A line-by-line translation

Hamlet

Hamlet Translation Act 4, Scene 4

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FORTINBRAS enters with his army and a CAPTAIN.

FORTINBRAS

Go, Captain, from me greet the Danish king Tell him that, by his license, Fortinbras Craves the conveyance of a promised march Over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous. If that his majesty would aught with us, We shall express our duty in his eye, And let him know so.

FORTINBRAS

Go, Captain, bring my greetings to the Danish king. Tell him that, as was promised, Fortinbras asks for permission to march his troops across Denmark. You know the place where you should meet back up with our army. If His Majesty wants anything at all from us, let him know that we will do it.

CAPTAIN

I will do ’t, my lord.

CAPTAIN

I’ll do that, my lord.

FORTINBRAS

Go softly on.

FORTINBRAS

Go on, then.

All except the CAPTAIN exits.

HAMLET, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and others enter.

HAMLET

Good sir, whose powers are these?

HAMLET

Good sir, whose troops are these?

CAPTAIN

They are of Norway, sir.

CAPTAIN

The are from Norway, sir.

HAMLET

How purposed, sir, I pray you?

HAMLET

Please tell me, what’s their goal, sir?

CAPTAIN

Against some part of Poland.

CAPTAIN

They’re headed to invade some part of Poland.

HAMLET

Who commands them, sir?

HAMLET

Who commands them, sir?

CAPTAIN

The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras.

CAPTAIN

The nephew of the old Norwegian king, Fortinbras.

HAMLET

Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,Or for some frontier?

HAMLET

Sir, is he attacking central Poland, or some borderlands?

CAPTAIN

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. 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.

CAPTAIN

To be honest, we’re going to fight for a little patch of ground that’s not worth anything beyond its name. I wouldn’t even pay five gold coins for the right to own and farm it. And it won't give either the Norwegians or the Poles more value than that, even if they sold it.

HAMLET

Why, then the Polack never will defend it.

HAMLET

Well, then the Poles won’t even try to defend it.

CAPTAIN

Yes, it is already garrisoned.

CAPTAIN

They will. They’ve already put soldiers there.

HAMLET

Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats Will not debate the question of this straw. This is th’ impostume of much wealth and peace, That inward breaks and shows no cause without Why the man dies. —I humbly thank you, sir.

HAMLET

[To himself] It will take more than two thousand men and twenty-thousand gold coins to settle the battle for this pointless bit of land. This is the curse of having too much wealth and peace—it’s like an abscess that grows inside someone until it bursts and kills them, without anyone knowing why. 

[To the CAPTAIN] I give my humble thanks to you, sir.

CAPTAIN

God be wi’ you, sir.

CAPTAIN

God be with you, sir.

The CAPTAIN exits.

ROSENCRANTZ

Will ’t please you go, my lord?

ROSENCRANTZ

Will you please come now, my lord?

HAMLET

I’ll be with you straight. Go a little before.

HAMLET

I’ll follow you right away. Go on ahead of me.

Everyone exits except HAMLET.

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 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 godlike reason To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on th’ event— A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom 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. Witness this army of such mass and charge Led by a delicate and tender prince, Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed Makes mouths at the invisible event, Exposing what is mortal and unsure To all that fortune, death, and danger dare, Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great Is not to stir without great argument, But greatly to find quarrel in a straw When honor’s at the stake. How stand I then, That have a father killed, a mother stained, Excitements of my reason and my blood, And let all sleep —while, to my shame, I see The imminent death of twenty thousand men, That for a fantasy and trick of fame Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough and continent To hide the slain? Oh, from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

HAMLET

Everything that I see shames me, and spurs me to sharpen my dulled efforts to get revenge. What is a man who does nothing but eat and sleep? A beast, nothing more. God didn’t give us such a great and godlike ability to think and reason so that those capabilities would grow moldy from disuse. Now, whether the cause is an animal-like lack of thought or over-thinking exactly how to do it—thoughts which are one part wisdom, three parts cowardice—I can’t explain how I could still be alive and yet be able to say that “this is something I still have to do.” I have the motive, the will, the ability, and the opportunity to do it. Claudius’ guilt is as obvious as the ground beneath my feet. Look at this huge, expansive army led by a young and unproven prince, who’s so full of divine ambition that he mocks death and exposes his life to all the risks of fortune and danger—all for a cause as thin as an eggshell. To be great doesn’t require simply fighting for a good reason, but rather boldly fighting for barely any reason at all, so long as honor is at stake. So where do I stand, with my father murdered and my mother dishonored—and yet I do nothing in response to all of these slights and insults? Meanwhile, to my shame, I watch twenty thousand men—because of a whim and and wish for fame—march off to death for a tiny bit of land that’s not even large enough to hold all their graves. Oh, from this time forward, my thoughts will be violent, or else I’ll consider them worthless.

He exits.

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.