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Hamlet

Hamlet Translation Act 2, Scene 2

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Trumpets sound. CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE enter, with ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and attendants.

CLAUDIUS

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Moreover that we much did long to see you, The need we have to use you did provoke Our hasty sending. Something have you heard Of Hamlet’s “transformation”—so call it Since nor th’ exterior nor the inward man Resembles that it was. What it should be, More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him So much from th’ understanding of himself, I cannot dream of. I entreat you both That, being of so young days brought up with him And since so neighbored to his youth and ‘havior, That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court Some little time so by your companies To draw him on to pleasures and to gather, So much as from occasion you may glean, Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him thus That, opened, lies within our remedy.

CLAUDIUS

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Not only have I wanted to see you, but I also urgently need your help, which is why I sent for you. You may have heard about Hamlet’s recent “transformation”—that’s the right word, since he’s changed both inside and out from what he was before. Other than his father’s death, I can’t imagine what’s made him so unlike himself. Since you both grew up with him and are so familiar with him, I ask you both to stay here at court for a while. Spend time with Hamlet, get him to enjoy life again, and try to find out if there’s anything we don’t know about that’s bothering him—so we can try to fix it.

GERTRUDE

Good gentlemen, he hath much talked of you. And sure I am two men there are not living To whom he more adheres. If it will please you To show us so much gentry and good will As to expend your time with us awhile For the supply and profit of our hope, Your visitation shall receive such thanks As fits a king’s remembrance.

GERTRUDE

Gentlemen, Hamlet’s talked about you a lot. I’m certain that here are no two men alive with whom he’s closer. If you’d be willing to show us the kindness of staying with us a while to try to help us, we’ll reward you in such a way as only a king can.

ROSENCRANTZ

Both your majesties Might, by the sovereign power you have of us, Put your dread pleasures more into command Than to entreaty.

ROSENCRANTZ

Based on the power you have over us as your subjects, both your Majesties could have ordered us to follow your command, instead of asking us.

GUILDENSTERN

But we both obey And here give up ourselves, in the full bent, To lay our service freely at your feet To be commanded.

GUILDENSTERN

But we’ll obey. We give ourselves to you, and lay our services at your command.

CLAUDIUS

Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.

CLAUDIUS

Thanks, Rosencrantz and worthy Guildenstern.

GERTRUDE

Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz. And I beseech you instantly to visit My too much changèd son. Go, some of you, And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.

GERTRUDE

Thanks, Guildenstern and worthy Rosencrantz. I beg you to immediately visit my son, who’s changed too much. 

[To attendants] Go, servants, and bring these gentlemen to Hamlet.

GUILDENSTERN

Heavens make our presence and our practicesPleasant and helpful to him!

GUILDENSTERN

I hope God makes us able to bring him help and happiness!

GERTRUDE

Ay, amen!

GERTRUDE

Yes, amen!

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN exit, escorted by attendants.

POLONIUS enters.

POLONIUS

Th’ ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,Are joyfully returned.

POLONIUS

The ambassadors have returned from Norway in great spirits, my good lord.

CLAUDIUS

Thou still hast been the father of good news.

CLAUDIUS

You once more have brought good news.

POLONIUS

Have I, my lord? I assure my good liege, I hold my duty as I hold my soul, Both to my God and to my gracious king. And I do think—or else this brain of mine Hunts not the trail of policy so sure As it hath used to do—that I have found The very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.

POLONIUS

Have I, my lord? I assure you, my lord, my duty is as important to me as my soul. And I give both to my God and my blessed king. And—unless this brain of mine is not able to track the twists and turns of politics as it used to—I believe that I’ve discovered the cause of Hamlet’s madness.

CLAUDIUS

Oh, speak of that. That do I long to hear.

CLAUDIUS

Oh, tell me! I’d love to hear it.

POLONIUS

Give first admittance to th’ ambassadors.My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.

POLONIUS

First, let the ambassadors come in. My news will be like the dessert to the feast that is their news.

CLAUDIUS

Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.

CLAUDIUS

Please go to them yourself, and bring them in.

POLONIUS exits.

CLAUDIUS

He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath foundThe head and source of all your son’s distemper.

CLAUDIUS

My dear Gertrude, he says he’s discovered the cause of your son’s anger and moodiness.

GERTRUDE

I doubt it is no other but the main:His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage.

GERTRUDE

I doubt it’s anything other than the obvious reason: his father’s death and our overly quick marriage.

POLONIUS enters with the ambassadors VOLTEMAND and CORNELIUS.

CLAUDIUS

Well, we shall sift him.—Welcome, my good friends!Say, Voltemand, what from our brother Norway?

CLAUDIUS

Well, we’ll investigate until we figure it out. 

[To VOLTEMAND and CORNELIUS] Welcome, my good friends. So, Voltemand, what’s the news from the King of Norway?

