A Midnight Fantasy
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
It was close upon eleven o'clock when I stepped out of the rear
vestibule of the Boston Theatre, and, passing through the narrow court
that leads to West Street, struck across the Common diagonally. Indeed,
as I set foot on the Tremont Street mall, I heard the Old South
drowsily sounding the hour.
It was a tranquil June night, with no moon, but clusters of
sensitive stars that seemed to shiver with cold as the wind swept by
them; for perhaps there was a swift current of air up there in the
zenith. However, not a leaf stirred on the Common; the foliage hung
black and massive, as if cut in bronze; even the gaslights appeared to
be infected by the prevailing calm, burning steadily behind their glass
screens and turning the neighboring leaves into the tenderest emerald.
Here and there, in the sombre row of houses stretching along Beacon
Street, an illuminated window gilded a few square feet of darkness; and
now and then a footfall sounded on a distant pavement. The pulse of the
city throbbed languidly.
The lights far and near, the fantastic shadows of the elms and
maples, the gathering dew, the elusive odor of new grass, and that
peculiar hush which belongs only to midnightas if Time had paused in
his flight and were holding his breathgave to the place, so familiar
to me by day, an air of indescribable strangeness and remoteness. The
vast, deserted park had lost all its wonted outlines; I walked
doubtfully on the flagstones which I had many a time helped to wear
smooth; I seemed to be wandering in some lonely unknown garden across
the seasin that old garden in Verona where Shakespeare's ill-starred
lovers met and parted. The white granite façade over yonderthe
Somerset Clubmight well have been the house of Capulet: there was the
clambering vine reaching up like a pliant silken ladder; there, near
by, was the low-hung balcony, wanting only the slight girlish
figureimmortal shape of fire and dew!to make the illusion perfect.
I do not know what suggested it; perhaps it was something in the
play I had just witnessedit is not always easy to put one's finger on
the invisible electric thread that runs from thought to thoughtbut as
I sauntered on I fell to thinking of the ill-assorted marriages I had
known. Suddenly there hurried along the gravelled path which crossed
mine obliquely a half-indistinguishable throng of pathetic men and
women: two by two they filed before me, each becoming startlingly
distinct for an instant as they passedsome with tears, some with
hollow smiles, and some with firm-set lips, bearing their fetters with
them. There was little Alice chained to old Bowlsby; there was Lucille,
a daughter of the gods, divinely tall, linked forever to the dwarf
Perrywinkle; there was my friend Porphyro, the poet, with his delicate
genius shrivelled in the glare of the youngest Miss Lucifer's eyes;
there they were, Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Humility, Bluebeard
and Fatima, Prose and Poetry, Riches and Poverty, Youth and Crabbed
Age Oh, sorrowful procession! All so wretched, when perhaps all might
have been so happy if they had only paired differently! I halted a
moment to let the weird shapes drift by. As the last of the train
melted into the darkness, my vagabond fancy went wandering back to the
theatre and the play I had seenRomeo and Juliet. Taking a lighter
tint, but still of the same sober color, my reflections continued.
What a different kind of woman Juliet would have been if she had not
fallen in love with Romeo, but had bestowed her affection on some
thoughtful and stately signioron one of the Delia Scalas, for
example! What Juliet needed was a firm and gentle hand to tame her high
spirit without breaking a pinion. She was a little toovivacious, you
might saygushing would perhaps be the word if you were speaking of
a modern maiden with so exuberant a disposition as Juliet's. She was
too romantic, too blossomy, too impetuous, too wilful; old Capulet had
brought her up injudiciously, and Lady Capulet was a nonentity. Yet in
spite of faults of training and some slight inherent flaws of
character, Juliet was a superb creature; there was a fascinating dash
in her frankness; her modesty and daring were as happy rhymes as ever
touched lips in a love-poem. But her impulses required curbing; her
heart made too many beats to the minute. It was an evil destiny that
flung in the path of so rich and passionate a nature a fire-brand like
Romeo. Even if no family feud had existed, the match would not have
been a wise one. As it was, the well-known result was inevitable. What
could come of it but clandestine meetings, secret marriage, flight,
despair, poison, and the Tomb of the Capulets? I had left the park
behind, by this, and had entered a thoroughfare where the street-lamps
were closer together; but the gloom of the trees seemed still to be
overhanging me. The fact is, the tragedy had laid a black finger on my
imagination. I wished that the play had ended a trifle more cheerfully.
