A room in the castle.
Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and Attendants
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,
Sith nor the 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 the understanding of himself,
I cannot dream of: I entreat you both,
That, being of so young days brought up with him,
And sith so neighbour'd 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, open'd, lies within our remedy.
Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd 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.
Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.
But we both obey,
And here give up ourselves, in the full bent
To lay our service freely at your feet,
To be commanded.
Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.
Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz:
And I beseech you instantly to visit
My too much changed son. Go, some of you,
And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.
Heavens make our presence and our practises
Pleasant and helpful to him!
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and some Attendants
The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,
Are joyfully return'd.
Thou still hast been the father of good news.
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.
O, speak of that; that do I long to hear.
Give first admittance to the ambassadors;
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.
Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.
He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found
The head and source of all your son's distemper.
I doubt it is no other but the main;
His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage.
Well, we shall sift him.
Re-enter POLONIUS, with VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS
Welcome, my good friends!
Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?
Most fair return of greetings and desires.
Upon our first, he sent out to suppress
His nephew's levies; which to him appear'd
To be a preparation 'gainst the Polack;
But, better look'd 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 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 pass
Through your dominions for this enterprise,
On such regards of safety and allowance
As therein are set down.
It likes us well;
And at our more consider'd time well 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
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.
More matter, with less art.
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.
'To the celestial and my soul's idol, the most
That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase; 'beautified' is
a vile phrase: but you shall hear. Thus:
'In her excellent white bosom, these, & c.'
Came this from Hamlet to her?
Good madam, stay awhile; I will be faithful.
'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 shown me,
And more above, hath his solicitings,
As they fell out by time, by means and place,
All given to mine ear.
But how hath she
Received his love?
What do you think of me?
As of a man faithful and honourable.
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 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 mourn for.
Do you think 'tis this?
It may be, very likely.
Hath there been such a time--I'd fain know that--
That I have positively said 'Tis so,'
When it proved otherwise?
Not that I know.
[Pointing to his head and shoulder]
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 centre.
How may we try it further?
You know, sometimes he walks four hours together
Here in the lobby.
So he does indeed.
At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him:
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.
We will try it.
But, look, where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.
Away, I do beseech you, both away:
I'll board him presently.
Exeunt KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, and Attendants
Enter HAMLET, reading
O, give me leave:
How does my good Lord Hamlet?
Do you know me, my lord?
Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.
Not I, my lord.
Then I would you were so honest a man.
Honest, my lord!
Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand.
That's very true, my lord.
For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
god kissing carrion,--Have you a daughter?
I have, my lord.
Let her not walk i' the sun: conception is a
blessing: but not as your daughter may conceive.
Friend, look to 't.
[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.
What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.
What is the matter, my lord?
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here
that old men have grey 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.
[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method
in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Into my grave.
Indeed, that is out o' the air.
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.--My honourable
lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.
You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will
more willingly part withal: except my life, except
my life, except my life.
Fare you well, my lord.
These tedious old fools!
Enter ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN
You go to seek the Lord Hamlet; there he is.
[To POLONIUS] God save you, sir!
My honoured lord!
My most dear lord!
My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?
As the indifferent children of the earth.
Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune's cap we are not the very button.
Nor the soles of her shoe?
Neither, my lord.
Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of
'Faith, her privates we.
In the secret parts of fortune? O, most true; she
is a strumpet. What's the news?
None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.
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?
Prison, my lord!
Denmark's a prison.
Then is the world one.
A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
We think not so, my lord.
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.
Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
narrow for your mind.
O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.
Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
A dream itself is but a shadow.
Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and
outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we
to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.
We'll wait upon you.
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?
To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.
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.
What should we say, my lord?
Why, any thing, 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.
To what end, my lord?
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?
[Aside to GUILDENSTERN] What say you?
[Aside] Nay, then, I have an eye of you.--If you
love me, hold not off.
My lord, we were sent for.
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 vapours.
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 woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.
My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.
Why did you laugh then, when I said 'man delights not me'?
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.
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 humourous man shall end his part
in peace; the clown shall make those laugh whose
lungs are tickled o' the sere; and the lady shall
say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt
for't. What players are they?