VOLTEMAND

Most fair return of greetings and desires. Upon our first, he sent out to suppress His nephew’s levies, which to him appeared To be a preparation ‘gainst the Polack, But, better looked into, he truly found It was against your highness. Whereat grieved— That so his sickness, age, and impotence Was falsely borne in hand—sends out arrests On Fortinbras, which he, in brief, obeys, Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine Makes vow before his uncle never more To give th’ assay of arms against your majesty. Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy, Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee And his commission to employ those soldiers, So levied as before, against the Polack, With an entreaty, herein further shown, That it might please you to give quiet pass Through your dominions for this enterprise, On such regards of safety and allowance As therein are set down. [gives CLAUDIUS a document]

VOLTEMAND

And our greetings to you. The moment we spoke with the king, he moved to put a stop to his nephew’s war preparations—which he had thought were directed against Poland, but, when he looked closer, he saw were directed against you. He was upset that Fortinbras took advantage of his sickness and weakness to deceive him, and he arrested and rebuked Fortinbras, forcing him to swear never again to lift arms against your Majesty. The old Norwegian king was so overjoyed by this turn of events that he gave young Fortinbras an annual income of three thousand crowns, as well as permission to lead the soldiers he had gathered against Poland. In this letter, the king officially asks you to let Fortinbras’ troops pass quietly through your lands on their way to Poland, and assures you of your safety. [He gives CLAUDIUS a document]

CLAUDIUS

It likes us well, And at our more considered time we’ll read, Answer, and think upon this business. Meantime we thank you for your well-took labor. Go to your rest. At night we’ll feast together. Most welcome home!

CLAUDIUS

This is good news, and when I have more time to concentrate, I’ll read this, think about it, and reply. Meanwhile, thank you for your work. Go now, and rest. Tonight we’ll feast. And welcome home!

VOLTEMAND and CORNELIUS exit.

POLONIUS

This business is well ended. My liege and madam, to expostulate What majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night night, and time is time, Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief: your noble son is mad. Mad call I it, for, to define true madness, What is ’t but to be nothing else but mad? But let that go.

POLONIUS

That’s a good outcome to this situation. My lord and my lady, to make grand speeches about what majesty is, what service is, or why day is day, night is night, and time is time, would be nothing more than a waste of day, night, and time. Therefore, since being concise is the essence of wisdom—and nothing is so boring as endless verbal flourishes—I’ll get to the point. Your son is crazy. “Crazy” I’m saying, because how can you define craziness other than to say that it’s craziness? But that’s a different issue.

GERTRUDE

More matter, with less art.

GERTRUDE

More substance, less style.

POLONIUS

Madam, I swear I use no art at all. That he is mad, ’tis true. Tis true, ’tis pity, And pity ’tis ’tis true—a foolish figure, But farewell it, for I will use no art. Mad let us grant him then. And now remains That we find out the cause of this effect, Or rather say, the cause of this defect, For this effect defective comes by cause. Thus it remains, and the remainder thus. Perpend. I have a daughter—have while she is mine— Who in her duty and obedience, mark, Hath given me this. Now gather and surmise. [reads a letter] “To the celestial and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia” —That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase. “Beautified” is a vile phrase. But you shall hear. Thus: [reads the letter] “In her excellent white bosom, these,” etc.—

POLONIUS

Madam, I swear I’m using no style at all. It's true that he’s crazy. It’s true, it’s a pity, and it’s a pity that it’s true—but now I’m talking like a fool, so I’ll let that go and get to the point. We all agree that Hamlet’s crazy. Now all we have to do is to figure out the cause behind the effect—or I guess I should say defect, since this defective effect must have a cause. That’s what we have to do, and now I will continue with the rest of what I have to say. Consider this: I have a daughter—until she gets married—who in her obedience and duty to me has given me this letter. Now listen to this: [He reads a letter] “To the heavenly idol of my soul, the most beautified Ophelia”—That’s an ugly phrase, an ugly phrase. That “beautified” is a terrible use of the word. But I’ll continue: [He reads the letter] “In her excellent white bosom,” et cetera—

GERTRUDE

Came this from Hamlet to her?

GERTRUDE

This is from Hamlet to Ophelia?

POLONIUS

Good madam, stay a while. I will be faithful. [reads the letter] “Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love. O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers. I have not art to reckon my groans, but that I love thee best, oh, most best, believe it. Adieu. Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him, Hamlet.” This in obedience hath my daughter shown me, And more above, hath his solicitings, As they fell out by time, by means, and place, All given to mine ear.

POLONIUS

Madam, please be patient. I’ll read it as its written. [He reads the letter]
“You may doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun moves across the sky,
Doubt if the truth is actually a liar,
But never doubt my love.
Oh, sweet Ophelia, I’m bad at poetry. I have no skill to put my feelings into words. But please believe that I love you best, oh, best of all—believe it. Goodbye. Yours forever, my dearest lady, as long as this body is still mine, Hamlet.”
 In her obedience to me, my daughter showed me this letter and more besides, as well as telling me how Hamlet has been courting her—when, how, and where.

CLAUDIUS

But how hath she received his love?

CLAUDIUS

And how did she respond to his love?

POLONIUS

What do you think of me?

POLONIUS

What is your opinion of me?

CLAUDIUS

As of a man faithful and honorable.

CLAUDIUS

You are a loyal and honorable man.

POLONIUS

I would fain prove so. But what might you think, When I had seen this hot love on the wing— As I perceived it, I must tell you that, Before my daughter told me what might you, Or my dear majesty your queen here, think, If I had played the desk or table-book, Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb, Or looked upon this love with idle sight? What might you think? No, I went round to work, And my young mistress thus I did bespeak: “Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star. This must not be.” And then I prescripts gave her, That she should lock herself from his resort, Admit no messengers, receive no tokens. Which done, she took the fruits of my advice; And he, repelled—a short tale to make— Fell into a sadness, then into a fast, Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness, Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension, Into the madness wherein now he raves And all we mourn for.

POLONIUS

I would gladly prove that I am. But what would you have thought if I had learned of this hot affair—and I must tell you, I noticed it before my daughter told me of it—what would your dear wife, her Majesty the Queen, have thought if I had been silent in the face of what I say? Or if I had just allowed it to continue, or just ignored it? No, I had to do something. And so I said to my daughter: “Lord Hamlet is a prince and above your social rank. You must end this.” And then I ordered her to make it impossible for him to see her, to refuse all messages, and accept no gifts. She followed my advice. In short, Hamlet, faced with this rejection, became sad. He stopped eating, stopped sleeping, got weak, got dizzy, and, moving step by step downward, eventually descended into the insanity that now holds him. And all of us grieve for him.

