The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines – By Mary Cowden Clarke


[195] The babe lay on the nurse’s knee. Could any impression have been received through those wide-stretched eyes, that stared as wonderingly as if they were in fact beholding amazed the new existence upon which they had so lately opened, the child would have seen that it lay in a spacious apartment, furnished with all the tokens of wealth and magnificence, which those ruder ages could command. Those wide-stretched violet eyes, might have noted that a tall figure, of graceful mien, frequently came to bend over, and breathe mother’s blessings upon the little baby head; and that another figure, kindly and fond, would come to look upon the little daughter lately vouchsafed to him; and that still another, a young boy, would advance on tiptoe to peep at, and touch very carefully, the strange baby sister. Of the broad good-humoured face that more constantly hung over it, the wide-stretched violet eyes probably gained a clearer perception; for they learned to look eagerly for the good peasant-woman, who had been engaged as wet-nurse to the little Ophelia, – daughter of the lord Polonius, and of the lady Aoudra.

Ophelia was yet a little toddling thing, when her father, the lord Polonius, received an appointment as embassador in Paris, and was compelled to quit the Danish court for an uncertain period.

So distinguished an honour, was matter of high self-gratulation to the ambitious courtier; and he determined that his wife should accompany him, remarking that a court without a queen, [196] an embassy without an embassadress, were shorn of half their splendour and influence; therefore, the lady Aoudra prepared to obey by making arrangements for the suitable placing of her children during their parents’ absence. For Laertes, the boy, there was the protection of his uncle. For the little Ophelia, her mother determined she should be confided to the care of her former nurse, Botilda.

The lady Aoudra determined to place her child herself in the arms of its foster-mother; and all that she saw at the cottage of Botilda confirmed her in the conviction, that its advantages would outweigh its disadvantages. It was a clean wholesome place; its inhabitants were homely but kindly; and the lady Aoudra felt that her child would be healthfully and affectionately tended. She found, too, that the little Ophelia’s chief companion would be Jutha, the only daughter of the peasant couple – a young girl of some fifteen or sixteen years of age, of the most winning appearance. To Jutha then, she especially recommended the care and tendance of her babe, – laid it in the rude wooden cot, and took a weeping farewell of her treasure.

For some hours after her mother had left her, the unconscious Ophelia slumbered on. When Sigurd and his two eldest sons, Harald and Ivar, came in from their daily labour, at eventide, they went and peeped at the little stranger who had become their inmate. Botilda showed her husband the purse of money the lady Aoudra had given them to take charge of her child; and told him that the lady wished them to increase their own comforts at the same time; and that in consequence, she, Botilda, had provided an extra supper for them, to make a sort of feast in celebration of her own little lady-babe’s coming among them.

Meantime the infant Ophelia continued to sleep on. But as one of the good-humoured peasant lads happened to forget himself, and gave a loud laugh, the sound disturbed her; she turned, and opened her eyes, and lay awake.

“Let her be a bit!” said Sigurd, laying his hand on his wife’s arm; “and let’s see what she’ll do; she don’t seem a bit scared like, at all us new faces.”

[197] On the contrary, the child seemed entertained; and continued to look from one to another, patting her hand on the edge of the cot, and humming a little song to herself; they all watching her the while with quiet, amused glances.

By and bye, she drew a long breath, looked round, and said:- “Mamma!”

Botilda and Jutha both now went towards her; doing their best to distract her attention from the thought which had at length evidently struck her. With the facile spirits of childhood, this was no difficult task. She was brought over to the table to take her first rustic meal of bread and milk, which she did with much relish, – despite the absence of the gold service which had hitherto administered her refection, – and with much apparent contentment, leaning against the familiar bosom of her nurse, frolicking and making acquaintance with the smiling beauty of Jutha, and graciously allowing the burly peasant Sigurd to curl her miniature hands round his great big horny forefinger. In short, the little lady-babe seemed at once to take to her foster-family, and to make herself at home with them.

After this inaugural meal, however, Jutha contrived to secure the exclusive care of the child from that time forth. She dedicated herself entirely to its comfort and happiness, and made it in return her own joy and delight.

On the morning after Ophelia’s arrival at the cottage, she was sitting on the young girl’s knee, in that half drowsy state of quiet which is apt to succeed a violent game of romps. She lay back to enjoy complete rest, while her eyes fell dreamily upon a figure on the other side the room. It was that of a hairy loutish boy. He was crouching in a recess in the wall opposite, killing flies. As the insects buzzed and flitted to and fro, he eyed them from beneath his shaggy brows, with snorting eagerness, and tongue out-lolling; ever and anon taking aim with his hairy paw, and at each successful dab that sent a crushed and mangled fly to swell the heap which already lay there, the lout gave a grin. Sometimes he would chop among the mound of dead with a knife that lay beside him; sometimes he would seize one of the living ones by the wing, or the [198] leg, and hold it between finger and thumb, watching its buzzing struggles, and grinning at its futile flutterings; then let it go again, to pounce upon, and deal it its death-blow. The child lay looking at him in a sort of bewitched inability to remove her eyes from an object that filled her with uneasy wonder; while Jutha, accustomed to the uncouth cruelty of her idiot brother, Ulf, had not perceived that the child’s attention was fixed upon him. Presently, Botilda’s voice sounded from an inner room, desiring Jutha to come and help her with some household matter that she had in hand. Jutha placed the little Ophelia softly on the floor, put some playthings near her, and bade her sit still for a few minutes till she came back. The child sat, with her eyes unmoved from the fly-killer. Presently he turned, and spied her. He gave one of his silent grins.

“Are you one of the Elle folk?” he said.

No answer.

“Or the Trolls?” asked he again.

No answer.

“You’re little enough; and pretty enough. But I remember, you’re the little court-lady.” He continued to stare down upon her, grinning; as she kept her eyes fixed upon him. “Come to the bear!” he exclaimed presently, in his discordant tones; “come here, and shake hands with me.”

No answer, but a shake of the head; as she eyed the huge paw held out to her. “Come to the bear, I tell ye!” growled he. “I shan’t eat ye. Only hug ye. Come to the bear!”

“No!” – desperately; with a more vehement shake of the head.

“What if I threw this at ye, and knocked off your legs like one of them?” said he, pointing with his knife to the heap of dead and dying flies stripped of their legs and wings.

Ophelia gave a startled scream.

In ran Jutha and her mother.

“Little court-lady’s proud; and won’t shake hands with Ulf, the bear;” he said, lolling out his tongue, and grinning.

“You limb!” said his mother, shaking her fist at him; “mind my words. You dare to frighten my baby; and it’ll be [199] the worse for you. She’s the great lord Polonius’s child, sent here to be taken care of – not to be harmed or frighted.”

