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At the representation of this play, the king, who did not know the trap which was laid for him, was present, with his queen and the whole court; Hamlet sitting attentively near him to observe his looks. The play began with a conversation between Gonzago and his wife, in which the lady made many protestations of love, and of never marrying a second husband if she should outlive Gonzago, wishing she might be accursed if she ever took a second husband, and adding that no woman did so but those wicked women who kill their first husbands. Hamlet observed the king his uncle change color at this expression, and that it was as bad as wormwood both to him and to the queen. But when Lucianus, according to the story, came to poison Gonzago sleeping in the garden, the strong resemblance which it bore to his own wicked act upon the late king, his brother, whom he had poisoned in his garden, so struck upon the conscience of this usurper that he was unable to sit out the rest of the play, but on a sudden calling for lights to his chamber, and affecting or partly feeling a sudden sickness, he abruptly left the theater. The king being departed, the play was given over. Now Hamlet had seen enough to be satisfied that the words of the ghost were true and no illusion; and in a fit of gaiety, like that which comes over a man who suddenly has some great doubt or scruple resolved, he swore to Horatio that he would take the ghost's word for a thousand pounds. But before he could make up his resolution as to what measures of revenge he should take, now he was certainly informed that his uncle was his father's murderer, he was sent for by the queen his mother, to a private conference in her closet.
It was by desire of the king that the queen sent for Hamlet, that she might signify to her son how much his late behavior had displeased them both, and the king, wishing to know all that passed at that conference, and thinking that the too partial report of a mother might let slip some part of Hamlet's words, which it might much import the king to know, Polonius, the old counselor of state, was ordered to plant himself behind the hangings in the queen's closet, where he might, unseen, hear all that passed. This artifice was particularly adapted to the disposition of Polonius, who was a man grown old in crooked maxims and policies of state, and delighted to get at the knowledge of matters in an indirect and cunning way.
Hamlet being come to his mother, she began to tax him in the roundest way with his actions and behavior, and she told him that he had given great offense to HIS FATHER, meaning the king, his uncle, whom, because he had married her, she called Hamlet's father. Hamlet, sorely indignant that she should give so dear and honored a name as father seemed to him to a wretch who was indeed no better than the murderer of his true father, with some sharpness replied:
"Mother, YOU have much offended MY FATHER."
The queen said that was but an idle answer.
"As good as the question deserved," said Hamlet.
The queen asked him if he had forgotten who it was he was speaking to.
"Alas!" replied Hamlet, "I wish I could forget. You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife; and you are my mother. I wish you were not what you are."
"Nay, then," said the queen, "if you show me so little respect, I will set those to you that can speak," and was going to send the king or Polonius to him.
But Hamlet would not let her go, now he had her alone, till he had tried if his words could not bring her to some sense of her wicked life; and, taking her by the wrist, he held her fast, and made her sit down. She, affrighted at his earnest manner, and fearful lest in his lunacy he should do her a mischief, cried out; and a voice was heard from behind the hangings, "Help, help' the queen!" which Hamlet hearing, and verily thinking that it was the king himself there concealed, he drew his sword and stabbed at the place where the voice came from, as he would have stabbed a rat that ran there, till, the voice ceasing, he concluded the person to be dead. But when he dragged forth the body it was not the king, but Polonius, the old, officious counselor, that had planted himself as a spy behind the hangings.
"Oh, me!" exclaimed the queen, "what a rash and bloody deed have you done!"
"A bloody deed, mother," replied Hamlet, "but not so bad as yours, who killed a king, and married his brother."
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Tales From Shakespeare -by- Charles and Mary Lamb