CLAUDIUS

[to GERTRUDE] Do you think ’tis this?

CLAUDIUS

[To GERTRUDE] Do you think this is the cause of Hamlet’s behavior?

GERTRUDE

It may be, very like.

GERTRUDE

It may be, it very well may be.

POLONIUS

Hath there been such a time—I would fain know that—That I have positively said, “‘Tis so,”When it proved otherwise?

POLONIUS

Has there ever been a time—I’d gladly like to know—when I’ve definitively said something was true, and it turned out not to be true?

CLAUDIUS

Not that I know.

CLAUDIUS

Not that I know of.

POLONIUS

[points to his head and shoulders] Take this from this if this be otherwise. If circumstances lead me, I will find Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed Within the center.

POLONIUS

[Pointing to his head and shoulders] Take my head from my body if I’m wrong. I’ll follow the evidence and discover the truth, even if it’s hidden at the center of the earth.

CLAUDIUS

How may we try it further?

CLAUDIUS

How can we test your theory?

POLONIUS

You know sometimes he walks four hours togetherHere in the lobby.

POLONIUS

Well, you know he sometimes walks here in the main hall for four hours at a time.

GERTRUDE

So he does indeed.

GERTRUDE

Yes, he does indeed.

POLONIUS

At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him. [to CLAUDIUS] Be you and I behind an arras then, Mark the encounter. If he love her not And be not from his reason fall’n thereon, Let me be no assistant for a state But keep a farm and carters.

POLONIUS

During one such time, I’ll send my daughter to see him. 

[To CLAUDIUS] You and I will hide behind the tapestry and observe their encounter. If he does not love her and has not lost his sense because of it, then I should not be your assistant in statecraft and should instead go work on a farm.

CLAUDIUS

We will try it.

CLAUDIUS

We’ll try it.

HAMLET enters, reading a book.

GERTRUDE

But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.

GERTRUDE

Look how sadly he’s coming in, reading.

POLONIUS

Away, I do beseech you, both away.I’ll board him presently. O, give me leave.

POLONIUS

I beg you, please go away, both of you. I’ll speak to him now. Oh, please leave me to do it.

CLAUDIUS and GERTRUDE exit.

POLONIUS

How does my good Lord Hamlet?

POLONIUS

How do you do, Lord Hamlet?

HAMLET

Well, God-’a’-mercy.

HAMLET

Fine, thank you.

POLONIUS

Do you know me, my lord?

POLONIUS

Do you know who I am, my lord?

HAMLET

Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.

HAMLET

Of course. You are a fish seller.

POLONIUS

Not I, my lord.

POLONIUS

No, not me, my lord.

HAMLET

Then I would you were so honest a man.

HAMLET

Then I wish you were as honorable a man as a fish seller.

POLONIUS

Honest, my lord?

POLONIUS

Honorable, my lord?

HAMLET

Ay, sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be oneman picked out of ten thousand.

HAMLET

Yes, sir. In this world of ours, just one man in ten thousand is honorable.

POLONIUS

That’s very true, my lord.

POLONIUS

That’s very true, my lord.

HAMLET

For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion— Have you a daughter?

HAMLET

Because if the sun breeds maggots on a dead dog, kissing the corpse with its rays—do you have a daughter?

POLONIUS

I have, my lord.

POLONIUS

I do, my lord.

HAMLET

Let her not walk i’ th’ sun. Conception is a blessing, but, as your daughter may conceive—Friend, look to ’t.

HAMLET

Don’t let her walk out in the sun. Pregnancy is a blessing, but if your daughter gets pregnant-–think about it, friend.

POLONIUS

[aside] How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter. Yet he knew me not at first. He said I was a fishmonger. He is far gone, far gone. And truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love, very near this. I’ll speak to him again.

[to HAMLET] What do you read, my lord?

POLONIUS

[To himself] What does that mean? Still focused on my daughter. But he didn’t recognize me at first. He thought I was a fish seller. He’s far gone, far gone. And yet it’s true that when I was young I suffered terribly for love, almost as badly as Hamlet. I’ll talk to him again.

[To HAMLET] What are you reading, my lord?

HAMLET

Words, words, words.

HAMLET

Words, words, words.

POLONIUS

What is the matter, my lord?

POLONIUS

What is the subject?

HAMLET

Between who?

HAMLET

Between whom?

POLONIUS

I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.

POLONIUS

I mean, the subject of what you’re reading?

HAMLET

Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled,their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams —all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.

HAMLET

Oh, lies, sir. The joking rascal who wrote this says here that old men have gray beards, their faces are wrinkled, their eyes full of crust and gunk, and that they both lack wisdom and have weak thighs. And though I believe all of that is true, I still would argue that it’s not good behavior to write it down. For instance, you yourself would be as old as I am, if you could just travel backward like a crab, sir.

POLONIUS

[aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t. [to HAMLET] Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

POLONIUS

[To himself] There’s a method to his madness. 

[To HAMLET] Will you come in from outside, my lord?

HAMLET

Into my grave.

HAMLET

Into my grave.

POLONIUS

Indeed, that is out of the air. [aside] How pregnant sometimes his replies are. A happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will leave him and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter.— [to HAMLET] My honorable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

POLONIUS

Well, that’s certainly not outside. 

