September 1571

I am Ophelia.

My father is Polonius, and my brother is Laertes. My mother died when I was so small I can scarcely remember her now, unless I close my eyes tight, and then I catch a glimpse of her smiling eyes or a snatch of her soft voice, and then it's gone, but Father says I resemble her. We are to leave the house in Copenhagen she and Father lived in and I grew up in, and I was looking through her things for the last time when I found this journal. Because it was Mother's, I will use it now.

Let me explain why we are to leave. Father just received a letter from the King Hamlet that he is wanted at court to advise him, and I am to be one of Queen Gertrude's court ladies. Father is pleased; he has been hoping for this ever since the King applauded his service in the Northern Seven Years' War against Germany—but I am not. How will we live without our own house?

Laertes says nothing. He will continue his scholarship in France after we move.

a few days later

Our last day in Copenhagen, we went to the fish market, and it was spectacular. Cogs with brightly painted sails sat in the harbor all down the wharf, and there were more herring at the stalls than all of Denmark could eat in a year. It smelled like the sea. Father and I picked out the biggest one we could find, and it was delicious. I don't know when or if we'll ever have such a treat again.

We have left Copenhagen for good, I am afraid. We took our carriage, our luggage, and Father's servant, Reynaldo, and have been bouncing over the roads these last few days. I haven't been able to write because of all the bumping. We are stopped currently while Father and Reynaldo inspect one of the wheels; it hit a large rock.

later

We made it to Helsingborg, later than planned. Thankfully—or not—we were close enough to the town Reynaldo was able to get a wheelwright to help us, and we were on our way again. I should rather have had to turn back.

A servant greeted us at Kronborg Castle and showed us to our rooms. It is very sumptuous, and I could spend forever taking in the paintings and the designs on the walls or ceilings, but it would put a crick in my neck.

We are all very tired, and the rooms are agreeable, so I will say goodnight for now. We meet the King and Queen tomorrow.

the next day

We have just had dinner with the King and Queen, and I don't think I shall ever need to eat again. The servants brought out tray after tray, and Father and the other nobles (it'll take some time to learn all their names) happily ate while they discussed matters with the King. He is a tall and dark-haired man, neither too fat nor too thin, and his beard wags satisfyingly when he talks. The Queen, beside him, is a little plump but not much, graceful and fair-haired, everything a queen should be. The King's brother, Claudius, was beside them, smirking occasionally at the King; he is most unpleasant. The Prince Hamlet sat seriously on the other side of his parents, showing less enthusiasm for the meal than his them. He resembles more his mother, graceful and perfectly-proportioned, but is tall and dark-haired like his father. He didn't seem to like Laertes much—they glared at each other during dinner. I caught him glancing at me several times, and I focused on my plate, flushing.

Father and the King discussed something about the Poles and the Norwegians, led by young King Fortenbras after the King killed his father, also Fortenbras, but it was difficult to pay attention with the Prince looking towards me.

October 1571

Can you believe it is already October? It feels chilly here, but the flowers are still in bloom. I would love to send all day in the garden here, but that is not allowed. I am here to serve the Queen.

She is a little fickle. This morning, when the other ladies and I rose from our rooms to tend her, she could not decide on her plain starched ruff or the lacy one, and that was only the ruff. The dress she first had us bring out was red, but then she changed her mind for one of her brown ones—which one was difficult to tell, as she had several. At last, she seemed satisfied with the maroon one.

I asked the other ladies if she is always this difficult, and Elsie, one of the ladies, assured me she was. This will not be easy.

a few days later

Laertes has returned to France; I miss him already. What will I do without all my family here?