I wishedpossibly because I see enough tragedy all around me without
going to the theatre for it, or possibly it was because the lady who
enacted the leading part was a remarkably clean-cut little person, with
a golden sweep of eyelashesI wished that Juliet could have had a more
comfortable time of it. Instead of a yawning sepulchre, with Romeo and
Juliet dying in the middle foreground, and that luckless young Paris
stretched out on the left, spitted like a spring-chicken with
Montague's rapier, and Friar Laurence, with a dark lantern, groping
about under the melancholy yewsin place of all this costly piled-up
woe, I would have liked a pretty, mediaeval chapel scene, with
illuminated stained-glass windows, and trim acolytes holding lighted
candles, and the great green curtain slowly descending to the first few
bars of the Wedding March of Mendelssohn.
Of course Shakespeare was true to the life in making them all die
miserably. Besides, it was so they died in the novel of Matteo
Bandello, from which the poet indirectly took his plot. Under the
circumstances no other climax was practicable; and yet it was sad
business. There were Mercutio, and Tybalt, and Paris, and Juliet, and
Romeo, come to a bloody end in the bloom of their youth and strength
The ghosts of these five murdered persons seemed to be on my track
as I hurried down Revere Street to West Cedar. I fancied them hovering
around the corner opposite the small drug-store, where a meagre
apothecary was in the act of shutting up the fan-like jets of gas in
No, Master Booth, I muttered in the imagined teeth of the
tragedian, throwing an involuntary glance over my shoulder, you 'll
not catch me assisting at any more of your Shakespearean revivals. I
would rather eat a pair of Welsh rarebits or a segment of mince-pie at
midnight than sit through the finest tragedy that was ever writ.
As I said this I halted at the door of a house in Charles Place, and
was fumbling for my latch-key, when a most absurd idea came into my
head. I let the key slip back into my pocket, and strode down Charles
Place into Cambridge Street, and across the long bridge, and then
I remember, vaguely, that I paused for a moment on the draw of the
bridge, to look at the semi-circular fringe of lights duplicating
itself in the smooth Charles in the rear of Beacon Streetas lovely a
bit of Venetian effect as you will get outside of Venice; I remember
meeting, farther on, near a stiff wooden church in Cambridgeport, a
lumbering covered wagon, evidently from Brighton and bound for Quincy
Market; and still farther on, somewhere in the vicinity of Harvard
Square and the college buildings, I recollect catching a glimpse of a
policeman, who, probably observing something suspicious in my demeanor,
discreetly walked off in an opposite direction. I recall these trifles
indistinctly, for during this preposterous excursion I was at no time
sharply conscious of my surroundings; the material world presented
itself to me as if through a piece of stained glass. It was only when I
had reached a neighborhood where the houses were few and the gardens
many, a neighborhood where the closely-knitted town began to fringe out
into country, that I came to the end of my dream. And what was the
dream? The slightest of tissues, madam; a gossamer, a web of shadows, a
thing woven out of starlight. Looking at it by day, I find that its
colors are pallid, and its threaded diamondsthey were merely the
perishable dews of that June nighthave evaporated in the sunshine;
but such as it is you shall have it.