[To himself] His answers sometimes seem so full of meaning! That’s a talent that many insane people share, and that is less evident in people who are sane. I’ll leave him now and arrange a way for him to run into my daughter. 

[To HAMLET] My noble lord, I’ll now humbly leave you.

HAMLET

You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life.

HAMLET

There’s nothing I would more willingly give up than that—except my life, except my life, except my life.

POLONIUS

Fare you well, my lord.

POLONIUS

Take care, my lord.

HAMLET

[aside] These tedious old fools!

HAMLET

[To himself] These boring old fools!

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN enter.

POLONIUS

You go to seek the Lord Hamlet. There he is.

POLONIUS

You’re looking for Lord Hamlet. There he is.

ROSENCRANTZ

God save you, sir!

ROSENCRANTZ

Thank you, sir.

POLONIUS exits.

GUILDENSTERN

My honored lord!

GUILDENSTERN

My honorable lord!

ROSENCRANTZ

My most dear lord!

ROSENCRANTZ

My most dear lord!

HAMLET

My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern?Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do you both?

HAMLET

Ah, my good old friends! How are you, Guildenstern? And Rosencrantz! Good friends, how are you both doing?

ROSENCRANTZ

As the indifferent children of the earth.

ROSENCRANTZ

As well as any old average man.

GUILDENSTERN

Happy, in that we are not overhappy.On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.

GUILDENSTERN

Happy that we’re not too happy. We’re not exactly the luckiest men in the world.

HAMLET

Nor the soles of her shoes?

HAMLET

But not the unluckiest either, right?

ROSENCRANTZ

Neither, my lord.

ROSENCRANTZ

Neither, my lord.

HAMLET

Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?

HAMLET

So you’re hanging around Lady Luck’s waist, right in the middle of her favors?

GUILDENSTERN

Faith, her privates we.

GUILDENSTERN

Yup, we’re like privates in her army.

HAMLET

In the secret parts of Fortune? Oh, most true. She is astrumpet. What news?

HAMLET

You’re in Lady Luck’s private parts? Ah, it’s true. She is a whore. So what’s the news?

ROSENCRANTZ

None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest.

ROSENCRANTZ

Nothing other than that the world’s become honest, , my lord.

HAMLET

Then is doomsday near. But your news is not true. Let me question more in particular. What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune that she sendsyou to prison hither?

HAMLET

Then the end of the world must be coming. But you’re wrong. Let me ask you one question in particular: my good friends, what have you done to anger the fates that they have sent you here to this prison?

GUILDENSTERN

Prison, my lord?

GUILDENSTERN

Prison, my lord?

HAMLET

Denmark’s a prison.

HAMLET

Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ

Then is the world one.

ROSENCRANTZ

Then the whole world is one as well.

HAMLET

A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.

HAMLET

A big one, with lots of cells and dungeons—Denmark being one of the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ

We think not so, my lord.

ROSENCRANTZ

We don’t think so, my lord.

HAMLET

Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

HAMLET

Well, then it isn’t one to you, since nothing is inherently good or bad—it’s what you think of it that makes it so. To me, Denmark is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ

Why then, your ambition makes it one. ‘Tis too narrow for your mind.

ROSENCRANTZ

It must be your ambition that makes it one. It’s too small for your big ideas.

HAMLET

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I havebad dreams.

HAMLET

Oh God, I could be trapped inside a nutshell and consider myself a king of infinite space, if only I didn’t have bad dreams.

GUILDENSTERN

Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

GUILDENSTERN

Dreams are a mark of ambition. After all, ambition is just the shadow of a dream.

HAMLET

A dream itself is but a shadow.

HAMLET

A dream is itself just a shadow.

ROSENCRANTZ

Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.

ROSENCRANTZ

True, and I’d argue that ambition is so light and airy that it’s just a shadow of a shadow.

HAMLET

Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars’ shadows. Shall we to th’ court? For by my fay, I cannot reason.

HAMLET

Then beggars without ambition must be the ones with substance, while ambitious kings and heroes are just the shadows of those beggars. Should we go inside to the court? I swear, I can’t think straight any longer.

ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN

We’ll wait upon you.

ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN

We’re at your service.

HAMLET

No such matter. I will not sort you with the rest of myservants, for, to speak to you like an honest man, I ammost dreadfully attended. But in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?

HAMLET

Not at all. I won’t treat you like my servants, because, to be honest with you, my servants are pretty dreadful. Now, as my friends, tell me why you’ve returned here to Elsinore?

ROSENCRANTZ

To visit you, my lord, no other occasion.

ROSENCRANTZ

To visit you, my lord. No other reason.

HAMLET

Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I thankyou, and sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, come, deal justly with me. Come, come. Nay, speak.

HAMLET

Though I’m such a beggar that my thanks aren’t worth much, I still thank you. But did someone ask you to come? Or was it an idea you had all on your own? Come on, be honest with me. Come now. Tell me.

GUILDENSTERN

What should we say, my lord?

GUILDENSTERN

What should we say, my lord?

HAMLET

Why, any thing, but to th’ purpose. You were sent for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to color. I know the good king and queen have sent for you.

HAMLET

Anything, as long as it answers my question. You were sent for. I can see it in your faces. You’re not good enough liars to hide your thoughts. I know the king and queen sent for you.

ROSENCRANTZ

To what end, my lord?

ROSENCRANTZ

Why would they do that, my lord?

HAMLET

That you must teach me. But let me conjure you, by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved love, andby what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal: be even and direct with me whether you were sentfor or no.