Even those you were wont to take delight in, the
tragedians of the city.
How chances it they travel? their residence, both
in reputation and profit, was better both ways.
I think their inhibition comes by the means of the
Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was
in the city? are they so followed?
No, indeed, are they not.
How comes it? do they grow rusty?
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 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.
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?
'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.
O, there has been much throwing about of brains.
Do the boys carry it away?
Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.
It is not very 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 a-piece for his picture in little.
'Sblood, there is something in this more than
natural, if philosophy could find it out.
Flourish of trumpets within
There are the players.
Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands,
come then: the 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 outward, should more appear like
entertainment than yours. You are welcome: but my
uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived.
In what, my dear lord?
I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.
Well be with you, gentlemen!
Hark you, Guildenstern; and you too: at each ear a
hearer: that great baby you see there is not yet
out of his swaddling-clouts.
Happily he's the second time come to them; for they
say an old man is twice a child.
I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players;
mark it. You say right, sir: o' Monday morning;
'twas so indeed.
My lord, I have news to tell you.
My lord, I have news to tell you.
When Roscius was an actor in Rome,--
The actors are come hither, my lord.
Upon mine honour,--
Then came each actor on his ass,--
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.
O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!
What a treasure had he, my lord?
'One fair daughter and no more,
The which he loved passing well.'
[Aside] Still on my daughter.
Am I not i' the right, old Jephthah?
If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter
that I love passing well.
Nay, that follows not.
What follows, then, my lord?
'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.
Enter four or five Players
You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad
to see thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, my old
friend! thy face is valenced since I saw thee last:
comest thou to 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
apiece of uncurrent gold, be not 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.
What speech, my lord?
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
caviare 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
savoury, 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 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; horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord's murder: 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.
'Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent and
'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'd,
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,
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's armour 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!'
This is too long.
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.
'But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen--'
'The mobled queen?'
That's good; 'mobled queen' is good.
'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'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
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.'
Look, whether he has not turned his colour and has
tears in's eyes. Pray you, no more.
'Tis well: I'll have thee speak out the rest soon.
Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
God's bodykins, man, much 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.
Follow him, friends: we'll hear a play to-morrow.
Exit POLONIUS with all the Players but the First
Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the
Murder of Gonzago?
Ay, my lord.
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 you not?
Ay, my lord.
Very well. Follow that lord; and look you mock him
Exit First Player
My good friends, I'll leave you till night: you are
welcome to Elsinore.
Good my lord!
Ay, so, God be wi' ye;
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN
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 conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
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 appal 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 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 throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd 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!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
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,
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! 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 proclaim'd 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 but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To 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.
King Claudius and Queen Gertrude were awaiting the arrival of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two young men who were students with Prince Hamlet. Trumpets announced their arrival, and court officials escorted them to the King. He did not waste any time telling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern why he had summoned them to Elsinore.
"Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in addition to wishing to reacquaint ourselves we sent for you urgently because we have a job for you. You may have heard about Hamlet's transformation. I describe it like that because neither his physical nor his mental state is much like it used to be. Other than his father's death, I cannot understand what has alienated him from us. I ask you both, since you have been his childhood companions, to lodge with us here for a while, simply so that in your company he can rediscover the pleasures of an earlier time. Additionally, if the occasion permits, you may be able to establish the source of this disturbance, which we will attempt to remedy," the King said in a creamy voice.
"Good gentlemen," Queen Gertrude said, "Hamlet has often talked of you in the fondest terms, and I'm sure there are not two other men alive whom he holds in such esteem. If you would assist us by being our guests until we get to the bottom of the trouble you will be rewarded in a manner that fits the King's pleasure."
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were obviously delighted and surprised by their unexpected rise to importance.
"Both Your Majesties have sovereign power to command us to obey rather than request," said Rosencrantz
"But we both obey, and offer ourselves fully to your service," said Guildenstern.
"Thank you, Rosencrantz and kind Guildenstern," said the King.
"Thank you, Guildenstern and kind Rosencrantz," the Queen said, and added, "I implore you to visit my too-much-changed son immediately. An attendant will take you to him."