The young prince Hamlet was not happy at Elsinore. It was not
because he missed the gay student-life of Wittenberg, and that the
little Danish court was intolerably dull. It was not because the
didactic lord chamberlain bored him with long speeches, or that the
lord chamberlain's daughter was become a shade wearisome. Hamlet had
more serious cues for unhappiness. He had been summoned suddenly from
Wittenberg to attend his father's funeral; close upon this, and while
his grief was green, his mother had married with his uncle Claudius,
whom Hamlet had never liked.
The indecorous haste of these nuptialsthey took place within two
months after the king's death, the funeral-baked meats, as Hamlet
cursorily remarked, furnishing forth the marriage-tablesstruck the
young prince aghast. He had loved the queen his mother, and had nearly
idolized the late king; but now he forgot to lament the death of the
one in contemplating the life of the other. The billing and cooing of
the newly-married couple filled him with horror. Anger, shame, pity,
and despair seized upon him by turns. He fell into a forlorn condition,
forsaking his books, eating little save of the chameleon's dish, the
air, drinking deep of Rhenish, letting his long, black locks go
unkempt, and neglecting his dresshe who had hitherto been the glass
of fashion and the mould of form, as Ophelia had prettily said of him.
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
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.
In those rude days one did not accomplish a long journey without
having wonderful adventures befall, or encountering divers perils by
the way. It was a period when a stout blade on the thigh was a most
excellent travelling companion. Hamlet, though of a philosophical
complexion, was not slower than another man to scent an affront; he
excelled at feats of arms, and no doubt his skill, caught of the old
fencing-master at Elsinore, stood him in good stead more than once when
his wit would not have saved him. Certainly, he had hair-breadth
escapes while toiling through the wilds of Prussia and Bavaria and
Switzerland. At all events, he counted himself fortunate the night he
arrived at Verona with nothing more serious than a two-inch scratch on
his sword arm.
There he lodged himself, as became a gentleman of fortune, in a
suite of chambers in a comfortable palace overlooking the swift-flowing
Adigea riotous yellow stream that cut the town into two parts, and
was spanned here and there by rough-hewn stone bridges, which it
sometimes sportively washed away. It was a brave old town that had
stood sieges and plagues, and was full of mouldy, picturesque buildings
and a gayety that has since grown somewhat mouldy. A goodly place to
rest in for the wayworn pilgrim! He dimly recollected that he had
letters to one or two illustrious families; but he cared not to deliver
them at once. It was pleasant to stroll about the city, unknown. There
were sights to see: the Roman amphitheatre, and the churches with their
sculptured sarcophagi and saintly relicsinteresting joints and
saddles of martyrs, and enough fragments of the true cross to build a
ship. The life in the piazze and on the streets, the crowds in
the shops, the pageants, the lights, the stir, the color, all mightily
took the eye of the young Dane. He was in a mood to be amused.
Everything diverted himthe faint pulsing of a guitar-string in an
adjacent garden at midnight, or the sharp clash of gleaming sword
blades under his window, when the Montecchi and the Cappelletti chanced
to encounter each other in the narrow footway.
Meanwhile, Hamlet brushed up his Italian. He was well versed in the
literature of the language, particularly in its dramatic literature,
and had long meditated penning a gloss to The Murther of Gonzago, a
play which Hamlet held in deservedly high estimation.
He made acquaintances, too. In the same palace where he sojourned
lived a very valiant soldier and wit, a kinsman to Prince Escalus, one
Mercutio by name, with whom Hamlet exchanged civilities on the
staircase at first, and then fell into companionship.
A number of Verona's noble youths, poets and light-hearted
men-about-town, frequented Mercutio's chambers, and with these Hamlet
soon became on terms.
Among the rest were an agreeable gentleman, with hazel eyes, named
Benvolio, and a gallant young fellow called Romeo, whom Mercutio
bantered pitilessly and loved heartily. This Romeo, who belonged to one
of the first families, was a very susceptible spark, which the
slightest breath of a pretty woman was sufficient to blow into flame.
