thing, it became abundantly clear that your stepfather killed your father. Claudius all but confessed in front of the entire theater audience! Surely you should have taken this evidence to the authorities rather than preparing to kill Claudius yourself and tangling with your mother over your train wreck of a relationship.

Instead? You humiliate my father who was just doing his job.

“The queen would speak with you.”

That’s his job, Hamlet. Relaying messages. 

“Do you see yonder cloud…” You tease him.

But I heard you, Hamlet. You were toying with him, trying to get him to agree that a cloud you spied looked like a camel. When my father eventually agrees, you say no—it looks more like a weasel. When my father agrees the cloud looks more like a weasel, you change your mind again—no, a whale!—making my father look foolish.

Camel. Weasel. Whale. 

Humps. All humps. In four hundred years, the Black Eyed Peas will have a lot to say about humps, but you have a point about the subjective nature of looking at clouds. In essence, they can be anything one chooses them to be.

Like whether the ghost you see is an angel from God or a demon from hell.

Like whether your college friends are visiting you because they enjoy your company or like spying on you.

Like whether your mother was attracted to your uncle—now your stepfather—while your father was still alive.

Camel. Weasel. Whale. 

I watch the clouds myself, divining their shapes, while I drown in the brook. Hamlet, I do see a camel. In central Asia, the camel symbolizes being conceited, which you are. How could you not be? You’re the Prince of Denmark, adored by your father King Hamlet, over-mothered and beloved by Queen Gertrude, and fawned over by a fleet of sycophants. God’s bodkins, man—you commandeered a whole acting troupe to act out a play you wrote on the spot! I still wonder if your cruel words in Act 3 were true or if your declarations of love were more true? From your antic disposition, I believe your noble mind was overthrown, but my mind and heart are torn, cleft in twain.

Maybe not a camel. Indeed, a weasel. The Irish believe the weasel symbolizes fickleness and falsehood, which begs the question: Did you change your mind about me or had you lied about your love from the very beginning? I would have given you all I had regardless; it would just be nice to know at what point I was deceived.

My clothes are weighted down, dragging me into the shallows. I’m singing snatches of songs—some holy, some bawdy—while I see the sky, bluer than ever. The cloud is neither camel nor weasel. Indeed, it’s a whale, the bearer of the cosmos, the symbol of earth’s foundation. Its body looks like two arcs welded together, the upper and lower worlds, the Heaven and the Earth.

I am now a part of both, Hamlet, shuffled off this mortal coil, concerned with things of another realm.

And Hamlet, whether you loved me or not is irrelevant at this point. I chose to love you and I choose to love you—because there is something liberating about loving the love of your life.

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