The Queen asked me today to fetch some ginger from the herb garden, as she's been having some trouble with stomachaches, and I was happy to oblige. While I was there, do you know who I met? The King's brother, Claudius. He has an unpleasant smirk about him, and I do not like him. He seemed startled to see me and muttered something about ensuring the henbane was growing before he left. It was, though its leaves will soon disappear for the winter. The real question was, why would he need a poison?

a few days later

I am beginning to get settled in. The ladies and I tend to the Queen in the morning, and I fetch her some more ginger as her stomachache has not lessened. At dinner, we took napkins and anything else she might need to her, and, in the afternoon, we sit and sew quietly together in our rooms, and, in the evening, we assist the Queen with supper and undressing for bed and do all of it again the next day. Is that all there is? Father says I should be pleased I am entrusted to such a high position, but the Queen does not seem to like me. She does not name me as she does her other attendants or show me any favors. Elsie said she got one of the Queen's old petticoats. Perhaps in time I will get something like that, as well.

a few days later

I have been slipping my herbal and my language of flowers book with me to the gardens to study the flowers and see which of them match my books for a few moments before I have to take the ginger to the Queen. They have the usual plants—mint, rosemary, thyme, rue—and some other ones, like wormwood and henbane. I am careful not to touch it.

the next day

I was at my brief study in the garden when someone else passed by. It was not Claudius but Prince Hamlet and one of his friends, Horatio, a quiet but gentle-looking fellow, discussing philosophy. They attend school together at Wittenberg in Germany and are here from their studies for a brief time. They chanced to see me, and I quickly hid my books and grabbed the Queen's ginger before fleeing. That was quite close.

several days after

My chance meetings with the Prince have continued, though we have to be careful of the King, who naps every day after dinner in the orchard, and, as the Prince sends Horatio away as soon as he sees me, I'm beginning to suspect they may not be chance. He is very handsome, the Prince, and seems knowledgeable about a great many things, including botany. I try to show my knowledge for the subject but fear it may be lacking compared to his. Why does he show me such attention?

a few days later

The Queen's stomach seems to be improving, and it might be the end of my trips to the garden and of seeing the Prince.

the next day

A letter appeared at my room today, and I had some difficulty concealing it from Father. I thought at first it was from the Queen, but it was from the Prince. He asked me to come to the garden that evening. How will I go out without arousing Father's attentions?

later

I snuck out to the gardens, claiming to look at the stars, and met the Prince there. He told me to call him Hamlet. He is very charming, and we had a wonderful conversation. I wish I could go to school like he does; I could learn so much more about medicine and about the classics than I can here.

several days after

The secret meetings with the Prince—Hamlet—have continued. So far, Father hasn't suspected anything, though he does express some amusement at my wanting to see the stars so much, but I'm not sure that will continue. I hope we don't meet the King or Claudius, either.

the next day

I think the Queen may know, as I accidentally left a handkerchief on the stairs coming back from the gardens, and one of her ladies discovered it, but she's said nothing.

later

Tonight, Hamlet took my hand and held it for a minute. I'm sure I was blushing in the moonlight.

later still

When I was coming back from the garden, I passed by the Queen's room, and Claudius was there. What was he doing in the Queen's room? Perhaps that's why she doesn't say much about my dalliance, because she's having one of her own.

November 1571

The King and Father were discussing the situation with the Poles and the Norwegians at supper. It sounds quite serious. King Fortenbras threatens to take over Denmark if our army can't keep him away. I hope they do; I can't bear another war. The King was talking so adamantly he got choked on a piece of chicken and turned red in the face, but it cleared, thankfully, and the fool, Yorick, mimed choking behind his chair. The King and the nobles laughed heartily at it, but Claudius only smiled thinly. The King must stay alive. What would we do without him?

several days after

My Hamlet is so thoughtful. When we're not together, he sends letters to my room expressing how much he thinks of me and sends a pressed flower—a rose. When we are, he walks with me under the stars and puts his arm around me. Is this how Mother and Father felt when they were courting?

I will leave the flower here for you to admire.

the next day

The Queen took me with her on an outing; she's done that a few times of late. Though I don't think she likes me, Elsie says that means I'm one of the favorites. Could she be right?