“I didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to hug her – and she wouldn’t let me.”

“Don’t touch her at all, Ulf dear,” said his sister Jutha. “She don’t know that our bear’s hugs are harmless. She don’t know you’re called in sport, Ulf, the bear. Let her get used to you, before you try to make friends with her. She got used to me, before she’d come to me from mother, you know, last night.”

“You always make me do what you will, Jutha;” grunted Ulf. “But I don’t mind pleasing you; you please me, and give the bear things he likes, sweet food – good eating.”

Sigurd’s cottage was situated in a pleasant spot. It overlooked a green valley, embosomed in swelling hills; and towards the north-east it was screened by a thick and lofty forest of primæval trees. Jutha took care that her charge should enjoy as much of the open air as possible. They would go forth at quite early morning, and with some food in Jutha’s basket, would ramble abroad all day long. Sometimes they made exploring expeditions among the hills; sometimes, as far as the sea-shore; where they would pick up shells, as they strayed along the smooth sand; or watch the billows come tumbling in, crested with foam, rolling over one another in huge monstrous frolic – like lion-whelps at play. These rambles abroad with Jutha were the pleasantest periods of the little Ophelia’s sojourn among her foster-family; when she was at the cottage itself, she felt herself strange and apart. After the first curiosity excited by the vision of the little lady among them, Sigurd and his two elder sons, Harold and Ivar, took little notice of her, beyond a passing nod, or a good-humoured grin. They rose and were off to work by daybreak; returning to the cottage only in time for the supper, which immediately preceded their retiring to rest.

Botilda was ever occupied with household drudgery, in which she frequently enlisted the services of Jutha; so that the child was thus thrown entirely upon her own resources; and these were few or none for procuring entertainment. She would, for [200] the most part, sit still, watching Ulf, the idiot boy, with a sort of helpless, fascinated attention. It was with a kind of dismayed interest, that she would sit, perfectly still and motionless, to watch the ugly, odious Ulf. Once, he was squatting near the hearth, with a huge foot clasped in each of his large hairy hands, his chin resting between his knees, his leering blood-shot eyes staring greedily towards a string of small birds, which were dangling to roast, by the wood embers.

“Have some?” he said abruptly, turning to the child; “they’ll soon be done.”

The little Ophelia shook her head.

“But they’re nice, I can tell ye. They’re nice to sing – but they’re nicer to eat.” And he smacked his great broad lips, that were drawn wide from ear to ear.

Ophelia shuddered.

“Hark, how they frizzle!” said he; and his large flapping ears moved as he spoke. “Sniff, how savoury they smell!” And the black bristly nostrils gaped and expanded, while the blood rushed into his face, as was its wont, when he felt pleasure.

Presently, he clutched the roast in his fist, and exclaiming:- “They’re done! they’re done!” held it out towards the little girl, repeating, “Have some? you’d better!” while his eyes gloated beneath his shaggy brows, at her, and at the viands.

“Isn’t it too hot for you to hold?” asked the little Ophelia, as if she couldn’t help putting the question – from wonder to see him grasp the burning food.

“Ha, ha! the bear’s paw is too tough to be scalded; and I like my victuals hot;” said Ulf, thrusting one of the birds into his mouth, whole, crunching it through, bones and all, and then bolting it, at one gulp.

As the child listened to the noise he made, his fangs champing into the bones and mangled flesh, and looked at the savage greed with which he crammed, she thought he seemed some wild beast, ravening his prey.

More than ever she shrinks from his approaches; and yet he expresses liking for her, not enmity. Dread and disgust she feels; but withal a strange irresistible excitement, which impels her to look upon that she fears and loathes.

[201] However, this is only when bad weather keeps her in-doors. When the sky is clear, and neither snow falls, nor winds howl, nor mists hover, nor rain-showers threaten, the little Ophelia coaxes Jutha abroad; and again they sally forth together for a long ramble through forest, field, or valley; among the rocks, or along the sea-shore.

And then the young girl amuses the child with telling her quaint tales, and singing her old ballads, such as she has heard from her mother.

One fine noonday, when the heat of the sun had compelled Jutha and the little girl to seek the shade of the forest depths, Ophelia interrupted the story then telling, by exclaiming suddenly:- “Look Jutha! See there!”

Jutha looked in the direction of the child’s pointing finger, and saw, to her surprise, a milk-white horse, saddled and bridled, coming leisurely along beneath the trees, cropping the grass, and looking as if he had strayed from his fastenings. “The beautiful creature!” exclaimed Jutha. “What costly housings it has! It looks like a fairy horse, – the steed of some of those gallant princes in the stories! And it is gentle, too; see how it lets me lay my hand upon its bridle, and pat its neck. It is well trained, and belongs to some noble master, doubtless. But who can he be? And where?”

The young girl held the rein, and looked about her in perplexity; while the white horse tossed its arching neck, nearly jerking the curb from her hand, pawed the ground, and neighed shrill and loud.

“Look, Jutha!” once more exclaimed the child. “There among the trees – on that mossy slope – do you see?”

“He is sleeping!” said Jutha, in hushed answer; “and soundly too; not even the neighing of his good horse can disturb him.”

The girl and the child crept a little nearer to the figure they saw lying there. It was that of a man, in a rich hunting-dress. His plumed hat had been placed so as to shade his eyes during sleep; but it had fallen partly aside, and showed a face finely shaped, with features marked and handsome.

“A fit owner for such a gallant beast!” murmured Jutha, as [202] she turned to pat once again the neck of the steed; for the docile creature had suffered the young girl to retain his rein, and to draw him after her to the spot where his master lay. “Sure, a prince – no less; such a prince as they tell of in the wondrous tales I have heard. How passing beautiful he is! What can he be? Where can he have come from? From fairy-land – or from the court, surely.”

The sleeper opened his eyes, and beheld the two young girls standing there, with his courser’s bridle-rein in the elder’s hand.

“I have brought you your horse sir;” said she, dropping her simple curtsey. “He was straying.”

“And a fairer damsel to bring errant-knight his palfrey could not be found in all the realm of enchantment;” said the stranger, springing to his feet, and receiving the bridle from her; “surely I have wandered upon charmed ground, and you are one of its denizens.”

“A plain country-maiden, none other, sir; and this her mother’s nurse-charge;” said Jutha, curtseying once again, and presenting the little Ophelia.

“Still a charmer; – an earthly charmer, if you will – yet no less bewitching;” said the handsome stranger. “Pr’ythee tell me thy name, pretty one, and I will tell thee mine. It is Eric.”

“And mine is Jutha, sir, at your service.”

