Fiction > Harvard Classics > William Shakespeare > Hamlet
William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene IV
[A plain in Denmark]
Enter FORTINBRAS, [a Captain,] and army, [marching]

  For.  Go, captain, from me greet the Danish king.
Tell him that, by his license, Fortinbras
Claims the conveyance of a promis’d march
Over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous.        4
If that his Majesty would aught with us,
We shall express our duty in his eye; 1
And let him know so.
  Cap.        I will do ’t, my lord.        8
  For.  Go softly 2 on.  Exeunt FORTINBRAS [and Soldiers].
[Enter HAMLET, ROSENCRANTZ, and others

  Ham.  Good sir, whose powers are these?
  Cap.  They are of Norway, sir.
  Ham.  How purpos’d, sir, I pray you?        12
  Cap.  Against some part of Poland.
  Ham.  Who commands them, sir?
  Cap.  The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras.
  Ham.  Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,        16
Or for some frontier?
  Cap.  Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.        20
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
  Ham.  Why, then the Polack never will defend it.        24
  Cap.  Yes, it is already garrison’d.
  Ham.  Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw.
This is the imposthume 3 of much wealth and peace,        28
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. I humbly thank you, sir.
  Cap.  God buy you, sir.  [Exit.]
  Ros.        Will’t please you go, my lord?        32
  Ham.  I’ll be with you straight. Go a little before.  [Exeunt all except HAMLET.]
How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge? What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time        36
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason        40
To fust 4 in us unus’d. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,—
A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom        44
And ever three parts coward,—I do not know
Why yet I live to say, “This thing’s to do,”
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me;        48
Witness this army of such mass and charge 5
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d
Makes mouths at the invisible event,        52
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument, 6        56
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,        60
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That for a fantasy and trick 7 of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot        64
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent 8
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!]  Exit.        68
Note 1. Presence. [back]
Note 2. Slowly. [back]
Note 3. Boil. [back]
Note 4. Mould. [back]
Note 5. Expense. [back]
Note 6. Matter of dispute. [back]
Note 7. Trifle. [back]
Note 8. Receptacle. [back]


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