A Cask of Amontillado
The incestuous marriage of Claudius he had attempted to forgive, but the torture that the memory of his father brought him had let revenge crawl to the front of his mind. It was no longer even important to him what he would do; it was just the idea of revenge now driving him forward. Nor did it matter whether or not he would be caught – he would be living in a prison either way.
He had never given Claudius a real reason to suspect vengeance coming, yet in the left corner of Hamlet's mind he had suspected that Claudius had been suspecting it all along. Claudius did, indeed, have a suspicion after seeing his son's change of behavior, but no clue as to when to expect action to come. Little did he know that this same thought resided in Hamlet at the same time.
The only weakness that Hamlet saw in Claudius, and thus the only way, it seemed to him for the revenge to occur, was Claudius's pride. To Hamlet's eyes, pride was not a flaw that he could take enough advantage of; rather it was the way pride led to a level of gullibility unfitting to a king. Rather, it was not pride at all, but just the many celebrations Claudius would host (some without any formal reason) at which he would get drunk to a point where his speech consisted of excessive brevity and limited wit. Hamlet waited for the ultimate moment of Claudius's weakness – in which he was too drunk to understand what would happen, but not drunk enough to want more to drink.
Having received word of next month's celebration, Hamlet spent several weeks preparing. He had obtained a cask of wine – Amontillado; he would call it, a form of bait for his uncle. Having searched his castle and its surroundings for a perfect spot to place it, he began to look at ways to arm himself. He began by taking his dagger that had remained hidden underneath his pillow, and had never been discovered by Claudius. He decided that he would use the dagger to avenge his father's murder, a rash but important thought, as he had never imagined watching the dagger pierce a hole in anyone's body but his own. There was still the matter of making revenge satisfying enough for him. He had planned it all out. One day when his uncle was away, Hamlet snuck into his storage space and removed a bottle of poison. It had already been opened – to kill the king, Hamlet presumed. It would then be the only fitting form of revenge – to reflect his uncle's actions back onto him.
It was about dusk, one evening during his mother's birthday celebration (and what better present can I give her than to rid her of a worthless husband?) that Hamlet had finally encountered Claudius stumbling around the grounds alone. He wore his usual robes, though tonight Hamlet noticed some fresh stains that always seemed to appear around that time of year. His crown must have fallen off that evening, and along with it, all of the strength that his appearance contained.
"You are looking well today." Hamlet began the words that seemed to come out of nowhere, though he had been rehearsing what to say. "It is your fortune today that I have obtained from my friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a shipment of what appears to be true Italian Amontillado."
"But that is not possible!" cried Claudius. "We have been drinking Sherry the whole night and we have Amontillado?!"
"I did not want to interrupt your celebration. But now I would like to invite you to take a look at this wine, and taste it, to test whether or not it is real Amontillado that we have."
"Amontillado! Let us go!"
The ominous cough that occurred during Claudius's speech greatly bothered Hamlet – with a man with a cough, you won't finish off. He had to ask: "Are you not afraid of going to your vaults with your cough? They are insufferably damp and encrusted with nitre."
"My cough means nothing!" Claudius proclaimed, fixing his cloak. "Let us go, nevertheless."
Hamlet had told his mother not to expect him that night, as he would be out with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern drinking to her health, knowing that she would not send anybody out to search for him.
As the two men entered the vaults, Hamlet involuntarily felt the dagger in his pocket prior to removing two torches for the two of them. Unsure about handing a torch to Claudius, who was still walking unsteadily, humming a few bars of what sounded like a Norwegian folk song, Hamlet visualized again the outcome of his plan, passed on the torch, and they walked on.
"So where is it?" Claudius was already impatient. Hamlet was annoyed – his hand once again directed itself toward his dagger.
And if I just kill him with my dagger now? But what kind of revenge would that be – a quick and easy one? Would he even understand what I was doing to him?
Hamlet walked on without allowing Claudius an heard the cough come more often now, and in his head his superstitions were fighting revenge.
"We could go back if you'd like, as your health is more important than any wine," Hamlet's subconscious said out loud.
"My cough will not kill me," replied Claudius with a degree of seriousness Hamlet did not expect.
"True," Hamlet replied. It won't if everything turns out right. But if it doesn't stop soon, it is sure to kill me!
He took out the bottle of poison from his pocket, ready to end both of their troubles at that same moment. "A drink, perhaps? To clear your throat." And he took out a bottle of wine from a shelf.
As he poured the wine, he took a closer look at the bottle of poison – the cap was gone! A chill passed through him as he learned his fears to be true – the poison had spilled. The few drops left were not enough to kill a man. Then came the pain – it was his mistake, he had waited too long, he was inattentive, and he would never be able to get anything done... Maybe there was not enough poison to kill a man, but it was worth a try! Hamlet gave an involuntary salute to his enemy, and hesitating, raised the bottle to his mouth.