"Pray to Heaven that our company and efforts will be amusing and helpful," said Guildenstern.
"Amen!" said the Queen.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were led to Hamlet's chambers. Claudius and Gertrude, thinking they were to be alone, were relaxed and optimistic that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would solve their problem. But their peace didn't last- the vexed Polonius arrived.
"The ambassadors we sent to Norway have returned, my good lord," said Polonius.
"You have always been the bearer of good news," said the King.
"Have I, my lord? I assure you my duty is to serve my King as my soul serves God. I think that, if I'm as astute as I used to be, I have found the cause of Hamlet's lunacy."
"Tell me! I'm longing to hear."
"First we should see the ambassadors. My news will be the fragrant fruit that follows the feast."
"Greet them yourself and bring them to me," the King told Polonius. The King turned to Queen Gertrude, who was now engrossed in her tapestry: "He tells me he has found the root of your son's problem."
"I have no doubt it is none other than what I have said, his father's death and our over-hasty marriage."
"Well, we will quiz Polonius."
Polonius reappeared with Voltemand and Cornelius, the ambassadors.
"Welcome, my good friends, tell us the news from the King of Norway."
"A very fair hearing of your greetings and requests," said Voltemand. "As soon as we raised the issue, he called a halt to his nephew's military recruitment, which he understood to be a caution against the Poles. But looking into it he agreed the build-up was aimed at Denmark. Aggrieved that sickness and old age had left him powerless, he sent an edict restraining Fortinbras. And Fortinbras, well rebuked, vowed to his uncle never again to confront Denmark. Delighted with this, the old King gave Fortinbras an annuity of three thousand crowns and the authority to use his new forces against the King of Poland. He has asked that we give Fortinbras safe passage through Denmark. He has detailed the terms in this document."
"It sounds pleasing. When I have more time I will read, think about this business and answer. In the meantime, we thank you for your successful labours. Now rest a while, and join us tonight for a feast. Welcome home, gentlemen."
As Voltemand and Cornelius were leaving Polonius was preparing to impress the King and Queen with his revelations about Hamlet.
"One case closed. My King and Queen, to examine what kingship is, what duty is, why day is day, why night is night, and why time is time would be a waste of night, day and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit and verbal gymnastics the soul of tediousness, I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. I called it madness, but to define true madness one would have to experience that state for oneself. But, we will put that to one side for the moment..."
"More of what you have to say, and less of how you say it," the Queen said sharply, exasperated by Polonius' verbosity.
"Madam, I swear, I'm coming to the point. That he is mad, it is true. That it is true is a pity. And it's a pity that it's true. A figure of speech, but we'll forget it, since word games are tedious. So, let's agree that he is mad. So now we must find out what has caused this effect, or rather caused this defect. Because the defective effect must have started somewhere. So it remains. It remains... where was I? I have a daughter, yes, until she marries, who in her duty and obedience gave me a letter. Now listen and surmise yourself. To the idol of the celestial and my soul, the most beautified Ophelia- That's a tasteless word, beautified. You shall hear more. -In her excellent white bosom… etc., etc."
"Was this letter sent to her by Hamlet?" Gertrude asked.
"Good madam, be patient. I'll read you more: “Doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that sun does move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”
Polonius Continued to read the letter: “Oh, dear Ophelia, I have no talent for verse. I can't make art from my suffering. But I love you more than anyone, much more, believe it. Adieu. Yours evermore, my dear lady, as long as my heart beats, Hamlet. My obedient daughter showed me this, as well as told me about the means and methods they use to meet."
"But how has she received his love?" the King asked.
"What do you think of me?" Polonius said, sounding injured.
"As a man of faith and honour."
"As I would hope. What would you have thought if I hadn't seen this hot love take flight- and perceive it as such, I must tell you, before my daughter told me- what would you have thought, or my Dear Majesty your Queen here have thought, if I had played the matchmaker or told my heart to play mute and dumb, or turned a blind eye? What would you have thought? I went to work, and said to my impressionable daughter: Hamlet is a prince, and out of your reach. This is to stop. I insisted she lock herself away, admit no messengers and refuse gifts. She followed my instructions to the letter and the dejected Hamlet suffered. Since then he hasn't been able to eat, to sleep or to concentrate. And he has now reached this state of madness we know about."