To change the metaphor, he fell from one love affair into another as
easily and logically as a ripe pomegranate drops from a bough. He was
generally unlucky in these matters, curiously enough, for he was a
handsome youth in his saffron satin doublet slashed with black, and his
jaunty velvet bonnet with its trailing plume of ostrich feather.
At the time of Hamlet's coming to Verona, Romeo was in a great
despair of love in consequence of an unrequited passion for a certain
lady of the city, between whose family and his own a deadly feud had
existed for centuries. Somebody had stepped on somebody else's lap-dog
in the far ages, and the two families had been slashing and hacking at
each other ever since. It appeared that Romeo had scaled a garden wall,
one night, and broken upon the meditations of his inamorata, who, as
chance would have it, was sitting on her balcony enjoying the moonrise.
No lady could be insensible to such devotion, for it would have been
death to Romeo if any of her kinsmen had found him in that particular
locality. Some tender phrases passed between them, perhaps; but the
lady was flurried, taken unawares, and afterwards, it seemed, altered
her mind, and would have no further commerce with the Montague. This
business furnished Mercutio's quiver with innumerable sly shafts, which
Romeo received for the most part in good humor.
With these three gentlemenMercutio, Benvolio, and RomeoHamlet
saw life in Verona, as young men will see life wherever they happen to
be. Many a time the nightingale ceased singing and the lark began
before they were abed; but perhaps it is not wise to inquire too
closely into this. A month had slipped away since Hamlet's arrival; the
hyacinths were opening in the gardens, and it was spring.
One morning, as he and Mercutio were lounging arm in arm on a bridge
near their lodgings, they met a knave in livery puzzling over a
parchment which he was plainly unable to decipher.
Read it aloud, friend! cried Mercutio, who always had a word to
I would I could read it at all. I pray, sir, can you read?
With easeif it is not my tailor's score; and Mercutio took the
parchment, which ran as follows:
Signior Martino, and his wife and daughters; County Ansdmo, and
his beauteous sisters; the lady widow Vitrumo; Signior Placentio, and
his lovely nieces; Mercutio, and his brother Valentine; mine uncle
Capulet, his wife and daughters; my fair niece Rosaline; Livia; Signior
Valentio, and his cousin Tybalt; Lucio, and the lively Helena.
A very select company, with the exception of that rogue Mercutio,
said the soldier, laughing. What does it mean?
My master, the Signior Capulet, gives a ball and supper to-night;
these the guests; I am his man Peter, and if you be not one of the
house of Montague, I pray come and crush a cup of wine with us. Rest
you merry; and the knave, having got his billet deciphered for him,
One must needs go, being asked by both man and master; but since I
am asked doubly, I 'll not go singly; I 'll bring you with me, Hamlet.
It is a masquerade; I have had wind of it. The flower of the city will
be thereall the high-bosomed roses and low-necked lilies.
Hamlet had seen nothing of society in Verona, properly speaking, and
did not require much urging to assent to Mercutio's proposal, far from
foreseeing that so slight a freak would have a fateful sequence.
It was late in the night when they presented themselves, in mask and
domino, at the Capulet mansion. The music was at its sweetest and the
torches were at their brightest, as the pair entered the dancing-hall.
They had scarcely crossed the threshold when Hamlet's eyes rested upon
a lady clad in a white silk robe, who held to her features, as she
moved through the figure of the dance, a white satin mask, on each side
of which was disclosed so much of the rosy oval of her face as made one
long to look upon the rest. The ornaments this lady wore were pearls;
her fan and slippers, like the robe and mask, were whitenothing but
white. Her eyes shone almost black contrasted with the braids of warm
gold hair that glistened through a misty veil of Venetian stuff, which
floated about her from time to time and enveloped her, as the blossoms
do a tree. Hamlet could think of nothing but the almond-tree that stood
in full bloom in the little cortile near his lodging. She seemed
to him the incarnation of that exquisite spring-time which had touched
and awakened all the leaves and buds in the sleepy old gardens around
Mercutio! who is that lady?
