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A Midnight Fantasy
by [?]

Often for half the night he would wander along the ramparts of the castle, at the imminent risk of tumbling off, gazing seaward and muttering strangely to himself, and evolving frightful spectres out of the shadows cast by the turrets. Sometimes he lapsed into a gentle melancholy; but not seldom his mood was ferocious, and at such times the conversational Polonius, with a discretion that did him credit, steered clear of my lord Hamlet.

He turned no more graceful compliments for Ophelia. The thought of marrying her, if he had ever seriously thought of it, was gone now. He rather ruthlessly advised her to go into a nunnery. His mother had sickened him of women. It was of her he spoke the notable words, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” which, some time afterwards, an amiable French gentleman had neatly engraved on the head-stone of his wife, who had long been an invalid. Even the king and queen did not escape Hamlet in his distempered moments. Passing his mother in a corridor or on a staircase of the palace, he would suddenly plant a verbal dagger in her heart; and frequently, in full court, he would deal the king such a cutting reply as caused him to blanch, and gnaw his lip. If the spectacle of Gertrude and Claudius was hateful to Hamlet, the presence of

Hamlet, on the other hand, was scarcely a comfort to the royal lovers. At first his uncle had called him “our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son,” trying to smooth over matters; but Hamlet would have none of it. Therefore, one day, when the young prince abruptly announced his intention to go abroad, neither the king nor the queen placed impediments in his way, though, some months previously, they had both protested strongly against his returning to Wittenberg.

The small-fry of the court knew nothing of Prince Hamlet’s determination until he had sailed from Elsinore; their knowledge then was confined to the fact of his departure. It was only to Horatio, his fellow-student and friend, that Hamlet confided the real cause of his self-imposed exile, though perhaps Ophelia half suspected it.

Polonius had dropped an early hint to his daughter concerning Hamlet’s intent. She knew that everything was over between them, and the night before he embarked Ophelia placed in the prince’s hand the few letters and trinkets he had given her, repeating, as she did so, a certain distich which somehow haunted Hamlet’s memory for several days after he was on shipboard:

“Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

“These could never have waxed poor,” said Hamlet softly to himself, as he leaned over the taffrail, the third day out, spreading the trinkets in his palm, “being originally of but little worth. I fancy that that allusion to ‘rich gifts’ was a trifle malicious on the part of the fair Ophelia;” and he quietly dropped them into the sea.

It was as a Danish gentleman voyaging for pleasure, and for mental profit also, if that should happen, that Hamlet set forth on his travels. Settled destination he had none, his sole plan being to get clear of Denmark as speedily as possible, and then to drift whither his fancy took him. His fancy naturally took him southward, as it would have taken him northward if he had been a Southron. Many a time while climbing the bleak crags around Elsinore he had thought of the land of the citron and the palm; lying on his couch at night, and listening to the wind as it howled along the machicolated battlements of the castle, his dreams had turned from the cold, blonde ladies of his father’s court to the warmer beauties that ripen under sunny skies. He was free now to test the visions of his boyhood.

So it chanced, after various wanderings, all tending imperceptibly in one direction, that Hamlet bent his steps towards Italy.