Beth’s words, “It is not finished,” now assumed the colors blue and black worn by the lady Nathanael escorted into the counselors’ offices. Colors of bruises, Lily thought. Images washed over her mind. Beth’s ruined hair, Lily sneered to herself, was the color of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Her raven black nails at the ends of her mannish hands, the jangle of endless gold bracelets and tarnished rings betrayed want of character. Suddenly Lily was aware she was sweating. Seeking comfort, she glanced through the rectangle of glass in her exterior wall at the oak outside, as if a tree might herald refuge. But its limbs jeered at her, like creation scorned her gaze. The bruise-colored clouds above deepened her gloom.
“Good morning again, everyone. What questions do you have about Hamlet now that you’ve seen him plot to entrap his murdering Uncle Claudius?” Lily asked, trying to pull her thoughts, too, back to the play rather than to her melancholia.
“Do you think Hamlet loves his mother, Ms. Rood,” Michael asked.
“What makes you ask that?” Lily asked in turn.
“Hamlet aims to avenge his father’s murder–more than he longs for his mother and Claudius to repent for the murder of King Hamlet,” Michael said.
“I think he loves his mother, Michael. But he is prompted by his dead father’s ghost. He is importuned, in fact, to swear vengeance. Hamlet says, ‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite/That ever I was born to set it right!’” Lily said.
“I know,” Michael said, “but he seems so hateful to his own mother.”
“I think Hamlet loves his mother and his father—both of them. But perhaps it is the murder, the corruption and cover-ups in the kingdom, that Hamlet’s personality–his constitution–cannot endure. For whatever reason, he takes justice, as he sees it, into his own hands. He cannot accept the dissolution. Hamlet does not abide fallenness well.”
“Fallenness?” several students asked.
“Yes, that things are not the way they were in the beginning, that something is rotten, not just in Denmark, but with the world. Make sense?” Lily said.
Michael persisted. “So you think Hamlet loves his mother but he loves the idea of a perfect Denmark, a perfect kingdom, an unfallen world, more? Is that what you’re saying, Ms. Rood?”
“I think I am, Michael. May I ask you all a question now?”
The class sat up in their desks whenever Lily did this.
“Do you think Hamlet loved the truth more than he loved people?” Lily asked.
Lily watched her students’ faces. For a moment the class was silent.
“I hope not!” came a voice from the corridor. It was Thomas McDavid, smiling.
“Mr. McDavid. Welcome to our discussion. Would you like to lend some historical perspective?” Lily asked.
“I don’t know if it’s a historical perspective, Ms. Rood, or just a commonsense one,” Mr. McDavid said.
“As you wish then,” Lily said.
“When people love ideas more than people, blood spills. Empires designed on the basis of bad ideas litter history. Carnage is as old as, well, the fall…to use your language.”
“I didn’t ask whether he loved ideas more than people, but whether he loved the truth more than he loved people,” Lily said.
“Are they mutually exclusive?” Michael asked.
“Are you able to expand on your question, Michael?” Lily asked.
“I mean, what if Hamlet loved his father, and was therefore justified to hate Claudius, his father’s killer? That seems like a natural response, right? How does that make Hamlet one who loves truth more than people? Why must loving the truth be opposed to loving people?” Michael asked.
“Michael, I didn’t say that it was, did I?” Lily asked.
“No ma’am, Ms. Rood, you didn’t. But I thought you were suggesting that.”
“I simply asked whether Hamlet loved the truth more than he loved people,” Lily repeated.
“Because Hamlet loved the truth, he hated the corruption, the fallenness of things. Is that what you’re saying, Ms. Rood?”
“I think so, Michael. But I think Hamlet assumed roles that did not properly belong to him,” Lily said.
“Setting things right was not his prerogative, was it?”
“Vengeance was not rightly his, but he made it his, and tragedy unfolded,” Lily said.
“Just as I was saying, Ms. Rood!” said Thomas McDavid, smiling. “By the way, I did not come to conjecture about Hamlet’s motives, my young friend, but to tell you that Mrs. Wilkins says we’re going to meet in the library this afternoon at 3:45 to meet the new counselor.”
“Yes of course,” Lily said. “Thank you, Mr. McDavid.”
Lily and her students watched Mr. McDavid turn away.
“We have a new counselor?” the students erupted. “Who is it? Did someone leave? Did someone get fired?”
“This is English class. We don’t entangle ourselves in banalities, now do we?” Lily asked. “How about we return our thoughts to Hamlet’s plot to avenge his father’s murder? Isn’t that where our focus should be?”
“We were just wondering, Ms. Rood. Aren’t you curious about the changes at our school?” asked a polite girl at the rear of Lily’s class.
“I suppose I should be,” Lily said. “You are right. I suppose I should be.”
(To be continued)