HAMLET

You'll have to tell me that. But first, let me remind you of our longstanding friendship, the childhood we spent together, the duties of our love for each other, and everything else that a person more eloquent than I would describe. Now: answer me honestly and directly whether or not you were sent for.

ROSENCRANTZ

[to GUILDENSTERN] What say you?

ROSENCRANTZ

[To GUILDENSTERN] What do you think?

HAMLET

[aside] Nay, then, I have an eye of you—If you love me,hold not off.

HAMLET

[To himself] Ah, I’ve got my eye on you. 

[To ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN] If you care about me, you’ll tell me.

GUILDENSTERN

My lord, we were sent for.

GUILDENSTERN

My lord, we were sent for.

HAMLET

I will tell you why. So shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen moult no feather. I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor womanneither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

HAMLET

I’ll tell you why. That way you won’t have to reveal anything, and you can preserve the secrecy you promised to the king and queen. Lately, for reasons I don’t now, I’ve lost all my joy, stopped exercising, and feel so depressed that the entire world seems to be empty to me. This beautiful canopy, the sky—look at it, this splendid overarching sky, a majestic roof adorned with golden sunlight—why, to me it seems like nothing more than a foul collection of diseased air. What a masterpiece each human is! How noble in his ability to think, how unlimited in abilities, how attractive in his body and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! The most beautiful thing in the world. The perfect ideal, standing above all other animals. And yet, for me, what are humans like, except dust? Men don’t delight me. No, women neither—though your smiles seem to suggest that’s what you were thinking.

ROSENCRANTZ

My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

ROSENCRANTZ

My lord, I wasn’t thinking that at all.

HAMLET

Why did you laugh then, when I said “man delights not me”?

HAMLET

Why did you laugh, then, when I said that men don’t delight me?

ROSENCRANTZ

To think, my lord, if you delight not in man, what Lenten entertainment the players shall receive from you.We coted them on the way, and hither are they coming tooffer you service.

ROSENCRANTZ

My lord, I was thinking that if men don’t delight you, what a poor welcome you’ll give the coming troupe of actors. We crossed paths with them as we were on our way here, and they’re coming to entertain you.

HAMLET

He that plays the king shall be welcome. His majesty shall have tribute of me. The adventurous knight shall use his foil and target, the lover shall not sigh gratis, the humorous man shall end his part in peace, the clown shall make those laugh whose lungs are tickle o’ th’ sear, and the lady shall say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt for ’t. What players are they?

HAMLET

The one who plays the part of the king will be particularly welcome. He will be treated like a true king. The adventurous knight will get to use his sword and shield; the lover’s sighs will not go unrewarded; the crazy one will be allowed to finish without interruption; the clown will make everybody who laughs easily laugh; and the lady will get to speak her mind completely—or else I’ll stop the play. Which troupe is it?

ROSENCRANTZ

Even those you were wont to take delight in, the tragedians of the city.

ROSENCRANTZ

The troupe you used to love so much, the actors from the city who perform tragedies.

HAMLET

How chances it they travel? Their residence, both in reputation and profit, was better both ways.

HAMLET

Why are they traveling? They’re better known in the city and make more money there.

ROSENCRANTZ

I think their inhibition comes by the means of the lateinnovation.

ROSENCRANTZ

New theatrical fads in the city have made it more difficult for the troupe to do well there.

HAMLET

Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was inthe city? Are they so followed?

HAMLET

Are they as popular as they were when I was in the city? Do they still draw crowds?

ROSENCRANTZ

No, indeed are they not.

ROSENCRANTZ

No, they don’t.

HAMLET

How comes it? Do they grow rusty?

HAMLET

Why not? Are they getting rusty?

ROSENCRANTZ

Nay, their endeavor keeps in the wonted pace. But thereis, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question and are most tyrannically clapped for ’t. These are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.

ROSENCRANTZ

No, they’re as good as they always were. But they now have to compete with troupes of child actors who shout out their lines and get unbelievable applause for it. These child actors are now in fashion. And they so dominate the public theaters that high-society types are afraid to come, because they fear getting made fun of by the satirical playwrights who write for the boys.

HAMLET

What, are they children? Who maintains ‘em? How are they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no longer than they can sing? Will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players (as it is most like if their means are no better), their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession?

HAMLET

What, they’re actually children? Who takes care of them? Who supports them financially? Will they stop working once their voices change during puberty? Once they’ve grown to be adult actors (as is likely), won’t these children complain that their former playwrights have done them wrong by causing harm to the profession of acting?

ROSENCRANTZ

Faith, there has been much to do on both sides, and thenation holds it no sin to tar them to controversy. There was, for a while, no money bid for argument unlessthe poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.

ROSENCRANTZ

I swear, there’s been a big debate on the topic, with strong opinions on both sides. For a while, no one could even sell a play unless the play contained a scene in which a poet and an actor had a fistfight.

HAMLET

Is ’t possible?

HAMLET

Can that be possible?

GUILDENSTERN

Oh, there has been much throwing about of brains.

GUILDENSTERN

Oh, there’s been a lot of arguing.

HAMLET

Do the boys carry it away?

HAMLET

The boys are winning?

ROSENCRANTZ

Ay, that they do, my lord. Hercules and his load too.

ROSENCRANTZ

Yes, they are, my lord. The boys carry all of theater on their shoulders, just as Hercules carried the world.

HAMLET

It is not very strange. For my uncle is King of Denmark, and those that would make mouths at him while my father lived give twenty, forty, fifty, a hundred ducats apiece for his picture in little. ‘Sblood, there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.

HAMLET

Actually, it’s not so strange. My uncle is King of Denmark, and the same people who made fun of him when my father was alive now pay twenty, forty, fifty, a hundred gold coins apiece for a little painting of him. By God! There’s something unnatural about it, if you puzzle it out.