The bottle broke with an ear-shattering crack as Claudius grabbed the wine out of Hamlet's hand causing him to drop the very same drops that could have led to his salvation.
Claudius looked around with mild amazement in a contrary direction to the location of the sound. Gathering himself, he raised the glass, "To your long life!" They proceeded. Though his coughing was now limited, the wine (which, as Hamlet had failed to notice, was one of their strongest) had made Claudius completely unable to stand on his feet. It was now Hamlet's responsibility to support Claudius with one hand, carry a torch with the other, and all the while, keep himself from making the same involuntary motion again. Never did a thought of leaving Claudius to die, or even using his dagger, enter his mind.
And why do I wait so long to act? There have been one too many omens signifying my failure, and yet I have not listened to a single one? I have no idea what I have gotten myself into – neither do I have the courage to come out. Only one option do I have left – to keep on as I am, either to end up as I had planned originally, or to never leave this vault. It shall be whatever comes first, but I am certain: by morning one of us will be dead!
They were approaching the vaults' end. The environment grew less pleasant as they went on – a mold-like odor came to greet them, and the lighting of the torch hit again something that looked like a skull. The nitre made its presence known again as well, while Hamlet prayed Claudius would no longer cough. It was but a short eternity as the pair reached the spot that could not leave Hamlet's eyes. Hamlet allowed Claudius to go in by himself to look around: "The Amontillado is in here."
In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and Hamlet had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, about two feet apart, horizontally. From one of these descended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key Hamlet stepped back and looked at what he had accomplished.
The main part of his task completed, Hamlet searched around for a set of bricks and mortar he had seen there upon an earlier visit. Taking a final look at his dagger, he began to build.
It was not long afterwards that Hamlet began to notice Claudius's intoxication wearing off. The sounds coming from the chained man were, while not audible as words, not spoken with the same sort of stumbling tone they had been spoken in earlier. The moans were quick to direct Hamlet's thoughts. They were more than a mere annoyance - they were the sounds of the suffering of man. It was only Hamlet's uneasiness at committing the act of murder that kept him adding more layers of bricks.
And I can safely say now that I've killed a man. This is it – the moment of my revenge! The satisfaction is surprisingly high, but the question remains- what next? The king is dead, the prince is the killer – by morning the nature of the events would be too obvious. My dagger is useless now, and my poison is gone – yet, is there a use to have come here and not to come out?
"Ha ha! A very good joke indeed – an excellent jest!" It appeared that Claudius was now almost fully conscious. A hint of sadness in his voice suggested his understanding of what had happened. "We must laugh about it more at dinner – over our Amontillado!"
"I should go," Hamlet replied, hurriedly filling up the wall. He was no longer holding his torch, and only felt the wall as it was being built. His uncle's voice seemed to come at him from behind now.
"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HAMLET!"
"God?" asked Hamlet, his thoughts somewhat collected. "It is for the hate of god that I do this, uncle, for the hate of his not providing me with any other tools. It is for the hate of god that I take matters into my own hands and not try to escape them. For the hate of god, my uncle, I have brought you here tonight." These words Hamlet did not even think of rehearsing – instead he felt a certain quantity of pride that came with their spontaneity. As he said them, he never placed down his makeshift trowel, and continued placing the last bricks in the darkness.
Though Hamlet had hoped for a reply, one did not come. He called aloud-
Only an echo. He tried again – no answer still. Hamlet's heart grew sick – on account of the dampness of the catacombs. He hastened to end his labor. He forced the last stone into its position and plastered it up.
He cast a final glance at the last origin of human sound and turned in the other direction. He walked slowly away. The slow pace was only to his luck, as his face met with a brick wall soon thereafter. Impossible – he had just come through that way! His knees fell to the floor and grew wet, as he scrambled to locate another torch. But alas – as he moved around, he felt only wall surrounding him. He thought that he would stumble upon Claudius, but the chamber he was in seemed otherwise unoccupied. A final shock hit him as the realization became obvious - he was walled in. And by his own hand, perhaps? That was the part he could not grip. He began to let out that same half-yell, the one he had heard from his uncle's mouth mere moments ago.
Hamlet still felt wet as he woke up – a sweat. This had not been his first dream of revenge, but this was the largest he had come in such a realistic manner. For the several minutes that followed, he was not able to compose his thoughts, not knowing how to interpret the dream he had just had.
I need to get started soon – I need to get out – I need to be more careful with – Claudius is – I am – But what will happen to me if –
Hamlet left his room with the same kinds of thoughts – thoughts he would be hiding in his countenance for weeks to come. He walked through his castle and began to look at it differently, just like he had seen it in what seemed to just be the previous night. He picked a suitable spot, felt his dagger in the same pocket he always kept it in, and with a sigh began:
"To be or not to be, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to — 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come – "