The Queen also told me to be careful of men. She must know.

several days later

Can you believe it? Hamlet kissed me. We were outside walking, as usual, and he kissed me under the stars. My heart is flying.

a few days later

I was sitting by the gardens, at my studies, when I noticed some of the henbane had been cut. Could it have been Claudius?

several days later

I found Hamlet at the library when I was returning a book I had slipped out, another herbal; it only confirmed my suspicions about the henbane. Should I tell someone?

I thought about telling Hamlet, but he seemed preoccupied. I asked him what he was reading, and he said it probably wouldn't interest me. It surely means it was philosophy.

I asked him if he had read any of the Romances, like King Arthur or Floris and Blanchefleur, and he said they were far too ridiculous for him. I quickly told him I hadn't read them, but I'm not sure he believed me. Then he told me, if I wanted a real Romance, to meet him in his room. I blushed at that, but I didn't refuse. How could I refuse him?

later

We didn't do anything, I promise; we just talked, but it was like Heaven to me.

even later

The Queen called me to her room for some reason. She seemed troubled. She asked me if I could sing any verses, and I said I knew a few. I started with "The Blessed Day," but she said it was too serious, so I sang "The Knight in Hart Disguise" instead. That seemed to please her better. I'm afraid I don't sing very well, but she said nothing about the quality.

a few days later

Father may have spotted me leaving Hamlet's room one night; I was rounding the corner and there he was, coming down the hall. I flattened myself against the wall, but he seemed to glance in my direction all the same. So much for "looking at the stars."

In other news, the Queen still wishes me to sing for her. She seems very ill at ease. Bad dreams, she said. I reminded her of Portia, who'd had bad dreams before Caesar died, and she told me not to say such things. I couldn't mention the henbane, she seemed so upset.

December 1571

The King has died. I couldn't write those dreadful words because it would only make them real. The King has died, and I fear it may be all my fault. I should have told someone about the henbane. It had to have been Claudius; he didn't seem to like the King at all, and he was the one who was always checking to make sure the henbane was still growing. Now the King is dead. How can I even warn the Queen or Hamlet now, when it's so soon after?

Yorick has also died, as well; he could not bear to live with his King gone, and I do not fault him. Yet the castle seems that much more dismal with him gone.

The castle is draped in black, and everyone wears black. We attended his funeral, all the nobles, my family, and of course, the King's family. Claudius stared straight ahead the entire time; he dabbed at himself with a handkerchief but didn't seem to truly be crying. It must've been him. The Queen kept her head bowed, tears glistening. Hamlet seemed the most truly distraught. Horatio tried to calm him, but he was inconsolable. What could I say to him that would cheer him?

a few days later

Horatio and I try to speak to Hamlet, but it does little good. He is much changed, I am afraid. I tried to speak to him gently, and he just grabbed my arm and told me to be gone. What had I done to offend him?

several days later

Laertes has returned for Christmastide, but it does not seem like Christmas.

Christmas eve

The tree has been raised and decorated, the candles flickering, and we sang around it as is tradition, but our hearts were not in it. The Queen tried to keep things as normal as possible, even though Hamlet suggested boycotting Christmas. As bitter as he sounded, I had to agree with him.

January 1572

Is it a New Year already? It feels like the same old one. The Queen advised Hamlet to return to Wittenberg after the holidays, in hopes it might cheer him, but he does not seem at all cheered by the prospect. Laertes will also return to France after the Epiphany.

several days later

Claudius is now King. The nobles waited until after the holidays before the coronation, but they passed over my Hamlet and offered the crown to Claudius instead. He refused twice but reluctantly, he said, accepted it a third time. He is a Caesar.

Worse, the Queen is now his wife. She said she needed to keep the stability of the country, but I wonder if it wasn't a plot between her and Claudius. Hamlet is inconsolable.

the next day

Laertes requested from Claudius—the King—to return to France now that the coronation is over, and the King has agreed. If only he didn't have to go. It'll be only Father and me left.