“Truly, thou seem’st an opening rose, Jutha, and yonder quiet little thing a close-furled bud, that promises to be just such another flower of beauty as thyself. In good faith, I may thank my lady Fortune, who brought me wearied from the chase to cast myself down in an enchanted wood, that I might dream a waking dream such as this.”

A mounted horseman now rode up, and addressing the stranger in a tone of respect, announced that the chase was concluded; adding that his majesty had noticed the lord Eric’s absence, and had desired some one to collect stragglers as the royal party was now returning.

“‘Tis well, Trasco; ride thou on; I will speedily overtake thee, and attend his majesty;” said lord Eric. Then vaulting [203] into the saddle, he raised his hat, kissed his hand, and saying “I must obey the king’s command now, but I shall find a time to see more of my wood-nymphs,” gave the spur to his horse, and was gone.

There was an end of the story-telling for that day. Jutha could talk of nothing else but of the noble stranger, of his handsome face and figure, of his milk-white steed, of his unexpected appearance, and of his speedy departure. The encounter in the wood was never mentioned at the cottage by either Jutha or Ophelia. The young girl seemed satisfied with the interest it awakened in herself; and the child was of a quiet, retiring nature, which seldom induced her to communicate much with those around her.

For some reason best known to herself, Jutha now invariably took the way towards the wood. Their former walks among the rocks, or along the sea-shore, were all abandoned in favour of the path which led through the forest; and the little Ophelia, loving the mysterious grandeur of its high-arching trees, was well-pleased it should be their constant resort. One morning they had strolled far into its woody recesses, Jutha, as usual, entertaining her young companion with tales and marvels; but her attention seemed elsewhere; and her look thoughtful and vexed.

Suddenly it brightened; and Ophelia, following the direction of her eyes, saw coming towards them, the figure of lord Eric, on his milk-white horse. He threw himself from the saddle, and eagerly approached. He seemed overjoyed to meet his nymphs of the wood, and sauntered along by their side, leading his horse by the bridle; talking and laughing animatedly. He shared their grassy seat, when they stopped to rest from the noontide heat; he shared the contents of their basket, when they produced their noontide meal, declaring he had never tasted daintier fare; he gave himself up to the spirit of the forest ramble, as though he could wish no pleasanter enjoyment. Morning after morning, he returned to make one in the wood-party; and never had the hours seemed to fly by so lightly. Certainly Jutha found it so; for the shadows of the evening would steal upon them, with warning to return home, [204] ere she could well believe it to be afternoon. The little Ophelia was less charmed with this addition to their society. She had hitherto been accustomed to have her friend Jutha supply her with never-failing store of amusement from her own talk; it was otherwise, since this stranger had intruded upon their pleasant wood rambles. Jutha had now no look, no word but for him. But then, she herself seemed so contented, that her child-friend could not altogether find in her heart to regret what made Jutha so evidently, so radiantly happy. She had never seen her look so full of joy, so full of spirit. Her eye sparkled, her colour rose, her voice had exultation in its tone, as she took her way, with Ophelia, to these rambles in the wood – where they were sure to be joined by their new acquaintance.

But after a time, Jutha’s look of joy faded; her spirits, that at first seemed almost too exuberant, varied frequently; the air of inward ecstasy was exchanged for an appearance of anxiety and uneasiness. She would still, in her cheerful moments, break out into snatches of the song which was her favourite at this time:- ‘For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy;’ but there was forced mirth in the tone of exultation.

The altered manner of the young girl escaped the notice of the cottage inmates; but the child observed the change in her friend, and sorrowed wonderingly.

Time goes on; and the young girl’s dejection increases. Ophelia finds her one evening, sitting by the rivulet, wringing her hands and sobbing. The child soothes her fondly, asking what grieves her.

Jutha only shakes her head, trying to stifle a sob that would be heard.

“Come, let us return home; and I’ll tell you a story by the way.”

“I shall like that; it is long since I have heard one of your stories, Jutha. I shall love to hear one again.”

“How the wind howls! What a dreary autumn evening it is!” said Jutha, looking round her at the darkening sky. “See how the leaves whirl, and fall! The trees will all be bare soon; and then comes winter – cold, cold, winter. No more forest [205] walks, when the trees are bare! ‘They bore him bare-faced on the bier,’ – That’s not the song I am thinking of;” she muttered.

“You think of sad songs now, Jutha;” said the child. “Where are your merry ones?”

“Where indeed? Gone! All gone! ‘He is gone, he is gone, and we cast away moan.’ Ay, that is it!” And she began to chaunt in a mournful voice:-

‘And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?
No, no, he is dead,
Go to thy death-bed,
He never will come again.’ “

“Who is dead, Jutha? You frighten me;” said the child.

“No one is dead;” said the young girl, quickly. “Who said he was dead? They say dead and gone; but we may be gone, without being dead, mayn’t we, little one?” She spoke in a sharp, abrupt tone, as if she would fain have made it sound jestingly. Then she hurried on:- “Do you hear the owl hoot? See, yonder she flies, with her flappy wings, and mealy feathers. I’ll tell you a story about Dame Owl. I promised you a story, you know. Listen.”

“I am listening, Jutha.”

The young girl told her the legend as she heard it. She told her that when He who had pity in his heart for the veriest wretch that crawls – for the dying thief – for the erring sinner – even for her whose sins were many; – when He who taught divine pity and charity above all things, walked the earth in human shape, and suffered human privation in the plenitude of His merciful sympathy with poor humanity, it once upon a time befell, that He hungered by the way, and seeing a shop where bread was baking, entered beneath the roof, and asked for some to eat. The mistress of the shop was about to put a piece of dough in the oven to bake; but her daughter, pitiless of heart, declaring that the piece was too large, reduced it to a mere morsel. This was no sooner done, than the dough began to swell and increase, until, in amaze at its miraculously [206] growing size, the baker’s daughter screamed out, like an owlet, ‘Whoohoo-hoo-hoo!’ Then He who had craved food, held forth his hand; and, in the place where she who lacked charity had stood screaming, there was a void; but against the window, beating its wings, hooting and struggling to get out, was a huge mealy-feathered owl. It forced a way through, took flight, and was seen no more; excepting when some night-wanderer descries the ill-omened bird skulking in the twilight wood, or obscure grove; and then he murmurs a prayer, to be delivered from the sin of uncharitableness, as he thinks of the transformed baker’s daughter.

That evening, on their return to the cottage, Ophelia crept away softly to bed, marvelling much at Jutha’s illness. But the hours crept on, and the little one’s affectionate anxiety yielded to drowsiness. She slept; but it was an uneasy sleep, full of dreams. From this slumber she awoke strugglingly, and with a beating heart. It was pitch dark; she stretched out her arms to feel for Jutha at her side; but no Jutha was there. In alarm she started up. What could have kept her away? The child listened. All seemed still below. What then could prevent Jutha from coming up to her room?

