Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Personal Diary of Claudius, King of Denmark

For so long, the story of Hamlet has been told only from the young Dane's perspective. But what about the perspective of the story's putative villain, Claudius? Finally, after so much time, we have a window into what the man was thinking during the events of the famous tale.
  • 9-Oct: Just reached the third month mark on my kingship. I am growing used to the job, both in the ceremonial and political aspects. You might think being a king would mean wielding absolute power and having people snap to attention whenever you walk by, but that is not the case! The high-handed peremptory approach is great if you don't care about the results, but I find that working with the ministers and Parliament is infinitely more successful. After all, one man (even a king) cannot be everywhere, give every order, supervise every worker and project. After the disastrous reign of my brother (who was the most high-handed and peremptory of all!), I can see the marked difference during my nascent reign. By sharing power, it turns out that I've actually increased my own! I've gotten far more of what I wanted in three months than my dear old brother did in years. Counterintuitive, I suppose, but making the politicians partners instead of subjects has reaped enormous dividends. Even that old ass Yorick admitted as much even before I stayed the execution my brother had rashly ordered upon him. An impression shouldn't lead to executions, I think. He died anyway, though, due to a stroke.

    Anyway, I very much look forward to young Hamlet's return from his theological studies. I've always liked the lad, and while seeing him will no doubt bring back awful memories of The Deed, I have always thought him clever, moral, and resourceful. Given the unlikelihood of Gertie bearing me any children, Hamlet must be considered the logical heir to the throne, and I intend to do my best to replace the void that I sadly created with my crime of passion.
  • 10-Oct: Busy day at Court today. Polonius and I, along with some of the other high councillors, debated the merits of a more egalitarian distribution of land for the people. I stand firmly in favor of it, as the nobles don't need a few measly acres, and dozens of poor families would be able to make something of it. We were able to come up with a workable plan that I fully expect the nobles to hate, but I hope to use a combination of a cut in taxes and populist peasant passions to crush the resistance. Tomorrow we begin discussions of reforming all courts and government offices, to make them more inclined toward the average man. I suspect the fight for this will be even fiercer than the others I have fought (and nearly always won) in my still-nascent reign.
  • 11-Oct: Oh, Gertie. 
  • 12-Oct: Young Hamlet has finally arrived, and I am deeply worried about the lad. He goes from utterly low energy to manic, even feverish activity in mere moments. He seems to prefer to spend most of his time muttering to himself and pacing. I have asked his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to figure out what bothers the young lad, though they haven't yet discovered anything. Polonius reports that Hamlet has treated Ophelia with remarkable cruelty. One wonders what is the matter with the boy.
  • 14-Oct: Very busy with work. Noble dissatisfaction with my reign is increasing--they figured I'd carry on with old Hamlet's buddy-buddy way of keeping the noblemen on his side and giving nothing to the great mass of his subjects. They thought incorrectly. I can see the tides shifting already. With just another few months of power, I should be able to empower the people to an extent never before seen in an European constitutional monarchy. This could truly be historic!