Trumpets sound offstage for the PLAYERS’ arrival.

GUILDENSTERN

There are the players.

GUILDENSTERN

There are the actors.

HAMLET

Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands, come then. Th’ appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony. Let me comply with you in this garb—lest my extent to the players, which, I tell you, must show fairly outwards, should more appear like entertainment than yours. You are welcome. But my uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived.

HAMLET

Gentlemen, welcome to Elsinore. Now come, shake my hand. Giving a proper welcome is a matter of following the current customs. Let’s follow the customs, then, so that my exuberant welcome to the players doesn’t make it seem like I’m happier to see them than I am to see you. You are welcome here. Even so, my uncle-father and aunt-mother are confused.

GUILDENSTERN

In what, my dear lord?

GUILDENSTERN

In what way, my dear lord?

HAMLET

I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

HAMLET

I’m only crazy at certain times. At others, I know exactly what’s happening.

POLONIUS enters.

POLONIUS

Well be with you, gentlemen.

POLONIUS

Gentlemen, I hope you’re well.

HAMLET

Hark you, Guildenstern, and you too—at each ear a hearer. [indicates POLONIUS] That great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling-clouts

HAMLET

Now listen, Guildenstern, and you too, Rosencrantz—each of you listen close. [He gestures toward POLONIUS] That big baby you see there is still wearing diapers.

ROSENCRANTZ

Happily he’s the second time come to them, for they sayan old man is twice a child.

ROSENCRANTZ

It’s his second time around, as they say—since an old man is like a child again.

HAMLET

[aside to ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN] I will prophesyhe comes to tell me of the players. Mark it. [to POLONIUS] — You say right, sir. O’ Monday morning, ’twas so indeed.

HAMLET

[To ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN so that only they can hear] I predict he’s coming to tell me about the actors. Watch.

[To POLONIUS] You’re correct, sir. On Monday morning, that was it.

POLONIUS

My lord, I have news to tell you.

POLONIUS

My lord, I have news to tell you.

HAMLET

My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was an actor in Rome—

HAMLET

My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was an actor in Rome—

POLONIUS

The actors are come hither, my lord.

POLONIUS

The actors have arrived, my lord.

HAMLET

Buzz, buzz.

HAMLET

Gossip, gossip.

POLONIUS

Upon my honor—

POLONIUS

I swear—

HAMLET

Then came each actor on his ass—

HAMLET

Then each actor came in on his ass.

POLONIUS

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable,or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.

POLONIUS

They’re the best actors in the world, for all sorts of plays—tragic, comic, historical, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical, one-act plays, or epic poems. The tragic playwright Seneca is not too serious for them, nor is the comic writer Plautus too silly. For both formal plays and freer dramas, these are the actors you want.

HAMLET

O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!

HAMLET

Oh, Jephthah, judge of ancient Israel, what a treasure you had!

POLONIUS

What a treasure had he, my lord?

POLONIUS

What treasure did he have, my lord?

HAMLET

Why, One fair daughter and no more,The which he lovèd passing well.

HAMLET

Well, [He sings]
One fine daughter, and no more,
Whom he loved beyond all others—

POLONIUS

[aside] Still on my daughter.

POLONIUS

[To himself] Still focused on my daughter.

HAMLET

Am I not i’ th’ right, old Jephthah?

HAMLET

Aren’t I right, old man Jephthah?

POLONIUS

If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.

POLONIUS

My lord, if you’re calling me Jephthah, I do have a daughter I love beyond all other things.

HAMLET

Nay, that follows not.

HAMLET

No, you don’t understand.

POLONIUS

What follows, then, my lord?

POLONIUS

What should I understand, then, my lord?

HAMLET

Why, As by lot, God wot, and then, you know, It came to pass, as most like it was— The first row of the pious chanson will show you more, for look where my abridgement comes.

HAMLET

Why, "as if by chance, God knows," and then, you know, "it happened, as was most likely expect"—you can learn more by looking at the first verse of the popular song, because I’m stopping now.

The PLAYERS enter.

HAMLET

You are welcome, masters, welcome, all! —I am glad to see thee well. —Welcome, good friends. —O old friend? Why,thy face is valenced since I saw thee last. Comest thouto beard me in Denmark? —What, my young lady and mistress! By ‘r Lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, benot cracked within the ring. —Masters, you are all welcome. We’ll e’en to ’t like French falconers, fly at any thing we see. We’ll have a speech straight. Come, give us a taste of your quality. Come, a passionate speech.

HAMLET

You are welcome. Welcome to all of you! 

[To an actor] I’m glad to see you doing well. 

[To the entire company] Welcome, my good friends.

[To an actor] Oh, it’s you, old friend! You’ve grown a beard since I last saw you. Have you come to put a beard on me? 

[To an actor dressed as a woman] My young lady. By the Virgin Mary, you’ve grown taller by the height of a pair of platform shoes! I pray to God that your voice, like a gold coin, has not yet cracked. 

[To the entire company] You are all welcome here. Let’s see something, and like a French falconer I won’t be choosy. Show us a speech. Come on, show us a bit of your skill. Come on, a passionate speech.

FIRST PLAYER

What speech, my good lord?

FIRST PLAYER

Which speech, my lord?

