My tutor says I must write of my life every month for a year, and then reflect upon it. Probably to make me ashamed of my inability to learn what he teaches.
I did not tell him that in a year he will probably not be my tutor anymore. He is lucky to last a full month. Father and mother keep changing my tutors. I believe they think it will make me smarter. I get the impression that I am not very smart. That is what all my tutors have told me, and what they tell my parents. But all they will teach me is etiquette and history. How can I learn something that I don't care about? I am not interested in any more histories of evil kings.
Father has hired a new jester! All of the other jesters were funny, but Yorick is something different. His jokes set the whole hall laughing uproariously because he changes his humor for each person. He acts silly for the children, so that they are always laughing in the background, like music for his act. He makes witty puns for the women, and other jokes hard to understand for the men. I understood them, but I know that mother didn’t know what he was talking about, or she would have had father get rid of him at once. His antics for the little children were silly and his witty puns were clever, but I liked the jokes he made for the men best. They were harder to understand, and, I know, inappropriate, which just made them funnier. He saw me laughing at one and danced over and asked me what I was laughing about, since I wasn't supposed to get the joke. I told him I did get it, and explained it to him, and he laughed and put me on his back and toted me around as a future jester. He carries me on his back a lot. I wouldn’t mind being a dancing jester too much. It is better than being an evil king.
I found this journal at the bottom of a chest, while they were moving my things to a bigger room. Things are very boring around this castle. Mother is always busy with her maids, and my tutors have all given up on me. Father and mother and thinking of sending me away to school. I wouldn’t mind that if it weren’t for Yorick. I don’t see him very often, but he is the only person I can talk to. We talk about meaningless things, and play, and he carried me on his back until father told him to stop distracting me from my studies.
Nobody else pays attention to me except the tutors and tailors. What is the use of a tailor if he can’t make clothes that don’t hurt and make you look ridiculous? When I try to talk to mother about it, she hushes me.
No one else will listen to me when I try to speak. They stuff me into clothes and set me up like a framed picture. I want to scream, I want to yell like the urchins in the street. I’m getting ink all down my sleeve, but if they fuss I can only say I was writing of my life like my tutor told me. It’s not the same tutor anymore. They change every month. They’re trying to make me smarter by getting smarter tutors, but that won’t work. The tutors are only getting stupider. Writing everything down here is the only useful instruction I’ve gotten from a tutor. At least I can scream with my pen.
I am on a ship and I can’t sleep because it’s rocking so much. We’ve been sailing for a long while, and the captain says we should be there in several days, if a storm doesn’t hit. I hope it does. I’ve never been inside a storm before. I’ve tried to talk to some of the sailors, but my tutor always stops me, because I am not allowed to have any freedom on this voyage. I suppose my tutor just wants to act out his last few days of authority over me as strictly as possible.
Being away from home has not been bad at all. I am surrounded by boys my own age. I share a room with two other boys, and we get along very well. I have never enjoyed anyone’s company so much except Yorick. Guildenstern, Rosencrantz and I spend all our time together, studying and playing when we get the chance.
I think I am not dull. That seems a strange sentence to write, but I am realizing that many of the other boys here are not as smart as I am. Perhaps it was only my tutors who were at fault. The teachers here are strict, but I do not have to learn just two subjects. I like this school.
I had forgotten that I started a journal. Things have certainly changed in my life. I have only been home several times to visit in the past few years. I have taken my friends to meet my parents, who took to them nicely enough. You could say they were part of the family, for they have certainly spent as much time with my parents as I have.
Things are going very well here. I have taken up fencing with my other subjects. I like the mathematics of it, the civility of a fencing match. I am getting quite good. Guildenstern and I are fencing partners. Rosencrantz is behind in some of his studies, and he doesn’t have time to take on another subject. I see that when I was twelve I came to the conclusion I might not be dull. Well, I can add now that I am certain I am not. I am ahead of everyone else here. I love being away from Denmark. My world is this school, these teachers, these subjects. I love learning, I hunger for this knowledge that I never knew I wanted.
I am interested in philosophy, and have added that course. They wrote to my parents for permission, but I know they will agree. They don’t care what I study, as long as I am in school learning away from home.
I went back home to visit again. I met my father’s brother for the first time, and my mother proudly showed me off to the court, as if she had formed me herself, the liar. I have made myself into the prince I am today. Alone with my mind I did what my parents could never do with dozens of tutors.
Our castle was fuller than usual, due to my uncle bringing most of his court with him. Or perhaps it was always a small, cramped and stuffy castle, and I didn’t notice when I was that slight little boy hiding in corners.
I met my uncle’s chief counselor and his daughter, a pretty enough thing but rather shy and quiet. I wonder if she has a brain behind those big eyes. None of the girls I meet seem to have any brains. Later in the evening her brother came in, Laertes. He is the first intelligent person I have met in this castle. Most likely because he did not originate in this castle.
We talked about philosophy and dukedoms, as unrelated as those topics sound. He introduced me to his sister, and I did not tell him we had already been introduced because of the look in his eyes when he presented her, and the look in her eyes when she saw him. I felt as if I’d bitten into something bitter. I don’t know what it was that made them able to take such joy in each other. Their father is a no better man than mine. Their mother is dead. Why must the prince be alone while the duke finds comfort in his sister?