"Do you think," the King asked the Queen, "this is it?"
"It could be. Very likely."
"Has there ever been a time, tell me, when what I said was the case turned out to be wrong?" Polonius asked.
"Not that I know of," the King replied.
"If I'm wrong then take this from me," Polonius said indicating his head. "Given the details, I will find out the truth even if it is hidden at the centre of the earth."
"How can we put your theory to the test?" asked the King.
"You know how Hamlet sometimes spends hours pacing the corridors?"
"He does indeed," said the Queen.
"Well, the next time he is doing that I'll make sure Ophelia crosses his path. You and I will hide behind one of the wall tapestries, noting the encounter. If he doesn't love her and this love is not the cause of his insanity I will resign as a minister and become a farmer!"
"We'll try it," said the King.
As the King finished speaking Hamlet wandered in to the chamber apparently engrossed in a book.
"Look how sadly the poor wretch wanders," said the Queen.
"Go, away, both of you, I beg you. With your permission I will speak to him," said Polonius.
Claudius and Gertrude left as quickly and as subtly as possible.
"How is my good Hamlet?" asked Polonius.
"Fine, thank you."
"Do you know me, my lord?"
"Very well. You are a fishmonger."
"Not I, my lord."
"Then I hope you are as honest as the fishmonger."
"Honest, my lord."
"Yes, sir. To be honest in this world is to be one man in ten thousand."
"That's very true, my lord."
"The sun can conceive maggots in a dead dog, because it is such a fertile corpse.... Do you have a daughter?"
"I have, my lord."
"Don't let her walk in the sun. Conception is a blessing, but since your daughter may conceive - guard against it, friend."
"Well, well," Polonius said to himself, "still harping on about my daughter. Yet at first he didn't know me. He said I was a fishmonger. He is far gone. Truly, in my youth I suffered for love, almost as extreme. I should speak to him again. What are you reading, my lord?"
"Words, words, words."
"What's the matter, my lord?"
"No, I mean the subject matter, my lord."
"Slanders, sir. The satirical rogue writes that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, that their eyes ooze vile pus, that they have a chronic lack of mental ability and arthritic thighs. I believe all of it, but I do think it was distasteful to document it. You, sir, will grow as old as me - if you could go backwards, like a crab."
"It might be madness, but there's method in it," Polonius thought to himself. He turned again to Hamlet: "Would you like to stroll in the open air, sir?”
"Into my grave?”
"Indeed, that would be in the air."
“How multi-layered his replies are,” thought Polonius. “It’s a paradox to be found in madness, reason and sanity couldn't distil such profundity. I will leave him, but first I must conspire to have him meet my daughter: My lord, I shall take my leave of you."
"You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I would not part with more willingly. Except my life, except my life, except my life."
"Farewell, my lord."
"These tedious old fools!" Hamlet said when Polonius was out of earshot.
Hamlet heard Polonius talk with someone as he was leaving.
"Are you seeking the Lord Hamlet? If so there he is," Polonius said to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
"Thank you, sir," Rosencrantz said to Polonius.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern approached Hamlet and bowed to him.
"My honoured lord," said Rosencrantz.
"My most dear lord," said Guildenstern.
"My excellent good friends! How are you, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz? Good lads, how are you both?"
"Agreeable," said Rosencrantz.
"Happy in that we aren't too happy. We are not the feather in Fortune's cap!" said Guildenstern.
"Nor the soles of her shoes?" asked Hamlet.
"Neither, my good lord," said Rosencrantz.
"Then you hang around her waist?"
"We are her foot soldiers!" said Guildenstern.
"Privy to Fortune's secrets! She is wanton and indiscriminate. What news?"
"None, my lord, other than the world has become a bit more honest," said Rosencrantz.
"Then doomsday must be near! But your news is not true. Let me quiz you closely. What bad luck has provoked your mistress, Fortune, to lead you to this prison?"
"Prison, my lord?" asked Guildenstern.
"Denmark is a prison."