In alarm for her friend, Ophelia stole out of bed, and groped her way downstairs. On reaching the door of the sitting-room, she saw a bright streak of light from the crevice at the bottom. She felt for the latch above her head; and unfastened it. She pushed open the door; but the blaze of light from within, suddenly contrasted with the obscurity from which she had emerged, made her pause. She stood on the threshold, gazing in, trying to distinguish the objects the room contained. On the large table, in the centre of the apartment, lay something extended, which was covered with a white cloth. At one end were ranged as many iron lamps as the cottage household afforded, burning in a semicircular row. Amazed at this strange sight, the child advanced to the table, and raised the end of the white cloth, nearest to the lamps. Their light fell upon the object beneath. Startled, and shuddering, the child looked upon that which was so familiar, yet so strange. Could that indeed be the face of Jutha? – that white, still, rigid thing? [207] – with those breathless, motionless lips, and those eyelids, that looked fixed, rather than closed? The child involuntarily stretched forth her finger and touched its cheek. The icy cold, shot, with a sharp thrill to her heart, and she screamed aloud, as she flung herself upon it with wild kisses and tears.

Botilda, hearing the cry, came running in. She used her best efforts to calm the affrighted child, carrying her up to bed, lying down by her side, folding her in her arms, and speaking fondlingly and soothingly to her, until she dropped asleep. But it was long ere this was accomplished; and for many successive nights the nurse had to sleep in the room with her charge, that she might be won to rest. The shock she had received was severe; and long left its effects upon her sensitive organization. She shrank about, scared, fearful of she hardly knew what, but feeling full of a vague uneasiness and alarm.

One night, Ophelia lay awake, – a prey to fancies and terrors that would not let her close her eyes. Botilda, after sharing her bed for many nights, thinking that the child had by this time recovered the late shock, had left her, to return to her own room, after seeing her softly drop off into her first sleep. But from this the little girl had suddenly started, broad awake, trembling and agitated, with a frightful dream she had been dreaming; of digging down into Jutha’s grave, with a mad desire to look upon her face once more, – of finding it, only to see it change into that of Ulf; who, raising himself from the coffin, groped among the mould, and drew forth a little baby’s white arm, which he fell to scratching and marring with briars. The horror of the sight awoke her; she struggled into a sitting posture, stared through the dim space, and found herself alone in that dreary room. She could just distinguish the blank square spot where the window was. There was deep snow upon the ground – which cast a sickly glare, the moon partially shining from amid haze and clouds. The familiar objects in the room looked shadowy and spectral in that uncertain light. At length it seemed to her, that among them, – there – yonder – at the farther end of the room, she saw something move. It was dark, and stole along without noise. She shuddered; and shrank beneath the bed-clothes. Her heart beat violently, – [208]so loud, that she could have counted the thumps amid the distraction of hearing her teeth keep a bewildering counter-current of strokes, in a rapid timing of their own. Presently, she clenched them firmly, that she might listen to something that caught her ear beside the tumult of her own pulses. She thought she heard a muffled sound, as if something swept against the coverlet of her bed. She would have shrieked aloud; but her parched throat refused to give utterance to the cry of terror that choked her. Could it be an animal? Was it anything alive? Or were there indeed wandering shapes of evil permitted to visit the earth in night and darkness, as wild tales hinted? The child’s dismay hurriedly pointed to such questions; but on a sudden her attention was attracted to quite a different source. There was a noise of trampling feet in the snow outside; a sound of many voices; a loud knocking at the door of the cottage; and upon her finding courage to look from beneath the bed-clothes, she could see the light of torches flashing through the window. Then there came a stir in the house; hasty steps ascended the stairs; and in another moment the door of her room was flung open, and in the midst of the stream of light that poured in, a figure appeared, which rushed forward to the bed where she lay, exclaiming:- “My child! my dear, dear child! My little Ophelia!”

“Mamma!” was the instinctive reply, as the child felt herself gathered into the soft security of a mother’s bosom.

The lady Aoudra could not sufficiently feast her eyes upon her daughter’s face; but as she gazed, she became aware of the burning spot that glowed and deepened in the young cheek – the too bright sparkle of the eyes, – the unnatural restlessness of the lips which at length wore an almost vacuous smile, while the fingers idly played among the long curls of her mother’s hair, drooping over her. In alarm, the lady caught her child’s hand in hers; it was feverishly hot.

“I have been culpably unheedful – inconsiderate; I shall have only my own rash selfishness to blame, should the surprise have been too much for my darling. Yet who would have expected such sensitiveness – such susceptibility in one so young? Dear child! Mother’s own treasure! Mother’s little tender one!”

[209] Fondly, gently, she set about repairing the mischief she feared she had done. She shaded the light away from the too eager eyes; she coaxed them to close, – to cease to look upon her, by clasping one of the hands in hers, that the child might know she was still there; she lay down beside her, parting the hair back upon the heated forehead, giving her from time to time cooling drinks, and suggesting none but peaceful happy thoughts, in the low soft talking she murmured the while in her ear. Lulled thus, the child fell into slumber; but for some hours it was a disturbed, uneasy one, giving the lady many a pang of dread and self-reproach. Violent startings, abrupt twitching of the limbs, talking in her sleep, muttered ends of songs and mournful tunes alternately alarmed the watcher. Once, the little girl sprang suddenly up, trembling, and looking about her with a scared eagerness of expectation, clinging convulsively to the arm stretched to receive her; but when she felt herself enfolded within a mother’s embrace, lapped in that balmy atmosphere of maternity, she sank into profound rest.

Holy mother-love! nearest semblance vouchsafed to mortals of Divine protection! Benignest human symbol of God’s mercy to man! There is a blessed influence, a sacred joy, a plenitude of satisfaction, in the very presence of a mother, that plainer speaks the mysterious beatitude of Heaven itself to earthly intelligence, than aught else in existence.

The little Ophelia awoke next morning from her healing sleep, revived, and quite herself. She was so free from the feverish symptoms which had alarmed her mother, overnight, that Aoudra thought that she might venture to remove here at once to their home at Elsinore.

In the new scene to which she was introduced the child acquired unwonted spirits. She appeared averse from speaking, or even thinking, of the period she had spent at the cottage. She never reverted to it of her own accord; and it was avoided altogether; the lady Aoudra only regretting that she had ever been compelled to leave her little one in what had evidently been so uncongenial a home.

Her chief care was now to surround her child with none but pleasant, healthful influences of person, scene and circumstance. [210] She kept her as much as possible in her own society, and in that of her father – the lord Polonius, – whenever his court duties permitted him to be at home. Her young son, Laertes, was with them, for a period, until the time should arrive for his going to the university. Meantime, masters were engaged; and the children pursued their studies together; though the lady Aoudra chiefly superintended those of her little girl herself.

