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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Scene II

Act II

[A room in the castle]

King.Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!Moreover that we much did long to see you,The need we have to use you did provokeOur hasty sending. Something have you heardOf Hamlet’s transformation; so I call it,Since not the exterior nor the inward manResembles that it was. What it should be,More than his father’s death, that thus hath put himSo much from the understanding of himself,I cannot dream of. I entreat you both,That, being of so young days brought up with himAnd since so neighbour’d to his youth and humour,That you vouchsafe your rest here in our courtSome little time; so by your companiesTo draw him on to pleasures, and to gatherSo much as from occasions you may glean,[Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him thus,]That, open’d, lies within our remedy.Queen.Good gentlemen, he hath much talk’d of you;And sure I am two men there are not livingTo whom he more adheres. If it will please youTo show us so much gentry and good willAs to expend your time with us a whileFor the supply and profit of our hope,Your visitation shall receive such thanksAs fits a king’s remembrance.Ros.Both your MajestiesMight, by the sovereign power you have of us,Put your dread pleasures more into commandThan to entreaty.Guil.We both obey.And here give up ourselves, in the full bentTo lay our services freely at your feet,To be commanded.King.Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.Queen.Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz,And I beseech you instantly to visitMy too much changed son. Go, some of ye,And bring the gentlemen where Hamlet is.Guil.Heavens make our presence and our practicesPleasant and helpful to him!Queen.Amen!Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and some Attendants].

Pol.The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,Are joyfully return’dKing.Thou still hast been the father of good news.Pol.Have I, my lord? Assure you, 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 mineHunts not the trail of policy so sureAs it hath us’d to do, that I have foundThe very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.King.O, speak of that; that I do long to hear.Pol.Give first admittance to the ambassadors.My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.King.Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.[Exit POLONIUS.]He tells me, my sweet queen, that he hath foundThe head and source of all your son’s distemper.Queen. I doubt it is no other but the main,His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage.

King.Well, we shall sift him.—Welcome, my good friends!Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?Volt.Most fair return of greetings and desires.Upon our first, he sent out to suppressHis nephew’s levies, which to him appear’dTo be a preparation ’gainst the Polack,But, better look’d into, he truly foundIt was against your Highness. Whereat grieved,That so his sickness, age, and impotenceWas falsely borne in hand, sends out arrestsOn Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys,Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fineMakes vow before his uncle never moreTo give the 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,[Giving a paper.]That it might please you to give quiet passThrough your dominions for his enterprise,On such regards of safety and allowanceAs therein are set down.King.It likes us well;And at our more consider’d time we’ll read,Answer, and think upon this business.Meantime we thank you for your well-took labour.Go to your rest; at night we’ll feast together.Most welcome home!Exeunt VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS.Pol.This business is well ended.My liege, and madam, to expostulateWhat 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 witAnd 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.Queen.More matter, with less art.Pol.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 remainsThat 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 whilst she is mine—Who, in her duty and obedience, mark,Hath given me this. Now gather, and surmise.[Reads] the 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:“In her excellent white bosom, these.”Queen.Came this from Hamlet to her?Pol.Good madam, stay a while. I will be faithful.[Reads.]
  • “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, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
  • Thine evermore, most dear lady,
  • Whilst this machine is to him,
  • HAMLET.”
  • This in obedience hath my daughter show’d me,And more above, hath his solicitings,As they fell out by time, by means, and place,All given to mine ear.King.But how hath sheReceiv’d his love?Pol.What do you think of me?King.As of a man faithful and honourable.Pol.I would fain prove so. But what might you think,When I had seen this hot love on the wing,—As I perceiv’d 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 play’d the desk or table-book,Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb,Or look’d 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 precepts 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, repulsed—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 wail for.King.Do you think ’tis this?Queen.It may be, very likely.Pol.Hath there been such a time—I’d fain know that—That I have positively said, “’Tis so,”When it prov’d otherwise?King.Not that I know.Pol.Take this from this, if this be otherwise.If circumstances lead me, I will findWhere truth is hid, though it were hid indeedWithin the centre.King.How may we try it further?Pol.You know, sometimes he walks four hours togetherHere in the lobby.Queen.So he has, indeed.Pol.At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him.Be you and I behind an arrasthen;Mark the encounter. If he love her notAnd be not from his reason fallen thereon,Let me be no assistant for a state,But keep a farm and carters.King.We will try it.
    Enter HAMLET, reading on a book

