Warnings: I cannot write; this is faux-Elizabethan drivel. Slash pairing. Angsty, passion's-slave Horatio.
"Wit" is a pun for male genitalia, "nothing" a pun for female (e.g. Much Ado About Nothing), and "hour" is a homophone for "whore". Obviously, I stole all these from Shakespeare. (It's not stealing! It's open license!)
This chapter is set before Act I of the play.
I would fain believe he left me out of lust, but my soul is not one that abides by deception. Some men can lie away their lives, even to themselves, but not I; perhaps this someday will bequest me favor above, but in daily life it makes sin torment. As it should be. So let me dissect for thine benefit, luckless reader, this very false and very sinful idea.
He left me out of lust.
He left me not, for if he'd left he'd once have had me. He's had me not, o intimately interested reader. I apologize for that which follows, here; but thou doth not exist and there will be no reader of this page. This fault is mayhap mine, though he has the chance every night as I lie tormented, alone, in twisted wool. The window is open, is it not? I leave it open every night, no matter the chill, so that my visions of the prince may enter through it.
In the darkness, I make myself hear the creak of the castle as though it is an interloper climbing up to visit. I happily draw myself an intruder, his rye-colored hair disheveled and his face peaked but nonetheless alluring, his ornate nightclothes in disarray not fit for royalty. The fervor of his eyes is on me, as it never is in life. He is here for my death and I pine for it.
"How now, Horatio?" He whispers with urgent politeness. Perhaps he's seen a night-ghast and longs for my comfort. It is my only skill, but I am practiced at it and it has got me farther than I'd have else gotten in life. More oft, the castle is under siege. Our deaths are certain, imminent, and drawing ever closer. In these last moments, the rules of court have no bearing; our titles, names, and natures are irrelevant as a corpse's. He is free to be not a prince, but whatever man or woman he so chooses; I am free to be his. And death will set us free of consequence. Of course, if I were to voice these thoughts, death would sure be my consequence; and this no fancy, either.
My fantasm-Hamlet lulls me to sleep each night. No one but this parchment will ever witness this, so it is no matter in itself; what causes my distress is that each morning I wake, it takes longer to remember that it is a fantasy. I easily make a friendly glance into a lover's gaze, a simple greeting into a wanton declaration of love.
Horatio, attend: you ne'er were his.
Your world of wishes poisons that which is.
He left me out of lust.
Hamlet lusts not for anything but books, certainly no lily-scented Ophelia. We have had this conversation twice, as young men are wont to do (that is - young men who are not I, for conversing like this with Hamlet is like being hunted by savages for me). The first time, at school, it went this way:
We have read a text concerning the nature of love, which included intimate implications veiled in a florist's metaphor, and in class discussed the lewdness of it. The consensus is that it is indecent but that it makes the argument on love all the stronger; the professor sighs as he expects this view from a group such as ourselves - well-off young men with too much leisure spent on whores. We, the group, think anything can be improved with the addition of indecency.
Hamlet digresses. He thinks it detracts from the author's greatest point; that intimacy has no place in writing. I form no opinion on the piece, for I know I am corrupt and thus abstain from this sort of discourse. But I play devil's advocate to the prince, and we continue our argument in many forms even into the evening.
The debate transmutes itself several times, and eventually we get on to the accuracy of the floral metaphor.
"Think you the lily appropriate, as the author uses it?" He asks me.
"I know not," I admit, searching hopelessly for escape. "We've concluded the usage inappropriate."
"Yes, but the conceit." He pretends not to find me humorous.
"I still know not."
He allows me to escape, then, to the woods where I may meander in painful solitude. I claim I must study; in fact I study my memory of our conversation. Certainly I make a paragraph of his quiet "Nor I", and then an essay and then a novel and then a bible so I may be an author, scholar, and priest of Hamlet. It is evil.
My heart is rotting like that sagging tree;
If it offered me a noose, I'd hang for thee.
Our second conversation on love is less valid as a source, for all that it is rather longer. He is drinking spirits; I am feigning the same but tossing it over my shoulder when his attention wavers. I know if I allow myself to drink near him, I will become senseless and forget myself. If he'd have it, to tipple with Hamlet would be to tumble with him, and that to cut Fortune's string ten knots too short. If he'd have it not, the same but quicker and with no recompense.