"Then so is the world," said Rosencrantz.
"A huge one, in which there are many jails, pits and dungeons, Denmark being one of the most notorious," Hamlet insisted.
"We don't think so, my lord," said Rosencrantz.
"Why then, it can't be a prison to you. Nothing is really good or bad, it is one's opinion which makes it so. To me it is a prison."
"Surely, then it is your ambition that makes it so. Your mind doesn't have the freedom it needs," said Rosencrantz.
"Oh, God, I could live in a nutshell and think of myself as the king of an infinite space if only I didn't have bad dreams."
"Dreams are ambitions. The aim of the ambition is the power of the dream," said Guildenstern.
"A dream itself is only a shadow."
"True, but I say ambition is ephemeral, that it is the shadow of a shadow," said Rosencrantz.
"Then it goes that our beggars are men of substance, while our monarchs and epic heroes are little more than the shadows of beggars. Shall we argue that one in court? Reason, alone, can't give me the answer."
"We'll accompany you to court," said Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
"I can't have that. I won't pass you off as my servants. To be frank, they attend to me in a sloppy manner. Tell me plainly, what brings you to Elsinore?"
"To visit you, my lord. Nothing else" said Rosencrantz.
"Beggar that I am, I can barely afford thanks, but I thank you. To be sure, my thanks are worth barely a penny. Were you not sent for? Did you come of your own inclination? Is this a voluntary visit? Come, come, speak truthfully! Speak."
"What do you expect us to say, my lord?" asked Guildenstern.
"Anything. As long as it's the truth. You were sent for. There is a confession appearing on your face, you're not crafty enough to disguise it. I know the good King and Queen have sent for you."
"What would be the point of that, my lord?" asked Rosencrantz.
"That, is something you must tell me. But let me suggest to you that by our long bonds, growing in stature since childhood, be honest with me whether you were sent for or not."
"What will you say?" mumbled Rosencrantz to Guildenstern.
"I’ve got the measure you,” Hamlet said to himself. “If you have any regard for me, don't treat me like a child."
"My lord, we were sent for," confessed Guildenstern.
"I will tell you why. My perception will find you out and that way oaths to monarchy are not broken. Lately, and I don't know why, I've lost all my mirth, ignored exercise and relaxation. I've become so depressed the whole earth seems like a barren cliff. This sky, stunning to you, seems like a toxic and foul stream of vapour to me. What a piece of wonder is man; how noble in reason; how infinite in his talents; in form and function he excels; his tasks he completes like an angel; in his intellect he is like a god; the apex of form and function. But to me he is the apex of dust. Man does not delight me - no, nor does woman either, though by your smiling I think you imply so."
"My lord, I never entertained such a thought," said Rosencrantz.
"Then why did you laugh when I said man does not delight me?"
"To think, my lord, you get no delight from man. The actors coming will think your reception as dull as Lent. We passed them en route and they are coming to Elsinore to perform," said Rosencrantz, by way of apology.
"The actor who plays the King will be welcome. I shall reward this King. The Knight can use his weapons. The Lover will not sigh out of loneliness. The Eccentric will be unconfined. The Clown shall make those readily given to laughter laugh. The Lady shall speak freely, or her verse will sound halting. From what company are these actors?"
"Your favourites from the city, the tragedians," said Rosencrantz.
"Why are they touring? Surely their city base would be better for their reputation and their pockets."
"I hear they have been banned because of a recent fracas," said Rosencrantz.
"Are they as esteemed as I remember? Is their popularity still strong?"
"No, indeed, they are not," said Rosencrantz.
"Why? Is there technique rusty?"
"No, their endeavours are as accomplished as ever. But there is, sir, a rival nest of child actors, little hawks who squawk at the top of their voices and are rapturously applauded for it. This is now the theatrical fashion. Everything else is derided, so much so that the fashionable stay away from the serious theatres just to follow fashion."
"They are children? Who feeds them? Who supports them? Will they pursue acting when their voices break? If they mature into actors won't they suffer for having ridiculed their profession?"
"There's blame to be attributed to both sides, but the masses think inciting controversy is nothing to be ashamed of. For a while you couldn't sell a play unless there was a squabble between the adult actors and the children's writers," said Rosencrantz.
