Claudius sat with a group of advisers. ‘I have sent someone to look for him,’ he told them. ‘And to find the body. It’s so dangerous that this man should be on the loose! But we mustn’t apply strict law to him. The shallow multitude who go by looks instead of judgment love him. And when that’s so the offender’s punishment is resented but never the offence. To calm everything this sudden exile must be made to seem like a planned venture. Diseases that have become desperate must be cured by desperate remedies or not at all.’
A guard showed Rosencrantz in.
‘How is it?’ said Claudius. ‘What’s happened?’
‘He won’t tell us where he’s hidden the body, my lord.’
‘But where is he?’
‘Outside, my lord, guarded until you tell us what you want.’
‘Bring him before us.’
Rosencrantz went to the door. ‘Ho, Guildenstern! Bring my lord in.’
Hamlet smiled at the counsellors and bowed deeply to the king.
Claudius’ voice was gentle when he spoke. ‘Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?’
‘At supper! Where?’
‘Not where he eats, but where he is being eaten. A banqueting party of shrewd worms is at him right now. Your worm is your only emperor for eating. We fatten animals to fatten ourselves and then we fatten maggots. Your fat king and your thin beggar look like two different dishes but they end up on the same table. That’s the end.’
Claudius appealed to his counsellors. ‘Sad, sad,’ he said.
‘A man may go fishing with the worm that ate the king and then eat the fish that fed on the worm.’
‘What do you mean by this?’ said Claudius.
‘Nothing, except to show you how a king may progress through the guts of a beggar.’
Claudius banged his fist on the table. ‘Where is Polonius?’
‘In heaven. Send someone to see. If your messenger doesn’t find him there, look for him in the other place yourself. But if you don’t find him by the end of the month you will smell him as you go upstairs to the lobby.’
‘Claudius snapped his fingers at a group of attendants. ‘Go and look for him there.’
As they rushed out Hamlet called after them: ‘He’ll wait for you.’
Claudius stood up. ‘Hamlet, although we grieve for what you’ve done we’re as much concerned about your safety, and for that reason we must send you away immediately. So prepare yourself. The ship is ready and the wind is favourable: your escorts are waiting and everything is set for England.’
‘It is, considering our purposes.’
‘Maybe the angels know them. But come, for England! Farewell dear mother.’
‘Your loving father, Hamlet.’
‘My mother,’ said Hamlet emphatically. ‘Father and mother are man and wife: man and wife are one flesh: and so, my mother.’ He beckoned to Rosencrantz. ‘Come, for England.’
Claudius called Rosencrantz back as they were leaving.
‘Make sure he gets to the harbour. Take him on board quickly. Don’t allow any delays. I want him on his way tonight. Go. Everything else is sealed and done. Go on, hurry.’
Claudius dismissed the counsellors and went to join Gertrude. If the English king valued him and respected his power, as he should after their last encounter from which the English still hadn’t recovered, he wouldn’t ignore his royal request. That was in the letter – the immediate death of Hamlet. Oh, do it, England, because Hamlet was raging like a fever in his blood. England must cure him. He wouldn’t be able to rest until he knew it was done.