The affection that now had full opportunity of taking its natural growth between father and child, contributed greatly to the happiness of Ophelia’s new existence. Polonius became dotingly fond of his little girl; and she in turn reverenced him with all duteous affection. She would watch for his homecoming; soon getting to know the hours of his return from attendance at the palace; and then she would set his easy-chair, and bring his slippers, and the furred gown, for which he exchanged his court robes, when indulging in domestic ease; and then he would pat her cheek, or pass his hand over her fair young head, and say some fondling words of rejoicing that he now possessed so pretty a living toy at home as his little daughter, to beguile his leisure hours.

He was a good-natured man, of a kindly disposition, with much original shrewdness, and a great deal of acquired worldly knowledge. He was an odd compound of natural familiarity, and assumed dignity; of affability, and importance; of condescension, and dictatorialness; of garrulous ease, and ostentation. He was often jocular, and would twinkle his half merry, half astute eyes, rubbing his hands with a chuckling air of enjoyment, as if he had not a thought beyond the relish of the immediate jest; but, some time after, as if willing to show that it was the mere momentary unbending of the great statesman, he would knit his brow, lean back in his chair, with his hand supporting his chin, and look meditative.

He was fond of parcelling out his speech into formal divisions; of putting forth his opinions in set phrases; he was full of precept; sententious in speech; and uttered his axioms in an authoritative voice. He spoke preceptively. He would talk to his wife in manner of an oration; clearing his voice, and pausing a little, as if to bespeak full attention ere he began. [211] He liked to see those around him performing audience to his dicta. He would address the guests at his table, as if they were a committee, or a board of council; and harangue rather than converse. He prided himself on great foresight and perspicacity.

He ordinarily prefaced with a hem; and emphasized, as he went on, with one hand in the palm of the other, or by reckoning off each clause, successively, on his fingers. He collected attention by canvassing glances; gathered it in by sharp espial upon those in whom he perceived symptoms of its straying; and kept it from wandering by a short admonitory cough. He affected diplomacy and expediency in action; mystery in expression; craft in device. He piqued himself on ingenuity in compassing his ends; and in their accomplishment preferred contrivance and cunning to the commonplace means of straightforward procedure.

In consequence of this system of their father’s, his praise was sometimes as mysterious and unexpected to the young Laertes and Ophelia as his reproof.

On one occasion, he called them to him and commended them highly for never having been into a certain gallery, which he had built out into his garden for the reception of some pictures, bequeathed to him by a French nobleman – a friend of his – lately dead.

Seeing a look of surprise on their faces, he added:- “Ah, you marvel how I came to know so certainly that you never went in. But I have methods deep and sure, – a little bird, or my little finger, – in few, you need not assure me, that you have never entered that gallery; for I happen to be aware, beyond a doubt, that you never did. And I applaud your discretion.”

“But we did go in;” said Ophelia.

“What, child? Pooh, impossible! Come to me; look me full in the face.” Not that she looked down, or aside, or anything but straight at him; but he always used this phrase conventionally, when he conducted an examination. “I tell you, you never went into that gallery; I know it for a fact. There’s no use in attempting to deceive your father. I should have discovered [212] it, had you gone into that room without my permission.”

“But did you not wish us to go there? I never knew you forbade it?” said Laertes. “If we had known you had any objection, neither Ophelia nor I would have -”

“I never forbade it, certainly,” interrupted his father; “but I had strong reasons for wishing that you should not go into the room till the pictures were hung. You might have injured them. No, no; I know better than to let heedless children play there; so I took means to prevent you entering the gallery without my knowledge.”

“But we did play there, every day, father;” said Laertes.

“Yes;” said Ophelia.

“And I tell you impossible! Listen to me; I fastened a hair across the entrance. The invisible barrier is yet unbroken. So that you see, you could not have passed through the door without my knowledge.”

“But we didn’t go through the door, papa; we got in at the window!” exclaimed both the children. “We didn’t know you wished us not to play there; so, finding a space which the builders had left, in one of the windows that look into the garden, we used to creep in there, and amuse ourselves with looking at the new pictures. We did no harm; only admired.”


Time went on. Laertes, now a tall stripling, was sent to Paris – then famous as a seat of learning.

Ophelia grew into delicate girlhood. Ever quiet, ever diffident, but serene and happy. A tranquil-spirited maiden, unexacting, even-tempered, affectionate; one of those upon whom the eyes and hearts of all near, dwell with a feeling of repose.

Her father now began to look forward to his long-cherished hope of introducing her at court; where he beheld her already attracting his sovereign’s gracious notice, and winning the favour of the queen. He imparted his views to his wife; adding that all Ophelia wanted, was a little forming in manner, to render her presentable; and to that end, he intended cultivating for [213] her the acquaintance of a young lady, daughter to a friend of his, the lord Cornelius.

Aoudra ventured the pardonable motherly remark, that their young Ophelia was perfectly well-bred; a gentlewoman in every particular.

“Tut, tut, lady mine;” interrupted Aoudra’s husband, with a wave of the hand, which she well knew to be of final significancy. “Lady Thyra is in all respects what I could best wish for my girl’s friend. The lord Cornelius is as anxious as myself for the improvement of the acquaintance; and it is my will that henceforth the families shall be intimate. Let it be looked to.”

Soon, no morning was spent apart; and Thyra, intent upon enjoying her new friend’s society uninterruptedly, made a point of receiving Ophelia alone, and of appointing her usual visitors in the evening only, henceforward. She could assume a pretty tyranny – a kind of playful despotism, when she chose. It sat well on her; and her friends submitted to it, – well pleased – as only another grace, in the graceful Thyra.

“You know, sweet friend, we could not find the way to each other’s hearts were we to meet in a crowd every day, instead of this familiarly, doing and saying exactly what we please, while together, as we do now; do we not?” said she to Ophelia, as they sat together, in Thyra’s pleasant room. “Besides, I mean you to know something of the people you will meet, before you come among them, since you have owned to me, with that charming simplicity and frankness of yours, that you feel some awe at the thought of encountering strangers.”

“I have so little seen of strange faces;” said Ophelia. “My father’s guests are chiefly men high in office, counsellors of state, grave and dignified personages; and my dear mother, thinking one so young could not as yet derive advantage from their conversation, allowed me to keep our own apartments when there were visitors.”

“Come, with whom shall I begin? Methinks I’ll commence at once with the highest. Our sovereign and his queen have honoured my father’s house with their presence, but I may not, of course, count their majesties among my visitors; the king’s [214] brother, however, lord Claudius, is not an unfrequent guest here, and he -”

“You have been presented to their majesties? You know the king’s person – the queen’s; tell me somewhat of them.”