    Queen.But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.Pol.Away, I do beseech you, both away.I’ll board him presently.Exeunt KING, QUEEN [and Attendants].O, give me leave,How does my good Lord Hamlet?Ham.Well, God-a-mercy.Pol.Do you know me, my lord?Ham.Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.Pol.Not I, my lord.Ham.Then I would you were so honest a man.Pol.Honest, my lord!Ham.Ay, sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one manpick’d out of ten thousand.Pol.That’s very true, my lord.Ham.For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a goodkissing carrion,—Have you a daughter?Pol.I have, my lord.Ham.Let her not walk i’ the sun. Conception is a blessing, butnot as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to ’t.Pol.[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 suff’red much extremity for love; very near this. I’ll speak to him again—What do you read, my lord?Ham.Words, words, words.Pol.What is the matter, my lord?Ham.Between who?Pol.I mean, the matter you read, my lord.Ham.Slanders, sir; for the satirical slave says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber or plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with 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 you yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.Pol.[Aside.]Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t—Will you walk out of the air, my lord?Ham.Into my grave?Pol.Indeed, that is out o’ the air. [Aside.] How pregnant sometimes his replies are! a happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sainty could not so properously be deliver’d of. I will leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter.—My honourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.Ham.You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal,—[Aside] except my life, my life.Pol.Fare you well, my lord.Ham.These tedious old fools!

    Pol.You go to seek my Lord Hamlet? There he is.Ros.[To POLONIUS.]God save you, sir![Exit POLONIUS.]Guil.Mine honour’d lord!Ros.My most dear lord!Ham.My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern?Oh, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?Ros.As the indifferent children of the earth.Guil.Happy, in that we are not the over-happy.On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.Ham.Nor the soles of her shoe?Ros.Neither, my lord.Ham.Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favour?Guil.Faith, her privates we.Ham.In the secret parts of Fortune? Oh, most true; she is a strumpet. What’s the news?Ros.None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest.Ham.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 sends you to prison hither?GuilPrison, my lord?Ham.Denmark’s a prison.Ros.Then is the world one.Ham.A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.Ros.We think not so, my lord.Ham.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.Ros.Why, then your ambition makes it one. ’Tis too narrow for your mind.Ham.O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.Guil.Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.Ham.A dream itself is but a shadow.Ros.Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.Ham.Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretch’d heroes the beggar’s shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.Ros. & Guil.We’ll wait upon you.Ham.No such matter. I will not sort you with the rest of my servants, for, to speak to you like an honest man, I am most dreadfully attended. But in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?Ros.To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.Ham.Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks, but I thank you; 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, deal justly with me. Come, come. Nay, speak.Guil.What should we say, my lord?Ham.Why, anything, but to the purpose. You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour. I know the good king and queen have sent for you.Ros.To what end, my lord?Ham.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, and by what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for or no!Ros.[Aside to GUIL]What say you?Ham.[Aside.]Nay, then, I have an eye of you.—If you love me, hold not off.Guil.My lord, we were sent for.Ham.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, foregone all custom of exercise; 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 vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinte 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 woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.Ros.My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.Ham.Why did you laugh then, when I said, “Man delights not me”?Ros.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 to offer you service.Ham.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’the sere, and the lady shall say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt for ’t. What players are they?RosEven those you were wont to take delight in, the tragedians of the city.Ham.How chances it they travel? Their residence, both in reputation and profit, was better both ways.Ros.I think their inhibition comes by the means of the late innovation.Ham.Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city? Are they so follow’d?Ros.No, indeed, they are not.Ham.How comes it? Do they grow rusty?Ros.Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace; but there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapp’d 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.Ham.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?Ros.Faith, there has been much to do on both sides, and the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to controversy. There was for a while no money bid for argument unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.Ham.Is ’t possible?Guil.O, there has been much throwing about of brains.Ham.Do the boys carry it away?Ros.Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.Ham.It is not strange; for mine uncle is King of Denmark, and those that would make mows at him while my father lived, give twenty, forty, [fifty,] an hundred ducats apiece for his picture in little. [’Sblood,] there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.Flourish for the Players.Guil.There are the players.Ham.Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands, come. The appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony. Let me comply with you in the garb, lest my extent to the players, which, I tell you, must show fairly outward, should more appear like entertainment than yours. You are welcome; but my uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceiv’d.Guil.In what, my dear lord?Ham.I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.
    Enter POLONIUS

