The legend of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, (had he lived he would have become Denmark’s King Hamlet II) always held that Hamlet was killed during a grudge-duel with courtier Laertes (son of Curmudgeon Laureate, Pelonius and brother of Hamlet’s dumped girlfriend, Ophelia). This belief is upheld in coroner’s records from the time which list mountebank unction poisoning as the cause of death. Presumably this unction was introduced through a scratch from Laertes’ anointed foil. Years after the incident, this theory was further substantiated by entries concerning the mountebank found in Laertes’ diary.
Another person with a stake in this version of events was the Norwegian Prince Strongarm, known more widely by his nomen linguae francae, Fortinbras. Soon after Hamlet’s alleged death, Prince Fortinbras became King Fortinbras (Fort. II of Norway & Fort. I of Denmark). Few people in Scandinavia were in a position to dispute Fortinbras’ accounts of what happened. Today, however, a group called Gnostic Shakespeare asserted that all this is largely false. A lecture on the subject was given at a colloquium on Medieval Fringe Studies at the University of Chicago. The speaker was (Gnostic leader Gregory Seagle, Dean of the University of Chicago and known nationally for his exposure of the Abraham Lincoln-3M Post-lt note scandal.
“Prince Hamlet was known to have suffered from a noisome chronic monohumourous disease” began Seagle, “characterized by severe bilial melanosis exacerbated by a congenital lack of other humours. This left the prince open to attacks of hypermetropic monochromatic chyme, which, if severe enough, can cause fainting spells.” Seagle went on to elaborate other facets of the disease including irritability, torpor, and the inability to answer a simple question. Having thus prepared the audience, Seagle loosed his bombshell: “After years of puzzling over the nearly indecipherable code of Horatio’s journals, we now know roughly how to translate this fascinating passage: ‘Odaytay I illedkay amlethay. Ouldcay otnay earbay ishay oddamnedgay oodingbray and artsmay outhmay one oremay inutemay’, which roughly means that Horatio killed Prince Hamlet, being at wit’s end both with Hamlet’s rumination and his flippancy.”
The crowd gasped and began murmuring (like in the Bible), but Seagle overrode them shouting: “Wait, there’s more!” The crowd immediately quieted down (like at the beginning of Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar), “In another passage, written just after the play within a play, Horatio claims: ‘Iniallyfay otgay in Aerteslay isterssay ickersknay. Eshay asway ulytray onesthay and airfay and a illfulskay and ovinglay umphay’ which means, again roughly, that he had a tryst with Ophelia sometime before she died. This perhaps adds jealousy to frustration, rage and impatience to Horatio’s list of motives for killing Hamlet.
The crowd gasped and murmured again and Seagle did nothing to stop them this time. A charter member of Gnostic Shakespeare; Sir Isaac Newton (on sabbatical leave from his Westminster Abbey vault) , leapt to his feet for a question (a mistake) . “How do you reconcile these journal entries with the traditional accounts of the prince’s death?” inquired Newton just before he tumbled to the floor because, sadly, one of his legs had fallen off.
Seagle patiently held on to his answer until sympathetic fellow audience members reassembled Newton and returned him to his chair. “Because we know …” Seagle began but stopped in mid-sentence. Pointing in Newton’s direction, Seagle shouted “His ear. Get his ear!” Apparently, during his fall, Newton had also detached his right ear, but this was overlooked owing to the much more spectacular loss of limb. Finding the ear on the lap of a nearby common, low, fat barge woman (on leave from Wind in the Willows) another audience member stapled the ear back on to Newton’s head in approximately the same spot as it had been in before.
Again in reminiscence of Julius Caesar, Seagle quipped “I would remind Dr. Newton that I am not making Marc Antony’s eulogy here and that the good Doctor may keep his ears to himself.” The crowd hooted, howled and made raspberry noises, pointing derisively at Newton, who was clearly embarrassed but wholly unable to blush.
“Because we know” continued Seagle, “from his medical records that Hamlet was subject to fainting spells. Further, we know from Laertes’ diary that the mountebank’s name was R. Westheimer and this suggests that the unction likely wasn’t poison at all, but rather a relatively ineffective aphrodisiac favored by short know-it-all Germans. We therefore believe that Hamlet merely swooned during his duel with Laertes, either from gross melancholic indigestion or from general ennui.
“Do you think it possible,” asked Newton in follow-up (this time prudently remaining in his seat) “journal entries aside, that Horatio himself was actually capable of killing the prince?”
“Little question of that” Seagle answered. “We know that Horatio had a very short fuse and tended to act first and ask questions later. You’ll remember that Horatio swung his battle-ax at the first appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. Now, that was pretty silly. Have you ever heard tell of an apparition being hacked to death? I mean, what the hell was Horatio thinking, anyway?”
“We postulate that Hamlet’s final hours went something like this: Hamlet swoons and faints during the duel and is taken for dead. Fortinbras bids his soldiers shoot in Hamlet’s honor so as not to appear too precipitous himself at grabbing the Danish crown. The gun report wakens Hamlet, but he’s too dazed to stir until after Fortinbras runs off to get himself coronated, the crowd following. Hamlet and Horatio are left alone. Hamlet sits up. Horatio, a close friend of Hamlet’s, is elated by this miraculous escape from death. He warns Hamlet of Fortinbras’ impending usurpation. Hamlet couldn’t give a shit. He eschews the crown and blithely asks Horatio along for the accustomed walk through the graveyard. Puzzled, Horatio goes along with Hamlet. Once in the graveyard Hamlet ignores all of Horatio’s questions and pleadings and begins to soliloquize. Horatio, already stunned and intensely annoyed, is simply overcome by his own choleric disposition and kills Hamlet in a rage. He gets away with it as Hamlet was presumed dead anyway.”
The crowd gasped in disbelief, then began applauding and throwing petunias, lupines and coxcombs at Seagle. As he left the stage glowing with self-satisfaction, he was hit in the face with a cosmic pie.