HAMLET

I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted. Or, if it was, not above once, for the play, I remember, pleased not the million. ‘Twas caviary to the general. But it was—as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine—an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savory, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation, but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine. One speech in it I chiefly loved. ‘Twas Aeneas’ tale to Dido and thereabout of it, especially where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter. If it live in your memory, begin at this line—Let me see, let me see— The rugged Pyrrhus, like th’ Hyrcanian beast— It is not so. It begins with Pyrrhus— The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms, Black as his purpose, did the night resemble When he lay couchèd in the ominous horse, Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared With heraldry more dismal. Head to foot Now is he total gules, horridly tricked With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, Baked and impasted with the parching streets, That lend a tyrannous and damnèd light To their lord’s murder. Roasted in wrath and fire, And thus o’ersizèd with coagulate gore, With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus Old grandsire Priam seeks. So, proceed you.

HAMLET

I heard you recite a speech for me once that was never acted on stage. Or, if it was, not more than once—because the play I remember didn’t please the masses. It was like caviar for the masses—too sophisticated for them. But I, along with the better-informed critics, thought that it was excellent, with scenes that flowed one to the next and written in language that was clever and yet not overdone. I remember one critic commented that the play lacked spicy jokes to liven it up, and did not display any fancy language, but that it was well-done, and beautiful rather than showy. There was one speech in it that I loved the most. It was the story Aeneas told Dido, particularly the part about Priam’s murder. If you remember it, begin at line—let me see, let me see—The rugged Pyrrhus, fierce as a tiger...No, that’s not it; it begins like this: Rugged Pyrrhus—whose armor was as black as his desire, resembled the night when he crouched inside the Trojan Horse—has now smeared his terrible black armor with a more awful coat of arms. Head to foot, he’s now all red, decorated horribly with the blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. The blood baked solid by fires in the streets—fires that lend a terrible, damned light to his murders. Roasted by anger and fire—and covered with hardened gore—with eyes like rubies, the hellish Pyrrhus goes looking for grandfather Priam. Continue from there.

POLONIUS

‘Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent and good discretion.

POLONIUS

By God, my lord, well done—with the right accent and capturing all the meaning.

FIRST PLAYER

Anon he finds him Striking too short at Greeks. His antique sword, Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls, Repugnant to command. Unequal matched, Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide, But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium, Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash Takes prisoner Pyrrhus’ ear. For, lo, his sword, Which was declining on the milky head Of reverend Priam, seemed i’ th’ air to stick. So as a painted tyrant Pyrrhus stood, And, like a neutral to his will and matter, Did nothing. But as we often see against some storm A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still, The bold winds speechless, and the orb below As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder Doth rend the region. So, after Pyrrhus’ pause, Arousèd vengeance sets him new a-work. And never did the Cyclops’ hammers fall On Mars’s armor forged for proof eterne With less remorse than Pyrrhus’ bleeding sword Now falls on Priam. Out, out, thou strumpet Fortune! All you gods In general synod take away her power, Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel, And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven, As low as to the fiends!

FIRST PLAYER

Soon he finds Priam vainly fighting off the Greeks. His old sword, too heavy for him to wield, lies where it fell, refusing his commands. An unfair opponent, Pyrrhus rushes Priam, and in a rage, strikes and misses. But the wind made by his dreadful sword knocks the old man down. Then the city of Troy, seeming to feel this fatal blow to its ruler, collapses in flames, and the hideous crash arrests Pyrrhus’ attention. Now his sword, which was lowering on the white-haired head of old, revered Priam, seemed stuck in the air. Pyrrhus stood like a tyrant in a painting, and, caught between act and intention, did nothing. But just as a storm is often broken by a sudden silence—with the clouds growing still and the bold winds calming and the earth below, as quiet as death, once more finds the sky split by sudden thunder—so too did Pyrrhus’ pause renew his fury, and set him back to work. Not even when the Cyclopses worked to make the unbreakable armor of the god of war, their hammers did not fall as cruelly as Pyrrhus’ bloody sword now falls on Priam. Be gone, goddess of Fortune, you whore! All you gods should join together to take away her power—break all the spokes on her wheel of fortune, and roll it down the hill of heaven into hell.

POLONIUS

This is too long.

POLONIUS

This speech is too long.

HAMLET

It shall to the barber’s, with your beard.—Prithee, sayon. He’s for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Say on. Come to Hecuba.

HAMLET

We’ll trim it later, along with your beard. Please, continue with your speech. If it’s not a comic dance or sex scene, this man here falls to sleep. Go on, get to the part about Hecuba.

FIRST PLAYER

But who, ah woe, who had seen the moblèd queen—

FIRST PLAYER

But who—ah, sadness—had seen the muffled queen—

HAMLET

“The moblèd queen?”

HAMLET

“The muffled queen?”

POLONIUS

That’s good. “Moblèd queen” is good.

POLONIUS

That’s good. “The muffled queen” is good.

FIRST PLAYER

Run barefoot up and down, threatening the flames With bisson rheum, a clout upon that head Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe, About her lank and all o’erteemèd loins, A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up— Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steeped, ‘Gainst fortune’s state would treason have pronounced. But if the gods themselves did see her then When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport In mincing with his sword her husband’s limbs, The instant burst of clamor that she made, (Unless things mortal move them not at all) Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, And passion in the gods.

FIRST PLAYER

Run barefoot back and forth, dousing the flames with her tears, a cloth on the head where just before a crown had sat, and instead of a robe, she wore a blanket wrapped around her body, withered from childbearing. Anyone seeing her this way would have screamed out in anger against the goddess Fortune. If the gods themselves had seen her while she watched Pyrrhus make a game of cutting her husbands limbs to bits, the awful cry she made would have made the blazing stars of heaven weep hot tears, and bring passion to the gods—unless the gods don’t care about mortals.