The King has also said he would take care of matters with King Fortenbras, but it remains to be seen what he will do.

Before he left, Laertes tried to give me some advice about my relationship with Hamlet. He said he heard about it from some of the ladies. His advice was not worth listening to: he accused Hamlet's affections towards me of being youthful and that he must act more mature now, for the benefit of the country. And this from my brother, who spends too much time with the ladies and thinks about nothing but his own pleasure! I told him of his hypocrisy, but Father came into the room and started giving Laertes advice which he did not seem to want, either: neither a borrower nor a lender be. How is it possible to avoid being either? Father also warned me about Hamlet, and, though I protested, he told me to stay away from him. My brother is gone, and now I must be a stranger to my Hamlet. Will Father be next?

a few days later

Hamlet has also returned to Wittenberg. The castle seems emptier and emptier. He left without so much as a word to me. What have I done to him?

several days later

The ladies and I continue to tend to the Queen. She seems grieved with so much of her family gone, and she has told me to stop singing for her; not even that helps her.

several days later

I do not feel well enough to write. The weather is dreadfully cold, there are no flowers, and no one is cheerful. I wish we had never come here.

February 1572

I have finally recovered some. Father thinks it was the flu, and the physician agreed with him. The physician told me which herbs to eat and to take care of myself. He seems to think I have not been eating enough, but that is not it. It is simply the depressed spirits here.

several days later

Some of the guards have reported seeing the ghost of the former King. The prospect is unnerving. Could there really be such a thing as a purgatorial spirit?

several days later

The Queen has also felt somewhat unwell, and I have continued with the ginger and compresses for her stomach, though I doubt that is truly her problem. It seems to be her sadness.

a few days later

The Queen has not improved. Elsie suggested taking her outside to relieve her, but I disagreed; the cold could scarcely raise her spirits. She stays inside. Everyone but her ladies are forbidden to see her, and she will not take visits.

several days later

No improvement. Are we to lose the Queen as well as the King? Who will save us from Claudius?

March 1572

Hamlet has returned from Wittenberg, and Horatio has come with him. He said he could not focus with his mother ill. The Queen seems improved to see Hamlet again, so perhaps it is all for the best.

several days later

The Queen has finally sat up, and some color has returned to her cheeks. It is hard not to have sympathy for her; she sent her son away for his betterment while she wasted away herself. Now, at least, they both seem happier to be home.

The air is growing warmer. It is stating to feel like spring.

several days later

Horatio was keeping watch with the guards last night and said that he saw the ghost of the former King, as well. Hamlet refuses to believe it. He says there is no such thing as purgatory, but Horatio convinced him to come with him to the castle wall to see for himself.

the next day

I have not heard from Hamlet whether he saw the ghost, but I hid behind the stairs down from the wall, and he muttered about "most foul and unnatural murder" as he descended them, so my suspicions were likely correct. Oh, why didn't I warn someone sooner?

several days later

I am so affrighted! I was sewing in my room when Hamlet entered, half-undressed, and seized my arm. He stared at me long and then sighed most piteously and left the room. Was this because I did as Father ordered and barred my doors to him after he returned?

I told Father about what had happened, and he only said it was the "ecstasy of love," and that we had more to fear by hiding what had happened than by showing it to the King. I do not agree, but I had to follow my Father's request.

later

Some of Hamlet's old friends from school, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have returned, and the ambassadors from Norway have arrived, as well. They brought a letter from Fortenbras that he will no more threaten Denmark with his armies. I am glad this business is well-concluded. I am very weary of war.

In less pleasant news, Father showed one of the letters Hamlet had written me previously, which he made me give him, to the King and Queen as proof of Hamlet's "lunacy." My privacy has been thus violated, and without just cause. Hamlet is not mad, just distraught, and he has much reason to be.