“The king is a grave-looking man; warlike and noble in his bearing; full of dignity and command; and looks, – as he indeed is – the accomplished soldier and ruler. The queen is very beautiful, both in face and person. Graciously condescending in the kind notice and encouragement she accorded to myself – a young girl undergoing her first presentation.”

“And what of the prince, their son, Lord Hamlet? I have heard my father speak of him as a student of great repute; he says, that he has won high academic honours; and if he were not of royal birth, he could make himself illustrious, as a man of learning.”

“Nay, he’s even too much of a scholar, for my taste;” said the lively Thyra.

“What sort of man must he be to embody Thyra’s ideal of manly perfection?” said her young friend.

“Nay – I cannot tell – not I” – replied Thyra, with a momentary embarrassment; then recovering herself, she went on:- “Not such a man as my lord Claudius, assuredly. He comes next to tell thee of. There’s something marvellously unattractive to me, about that lord. Though he be of blood-royal, he looks not noble; and though his lineage be high, he hath naught lofty in his mien. Let me see: who else? O, ay; there are Osric of Stolzberg, and Eric of Kronstein, two lords whose estates adjoin that of my father; you will often meet them here. Truly, I know not why I classed them together; for they differ in every particular, save in being provincial neighbours of ours. The young lord of Stolzberg is a coxcomb; while the lord of Kronstein is – is – well, perhaps something very near the ideal we spoke of, ere now.”

Thyra paused a moment, with a little conscious laugh; while she stole a glance at Ophelia’s face; but she saw it looking as quiet, so girl-like innocent, that she went on:- “It is not every one who finds Kronstein so gifted, or Stolzberg so inane. General opinion lackeys the rich lordling, Stolzberg, and can [215] scarce allow the personal desert of the accomplished, but acre-dipped Kronstein. Certain it is, that my father and I differ widely in our estimate of their respective attractions. He favours the one, while I -”

“While you judge the lord of Kronstein to be the superior man, however he may be the poorer lord;” said Ophelia simply.

“Yes, dear novice;” rejoined Thyra. “I must call thee novice, dear Ophelia, thou seem’st to me so nun-like new to all worldly thoughts and ideas. My social experience shall help you in learning to face strangers; and thy novice candour shall teach me the beauty of unworldliness. Let me commence the lessons I am to give, by initiating you in the mysteries of chess, – now the most fashionable of games.”

“Is it so much played?”

“Yes. For some time it was banished from court, after that fatal game, famous in our Danish chronicles, when the sovereign dynasty was changed by a choleric blow with a chess-board; but of late, the taste has revived. We have some skilful players amongst us. The lord of Kronstein is masterful at it. He was my instructor.”

“Then you are, doubtless, now, a well-skilled player yourself, dear Thyra. I fear you will find me an unhopeful scholar;” said Ophelia.

At this moment, an attendant entered. “I can see no visitors to-day;” Thyra said, impatiently, as she ranged the pieces on the board. “See that I am denied to every one; and say that I receive this evening.”

“I stated such to be your ladyship’s orders,” said the attendant; “but my lord would take no refusal: he bade me carry up his name – the lord Eric of Kronstein, madam.”

The colour flushed into Thyra’s face; but she said in a composed voice – “Give entrance to my lord of Kronstein; he doubtless brings intelligence from Rosenheim – from my father.” Then, as the servant quitted the room, she added:- “I make an exception in this visitor’s favour, dear Ophelia, because I think thou wilt feel curiosity to see one of whom we have been speaking so much.”

[216] Her manner showed so much agitation, such blushing joy, that it could not have failed betraying her secret to one more versed in such tell-tale symptoms than her young companion. But Ophelia perceived in it only the animation with which a friend would naturally be welcomed.

Besides, her attention was principally engaged by the newcomer. There was something in his appearance which struck her with a singular impression, as of something remembered – something long since seen.

Presently her friend performed the ceremony of introduction. He bowed courteously; and was about to resume his conversation, when something, in the cursory glance he had bestowed upon Ophelia, seemed to strike him, also, with a vague sense of recollection. He hesitated; looking at her; but seeming to obtain no confirmation of his passing fancy from what he saw, upon this second view of the tall slight figure before him, he pursued his conversation with the lady Thyra.

“But these papers my father requires, my lord; did he say where they were to be found?”

“He bade me tell you, you would find them in the ebon cabinet, by his study-chair, lady; this sealed packet, with which he charged me for you, contains the key, together with more precise directions for your guidance.”

“I will seek them at once, my lord, since your return must needs be immediate. But remember,” she added, with a resumption of vivacity; “your friends in Elsinore will look eagerly for your coming soon among them again.”

His eyes followed her, as she withdrew to fetch the packet; and when she disappeared, he turned, in an abstracted manner, to the table on which the chess-board stood; and played mechanically with one of the pieces, twirling it round and round upon its circular foot.

A slight incident will sometimes prompt a struggling memory. The form of the ivory piece caught Ophelia’s eye; and suddenly she exclaimed:- “The knight! The white horse! I remember – the wood – lord Eric – ay, that was the name. I recollect it now. It was you then, who -”

“Hush! Can it be possible?” was the hasty exclamation, [217] as he looked round to see that no one was near. “‘Sdeath!” he muttered; “the unopened rosebud, by all that’s strange! How came she here? How came she to be there?”

“You never returned after Jutha became so altered, so ill? You never knew that she died?”

The lip blanched to well-nigh the whiteness of the chess-man that had lately touched it.

“I knew you would be sorry for her, when you came to hear of it. You were kind to her; you liked her. Poor Jutha!”

“Be silent, I conjure you, young lady. Do not speak that name again – it can do no good – it may do fearful harm.”

Ophelia answered in her own quiet way:- “I have never mentioned her. She had almost faded from my own thought, as had your face and person. I was a little child then; at nurse, in that remote country place.”

Thyra reappeared.

Eric of Kronstein tarried not long after he had received the packet from her hands. Promising to deliver it faithfully, he took a graceful leave of the two young ladies.

They both remained silent for a considerable space; each occupied with her own thoughts. Then, Thyra, rousing herself from her reverie, said:- “Forgive me, sweet friend, that I am such dull company. Come; now for our first study of chess.”

The quiet chess-mornings, the brilliant social evenings, enjoyed with Thyra, made Ophelia’s time speed pleasantly away; while she could not but observe, that at all seasons, at all hours, Eric of Kronstein was ever the favourite guest of her friend.


In one of the large apartments of the palace sat a lady, surrounded by her attendant ladies, working at a tapestry-frame. In a deep embayed window, at some distance from her, stood a man, regarding her earnestly from beneath his bent brows and drooping lids.