The daughter of old Capulet, by her stature.
And he that dances with her?
Paris, a kinsman to Can Grande della Scala.
One of them.
She has others?
Enough to make a squadron; only the blind and aged are exempt.
Here the music ceased and the dancers dispersed. Hamlet followed the
lady with his eyes, and, seeing her left alone a moment, approached
her. She received him graciously, as a mask receives a mask, and the
two fell to talking, as people do whohave nothing to say to each
other and possess the art of saying it. Presently something in his
voice struck on her ear, a new note, an intonation sweet and strange,
that made her curious. Who was it? It could not be Valentine, nor
Anselmo; he was too tall for Signior Placentio, not stout enough for
Lucio; it was not her cousin Tybalt. Could it be that rash Montague
whoWould he dare? Here, on the very points of their swords? The
stream of maskers ebbed and flowed and surged around them, and the
music began again, and Juliet listened and listened.
Who are you, sir, she cried, at last, that speak our tongue with
A stranger; an idler in Verona, though not a gay onea black
Our Italian sun will gild your wings for you. Black edged with gilt
I am already not so sad-colored as I was.
I would fain see your face, sir; if it match your voice, it needs
must be a kindly one.
I would we could change faces.
So we shall at supper!
And hearts, too?
Nay, I would not give a merry heart for a sorrowful one; but I will
quit my mask, and you yours; yet, and she spoke under her breath, if
you are, as I think, a gentleman of Veronaa Montaguedo not unmask.
I am not of Verona, lady; no one knows me here; and Hamlet threw
back the hood of his domino. Juliet held her mask aside for a moment,
and the two stood looking into each other's eyes.
Lady, we have in faith changed faces, at least as I shall carry
yours forever in my memory.
And I yours, sir, said Juliet, softly, wishing it looked not so
pale and melancholy.
Hamlet, whispered Mercutio, plucking at his friend's skirt, the
fellow there, talking with old Capulethis wife's nephew, Tybalt, a
quarrelsome dogsuspects we are Montagues. Let us get out of this
peaceably, like soldiers who are too much gentlemen to cause a brawl
under a host's roof.
With this Mercutio pushed Hamlet to the door, where they were joined
Juliet, with her eyes fixed upon the retreating maskers, stretched
out her hand and grasped the arm of an ancient serving-woman who
happened to be passing.
Quick, good Nurse! go ask his name of yonder gentleman. Nay, not
the one in green, dear! but he that hath the black domino and purple
mask. What, did I touch your poor rheumatic arm? Ah, go now, sweet
As the Nurse hobbled off querulously on her errand, Juliet murmured
to herself an old rhyme she knew:
If he be married,
My grave is like to be my wedding bed!
When Hamlet got back to his own chambers he sat on the edge of his
couch in a brown study. The silvery moonlight, struggling through the
swaying branches of a tree outside the window, drifted doubtfully into
the room, and made a parody of that fleecy veil which erewhile had
floated about the lissome form of the lovely Capulet. That he loved
her, and must tell her that he loved her, was a foregone conclusion;
but how should he contrive to see Juliet again? No one knew him in
Verona; he had carefully preserved his incognito; even Mercutio
regarded him as simply a young gentleman from Denmark, taking his ease
in a foreign city. Presented, by Mercutio, as a rich Danish tourist,
the Capulets would receive him courteously, of course; as a visitor,
but not as a suitor. It was in another character that he must be
He was pondering what steps he could take to establish his identity,
when he remembered the two or three letters which he had stuffed into
his wallet on quitting Elsi-nore. He lighted a taper, and began
examining the papers. Among them were the half dozen billet-doux which
Ophelia had returned to him the night before his departure. They were,
neatly tied together by a length of black ribbon, to which was attached
a sprig of rosemary.