Father told me all of this later, and he told me that Hamlet entered, holding a book, and did not seem to recognize him. Father said this was sign enough of lunacy, that and the remarks he made after the players arrived at court about Jephthah, the judge of Israel. I know not what to think.

later still

Father bade me spy on Hamlet, with the Queen, King, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern watching, to determine if I was the cause of Hamlet's "lunacy." I was not pleased to play the part—spy on my Hamlet?—but I played the part, all the same. I sat with a book and pretended to read, though I could not focus on the words, until Hamlet himself entered, speaking as if unaware of anyone's presence—"to be or not to be"—I will never forget that speech. Nor will I forget what he told me when he did see me—"get thee to a nunnery." What had I done to deserve this? Only a few months ago, we pledged our love, and now he swore he did not love me. And in front of our parents, too, even if he did not know it. Or perhaps he did, and that is why he spoke so. Either way, it stung, and, though I tried to refute him, he would not listen and left abruptly.

The King was persuaded I could not be the cause of Hamlet's conduct, and he advised sending him to England to improve his disposition. Father still remained I was the cause of Hamlet's actions; he will not be dissuaded. I can say no more at present.

April 1572

We arrived to watch the players' performance; they put on The Murder of Gonzago. It was a ghastly play to watch, with the King killed by having poison poured in his ear, and then the Queen marrying the poisoner, made worse by Hamlet's speeches to me, and I could not reply as I would have liked or acted like I knew what he was talking about. Perhaps it is true, that he no longer loves me.

Partway through the act, when the King was poisoned, the King Claudius rose in his seat. It must be a guilty conscience that made him act so.

later

Father is dead, slain by my own Hamlet! It cannot be so, but it is. The Queen said she was speaking privately with him when Hamlet entered, and Father hid behind a tapestry. Crying "a rat, a rat," Hamlet stabbed Father! The Queen thinks perhaps Hamlet believed Father was the King, but that makes it no better.

I cannot stay here any longer. I must go to France with my brother or to England, where the King wished to send Hamlet.

later still

Farewell, Father. Farewell, Laertes. Farewell, Hamlet. Farewell, Denmark. I have said my last goodbyes to the King and Queen, as well, and have given them my last parting gift, flowers to remember the legacies they have left here. I have arranged with the gravedigger to "bury" me once I have taken a little sleeping nightshade and unbury me once the funeral is over, that I might take a boat to England before anyone knows I have left. I pray it all goes as planned.

Here comes the Queen now. I must take this draught quickly and pretend to have drowned myself, so she does not suspect.

the next day

As I write this, I am on a ship bound for England. It was a little frightening to wake up in a dark coffin with only a few airholes, and even those filled with dirt. I thought the gravedigger had forgotten me or gotten drunk, and I really would die down here, but chinks of light started to appear, and I could breathe again as he opened the coffin lid. I thanked him tremendously and offered him the flowers that had been left for me, but he gave me my ticket to the ship and told me to hurry to the coast. As I departed, he covered the grave back up with soil to make it look as though I was still buried. God bless him.

May 1572

I have established myself as an apprentice to an herbalist, and, as I am an orphan, she agreed to take me in, the kind woman. England is different from Denmark—we are not near the sea here in London, and the houses are built differently. And the people—their accents are different. I am still struggling with my English, let alone with understanding their accents, but I have to learn. I am to stay here now.

My heart is still heavy over Father's death, and even worse news has reached me from Denmark. Poor Horatio discovered from the gravedigger that I was not dead and sent a letter to the port where my ship landed. It got forwarded on to me. He wrote of how the Queen, the King, Laertes, and Hamlet had all been slain in a contest—my brother and my Hamlet, both gone!—and how Fortenbras had taken over Denmark and is now King. May he rule better than Claudius. Horatio was allowed to stay in Denmark if he chose, but he has decided to join me in England. One small consolation is that there will soon be a friend to grieve with and mend with.