POLONIUS

Look whe’e he has not turned his color and has tears in’s eyes.—Prithee, no more.

POLONIUS

Look how he’s gone pale, and has tears in his eyes. Please, no more.

HAMLET

[to FIRST PLAYER] ‘Tis well. I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon. [to POLONIUS] Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be wellused, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles ofthe time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.

HAMLET

[To the FIRST PLAYER] Very good. I’ll have you perform the rest of it soon. 

[To POLONIUS] My lord, please make sure the actors are given comfortable rooms. Do you hear? Make sure they’re treated well, because they are the reporters of our time. You’d be better off with a bad epitaph on your grave than to have their ill will while you're alive.

POLONIUS

My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

POLONIUS

My lord, I will give them all they deserve.

HAMLET

God’s bodykins, man, much better. Use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve,the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.

HAMLET

By God, man, give them more than that! If you gave everyone just what they deserved, would anyone ever escape a whipping? How you treat them speaks to your honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit you’ll earn through your generosity. Bring them inside.

POLONIUS

Come, sirs.

POLONIUS

Come with me, sirs.

HAMLET

Follow him, friends. We’ll hear a play tomorrow. [to FIRST PLAYER] — Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?

HAMLET

Follow him, friends. We’ll watch a play tomorrow. 

[To the FIRST PLAYER] My old friend, do you know the play called The Murder of Gonzago?

FIRST PLAYER

Ay, my lord.

FIRST PLAYER

Yes, my lord.

HAMLET

We’ll ha ’t tomorrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I would set down and insert in ’t, could you not?

HAMLET

We’ll see that play tomorrow night. If I were to write a speech of twelve to sixteen lines to insert into the play, you could, if necessary, learn it for tomorrow’s performance, right?

FIRST PLAYER

Ay, my lord.

FIRST PLAYER

Yes, my lord.

HAMLET

Very well. Follow that lord, and look you mock him not.

HAMLET

Very well. Follow that gentleman, and please don’t make fun of him.

POLONIUS and the PLAYERS exit.

HAMLET

My good friends, I’ll leave you till night. You are welcome to Elsinore.

HAMLET

My good friends, I’ll see you tonight. Welcome to Elsinore.

ROSENCRANTZ

Good my lord.

ROSENCRANTZ

Yes, my good lord.

HAMLET

Ay, so. Good-bye to you.

HAMLET

Goodbye to you both.

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN exit.

HAMLET

Now I am alone. Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Is it not monstrous that this player here, But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, Could force his soul so to his own conceit That from her working all his visage wanned, Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect, A broken voice, and his whole function suiting With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing— For Hecuba! What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba That he should weep for her? What would he do Had he the motive and the cue for passion That I have? He would drown the stage with tears And cleave the general ear with horrid speech, Make mad the guilty and appall the free, Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I, A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing—no, not for a king, Upon whose property and most dear life A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward? Who calls me “villain”? Breaks my pate across? Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face? Tweaks me by the nose? Gives me the lie i’ th’ throat As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this? Ha! ‘Swounds, I should take it, for it cannot be But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall To make oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites With this slave’s offal. Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! O vengeance! Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words And fall a-cursing like a very drab, A stallion! Fie upon ’t, foh! About, my brain.—Hum, I have heard That guilty creatures sitting at a play Have, by the very cunning of the scene, Been struck so to the soul that presently They have proclaimed their malefactions. For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks. I’ll tent him to the quick. If he do blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape. Yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds More relative than this. The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

HAMLET

Now I’m alone. Oh, what a low-life scoundrel I am! Isn’t it terrible that this actor—reciting a work of fiction—could force his soul to feel the passion so completely that he grew pale, tears welled in his eyes? He got overwhelmed, his voice broke, and the entirety of his being matched the emotions he was supposed to be playing. And all for nothing—for Hecuba! What does Hecuba mean to him, or he to Hecuba, that he would weep for her? What would he do if he had the motive or reason for passion that I have? He would drown the stage with tears, and split the ears of all who heard him with angry words. He would drive the guilty crazy with shame, horrify the innocent, confuse the ignorant, and shock anyone with eyes and ears. Meanwhile I—a stupid fool—mope like a daydreamer, don’t have a plan, and have nothing, nothing, to say for a king whose throne and life were brought to destruction. Am I a coward? Who will stand up and call me a villain, or slap me across the face? Pluck hairs from my beard and blow them in my face? Tweak my nose? Call me a liar? Who does any of those things? Ha! By God, I’d accept it, because I must have a nature that doesn’t respond to wrongs by making life for the evildoer bitter. Otherwise, I would have long ago fattened up the local birds with the intestines of this scoundrel, King Claudius. Bloody, vulgar villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lustful, unnatural villain! Oh, revenge! Why, what an ass I am. Look how brave I am—the son of a beloved, murdered father; told to take revenge by heaven and hell; and yet all I can do is talk about my problems and curse like a whore in the street. I’m a male whore! Curses on it! Now think, brain—Hmm..I’ve heard that guilty people watching a play have been so affected by the performance that they have confessed their crimes. Though murder has no tongue, it still miraculously finds other ways to speak. I’ll have these actors perform something like my father’s murder in front of my uncle. Meanwhile, I’ll watch my uncle, and probe him to his very core. If he flinches, I’ll know what to do. The ghost I saw may be the devil, who has the power to appear in a pleasing manner. Perhaps he has taken advantage of my sadness—because he has great influence over melancholy people—to trick me into damnation. I need more solid evidence. The play’s the thing I’ll use to reveal the conscience of the king.

HAMLET exits.

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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.