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 VII
[Another room in the castle]

  King.  Now must your conscience my acquittance seal;
And you must put me in your heart for friend,
Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear,
That he which hath your noble father slain        4
Pursued my life.
  Laer.        It well appears. But tell me
Why you proceeded not against these feats,
So crimeful and so capital in nature,        8
As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
You mainly were stirr’d up.
  King.        O, for two special reasons,
Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew’d,        12
And yet to me they are strong. The Queen his mother
Lives almost by his looks; and for myself—
My virtue or my plague, be it either which—
She’s so conjunctive 1 to my life and soul,        16
That, as the star moves not but in his sphere,
I could not but by her. The other motive
Why to a public count I might not go,
Is the great love the general gender 2 bear him;        20
Who, dipping all his faults in their affection,
Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone,
Convert his gyves 3 to graces; so that my arrows,
Too slightly timb’red for so loud a wind,        24
Would have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aim’d them.
  Laer.  And so have I a noble father lost,
A sister driven into desperate terms,        28
Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
Stood challenger on mount of all the age
For her perfections. But my revenge will come.
  King.  Break not your sleeps for that. You must not think        32
That we are made of stuff so flat and dull
That we can let our beard be shook with danger
And think it pastime. You shortly shall hear more.
I lov’d your father, and we love ourself,        36
And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine—
Enter a Messenger with letters

How now! What news?
  Mess.        Letters, my lord, from Hamlet.
This to your Majesty; this to the Queen.        40
  King.  From Hamlet! Who brought them?
  Mess.  Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not.
They were given me by Claudio. He receiv’d them
[Of him that brought them].        44
  King.        Laertes, you shall hear them.
Leave us.  Exit Messenger.
  [Reads.]  “High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. To-morrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I shall, first asking your pardon thereunto, recount the occasions of my sudden and more strange return.
What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?        48
Or is it some abuse, or no such thing?
  Laer.  Know you the hand?
  King.  ’Tis Hamlet’s character. “Naked!”
And in a postscript here, he says, “alone.”        52
Can you advise me?
  Laer.  I’m lost in it, my lord. But let him come.
It warms the very sickness in my heart
That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,        56
“Thus didest thou.”
  King.        If it be so, Laertes,—
As how should it be so? How otherwise?—
Will you be rul’d by me?        60
  Laer.        [Ay, my lord,]
If so you’ll not o’errule me to a peace.
  King.  To thine own peace. If he be now return’d,
As checking 4 at his voyage, and that he means        64
No more to undertake it, I will work him
To an exploit, now ripe in my device,
Under the which he shall not choose but fall;
And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,        68
But even his mother shall uncharge the practice 5
And call it accident.
  [Laer.        My lord, I will be rul’d;
The rather, if you could devise it so        72
That I might be the organ. 6
  King.        It falls right.
You have been talk’d of since your travel much,
And that in Hamlet’s hearing, for a quality        76
Wherein, they say, you shine. Your sum of parts
Did not together pluck such envy from him
As did that one, and that, in my regard,
Of the unworthiest siege. 7        80
  Laer.        What part is that, my lord?
  King.  A very riband in the cap of youth,
Yet needful too; for youth no less becomes
The light and careless livery that it wears        84
Than settled age his sables and his weeds,
Importing health and graveness.] Two months since,
Here was a gentleman of Normandy;—
I’ve seen myself, and serv’d against, the French,        88
And they can well on horseback; but this gallant
Had witchcraft in ’t. He grew unto his seat,
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
As had he been incorps’d 8 and demi-natur’d        92
With the brave beast. So far he pass’d my thought,
That I, in forgery 9 of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.
  Laer.        A Norman, was ’t?        96
  King.  A Norman.
  Laer.  Upon my life, Lamound.
  King.        The very same.
  Laer.  I know him well. He is the brooch 10 indeed        100
And gem of all the nation.
  King.  He made confession of you,
And gave you such a masterly report
For art and exercise in your defence,        104
And for your rapier most especially,
That he cried out, ’twould be a sight indeed
If one could match you. [The scrimers 11 of their nation,
He swore, had neither motion, guard, nor eye,        108
If you oppos’d them.] Sir, this report of his
Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy
That he could nothing do but wish and beg
Your sudden coming o’er to play with him.        112
Now, out of this—
  Laer.        What out of this, my lord?
  King.  Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,        116
A face without a heart?
  Laer.        Why ask you this?
  King.  Not that I think you did not love your father,
But that I know love is begun by time,        120
And that I see, in passages of proof, 12
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
[There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it,        124
And nothing is at a like goodness still;
For goodness, growing to a plurisy, 13
Dies in his own too much. That we would do,
We should do when we would; for this “would” changes,        128
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents;
And then this “should” is like a spendthrift sigh, 14
That hurts by easing. But, to the quick o’ the ulcer:—]        132
Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake,
To show yourself your father’s son in deed
More than in words?
  Laer.        To cut his throat i’ the church.        136
  King.  No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize; 15
Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes,
Will you do this, keep close within your chamber?
Hamlet return’d shall know you are come home.        140
We’ll put on those shall praise your excellence
And set a double varnish on the fame
The Frenchman gave you, bring you, in fine, together
And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,        144
Most generous and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils, so that, with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, 16 and in a pass of practice 17        148
Requite him for your father.
  Laer.        I will do ’t;
And, for that purpose, I’ll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank, 18        152
So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
Where it draws blood no cataplasm 19 so rare,
Collected from all simples 20 that have virtue
Under the moon, can save the thing from death        156
That is but scratch’d withal. I’ll touch my point
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.
  King.        Let’s further think of this,        160
Weigh what convenience both of time and means
May fit us to our shape. If this should fail,
And that our drift look through our bad performance,
’Twere better not assay’d; therefore this project        164
Should have a back or second, that might hold
If this should blast in proof. 21 Soft! let me see.
We’ll make a solemn wager on your cunnings,—
I ha ’t!        168
When in your motion you are hot and dry—
As make your bouts more violent to that end—
And that he calls for drink, I’ll have prepar’d him
A chalice for the nonce, 22 whereon but sipping,        172
If he by chance escape your venom’d stuck, 23
Our purpose may hold there. But stay, what noise?