The tavern is loud and distracting; I am thankful. I thank God too that it is early in the night and we have got seats across a gaming table. Neither throws dice, but our backs are weary and we are grateful for the comfort. I, though, am grateful for that we cannot touch by chance in this arrangement.
"Good Horatio," he addresses me, "I'd have thought you with away within an hour. In its stead, you keep me company."
"Surely you jest, my lord," I banter senselessly. He will win this conversation shortly; I am burdened by additional commissions. He must only consider wit and meaning, while I deal on wit, meaning, self-censorship, and discovering increasingly more convoluted means to prevent my gaze from falling on him. I play that I find a game of dice behind him uncommonly absorbing. "If you think me to leave you drunk for an hour, you know me not."
"Perhaps more than one, then. I entertain you not in this state."
This is true. A tipsy Hamlet is a challenge on my restraint, and it wears on me. "Nay, my lord. I fear only for the foolishness you enact, for it will surely come back to the king, and he will have it slain within the hour."
"If the hour allows it."
"They are paid to allow, are they not?"
Hamlet's eyes glint with triumph, though he maintains his somber expression. I have lost track of the conceit and lost my footing; he means to mock my stumble. "Bring me the man who has paid the time o' day, if he can be found."
I manage to recover quickly. "I'll find for you a man who has paid the hour and several in his stead who have not."
He guffaws. It has not yet ceased to surprise me; he is delicate, fair-haired, refined, but he makes laughter as a broad-shouldered, hard-handed farmer mixed with a cackling crow. It grates delightfully on my ears. "Oh, Horatio. I'd fain drink your words over this spirit."
Halt, I pray, stop your thinking.
"And your spirit over your words. You are just and honest; you are the man among five who pays his hour properly." He is drunk, now, surely.
My chest fails to rise and fall; the very breath in my lungs is made into iron. But surely I am Hercules, for I manage to make them cough, "I've not."
"Not had reason to."
"What reason have you for this?" He swills another thimble of akavit, and I pray it will distract him. It does not, of course, because I am corrupt and Fortune has only begun to take aim at me for punishment. "Ah, you have a woman, Horatio. Wherefore have I not met her?"
If I had a woman, mayhap my rambling, caustic, clever prince would take the living daylights out of her within five minutes. Though if I had my choice of woman, she would be he himself and restore the daylight to my world. "Nay, my lord. I have none." Speech is not my friend tonight; I will shun it.
"Like you not the whorehouses, then?"
"Nay, my lord." I ought to make a plate of that for more easy use, I voice it so frequently.
This, too, makes my heart quicken with surprise. The prince has all the material favors of man available to him: his garments are five times the cost of mine, his room the best to be found. He is deserving, of course, and the cost he pays is great. I chose to study, and from hence I may choose to teach or write or any such thing; his profession is his birth. But, nonetheless, I'd thought one of so much commercial power would have his choice of any whore. I like them not, tis true, but I am slave to Fortune's poor temper and her curse.
"Horatio, is it strange -" he begins, then halts, then starts again. He is the most measured drunk I know, to moderate a question like this; but then, his sober questions are not merely moderated but formulated, planned, charted, and peer reviewed before asked. "Nay, tis strange. Nothing interests me save my studies; and disregard my wit here. My fellows speak often of desire, yet I know it not."
I know it well. I fail to feign interest in the game of dice; my eyes fall upon Hamlet's flushed and anxious face, and I know it well. It is drink that colors his pale skin, but my heart longs to think it is I. I can feel his foot prodding mine for response, and hide it behind a table-leg. "It's not for me to say, my lord." Please allow me escape.
"It is not for you, but I wish you to do it anyway, dear friend."
"'Zwounds, my prince! I know not!" My voice rises unbidden, and near heads turn to see the ruckus. Most like they long for a duel to break out.
"Soft now, I beg you," says the drunk and grinning prince. I long to make him hurt. "You forget yourself."
To conclude, Hamlet has confessed in me his deficiency of lust; therefore it is more like than not that Ophelia commands his heart and not his ardor, while I command neither. It would be small recompense if I could have one and she the other; perhaps I'd once thought I'd have the former. If I'd my choice, it would be the one I'd take; its lack plagues me constantly, while I intermittently forget the latter.
She has him now, at least in part, and she means to take the whole. I cannot assign her blame for this, for it is my life's only want. It makes my eyes cardinal red with weeping.
To lose a man for lust is bearable;
to lose him not, for love, is terrible.