The man was Claudius, the king’s brother. The lady, was Queen Gertrude.

The weather had been unusually warm. The soft afternoon [218] air crept in by the open windows; and through the apartment there reigned the silence that grows with a sense of enjoyment and refreshment. It had for some time been preserved unbroken, when one of the attendant ladies exclaimed: “His majesty the king; madam.”

Gertrude rose to receive her royal husband. He came to tell her of letters that had arrived from Wittenberg; bringing news of fresh academic honours attained by their son, Hamlet; and other despatches from the royal forces engaged in a northern warfare, which had terminated in conquest to Denmark. The king concluded by saying that so much happy intelligence arriving on one day deserved some token of remembrance; and that he had brought one in the shape of a gemmed bracelet, which he prayed her to wear as the gift not only of a proud and happy father, and of a rejoicing monarch, but as that of a loving husband. As the king fondly leant over the beautiful arm presented to him, that he might clasp the jewel upon it, a sharp inward groan burst from the lips of Claudius.

“My brother!” exclaimed the king. “I did not perceive your presence. Are you not well, my Claudius?” he added, approaching the recess where he leaned. “Tell me, tell your brother, what you ail?”

“An old wound – a hurt – ’tis nothing;” he answered, looking down.

“Our own leech shall examine it;” the king said, in his gentle manner. “Sweet Gertrude, come hither; use you your womanly persuasion, with this refractory brother of ours, to have his hurt examined.”

As the queen advanced in obedience to her royal husband’s bidding, the king took her hand, and placing it on his brother’s arm, said:- “I shall find, on my return, you have won our brother to our wish. The summer afternoon woos me forth, to walk awhile in mine orchard. Meantime, prosper you in your suit, my queen.”

When the king had left the apartment, she withdrew her hand, and retired a pace or two from her close vicinity to Claudius. He breathed hard, and there was almost a fierceness in the tone with which he uttered the words:- “He bade you [219] sue me, madam. A ‘loving husband,’ forsooth! Why, his is a tame affection which can leave a wife, to go sleep in the shade of a cool orchard, while mine is a burning passion that consumes me. Ardour such as mine befits a ‘loving husband;’ not the puling caresses of that dotard.”

“My lord! Remember you of whom you speak? – of your brother – your king – my husband.”

“Ay, madam – your husband – your ‘loving husband!’ ” He ground his teeth, muttering a curse. “The very hem of your garment stirs me to more adoring warmth than he is capable of feeling;” he presumed to add, as he clenched within his hand the end of a light drapery, which formed part of her attire.

“You presume on my forbearance, my lord!” exclaimed the queen. “You cannot believe that I will listen longer to such rash speech.” She would have withdrawn from the recessed window; but perceiving that a portion of her robe was within his grasp, she feared lest the movement might attract the attention of her ladies to this circumstance, and so betray to them what was passing. A veriest trifle, such as this, will suffice to sway the conduct of a weak-souled woman.

At this moment an attendant entered to announce that the lord Polonius and his daughter, the lady Ophelia, craved audience of her majesty.

“Conduct them to the presence-chamber;” said the queen; “I will receive them there.”

The edge of robing was still detained for an instant; then she felt it suddenly released, and she was free to go. She moved away from the side of Claudius, without suffering her eyes to look towards him; and, attended by her ladies, she left the apartment.


As she proceeded along a gallery of the palace, on her way to the state-chamber, one of her ladies exclaimed; – “See here, madam; some treacherous doorway hath torn away a fragment from your majesty’s attire; the piece is fairly wrenched out. Alack! the beauty of the robe is marred.”

“Get other tires ready. I will change these anon, when my lord Polonius shall have taken leave;” said queen Gertrude. [220] “It must needs have been some unheeded violence of a closing door, or other like accident. ‘Tis no matter.”

“A passing sweet temper hath her majesty, to regard the wreck of such embroidery as that without so much as a fretful word;” thought the lady-in-waiting.


One evening, Ophelia and Thyra sat together; the hours grew, and with them the impatience of Thyra. She was expecting lord Eric, who had promised to come; but still the time for his appearance went by, and he came not. Night drew on, and yet he came not.

Next morning, at an early hour, Polonius entered the apartment where his wife and daughter were, and by the ostentatious perturbation of his manner evidently desired that they should ask what was the matter. The lady Aoudra dutifully did so.

He told her that he had that moment received intelligence of a circumstance which had occasioned great consternation in certain quarters. It was reported that lord Eric of Kronstein was discovered to be utterly ruined; that he had gambled away his patrimonial estate, that he was not worth a farthing, and that in order to escape from the crowd of demands which pressed upon him, he had, last night, under favour of darkness, embarked in a vessel bound for the Archipelago.

“But I must not tarry here,” he continued, “I must away to a privy-council meeting that sits this morning. His majesty laid his gracious commands on me to let him have the help of this poor brain of mine. He is pleased to think it of some little avail in weighty questions that concern the state. Well, well; it may be so. It may be so.”

Away hurried the courtier; and the silence that ensued after his departure, was first broken by Ophelia’s exclaiming:-

“My poor friend! And this is the man she deems worthy of all esteem and liking. To whom she has given her whole heart! ‘Twill be best kindness to her now, to reveal her secret to you, my mother, that we may have your experience and counsel to aid her.”

Hastily she told her mother of Thyra’s attachment for Kronstein; [221] of all she knew of him herself; of her former meeting with him; and of his request that she would not revert to it.

“We will hasten to your friend Thyra,” said Lady Aoudra, “to warn her against the evils she can avoid; to comfort her in the grief she will have to endure.”

On arriving at Cornelius’s mansion, they found from her attendants that the lady Thyra had not yet left her room.

“She lies late, ordinarily, dear mother. Let us seek her in her chamber. Her friend Ophelia is privileged to come to her at all seasons, – even when she is, as now, a slug-a-bed.”

She went at once to the sleeping-room. She saw at a glance that Thyra was not lying there; but as she was retiring, a something within the curtains, at the bed’s foot, caught her eye. It was the figure of her friend, half hidden among them. Ophelia went gently forwards, to embrace her; but as she extended her arms to wrap them about Thyra’s form, it swung heavily away from her, a mere heap of inanimate matter – an image, – a corse! It was the dead body of Thyra, hanging, where her own desperate hand had stifled out life. Near to her was afterwards found a paper, with these words:-

“My father!
“Forgive your child. You destined my hand to one whom I could not love. I pledged faith to one whom I loved only too well. He whom I so fatally trusted, has proved unworthy and false. He fled. What is left me, but to die? Deal indulgently by my memory.


