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Hamlet

Hamlet Translation Act 1, Scene 4

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HAMLET, HORATIO, and MARCELLUS enter.

HAMLET

The air bites shrewdly. It is very cold.

HAMLET

The air bites wickedly. It is very cold.

HORATIO

It is a nipping and an eager air.

HORATIO

Yes, the air is nipping and sharp.

HAMLET

What hour now?

HAMLET

What time is it now?

HORATIO

I think it lacks of twelve.

HORATIO

Just before twelve, I think.

MARCELLUS

No, it is struck.

MARCELLUS

No, the clock struck twelve.

HORATIO

Indeed? I heard it not. It then draws near the seasonWherein the spirit held his wont to walk.

HORATIO

Really? I didn’t hear it. So it’s getting close to the time when the ghost usually appears.

Trumpets sound, and two cannons fire.

HORATIO

What does this mean, my lord?

HORATIO

What does that mean, sir?

HAMLET

The king doth wake tonight and takes his rouse, Keeps wassail and the swaggering upspring reels, And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down, The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out The triumph of his pledge.

HAMLET

The king is staying up late partying. And as he carouses, and dances, and guzzles his German wine, the musicians play the drum and trumpet to mark each time he drinks another cup.

HORATIO

Is it a custom?

HORATIO

Is that a tradition?

HAMLET

Ay, marry, is ’t. But to my mind, though I am native here And to the manner born, it is a custom More honored in the breach than the observance. This heavy-headed revel east and west Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations. They clepe us drunkards and with swinish phrase Soil our addition. And indeed it takes From our achievements, though performed at height, The pith and marrow of our attribute. So oft it chances in particular men That for some vicious mole of nature in them— As in their birth (wherein they are not guilty, Since nature cannot choose his origin), By the o’ergrowth of some complexion, Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, Or by some habit that too much o’erleavens The form of plausive manners— that these men, Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, Being nature’s livery or fortune’s star, Their virtues else (be they as pure as grace, As infinite as man may undergo) Shall in the general censure take corruption From that particular fault. The dram of evil Doth all the noble substance of a doubt To his own scandal.

HAMLET

It is. But in my opinion—though I was born here and should think it natural—I’d say it’s a custom that we’d be better off ignoring rather than observing. Countries to the east and west mock and criticize us for our partying. They call us drunks and pigs, staining our reputation. And they’re right—our behavior does reduce our achievements, despite their greatness, because it is a flaw in our core qualities. It’s similar to what happens to certain people who are born with some terrible defect (a defect for which they bear no responsibility, since no one can choose his own beginning); or some excess of a more normal trait; or some kind of compulsion that makes it impossible for them to act in a way that pleases others. For such men as these—even if they are kind or limitlessly talented—this single defect, whether they were born with it or got it through some misfortune, will result in others always seeing them as corrupt or evil. That tiny bit of evil casts doubt on all their good qualities and wrecks their reputations.

The GHOST enters.

HORATIO

Look, my lord, it comes!

HORATIO

Look, here comes the ghost, my lord!

HAMLET

Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned, Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, Be thy intents wicked or charitable, Thou comest in such a questionable shape That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee “Hamlet,” “King,” “Father,” “royal Dane.” O, answer me! Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death, Have burst their cerements; why the sepulcher, Wherein we saw thee quietly interred, Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws To cast thee up again. What may this mean, That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel Revisits thus the glimpses of the moon, Making night hideous and we fools of nature, So horridly to shake our disposition With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls? Say why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

HAMLET

Angels protect us! Whether you’re a good spirit bringing breezes from heaven, or an evil demon wielding hell fire, whether your intentions are wicked or friendly, you appear in a shape that invites so many questions that I must speak to you. I’ll call you “Hamlet,” “King,” “Father,” “royal Dane.” Oh, answer me! Don’t make me explode from curiosity. Tell me why your bones, which were blessed and sanctified in burial rites, have burst out of their coffin, and why your tomb, in whose quiet we buried you, has opened up its weighty marble jaws to spit you out again. What does it mean that you, dead corpse, once again walk beneath the moon in full armor—making the night terrifying, and forcing on us mere mortals to face thoughts that are beyond our ability to understand? Tell me why? Why? What should we do?

The GHOST motions for HAMLET to follow it.

HORATIO

It beckons you to go away with it,As if it some impartment did desireTo you alone.

HORATIO

It motions you to go off with it, as if it wants to say something to you alone.

MARCELLUS

Look, with what courteous actionIt waves you to a more removèd ground.But do not go with it.

MARCELLUS

Look how politely it’s directing you to go to a spot that’s farther away. But don’t go with it.

HORATIO

No, by no means.

HORATIO

No, by all means do not.

HAMLET

It will not speak. Then I will follow it.

HAMLET

It’s not going to speak here. So I will follow it.

HORATIO

Do not, my lord.

HORATIO

Don’t, my lord.

HAMLET

Why, what should be the fear? I do not set my life in a pin’s fee, And for my soul—what can it do to that, Being a thing immortal as itself? It waves me forth again. I’ll follow it.

HAMLET

Why, what should I fear? I don’t value my life at even the price of a pin. And as for my soul, what can the ghost do to that, since it’s as immortal as the ghost is? It’s waving for me to come after it again. I’ll follow it.

HORATIO

What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff That beetles o’er his base into the sea, And there assume some other horrible form, Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason And draw you into madness? Think of it. The very place puts toys of desperation, Without more motive, into every brain That looks so many fathoms to the sea And hears it roar beneath.

HORATIO

What if it leads you toward the sea, my lord? Or to the high cliff that overhangs the ocean, and then morphs into a beast so horrible that seeing it drives you insane? Think about it. That cliff's edge over the sea—with its view into those watery depths and the roar of the crashing waves—makes people feel despair even when they have no reason to.

HAMLET

It waves me still.—Go on. I’ll follow thee.

HAMLET

It’s still waving to me. 

[To the GHOST] Go on, I’ll follow you.

MARCELLUS

You shall not go, my lord.

MARCELLUS

You will not go, my lord.

MARCELLUS and HORATIO try to hold HAMLET back.

HAMLET

Hold off your hands.

HAMLET

Let go of me.

HORATIO

Be ruled. You shall not go.

HORATIO

Listen to us. You must not go.

HAMLET

My fate cries out And makes each petty artery in this body As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve. Still am I called.—Unhand me, gentlemen. [draws his sword] By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me. I say, away! —Go on. I’ll follow thee.

HAMLET

My fate calls out to me, making every sinew of my body as taut as those of the legendary Nemean lion. The ghost still motions for me. Let go of me, gentlemen. [He draws his sword] By God, I’ll make a ghost of any of you who holds me back! I say, move away!

[To the GHOST] Go on. I’ll follow you.

The GHOST and HAMLET exit.

HORATIO

He waxes desperate with imagination.

HORATIO

His wild thoughts have made him desperate.

MARCELLUS

Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.

MARCELLUS

Let’s follow him. It’s not right for us to obey his orders to stay away.

HORATIO

Have after. To what issue will this come?

HORATIO

Let’s go after him. But what does all this mean?

MARCELLUS

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

MARCELLUS

That something is wrong in the state of Denmark.

HORATIO

Heaven will direct it.

HORATIO

God will determine what will come of all this.

MARCELLUS

Nay, let’s follow him.

MARCELLUS

No, let’s follow him.

They exit.

Hamlet
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Ben florman
About the Translator: Ben Florman

Ben is a co-founder of LitCharts. He holds a BA in English Literature from Harvard University, where as an undergraduate he won the Winthrop Sargent prize for best undergraduate paper on a topic related to Shakespeare.