    Had a discussion today with Hamlet. I fear the Lutherans have made him bloody minded. Reformist, Counterreformist, Inquisition, heretics, I find all of it regrettable and silly. What difference does it make how one prays to God? I said as much to the King of Spain, an impressive man and a good friend, a reasonable man in most respects, but not in this case. And Hamlet seems to agree, only he's on the other side. I have severe doubts about this man succeeding me to the throne, he is changed and not to be trusted.
  • 15-Oct: Hamlet is out of control! I suspect the man is using substances--you know, what the young people use. He is nothing but mood swings and half-baked (so to speak) plans. The little twerp had some traveling players stage a play. As you know, I hate violent theater, just as I hate war and all violence (and myself for administering it to old Hamlet). His son, though, positively relishes in violent plays and such. He had his players do this terrible version of the story of Gonzago or some such, and I kept noticing throughout the play that Hamlet kept staring at me to try to make eye contact. Finally I learned why, the climax involved a man murdering his brother with poision. How did he find out? I will never know. But I hardly gave him the satisfaction of a reaction, I just left because I disliked the play. Shoddily written garbage. And the plot here is so over-obvious that one suspects Hamlet is inadvertently sabotaging himself to prove that he isn't the equal to his father. Must not overthink this. I'm sure the substances are to blame here.
  • 16-Oct: Hamlet has murdered Polonius! This is a disaster. Polonius was a critical part of my plans on a half-dozen different initiatives I was pursuing, losing him sets me back a month. This is entirely too convenient: I suspect that Hamlet is working with my enemies, the noble Lords, who must have gotten him hooked on substances and have been manipulating him in that way! Yes, that makes perfect sense. The murder evidently took place during an oddly aggressive discussion with Gertie about his father. My health minister assures me that one effect of the substances is misplaced aggression, no doubt also partly due to his being kicked out of the theological seminary (of which he has told neither of us). No wonder he got kicked out, he evidently never bothered to learn the Ten Commandments! I confronted him about it and he made several wisecracks and did his usual mumbling thing. Who is he talking to? Again, I must remember the man is likely on several substances, and is likely beyond reason. He claims he saw a ghost--most likely he had just taken substances before that. I know the guards are all hopped up on them, and I ought to jail the whole sorry lot of them. But I am too soft, too merciful.

    Anyway, I have sent Hamlet away to England, to detoxify and recover from his odd presentiments. Hopefully, after a few months, we can resolve these issues like civilized men.
  • 17-Oct: Met today with young Fortinbras, who has called off military action against my country, and just went ahead and sent the troops to invade someone else. The savagery! I applaud my own diplomacy while sadly surveying the state of Norway's leadership. Young Fortinbras is every inch the violent savage, rattling on and on about the vengeance he has taken and the enemies he has personally killed, and his attitude suggests little respect for anything except power--his own. Lord help us all if that young monster should ever come to rule his country! Come to think of it, though, he couldn't be much worse than Hamlet as king. Can you even imagine it? Hamlet mumbling to himself, starting wars in a fit of passion before bemoaning them after the substances wear off? A frightening prospect, to be sure. The recent state of Hamlet has led me to consider altering the structure of Denmark's government, in such a way that the monarch will have their powers sharply curtailed and given to the elected officials. This will take time to do, though. Despite my reforms, the elected branch is as hopeless as ever, knee-deep in bribes and unable to solve even basic public policy problems. I have high hopes though. I believe the people, with better education, can rule themselves, and while I might not live long enough to accomplish this, I intend to make it the major concept of the rest of my reign.
  • 18-Oct: Hamlet has become a full-blown menace! He has had Rosencrantz and Guildenstern killed, his own friends! The weasel. Why kill them? Why not just elude them? They aren't terribly bright, after all. I only picked them because I thought Hamlet trusted them. My mistake, to expect things like friendship and human decency from a substance-addicted sociopath who can justify anything with his bizarre internal nonsense. Now he comes back to Denmark. He has had three people killed in cold blood, and apparently without any particular shame and remorse. My crime was one of passion. His is one of bloody, mad revenge, and yet he has never once confronted me, asked me what has happened. I haven't given up my theory about his secret noble backers, by the way. Hamlet's nature is one that sees murder as fine if done in a just cause, very much like Signor Machiavelli might argue. He now has three bodies to his name, and poor Ophelia has fallen into great mental degradation as a result of Hamlet's actions. The doctors say her breakdown could be fatal. Which would make four! Will nobody rid me of this poisonous youth, whose anger at me will leave a trail of death that cannot be stopped?
  • 19-Oct: I have told Laertes the truth about Hamlet's vile actions, and he has agreed to take him down. At long last, someone who can protect us! Though Laertes's noble, gentle nature puts him at a disadvantage to my psychotic and murderous nephew.
  • 20-Oct: Hamlet has returned. He means to kill Laertes by fighting dirty in a fencing match. I have taken alternative measures to keep this from happening. Let us hope they work! At this point, I care not at all for my own life, my only hope is that he does not survive. Let this official chronicle serve as the rebuttal to any future version of Hamlet's story that casts me as the villain. Such a thing is inconceivable, whatever I have done, he has done worse!