That was just like Ophelia! muttered the young man, tossing the
package into the wallet again; she was always having cheerful ideas
How long ago seemed the night she had handed him these love-letters,
in her demure little way! How misty and remote seemed everything
connected with the old life at Elsinore! His father's death, his
mother's marriage, his anguish and isolationthey were like things
that had befallen somebody else. There was something incredible, too,
in his present situation. Was he dreaming? Was he really in Italy, and
He hastily bent forward and picked up a square folded paper lying
half concealed under the others.
How could I have forgotten it! he exclaimed.
It was a missive addressed, in Horatio's angular hand, to the
Signior Capulet of Verona, containing a few lines of introduction from
Horatio, whose father had dealings with some of the rich Lombardy
merchants and knew many of the leading families in the city. With this
and several epistles, preserved by chance, written to him by Queen
Gertrude while he was at the university, Hamlet saw that he would have
no difficulty in proving to the Capulets that he was the Prince of
At an unseemly hour the next morning Mercutio was roused from his
slumbers by Hamlet, who counted every minute a hundred years until he
saw Juliet. Mercutio did not take this interruption too patiently, for
the honest humorist was very serious as a sleeper; but his equilibrium
was quickly restored by Hamlet's revelation.
The friends were long closeted together, and at the proper,
ceremonious hour for visitors they repaired to the house of Capulet,
who did not hide his sense of the honor done him by the prince. With
scarcely any prelude Hamlet unfolded the motive of his visit, and was
listened to with rapt attention by old Capulet, who inwardly blessed
his stars that he had not given his daughter's hand to the County
Paris, as he was on the point of doing. The ladies were not visible on
this occasion; the fatigues of the ball overnight, etc.; but that same
evening Hamlet was accorded an interview with Juliet and Lady Capulet,
and a few days subsequently all Verona was talking of nothing but the
The destructive Tybalt scowled at first, and twirled his fierce
mustache, and young Paris took to writing dejected poetry; but they
both soon recovered their serenity, seeing that nobody minded them, and
went together arm in arm to pay their respects to Hamlet.
A new life began now for Hamlet-he shed his inky cloak, and came
out in a doublet of insolent splendor, looking like a dagger-handle
newly gilt. With his funereal gear he appeared to have thrown off
something of his sepulchral gloom. It was impossible to be gloomy with
Juliet, in whom each day developed some sunny charm un-guessed before.
Her freshness and coquettish candor were constant surprises. She had
had many lovers, and she confessed them to Hamlet in the prettiest way.
Perhaps, my dear, she said to him one evening, with an ineffable
smile, I might have liked young Romeo very well, but the family were
so opposed to it from the very first. And then he was soso
demonstrative, don't you know?
Hamlet had known of Romeo's futile passion, but he had not been
aware until then that his betrothed was the heroine of the balcony
adventure. On leaving Juliet he-went to look up the Montague; not for
the purpose of crossing rapiers with him, as another man might have
done, but to compliment him on his unexceptionable taste in admiring so
rare a lady.
But Romeo had disappeared in a most unaccountable manner, and his
family were in great tribulation concerning him. It was thought that
perhaps the unrelenting Rosaline (who had been Juliet's frigid
predecessor) had relented, and Montague's man Abram was dispatched to
seek Romeo at her residence; but the Lady Rosaline, who was
embroidering on her piazza, placidly denied all knowledge of him. It
was then feared that he had fallen in one of the customary encounters;
but there had been no fight, and nobody had been killed on either side
for nearly twelve hours. Nevertheless, his exit had the appearance of
being final. When Hamlet questioned Mercutio, the honest soldier
laughed and stroked his blonde mustache.
The boy has gone off in a heat, I don't know whereto the icy ends
of the earth, I believe, to cool himself.