I am staying at this castle in Denmark, and I believe I will be here for several years. My parents wished me to be schooled by others, but shown off by them. I spend my time studying. Occasionally I go riding or fencing. I went down to the hall for my first bout in this castle to find that the only other person there was Laertes. He told me he liked to stay en pointe, “lest inaction rust his blade.” I respect that. We sparred that day and every day since. He has much natural talent, but I am not far behind from my instruction at school. We both feel a thrill in the fight.
He is much more active than I, always wishing to go somewhere and accomplish something, training his body as if for a hunt. I prefer to debate or study, but as he is not averse to that, nor I to fencing and riding, we get along quite well.
Orphelia is not as shy when she is with her brother. I am still slightly envious of their love for each other; I can admit that here. I know from my own experience that one can find love and joy in friends, but I wish I had the love in my family that they find in each other. Perhaps I will find it in a wife.
My uncle comes to visit more and more frequently. I do not wish to speak to him. He has nothing interesting to say. Laertes comes and goes, to attend to his dukedom, which is in reality his father’s, but his father is apparently so busy counseling my uncle that Laertes manages most of it. I am a prince, and yet I have nothing to manage but my own mind.
I speak to my father more often than I used to. He is not particularly intelligent, but no one is in this castle. He has done well as a king. I have some respect for him. I have found that for most of my life I have thought very badly of my parents. I see that as royalty they did not have time for loving a little boy. And things like that don’t matter in the larger view. What is it if a seven year old was lonely? I know now that the world is bigger. The mind is bigger. I started to discover this at school, and now I continue to see this in my private studies and talks with Laertes and other young men of the court. I have also discovered that Ophelia has a brain. One cannot speak to her about interesting things the way one can speak to a man, but she thinks about things in a different way. She is educated, and actually quite beautiful. She is getting more beautiful every time she comes with her father, annoying old bother that he is.
I have decided to use this old book to record observations instead of mundane daily life.
- Bright eyes is not a good description. Deep eyes are more attractive. Bright eyes remind one of the glossy eyes of an actress, fake and untrue. A woman is truly to be prized if her eyes are beautiful in their depth and intelligence.
- Queens slather their faces in makeup only to reveal that they need it. She is a fraud, a sham, a baby doll. My father's face is old and leathery in comparison to my uncle. Something does not feel well in Denmark. I would wish my uncle came less, but with him comes his advisor, and with his advisor comes Ophelia.
I study alone. No one is visiting this castle at present. Every day merely repeats the last. My uncle stays away, and I am glad he keeps out of our court, but my days are empty now. I write letters to her.
I am leaving this castle at last, but not to return to my former school. I am going to Wittenberg in Germany. Laertes went to study in Paris. Doubtless he will have a more active academic career than I.
I look forward to my studies, especially philosophy. My time in Denmark has not strengthened my relationship with my parents much. I feel that the more I know a person, the better I know their faults. I wish to debate this with scholars. I thirst for knowledge ever since I left my childhood school. Courtlife and sociality sicken me.
Wittenberg is a draft of cool water. I can forget all living people and focus on the abstract. My mind is the only thing that does not disgust me about my life. I love finding truth and clarity there. I have met a fellow student whose thoughts almost match up with mine perfectly. We are alike and different in the perfect ratios. He is the closest friend I have ever had, although his calmness and passivity in our debates makes me look like Laertes during a fencing match. He rationalizes everything. I believe I would tell him anything, trust him with any secret.
I love being away from the castle. I don’t know what I feel about her. She is the only thing about Denmark that is pleasant to think upon. I think I am still attached. Is that a good thing?
I have not returned to Denmark, although I write to my parents. I realize that they have no idea what I think or feel about them because I have never said anything. One of my professors called my mind “a fastened chest, whose lock only the sharpest knife can turn awry.” I have yet to find a mind sharper than my own that can pry my mind open by force. Horatio already knows my mind and the way I think, so I don’t know if his is sharper or not.
I write to my parents on a level they can grasp, of ordinary things. I am starting to respect my mother as a queen now. I believe I thought falsely of her.
I write to my father more frequently than we ever spoke. He comes across as far more intelligent in letters. More thoughtful. I write to him as I would speak to Horatio. I believe I am accomplishing on paper what years in the same castle could not do. I think I can love him as a father, not just a king, now.
January 7, 1469
I just found this old book today, as I went through my things. I suppose I lost it because there was nothing noteworthy to record. Much history is here, however. That first tutor must have known something after all. I intend to use this to document my day-to-day happenings, in order to track my knowledge through the years.
January 8, 1469
Today I sit in the hall of Wittenberg. No letters have come from my parents or Ophelia lately, so I wait for news from Denmark. Horatio is away in the village to fetch something. The hall is empty. Like so many other times in my life, I am alone with my mind.
I have always struggled in my mind. I feel that now, of all times, it should be at peace. I am destined for the throne; so I have been told and so I have been treated all my life. But my parents have a long life ahead of them, as do I. I want to be a philosopher. I have spent my whole life struggling to find something; perhaps I need only dedicate myself to searching for it. I will find peace in the knowledge of my quest. I will finish my studies here at Wittenberg and then teach somewhere. Perhaps I will have a small dukedom to manage in my status as prince of Denmark. Perhaps I can find a wife to manage it with me, and we can foster a love within our own family. I can make my own way, relying on myself and what I have learned.
The mail is finally here. I can see the messenger outside, trying to find the main door in the snow. If there is anything for me, a servant will bring it to me here. It looks like there is a letter for me. Could it be from Ophelia? No, it looks like the royal crest from the court of Denmark.
My father is dead.