Hamlet for the Shakespeare Impaired

Act 4, Scene 7

Elsinore. Yet another room in the Castle. Enter King Claudius and Laertes.

King: I hope you can keep a secret. I think the person who killed your father was really after me.
Laertes: It looks that way. But tell me, why didn't you punish Hamlet more for his awful deed?
King: I had two reasons, really. They might not seem like good reasons to you, but they are to me. His mother cares about him so much, it would kill her to have him punished severely. I love her, and don't want to put her through that. Also, the public likes Hamlet. They don't see him like we do. They just see his good side. They'd have a fit if I punished him.
Laertes: So I've lost my father and my sister has gone completely bonkers, and there's nothing you can do about it. I demand revenge!
King: Don't lose any sleep over it, Laertes. I'm going to do something about it, but we have to be more subtle about it. I'll tell you my plan. I liked your father. He was a good man. Believe me, I won't just stand by and--
[Enter a Messenger with letters.]
King: What now?
Messenger: I have some letters from Hamlet for you, Your Majesty. This one is for you, sire, and this one is for the Queen.
King: From Hamlet? Who brought them?
Messenger: Sailors, Your Majesty. At least, that's what Claudio said when he gave me the letters. I didn't see them myself.
King: Let's see what he has to stay. Laertes, you can stay and hear them. [To Messenger] But you can leave.
[Exit Messenger.]
King: [Reads.] "Dear High and Mighty King-type-person: I'm naked as I write this. Tee hee. I'm coming back to Denmark. I want to see you tomorrow, so I can tell you all about how I managed to come back. Hugs and kisses...Hamlet" What in the world...? Is this for real?
Laertes: Is it his handwriting?
King: Yes. I recognize it. "Naked?!" Ick! And at the bottom it says, "P.S. Alone." Do you understand this?
Laertes: Search me. I haven't a clue. But if he's coming back, great! I can beat the snot out of him for what he did to my father!
King: If this is true, Laertes, and I think it is, will you follow my plan for revenge?
Laertes: Yes, sir. As long as I get to kill Hamlet.
King: No problem. Now, if he's really coming back, my plot to have the English execute him failed, so we'll have to try something else. We need to make it look like an accident, so even his mother won't suspect anything.
Laertes: Great. I'll go along with your plan as long as I get to be the one to kill Hamlet.
King: No problem. I know that's important to you. I seem to remember you have a skill for which you are well known. Hamlet was always jealous of you for it.
Laertes: Which of my many skills are you referring to, sir?
King: A very good skill. Fun but important. Remember that great horse rider we had here two months ago? He was French, I think. The best guy in the tournament. Looked like he was born on horseback.
Laertes: He was from Normandy, wasn't he?
King: That's right.
Laertes: I remember him. The best horseman in all France.
King: He told me how jealous he was of your fencing skill. He says he's never seen someone with better skill. He absolutely raved about how great you were. Hamlet was livid with envy. He swore he could beat you in a fencing match. See what I'm getting at?
Laertes: I think so, sir.
King: Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or is all this grief and revenge business just for show?
Laertes: How dare you ask me that?
King: It's not that I think you didn't love your father. It's just that I want to make sure you're serious about this. The more time passes, the more you might be reluctant to seek revenge. What would you do if Hamlet walked in this room right now?
Laertes: I'd cut his throat on the spot, no matter where he was. Even in a church!
King: It would be killing no matter where you did it. But it's revenge, so go for it. But are you sure you're ready to do this, Laertes? I trust that you are. Now, go and stay in your room until Hamlet comes back. I'll have everyone talk about how you're the best swordsman in the world. You know, really lay it on thick to make Hamlet jealous. He'll be too envious, not to mention insane, to suspect our true motives. I'll make sure that when you duel Hamlet your sword is missing the safety tip. Then, during the duel...oops! Dead Hamlet.
Laertes: Ooh, good idea! But just to make sure he dies, I'll put poison on my sword. I've got some really potent stuff that will kill him even if I just scratch him with it.
King: Hey, poison! That sounds like fun! Just in case the sword fails, I'll put some poison in his wine cup, in case he gets thirsty during the duel. All right! Uh oh, I think I hear someone coming. Ssh.
[Enter Queen.]
King: How are you, my sweet?
Queen: It's one thing after another! Everything keeps going wrong! Laertes, your sister has been drowned!
Laertes: Drowned? What? Where?
Queen: There is a willow tree that grows by a brook. She came there with all kinds of elaborate flower garlands. There were crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, (you know, the kind that shepherds have a dirty name for, but which young ladies just call "dead men's fingers".) Anyway, she hung her flowers on the tree, but the branch broke and she fell into the stream. The air in her clothes kept her afloat for awhile. She looked like a mermaid, singing snatches of old tunes. She didn't seem to realize she was in danger. She acted like she belonged there in the water. But she didn't belong there, and before long the air seeped out of her clothes and she was pulled underwater, and she went down to a muddy grave.
Laertes: Then...she drowned?
Queen: Duh! That's I just said! Weren't you listening?
Laertes: Well, you rambled on about the flowers so much my mind started to wander. Oh, Alas! My sister, drowned! Oh, poor, poor Ophelia! You've had too much water already, dear Ophelia, so I won't add any more by crying. But...no, sorry, Ophelia, I'm gonna cry anyway. I can't help it. Excuse me, Your Majesties, I'm going to go off and bawl like a woman now. Then...revenge! [Exit Laertes.]
King: Let's follow him, Gertrude. I had a heck of a time calming his anger before, and I'm afraid this bad news will set him off again.