    Pol.Well be with you, gentlemen!Ham.[Aside to them.]Hark you, Guildenstern, and you too, at each ear a hearer: that great baby you see there is not yet out of his swathing-clouts.Ros.Happily he is the second time come to them, for they say an old man is twice a child.Ham.I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players; mark it. [Aloud.] You say right, sir; for o’ Monday morning ’twas so indeed.Pol.My lord, I have news to tell you.Ham.My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was an actor in Rome,—Pol.The actors are come hither, my lord.Ham.Buzz, buzz!Pol.Upon mine honour,—Ham.“Then came each actor on his ass,”—Pol.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.Ham.O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!Pol.What a treasure had he, my lord?Ham.Why,
  • “One fair daughter, and no more,
  • The which he loved passing well.”
  • Pol.[Aside.]Still on my daughter.Ham.Am I not i’ the right, old Jephthah?Pol.If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that Ilove passing well.Ham.Nay, that follows not.Pol.What follows, then, my lord?Ham.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 abridgements come.
    Enter four or five Players

    You’re welcome, masters, welcome all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, my old friend! Thy face is valanc’d since I saw thee last; com’st thou to beard me in Denmark? What, my young lady and mistress! By ’r lady, your ladyship is nearer heaven than when I saw-you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not crack’d 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.1. Play.What speech, my lord?Ham.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, pleas’d not the million; ’twas caviare to the general; but it was—as I receiv’d it, and others, whose judgement 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 savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation; but call’d it an honest method, [as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine.] One speech in it I chiefly lov’d; ’twas Æneas’ 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 the 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 couched in the ominous horse,
  • Hath now this dread and black complexion smear’d
  • With heraldry more dismal. Head to foot
  • Now is he total gules, horribly trick’d
  • With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
  • Bak’d and impasted with the parching streets
  • That lend a tyrannous and damned light
  • To their vile murders. Roasted in wrath and fire,
  • And thus o’er-sized with coagulate gore.
  • With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
  • Old grandsire Priam seeks.”
  • [So, proceed you.]Pol.’Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent and good discretion.1. Play.
  • “Anon he finds him
  • Striking too short at Greeks. His antique sword,
  • Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
  • Repugnant to command. Unequal match,
  • 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, seem’d i’ the 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,
  • Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;
  • And never did the Cyclops’ hammers fall
  • On Mars his armour forg’d 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!”
  • Pol.This is too long.Ham.It shall to the barber’s, with your beard. Prithee, say on; he’s for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Say on; come to Hecuba.1. Play.“But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen”—Ham.“The mobled queen?”Pol.That’s good; “mobled queen” is good.1. Play.
  • “Run barefoot up and down, threat’ning the flame
  • With bisson rheum, a clout about that head
  • Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,
  • About her lank and all o’er-teemed loins,
  • A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up;—
  • Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep’d,
  • ’Gainst Fortune’s state would treason have pronounc’d.
  • 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 clamour 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.”
  • Pol.Look, whe’er he has not turn’d his colour and has tears in’s eyes. Pray you, no more.Ham.’Tis well; I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon. Good my lord, will you see the players well bestow’d? Do ye hear? Let them be well us’d, for they are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time; after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.Pol.My lord, I will use them according to their desert.Ham.God’s bodykins, man, better. Use every man after his desert, and who should scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.Pol.Come, sirs.[Exit.Ham.Follow him, friends; we’ll hear a play to-morrow. [Exeunt all the Players but the First.] Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play “The Murder of Gonzago”?1. Play.Ay, my lord.Ham.We’ll ha’t to-morrow 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 ye not?1. Play.Ay, my lord.Ham.Very well. Follow that lord,—and look you mock him not.[Exit First Player.] My good friends, I’ll leave you till night. You are welcome to Elsinore.Ros.Good my lord!Exeunt [ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.]Ham.Ay, so, God buy ye.—Now I am alone.O, 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 conceitThat from her working all his visage wann’d,Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,A broken voice, and his whole function suitingWith 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 passionThat I have? He would drown the stage with tearsAnd cleave the general ear with horrid speech,Make mad the guilty and appall the free,Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeedThe very faculties of eyes and ears.Yet I,A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peakLike John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,And can say nothing; no, not for a king,Upon whose property and most dear lifeA damn’d 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’ the throatAs deep as to the lungs, who does me this?Ha![’Swounds,] I should take it; for it cannot beBut I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gallTo make oppression bitter, or ere thisI should have fatted all the region kitesWith this slave’s offal. Bloody, bawdy villain!Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!O, vengeance!Why, what an ass am I! Sure, 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 scullion!Fie upon ’t! Foh! About, my brain! I have heardThat guilty creatures sitting at a playHave by the very cunning of the sceneBeen struck so to the soul that presentlyThey have proclaim’d their malefactions;For murder, though it have no tongue, will speakWith most miraculous organ. I’ll have these playersPlay something like the murder of my fatherBefore mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,I know my course. The spirit that I have seenMay be the devil; and the devil hath powerTo assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhapsOut of my weakness and my melancholy,As he is very potent with such spirits,Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have groundsMore relative than this. The play’s the thingWherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.Exit.