When Ophelia was lifted from the floor, where she had fallen prostrate, she was in strong convulsions. The shock she had received produced a severe illness. For a long space she lay in the utmost danger, now wandering in delirium, now sunk into a heavy stupor. From one of these deep sleeps, she once awoke, stretching forth her hand feebly, and uttering a faint word or two. Her mother, who had never quitted her side, perceived the moment, and bent over her, to catch the sense of the murmured sound.

[222] “Is the king dead?”

“I trust not, dear one. He is absent in Norway; and the last despatches brought intelligence of his safety.”


“Methought I saw him dead;” said Ophelia. “I have been dreaming strangely. He seemed dead, as I saw him – though he moved before me, waving his arm toward them. He pointed to them, as each approached.”

“Of whom do you speak, dear child?”

“Of those figures – those women. It was down by the brook – among the reeds – beneath the willow; – not the stream in the wood – but the brook yonder, which flows into the castle-moat. That solitary spot – all rush-grown, and shadowy – where the water creeps on sluggish and slow, margined by rank grass, and river-weeds, – you remember?”

Her mother gave tokens of assent.

“It was there she sat, – the first figure I saw. The night was obscure; there was a veil of haze upon tree, and shrub, and brook; but I saw her plainly, and knew her at once, before she shook back her long hair, and wrung her hands, and moaned; it was Jutha, mother!”

“I would have gone towards her, but my feet were rooted to the spot; while, close beside me, there gradually shaped itself into substance a form that seemed to grow out of the shadowy night air. It became the distinct semblance of the king, as I saw him ride to the Norwegian wars; save, that his face was pale and all amort – ghastly, and set in death. He turned this wan visage full upon me, as he pointed to the figure of her who sat lamenting.”

“Dear Ophelia, thou shalt not recall these sad images; let me tell thee, dear one, of thy father, who -”

“But there were two others, I saw. One was my poor Thyra. I knew her by a terrible token.” And Ophelia’s voice became nearly extinct, as she added:- “her livid throat, mother; and there was a space between her feet and the ground, as she glided past me.”

A moment’s pause; and then Ophelia went on.

“The mailed figure again stretched forth his pointing hand. The wind sighed amid the reeds. The heads of nettles and [223] long-purples were stirred by the night breeze, as it swept on mournfully. The air seemed laden with heavy sobbings. Then I saw one approach, whose face I could not see, and whose figure I knew not. She was clothed in white, all hung about with weeds and wild flowers; and from among them stuck ends of straw, that the shadowy hands seemed to pluck and spurn at; and then the white figure moved on, impelled towards the water. I saw her glide on, floating upon its surface; I saw her dimly, among the silver-leaved branches of the drooping willow, as they waved around and above her, upbuoyed by her spreading white garments.”

The mother shuddered, as her eye fell upon the white nightgear of her child, telling the vision. But, at this moment, Polonius softly entered the room, having heard, that his daughter had awakened, better; and that she was talking more collectedly than she had done since her illness. He was soon busily engaged, in his half fussy, half kindly manner, chiding Aoudra for indulging Ophelia with too much licence of speech; and making many remarks equally sapient and facetious, on women’s love of talk, their proneness for confabulation and gossip.


Thanks to Aoudra’s tender nursing, Ophelia was restored to health. But a more severe blow than any she had yet sustained now awaited her.

Death, which had spared herself, took her mother from her. It is true that the anguish of sudden separation was not theirs. For some time Aoudra lingered, hers was a gradual decay, without pain, and without loss of faculty. She was able to give her child those counsels which should best protect her in her approaching entrance upon the world’s experience; while the daughter was permitted the comfort of yielding the gentle ministerings – the loving tendance which best alleviate sickness and suffering.

Thus it came, that – from her mother’s warning, at this time, as, from her father’s and her brother’s admonitions, at a subsequent period, – Ophelia had the perils which awaited her, in her future life at court, peculiarly impressed upon her mind.

[224] After the lady Aoudra’s death, both the king and the queen made it their study by almost parental kindness to the motherless girl, to lighten the affliction of her loss. They were rather like affectionate and gracious friends, than her sovereigns. They showed by their eagerness to have her as much as possible with them, that they would fain act the part of loving relations by her; and she soon learned to regard them with as fond an attachment.

The prince Hamlet joined his royal parents in their attempt to soften the grief of Ophelia; and in this gentle task, his own growing preference for her gained strength and fixedness of purpose. His refined taste was attracted by her maiden beauty; his delicacy of feeling taught him to delight in her innocence, her retiring diffidence; his masculine intellect found repose in the contemplation of her artless mind: his manly soul dwelt with a kind of serene rapture on the sweet feminine softness of her nature. As time went on, tokens of his increasing regard, awoke a responsive feeling in her breast towards him. But while this fair flower of love was springing up between them, – near to it lurked in unsuspected rankness of growth, the foul unwholesome weed of forbidden passion.

The realm of Denmark was thrown into dismay by the sudden death of its monarch. The good king, – so it was reported, – while sleeping, as was his afternoon wont, in the orchard which formed part of the palace-grounds, had been stung by a serpent; and from the venom inflicted by the wound, he had instantly sickened and died.

Ere the nation could recover from its consternation, and while the rightful heir to the throne was plunged into filial grief, Claudius seized the crown, and caused himself to be proclaimed king. Scarcely had this first bold step been securely taken when it was followed up by the solemnity of the coronation; and shortly after, by the ceremonial of marriage between the reigning monarch and his late brother’s wife.

The habitual acquiescence with which royal proceedings are for the most part regarded by the populace, could hardly restrain the expressions of dissatisfaction which these events excited. But they occurred in such rapid succession, that they [225] passed without attempted opposition. Moreover, the lavish splendour, with which the two rites of royal marriage and coronation were solemnized, had their effect upon the vulgar mind. Claudius knew the full advantage of investing his royal proceedings with the glare of pomp; and he caused the rumour of the surpassing magnificence which was to mark the approaching ceremonies at the Danish court, to be spread far and wide; and, among the many attracted from a distance to witness so gorgeous a scene, young Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, came from France, that he might be present.

He was pleased with this opportunity for spending some time with a sister whom he so tenderly loved; for though during their life they had been much separated, yet in those intervals that they had been together, he had learned to appreciate the affectionate nature of this gentle being. Besides, they had been in the habit of corresponding with one another by letter; and thus the attachment between them had been maintained and cemented. To this means of intercourse he reverted, when, – the regal pageant concluded, – Laertes prepared to return to France. As he bade her farewell, he prayed her to let no long time elapse ere he should hear from her.

And she in her own quiet, though earnest way, in her own simple sincerity of manner, replied:-

Do you doubt that?

HAMLET, Act i. Sc. 3.

“What to this was sequent, thou know’st already.”