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Hamlet

Hamlet Translation Act 4, Scene 7

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CLAUDIUS and LAERTES enter.

CLAUDIUS

Now must your conscience my acquaintance 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 Pursued my life.

CLAUDIUS

Now you must admit that I’m innocent, and accept me as a friend, since you’ve heard and been convinced that that the man who killed your father was actually trying to kill me.

LAERTES

It well appears. But tell me Why you proceeded not against these feats, So criminal and so capital in nature, As by your safety, wisdom, all things else, You mainly were stirred up.

LAERTES

It looks that way. But explain to me why you didn't take legal action against Hamlet for his capital crimes—when both your wisdom and your own safety must have demanded that you should?

CLAUDIUS

Oh, for two special reasons, Which may to you perhaps seem much unsinewed, But 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 to my life and soul, 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 bear him, Who, dipping all his faults in their affection, Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone, Convert his gyves to graces —so that my arrows, Too slightly timbered for so loud a wind, Would have reverted to my bow again, And not where I had aimed them.

CLAUDIUS

Oh, for two key reasons which to you may seem weak to you, but yet to me are strong. The queen, his mother, loves him and is devoted to him. And, whether it’s a virtue or a curse, she is so closely connected to my life and soul that I can’t live apart from her—just as a planet can’t leave its orbit. The other reason why I couldn’t bring charges against Hamlet in a public court is that the commoners loves him. In their affection for him, they overlook all his faults. In fact—like a stream that turns wood to stone—they actually somehow see all his faults as virtues. Whatever I said against him would end up coming back to hurt me, like an arrow aimed into a strong wind.

LAERTES

And so have I a noble father lost, A sister driven into desperate terms, Whose worth, if praises may go back again, Stood challenger on mount of all the age For her perfections. But my revenge will come.

LAERTES

And so I’ve lost my noble father, and my sister has been driven crazy. My sister—if I can praise her for what she used to be—was the equal in perfection to any other woman who ever lived. But I’ll get my revenge.

CLAUDIUS

Break not your sleeps for that. You must not think 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 loved your father, and we love ourself. And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine—

CLAUDIUS

Don’t lose sleep over that. You must not think that I’m so lazy and stupid that I will let someone threaten and mock me and act as if it’s just a game. Soon you’ll hear more about my plans. I loved your father, and I love myself. And that, I hope, will help you see—

A MESSENGER enters with letters.

CLAUDIUS

How now, what news?

CLAUDIUS

Whats’ going on? What’s your news?

MESSENGER

Letters, my lord, from Hamlet.This to your majesty, this to the queen. [gives CLAUDIUS letters]

MESSENGER

My lord, I have letters from Hamlet. This one’s for your Highness, and this one is for the queen. [He gives letters to CLAUDIUS]

CLAUDIUS

From Hamlet? Who brought them?

CLAUDIUS

From Hamlet? Who delivered them?

MESSENGER

Sailors, my lord, they say. I saw them not.They were given me by Claudio. He received themOf him that brought them.

MESSENGER

I was told that sailors did, my lord. I didn’t see them. Claudio gave the letters to me, and he got them from the one who delivered them.

CLAUDIUS

Laertes, you shall hear them.—Leave us.

CLAUDIUS

Laertes, you will hear what these letters say. 

[To the MESSENGER] Leave us now.

The MESSENGER exits.

CLAUDIUS

[reads] “High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. Tomorrowshall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I shall, first asking your pardon thereunto, recount the occasion of my sudden and more strange return. Hamlet.” What should this mean? Are all the rest come back? Or is it some abuse, and no such thing?

CLAUDIUS

[Reading]  “Your majesty, I’ve been returned to your kingdom naked—with nothing to call my own. Tomorrow I’ll ask permission to meet with you, at which point I’ll first apologize and then tell the story of how I came back to Denmark so suddenly and strangely. Hamlet”
What does this mean? Have all the others come back also? Or is it some trick, and none of this is true?

LAERTES

Know you the hand?

LAERTES

Do you recognize the handwriting?

CLAUDIUS

‘Tis Hamlet’s character. “Naked”?And in a postscript here, he says “alone.”Can you advise me?

CLAUDIUS

It’s Hamlet’s handwriting. “Naked,” he says. And in a postcript, he adds, “alone.” What do you think about that?

LAERTES

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, “Thus diddest thou.”

LAERTES

It confuses me, my lord. But let him come. It warms my sick heart that I’ll get to look him in the face and say, “You did this.”

CLAUDIUS

If it be so, Laertes—As how should it be so? How otherwise?—Will you be ruled by me?