        How, sweet queen!
  Queen.  One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,        176
So fast they follow. Your sister’s drown’d, Laertes.
  Laer.  Drown’d! O, where?
  Queen.  There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.        180
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples 24
That liberal 25 shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them;        184
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious silver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,        188
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of 26 her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued 27        192
Unto that element. But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.        196
  Laer.        Alas, then, is she drown’d?
  Queen.  Drown’d, drown’d.
  Laer.  Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears. But yet        200
It is our trick. Nature her custom holds,
Let shame say what it will; when these are gone,
The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord;
I have a speech of fire that fain would blaze,        204
But that this folly douts 28 it.  Exit.
  King.        Let’s follow, Gertrude.
How much I had to do to calm his rage!
Now fear I this will give it start again,        208
Therefore let’s follow.  Exeunt.
Note 1. Closely joined. [back]
Note 2. Multitude. [back]
Note 3. Fetters. [back]
Note 4. Refusing to proceed. [back]
Note 5. Free the plot from blame. [back]
Note 6. Instrument, means. [back]
Note 7. Rank. [back]
Note 8. Incorporated. [back]
Note 9. Imagination. [back]
Note 10. Ornament. [back]
Note 11. Fencers. [back]
Note 12. Proved instances. [back]
Note 13. Excess. [back]
Note 14. Sighing was supposed to draw blood from the heart, and so shorten life. [back]
Note 15. Protect, as in a sanctuary. [back]
Note 16. Unblunted. [back]
Note 17. Treacherous thrust. [back]
Note 18. Quack doctor. [back]
Note 19. Poultice. [back]
Note 20. Herbs. [back]
Note 21. Be blighted in trial. [back]
Note 22. Occasion. [back]
Note 23. Thrust. [back]
Note 24. Orchis. [back]
Note 25. Free-spoken. [back]
Note 26. Insensible of. [back]
Note 27. Fitted to. [back]
Note 28. Extinguishes. [back]


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