Hamlet regretted that Romeo should have had any feeling in the
matter; but regret was a bitter weed that did not thrive well in the
atmosphere in which the fortunate lover was moving. He saw Juliet every
day, and there was not a fleck upon his happiness, unless it was the
garrulous Nurse, against whom Hamlet had taken a singular prejudice. He
considered her a tiresome old person, not too decent in her discourse
at times, and advised Juliet to get rid of her; but the ancient
serving-woman had been in the family for years, and it was not quite
expedient to discharge her at that late day.
With the subtile penetration of old age the Nurse instantly detected
Hamlet's dislike, and returned it heartily.
Ah, ladybird, she cried one night, ah, well-a-day! you know not
how to choose a man. An I could choose for you, Jule! By God's lady,
there's Signior Mercutio, a brave gentleman, a merry gentleman, and a
virtuous, I warrant ye, whose little finger-joint is worth all the body
of this blackbird prince, dropping down from Lord knows where to fly
off with the sweetest bit of flesh in Verona. Marry, come up!
But this was only a ripple on the stream that flowed so smoothly.
Now and then, indeed, Hamlet felt called upon playfully to chide Juliet
for her extravagance of language, as when, for instance, she prayed
that when he died he might be cut out in little stars to deck the face
of night. Hamlet objected, under any circumstances, to being cut out in
little stars for any illuminating purposes whatsoever. Once she
suggested to her lover that he should come to the garden after the
family retired, and she would speak with him a moment from the balcony.
Now, as there was no obstacle to their seeing each other whenever they
pleased, and as Hamlet was of a nice sense of honor, and since his
engagement a most exquisite practicer of propriety, he did not
encourage Juliet in her thoughtlessness.
What! he cried, lifting his finger at her reprovingly, romantic
This was their nearest approach to a lovers' quarrel. The next day
Hamlet brought her, as peace-offering, a slender gold flask curiously
wrought in niello, which he had had filled with a costly odor at an
apothecary's as he came along.
I never saw so lean a thing as that same culler of simples, said
Hamlet, laughing; a matter of ribs and shanks, a mere skeleton painted
black. It is a rare essence, though. He told me its barbaric botanical
name, but it escapes me.
That which we call a rose, said Juliet, holding the perfumery to
her nostrils and inclining herself prettily towards him, would smell
as sweet by any other name.
O Youth and Love! O fortunate Time!
There was a banquet almost every night at the Capulets', and the
Montagues, up the street, kept their blinds drawn down, and Lady
Montague, who had four marriageable, tawny daughters on her hands, was
livid with envy at her neighbor's success. She would rather have had
two or three Montagues prodded through the body than that the prince
should have gone to the rival house.
If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Laertes, and the rest of the
dismal people at Elsinore, could have seen him now, they would not have
known him. Where were his wan looks and biting speeches? His eyes were
no longer filled with mournful speculation. He went in glad apparel,
and took the sunshine as his natural inheritance. If he ever fell into
moodinessit was partly constitutional with himthe shadow fled away
at the first approach of that loveliest weight on lightest foot. The
sweet Veronese had nestled in his empty heart, and filled it with
music. The ghosts and visions that used to haunt him were laid forever
by Juliet's magic.
Her beauty had taken a new gloss. The bud bad grown into a flower,
redeeming the promises of the bud. If her heart beat less wildly, it
throbbed more strongly. If she had given Hamlet of her superabundance
of spirits, he had given her of his wisdom and discretion. She had
always been a great favorite in society; but Verona thought her
ravishing now. The mantua-makers cut their dresses by her patterns, and
when she wore turquoise, garnets went ont of style. Instead of the
groans and tears, and all those distressing events which might possibly
have happened if Juliet had persisted in loving Romeolisten to her
laugh and behold her merry eyes!