CLAUDIUS

If that’s how it should be, Laertes—and why shouldn’t it? How could it be otherwise? Will you follow my orders?

LAERTES

Ay, my lord—So you will not o’errule me to a peace.

LAERTES

Yes, my lord, as long as you won’t try to force me toward peace.

CLAUDIUS

To thine own peace. If he be now returned, As checking at his voyage, and that he means No more to undertake it, I will work him To an exploit, now ripe in my devise, Under the which he shall not choose but fall. And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe, But even his mother shall uncharge the practice And call it accident.

CLAUDIUS

Only to your own peace of mind. If he has returned, and now has no plans to continue his trip, then I’ll trick him into taking on some new challenge—which I’m coming up with now—that will surely kill him. His death will result in no blame. Even his mother will call it an accident.

LAERTES

My lord, I will be ruledThe rather if you could devise it soThat I might be the organ.

LAERTES

My lord, I’ll follow your lead. I want to be the sole agent of his death.

CLAUDIUS

It falls right. You have been talked of since your travel much— And that in Hamlet’s hearing—for a quality 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.

CLAUDIUS

That seems only right. Since you left, people have been talking about a quality of yours in which, they say, you shine—and Hamlet has overheard it. All your other talents together didn’t make him as envious as this one quality did, though to me it’s of the least importance.

LAERTES

What part is that, my lord?

LAERTES

What quality is that, my lord?

CLAUDIUS

A very ribbon in the cap of youth, Yet needful too, for youth no less becomes The light and careless livery that it wears 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 served against, the French, 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 he had been encorpsed and demi-natured With the brave beast. So far he topped my thought, That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks, Come short of what he did.

CLAUDIUS

One of those decorative ribbons on the cap of youth—yet a necessary one, too, since casual clothes are like the uniforms of youth, just as formal clothes are the necessary outfits of full maturity. Two months ago, I met a gentleman from Normandy. I’ve watched and fought against the French and know how well they ride, but this man’s skill was almost magical. He seemed a part of the saddle, and made his horse do such amazing things that he appeared as if he were one with the horse. His skill was beyond my understanding, and even in my imagination I can’t do the tricks he did.

LAERTES

A Norman was ’t?

LAERTES

He was from Normandy?

CLAUDIUS

A Norman.

CLAUDIUS

From Normandy.

LAERTES

Upon my life, Lamond!

LAERTES

I swear by my life it must have been Lamond.

CLAUDIUS

The very same.

CLAUDIUS

That’s who it was.

LAERTES

I know him well. He is the brooch indeedAnd gem of all the nation.

LAERTES

I know him well. He’s the jewel of his country.

CLAUDIUS

He made confession of you, And gave you such a masterly report For art and exercise in your defense, And for your rapier most especially, That he cried out ’twould be a sight indeed If one could match you. The ’scrimers of their nation, He swore, had had neither motion, guard, nor eye, If you opposed 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. Now, out of this—

CLAUDIUS

He mentioned you, giving you such high praise for four skill at fencing that he exclaimed that he could not imagine anyone being able to match you. He swore that French fencers would be clumsy, defenseless, and seem as if they were blind if they ever tried to duel with you. This description made Hamlet so jealous that he talked about nothing else but having you return to practice dueling against him. Now, the point is—

LAERTES

What out of this, my lord?

LAERTES

What’s the point, my lord?

CLAUDIUS

Laertes, was your father dear to you?Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,A face without a heart?

CLAUDIUS

Laertes, did you love your father? Or are your putting on a show of grief—a face without a heart?

LAERTES

Why ask you this?

LAERTES

How could you ask this?

CLAUDIUS

Not that I think you did not love your father But that I know love is begun by time, And that I see, in passages of proof, 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. And nothing is at a like goodness still. For goodness, growing to a pleurisy, Dies in his own too-much. That we would do, We should do when we would, for this “would” changes And hath abatements and delays as many As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents. And then this “should” is like a spendthrift sigh That hurts by easing. —But to the quick of th’ ulcer: Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake To show yourself in deed your father’s son More than in words?

CLAUDIUS

Not because I think you didn’t love your father, but because I know that love exists in a particular time and place—and that the passage of time can weaken the spark and fire of that love. Every flame of love eventually burns itself out. Nothing remains the same forever. Even a good thing can grow too big and die from its extreme size. We should do what we want in the moment, because our desires might be blocked by as many obstructions or delays as words in the dictionary, or accidents in life. And then all our “woulds” and “shoulds” become like little more than sighs. But back to the heart of the matter: Hamlet’s coming back. What would you do, rather than simply say, to prove that you you are your father’s son?

