Elsinore Elsie


In Elsinore Castle, Denmark, Prince Hamlet stared ahead and slowly uttered these words:

     To be, or not to be - that is the question;

     Whether 'tis-

     but his flow was interrupted by a low, metallic scraping somewhere behind him. Looking round he saw an old woman dragging a bucket across the floor and holding a mop. When she realised that his eyes were upon her, she said in a throaty voice, 'Oh, don't mind me, dear. You carry on.' Somewhat miffed, he turned away and began again, this time a little faster:

     To be, or not to be - that is the question;

     Whether 'tis nobler-

     But the sound of the mop sloshing about made him lift up his hands and exclaim, 'Oh, for the love of …!'

     The woman brought her bucket and mop over towards him. 'You're not feelin' very well, are you dear? I can tell. Now what's the matter?'

     'I don't believe this,' murmured Hamlet, ignoring what she had said 'Who are you?'

     'I'm Elsinore Elsie,' she replied, 'the castle cleaner.'

     'What happened to Doris?'

     'Oh, she 'ad to chuck it in. On account of 'er ankles. I got 'er job.'

     'Well, I've never seen you before.'

     'No? Well, I've seen you a fair few times. I was there the other day when you were givin' it all that "rogue and pleasant slave stuff". I 'eard you.'

     'You had no business to. And anyway, it was peasant slave.'

     'You want to cheer up, if you want my opinion. Always down in the dumps. Moanin' and groanin'.'

     'What do you know about it?' snapped Hamlet. 'What do you know about anything? Have you ever seen your father's ghost?'

'Ghost?' Elsie scoffed. 'There's no such things as ghosts.'

     'Well, that's where you're wrong, Mrs Know-It-All. I've seen my father's ghost. Out on the battlements. And what's more, Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo have seen it too.'

     'Your mates was 'avin' you on. They must've been 'avin' a game with you.'

     'The ghost told me that he'd been murdered. Now how could they know that?'

     'Murdered, you say?'

     'That's right. Now perhaps you'll believe me.'

     Elsie paused for a moment, then said, 'This ghost, was 'e wearin' lipstick an' mascara?'

     'Well, he was in full armour. But, now you come to mention it, he did look a little … raddled.'

     'And was 'e totterin' around an' yellin'?'

     'Well, yes, I suppose he was.'

     'It was your uncle Claudius then,' said Elsie without hesitation.

     'You what?'

     'Your uncle Claudius. The King.'

     'Yes, I know who the King is,' he said irritably.

     'Your uncle likes a drink,' said Elsie. 'Well, more than a drink actually. 'E knocks back several draughts of Rhenish a night, 'an when 'e does 'e paints 'is face an' starts shoutin' an' bawlin'. 'E-'

     Hamlet stopped her. 'Wait a minute. Just hold it there. So my uncle gets drunk. Fine. I accept that. So he wears make up. Some men go in for that kind of thing. But why would he tell me that he'd murdered his own brother? Why would he order me to get revenge? You can't answer that one.'

     'I was just comin' to that before you so rudely interrupted me. The only reason your uncle gets so drunk is because 'e blames 'isself for your father's death. Many's the time when I've been cleanin' 'is chambers an' I've 'eard 'im 'ollerin' an' askin' 'isself why 'e wasn't in the orchard with the King when the serpent stung 'im. You should 'ear 'im. It's quite pitiful. "I killed 'im. Oh, why wasn't it me? I don't deserve to live." That sort of thing.'

 'He says that?'

     'Yes, terrible it is. Enough to put you off your dinner.'

     'Oh.' Hamlet thought it over. 'No. No. It's preposterous. You must take me for a right Charlie. He killed my father because he wanted to be King and marry my mother.'

     ''E never wanted to be King. An' as for marryin' your mother, 'e 'ad to do that. It was diplomatical.'

     'Well ... I ... er ... So why does he sometimes act as if he hasn't a care in the world?'

     'Easy. Because 'e's goin' off 'is 'ead.'

     'Oh. Right.'

     'Anythink else you want to know?'

     'What do I do now?' he said tentatively.

     'Make it up with your mother. Put your uncle in therapy. An' get together with that sweet girl Orphelia. But first, let's 'ave a nice cup of tea.' And as Elsie led him away she muttered, 'It's funny the things you 'ear when you're round an' about.'

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