Every morning either Peter or Gregory might have been seen going up
Hamlet's staircase with a note from Julietshe had ceased to send the
Nurse on discovering her lover's antipathy to that personand some
minutes later either Gregory or Peter might have been observed coming
down the staircase with a missive from Hamlet. Juliet had detected his
gift for verse, and insisted, rather capriciously, on having all his
replies in that shape. Hamlet humored her, though he was often hard put
to it; for the Muse is a coy immortal, and will not always come when
she is wanted. Sometimes he was forced to fall back upon previous
efforts, as when he translated these lines into very choice Italian:
Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt Truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
To be sure, he had originally composed this quatrain for Ophelia;
but what would you have? He had scarcely meant it then; he meant it
now; besides, a felicitous rhyme never goes out of fashion. It always
While transcribing the verse his thoughts naturally reverted to
Ophelia, for the little poesy was full of a faint scent of the past,
like a pressed flower. His conscience did not prick him at all. How
fortunate for him and for her that matters had gone no further between
them? Predisposed to melancholy, and inheriting a not very strong mind
from her father, Ophelia was a lady who needed cheering up, if ever
poor lady did. He, Hamlet, was the last man on the globe with whom she
should have had any tender affiliation. If they had wed, they would
have caught each other's despondency, and died, like a pair of sick
ravens, within a fortnight. What had become of her? Had she gone into a
nunnery? He would make her abbess, if he ever returned to Elsinore.
After a month or two of courtship, there being no earthly reason to
prolong it, Hamlet and Juliet were privately married in the Franciscan
Chapel, Friar Laurence officiating; but there was a grand banquet that
night at the Capulets', to which all Verona went. At Hamlet's
intercession, the Montagues were courteously asked to this festival. To
the amazement of every one the Montagues accepted the invitation and
came, and were treated royally, and the long, lamentable feudit would
have sorely puzzled either house to explain what it was all aboutwas
at an end. The adherents of the Capulets and the Montagues were
forbidden on the spot to bite any more thumbs at each other.
It will detract from the general gayety of the town, Mercutio
remarked. Signior Tybalt, my friend, I shall never have the pleasure
of running you through the diaphragm; a cup of wine with you!
The guests were still at supper in the great pavilion erected in the
garden, which was as light as day with the glare of innumerable
flambeaux set among the shrubbery. Hamlet and Juliet, with several
others, had withdrawn from the tables, and were standing in the doorway
of the pavilion, when Hamlet's glance fell upon the familiar form of a
young man who stood with one foot on the lower step, holding his plumed
bonnet in his hand. His hose and doublet were travel-worn, but his
honest face was as fresh as daybreak.
The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.
Sir, my good friend: I 'll change that name with you. What brings
you to Verona?
I fetch you news, my lord.
Good news? Then the king is dead.
The king lives, but Ophelia is no more.
Not so, my lord; she 's married.
I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student.
As I do live, my honored lord, 't is true.
Married, say you?
Married to him that sent me hithera gentleman of winning ways and
a most choice conceit, the scion of a noble house here in Veronaone
The oddest little expression flitted over Juliet's face. There was
never woman yet, even on her bridal day, could forgive a jilted lover
Ophelia wed! murmured the bridegroom.
Do you know the lady, dear?
Excellent well, replied Hamlet, turning to Juliet; a most
estimable young person, the daughter of my father's chamberlain. She is
rather given to singing ballads of an elegiac nature, added the
prince, reflectingly, but our madcap Romeo will cure her of that.
Methinks I see them now
Oh, where, my lord?
In my mind's eye, Horatio, surrounded by their little onesnoble
youths and graceful maidens, in whom the impetuosity of the fiery Romeo
is tempered by the pensiveness of the fair Ophelia. I shall take it
most unkindly of them, love, toying with Juliet's fingers, if they do
not name their first boy Hamlet.
It was just as my lord Hamlet finished speaking that the last
horse-car for Bostonprovidentially belated between Water-town and
Mount Auburnswept round the curve of the track on which I was
walking. The amber glow of the car-lantern lighted up my figure in the
gloom, the driver gave a quick turn on the brake, and the conductor,
making a sudden dexterous clutch at the strap over his head, sounded
the death-knell of my fantasy as I stepped upon the rear platform.