LAERTES

To cut his throat i’ th’ church.

LAERTES

Cut Hamlet’s throat in the church.

CLAUDIUS

No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize. Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes, Will you do this, keep close within your chamber. Hamlet returned shall know you are come home. 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, 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, and in a pass of practice Requite him for your father.

CLAUDIUS

I agree that no place should protect that murderer. Revenge should have no limits. But, good Laertes, will you do this: stay inside your room? When Hamlet returns, he’ll learn that you’ve come home. I’ll have people praise your excellence and add an extra shine to the compliment the Frenchman paid you. Finally, we’ll bring the two of you together and bet on which of you will win. Hamlet—who is so careless and trusting—won’t examine the swords beforehand. So you’ll easily be able to choose a sword with a sharpened point, and in the middle of this practice duel, you’ll get revenge for your father's death.

LAERTES

I will do ’t. And for that purpose I’ll anoint my sword. I bought an unction of a mountebank, So mortal that, but dip a knife in it, Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare, Collected from all simples that have virtue Under the moon, can save the thing from death That is but scratched withal. I’ll touch my point With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly It may be death.

LAERTES

I’ll do it. And I’ll also cover my sword with an oil that I bought from a snake-oil salesman. This oil is so poisonous that if a knife dipped in it draws blood, no cure in the world can save the victim. I’ll cover the point of my sword with it, so that if I even graze him, he’ll probably die.

CLAUDIUS

Let’s further think of this, 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 assayed. Therefore this project Should have a back or second that might hold If this should blast in proof.—Soft, let me see.— We’ll make a solemn wager on your cunnings.— I ha ’t! 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 prepared him A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping, If he by chance escape your venomed stuck, Our purpose may hold there. —But stay, what noise?

CLAUDIUS

Let’s think more about this, and consider whether there’s anything else we’ll have the opportunity to do to ensure we get the outcome we want. If our plan should fail—and if people figure out our plot because we execute it badly—we’d be better off not having tried it at all. Therefore, we should have a backup plan that will do the trick if we fail in our first attempt. Hmm, let me think—we’re going to bet on your dueling skill—I’ve got it! When from all your exertion the two of you have gotten hot and thirsty—make sure the duel is very active to guarantee that happens—Hamlet will want a drink. I’ll have a cup ready with poison for just that purpose, and once he sips from it—even if he escapes your poisoned sword—we will get what we want. But hold on, what’s that sound?

GERTRUDE enters.

GERTRUDE

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,So fast they follow.—Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.

GERTRUDE

The bad news keeps coming, as if each piece follows right on the heels of the one before. Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.

LAERTES

Drowned? Oh, where?

LAERTES

Drowned? Oh, where?

GERTRUDE

There is a willow grows aslant a brook That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them. There, on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke, When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide, And mermaid-like a while they bore her up, Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element. But long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death.

GERTRUDE

There’s a willow that leans over the brook, with its white leaves hanging over the glassy water. Ophelia came there—making braided crowns from crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and those wild purple orchids that free-spoken shepherds call by an obscene name, but which innocent girls call “dead men’s fingers.” She climbed out onto the tree to hang her crowns from a bending branch. But the branch broke, and she and her flowery treasures fell into the swiftly moving brook. Her clothes spread wide in the water, and held her up while she sang bits of old hymns. She acted as if she could not comprehend the danger, or as if she were a creature that naturally lived in water. But eventually her clothes—heavy with absorbed water—pulled the poor girl out of her song and down to a muddy death.

LAERTES

Alas, then she is drowned.

LAERTES

Alas, then she drowned.

GERTRUDE

Drowned, drowned.

GERTRUDE

Drowned, drowned.

LAERTES

Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, And therefore I forbid my tears. But yet 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, But that this folly doubts it.

LAERTES

Poor Ophelia, you’ve had too much water already, so I won’t cry for you. But crying is what humans do. We all follow our natures, no matter what shame we feel for it. When I’ve stopped crying, I’ll be done acting like a woman

[To CLAUDIUS] Goodbye, my lord. I have fiery words I’d dearly like to say, but my foolish tears drown them.

LAERTES exits.

CLAUDIUS

Let’s follow, Gertrude. How much I had to do to calm his rage! Now fear I this will give it start again. Therefore let’s follow.

CLAUDIUS

Let’s follow him, Gertrude. I had to do so much to calm him down! Now I fear this might start him up again. Therefore, let’s follow him.

They exit.

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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.