Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Countrie Matters: the flashback that never made it

While going through all the stuff I wrote that never made it into the new play, I found this, which I wrote very early on (in late February, while I was still in the "what is this play about again?" stage). It's too good to disappear, so here it is. It takes place instead of (or in addition to) the Ophelia/Laertes scene that's in the first act of Hamlet:

LAERTES: Once more, farewell, my sister. I am for Paris
To lay a rose upon our mother's grave.

OPHELIA: And zinnia and rosemary for me.

LAERTES: Ophelia,
For you I will unflower all of France
And make a garden of our mother's tomb.

OPHELIA: Laertes,
If you were not my brother, you would be
The mirror of my earthly aspirations.
What of our father? Is he still unmoved
By your departure?

LAERTES: Oh, as still as stone
To look at, but beneath his flinty skin
Bubbles a pit of molten disapproval.
He is incensed against my trip to France,
And had I not petitioned to the King
To grant my leave, I would be cribbed here still,
A baby woodcock in my father's snare.

OPHELIA: You blame the rosebud for its prickly thorns,
Forgetting that our father was not nettled
Until occasion forced him to be fretful.
His parents dying young, he never knew
The steady anchor of a governor,
But like a lost and frightened boy, marooned
Upon an empty ship, he was constrained
By cruel fate to play both crew and captain,
To give the orders and to see them done
And sail his life without a map or guide
Through reckless waters to a reefless shore.

LAERTES: Yet see what time has done to that bold youth,
For now the wreck of his life has become
Our reef. Each time I try to plot the course
Of my pursuits, he bulls onto the bridge,
Wrenches the wheel away, and runs for shore,
As if my life is his to live his way
In compensation for the debt I owe
To him for bringing me into the world.

OPHELIA: And yet, in his cold way, he loves us still.

LAERTES: When he says love, he means obedience.

OPHELIA: And is it any wonder? Yes, he commands
Like a scarred captain on a battlefield--
But his life has been his mortal enemy--
Taking our mother, who became an angel
Almost as soon as she became a bride--
Stealing his youth and all his cherishments
And leaving in their place a crushing burden
That would have driven Atlas to his knees.

LAERTES: A weight he flaunts and uses to drive us
Down to our knees when we stand up to him.
He lives to make our voices speak his words,
Like a musician who can only teach
By playing all his students' notes. Oh please,
My sister, while I am away, do not,
Do not let him play you. Make your own music.

OPHELIA: Sweet brother. How you do forget my place.
I am my father's instrument, until
He finds a likely man to call my tune.
They say Prince Hamlet is a fine musician.

LAERTES: Not so--he is an instrument--a lyre.

OPHELIA: There sounds an envious note.

LAERTES: Ah no, Ophelia--
'Tis admiration--would my tongue could spread
The honey from a flowered phrase like Hamlet.
All I can do is beg you to remember
That his warm voice and all the pregnant words
Which he delivers in his vows of love
Are but a whisper to the shout of blood
Which seals you as the sister of Laertes.
Despite your worth, Prince Hamlet's will is not
His own--he is the son of kings, and you
And I are but the children of a tyrant.
What choice he makes cannot be circumscribed
Beyond the line of which he is the issue,
For he himself is subject to his birth.

OPHELIA: As are we all, who share the sacred blood
Of family. If I looked in your heart,
I would see something of our father there.

LAERTES: And something of our mother.

OPHELIA: I wish I knew her.

LAERTES: I see her only vaguely, a ghost in velvet.

OPHELIA: And I perceive the wheel of time, which made
My grandmother bring forth into the world
A little boy who never knew his father--
And he in turn brought forth a little girl
Who never knew her mother. What is left
To come round to our children, yours and mine,
But the blessing of a full and happy family?

And that's it. I wrote a note to the effect that this is where Polonius comes in and says something stupid, but I never got around to writing it, so insert your own version of a "To thine own self be false" speech here.

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