From The Diary Of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, During His Stay At England, Whither He Was Sent to Study At The University At Oxford, Under The Special Care Of Polonius



by Maurice Baring

Balliol College, Monday.—Read aloud my Essay on Equality to the Master. It began: “Treat all men as your equals, especially the rich.” The Master commented on this sentence. He said, “Very ribald, Prince Hamlet, very ribald.”

In training for the annual fencing match between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Doing my utmost to reduce my flesh which is far too solid.

Tuesday.—Went to Abingdon for the day. When I came back I found that havoc had been made of my rooms: both the virginals broken to pieces—all the furniture destroyed, and all my pictures including a signed portrait of Ophelia.

Have my suspicions as to who has done this. Shall first make certain and then retaliate terribly. In the meantime it will be politic to conceal my annoyance.

Friday.—Dined last night with a society of Undergraduates who meet together in a Barn to discuss Falconry and French verse. Rhenish wine served in great quantities. Feigned drunkenness in order to discover who was guilty of taking liberties with my furniture. As I suspected, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were the culprits. They as good as admitted it in their cups.

Intend to be revenged some day, and that royally.

Saturday.—When we returned home from the barn last night, it was of course necessary for me to keep up the false semblance of intoxication with which I had started the evening.

This I did by improvising and singing quaint rhymeless couplets as we strutted across the Quadrangle of the College. It so chanced that we encountered the Dean, who addressed me. I answered, keeping up the part: “Buzz. Buzz.”

Monday.—A College meeting was held this morning and I was summoned to appear on the charges:—

(a) Of having been intoxicated.

(b) Of having insulted the Dean.

(c) Of having persuaded and finally compelled the younger members of the College to drink more than was good for them.

To which I replied (a) that seeing that I was in strict training it was obvious that the charge of intoxication was unfounded; (b) that so far from insulting the Dean, I had addressed him in Danish, and that familiar as I knew him to be with all the languages of Europe and especially the Scandinavian tongues, he had probably not realized to the full the exact shade of deference, respect, and awe which the expression I used implied; (c) that as far as the charge of corrupting the young was concerned, I was not ashamed to stand in the same dock with Socrates, and I would cheerfully, if the College authorities and my Royal parents thought fit, share the doom of my august master. Finally I reminded the noble and learned assembly that were I to be expelled, even temporarily, from the College I should be unable (a) to represent the Alma Mater with the rapier against the University of Cambridge, who had a powerful champion of the noble art in Laertes, a fellow-countryman of mine; and (b) I should not be able to row in the College boat. I concluded by saying that certain as I was that my royal parents would endorse any decision which should be arrived at by the Master and his Colleagues, I was convinced that were I to be sent down from the College, my royal father, in order that my studies might not be interrupted, would immediately send me to Cambridge.

The net result of all this is that I am admonished.

Later in the Day I received a note from the Dean asking me to dine with him next Thursday.

Sunday.—Breakfasted with the Master to meet the Poet Laureate, the Archbishop of York, the Lord Chancellor, the French ambassador, and Quattrovalli, a celebrated Italian juggler. The poet laureate read out an Ode he had just composed on the King’s sixth marriage. Very poor.

Monday.—Took part in the debate held by the College Debating Society. The subject being whether Homer’s Epics were written by Homer or by a Committee of Athenian Dons.

Took what seemed to the audience a paradoxical view that they were written by Homer.

Tuesday.—Gave a small dinner party in my rooms. Horatio and a few others. Again compelled to feign intoxication, so as not to mar the harmony of the evening. Burnt a small organ, and rather a complicated printing press, belonging to a German undergraduate named Faustus, in the Quadrangle.

Wednesday.—The master commenting on last night’s bonfire said he thought it was not humorous, and fined us heavily. Have as yet found no opportunity of revenging myself on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Thursday.—Coached by Polonius for two hours in Scottish history. Very tedious. In the afternoon went on the river in my boat the “Ophelia.” Faustus has been sent down for trying to raise the Devil in the precincts of the College. It appears this is strictly against the rules. His excuse was that he had always understood that the College authorities disbelieved in a personal devil. To which the Dean replied: “We are all bound to believe in the Devil in a spiritual sense, Mr Faustus.” And Faustus imprudently asked in what other sense you could believe in him.

Friday.—Must really settle this business of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern soon. It is beginning to prey upon my mind. They are quite insufferable. Have lost one stone since the term began, which is satisfactory. Fencing match is to take place next week, here.

Saturday.—The man who has the rooms opposite mine is a Spaniard. A nobleman very cultivated and amiable. His name is Quixote. Consulted him last night as to what to do about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Quixote said it was entirely a point of honour. That if I were certain they were guilty, and certain likewise that they had purposely insulted me, I should challenge them each, separately, to personal combat, with sword and rapier. I pointed out, however, that whereas I was a champion swordsman, and indeed had been chosen to represent the University, they had no skill at all. Moreover, I considered that to challenge them to fight would be doing them too much honour. Quixote said I must indubitably, take action of some kind, or else I would incur the suspicion of cowardice. At that moment—we were talking by the open casement—I saw in the darkness, walking stealthily along the wall a man whom I took to be Guildenstern. Seizing a bottle of white wine from Xeres with which Quixote had entertained me, I flung it out of the window on to the head of the skulker, but alas! it was not Guildenstern but the Dean himself!

Monday.—Again appeared before a College meeting. Accused of having wantonly wounded, and almost murdered the Dean. Protested my innocence in vain. It was further suggested I was intoxicated. Lost my temper, which was a mistake, and called the Dean a villain, losing control over my epithets.

Sent down for the rest of the term. Polonius is very angry. He has written to my father suggesting that I should not go back to Oxford, nor seek to enter Cambridge either, but go to Wittenberg instead. Owing to my abrupt departure the fencing match with Laertes will not come oft. No matter, a day will come, when maybe I shall be revenged on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We go to London to-day.

Originally published in Lost Diaries, by Maurice Baring, 1913.

About the Author:

Maurice Baring (27 April 1874 – 14 December 1945) was an English writer, dramatist, poet, novelist, translator and essayist.