"Oh, a lot of opinions have been aired," said Guildenstern.
"Do the children win?"
"That they do, my lord," said Rosencrantz.
"I shouldn't be surprised. My uncle is King of Denmark and those who made faces behind his back when my father was king now pay twenty, forty, fifty or a hundred ducats to buy miniature portraits of Claudius. There is something very illogical in this, if only the philosophers could figure it out."
A flourish of trumpets heralded the arrival at the gates of Elsinore of the travelling theatre group.
"That will be the actors," said Guildenstern.
Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern went the window to see the party of actors came through the castle gates into the central courtyard. They came on several wagons crammed with props and costumes, with most of the actors walking beside the wagons.
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, you are welcome at Elsinore. Let's shake hands. The appearance of welcome is vital to the ceremony. I tell you this because the welcome I give the players may appear to be more demonstrative than yours. You are welcome. My uncle-father and my aunt-mother are deceived."
"In what way, my dear lord?" asked Guildenstern.
"I am only mad when there is a north wind. When the wind comes from the south I know a hawk from a handsaw."
Polonius returned unannounced: "Greetings, gentlemen."
"Listen, Guildenstern. You too, Rosencrantz. A listener for each ear. Polonius is not yet out of his nappies."
"Perhaps it's the second childhood, they say that happens to the old," said Rosencrantz.
"I predict he has come to tell me about the actors. Watch. As you say, sir, Monday morning was indeed..." Hamlet said, pretending he was having a conversation.
"My lord, I have some news for you," Polonius said.
"My lord, I have some news for you,” Hamlet said, “when Roscius was an actor in Rome...."
"The actors have arrived, my lord," said Polonius.
"You're jesting!" Hamlet said, winking slyly at Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
"Upon my honour-"
"Then came each actor on his ass," Hamlet said, quoting to the puzzled Polonius.
"They are the best actors in the world,” Polonius said, “Whether it be tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, experimental, and the verse play. Seneca's plays are aren't too tough for them, nor are Plautus' plays too light. Anything written, these are the only players."
"Oh, Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure you had," Hamlet said, quoting again to incite Polonius.
"What was this treasure, my lord?” Polonius asked.
"Why: One fair daughter and no more,
The which he loved so much."
"Still on about my daughter!" thought Polonius.
"Isn't that so, old Jephthah?'
"If I'm your Jephthah, my lord, I do have a daughter I love so much."
"No that doesn't follow."
"What would follow, then, my lord?"
"Why: As by chance, God-
and you know the rest,
it came to pass, as was foretold- the first verse of that pious song will show you more, but unfortunately the actors stop me."
The actors assembled in the chamber.
"You are welcome, gentlemen," said Hamlet. "Welcome all."
Hamlet studied the faces and spotted actors he remembered from a previous performance: "I'm glad to see you well! Welcome to all! Oh, old friend, you've got a beard now! Have you come to defy me in Denmark? What, hasn't that young lady grown since I saw her last? As you've got taller, I bet your voice got lower! Gentlemen, you are all welcome. Let's have a shot at something just now, to see if it flies! Come a taste of things to come, an indication of your talents. A passionate speech!"
"Which speech did you have in mind, my lord?" the principal actor asked.
"I heard your deliver a monologue once, but it was from an unpopular play, a piece for the literate not the hordes. But it was in my opinion, and in the opinion of those with more expertise than me, a superior play, well plotted and understated. I remember someone said there was no seasoning in the lines to give the play any unnecessary spice, nor anything that could be called pretentious. He said it was honest, wholesome and accomplished. One speech in particular struck me. It was Aeneas’ speech to Dido, the lines where he speaks of Priam's slaughter. Bear with me, I remember the beginning. Let me see- The rugged Pyrrhus, like a Hyrcanian beast... No, that isn't it. It begins with Pyrrhus. The rugged Pyrrhus, whose armour was blacker than his intentions was disguised as dark as the night when he lay in that Trojan horse, his appearance ever more fearful as he is covered head to foot in the red blood of the horribly-tricked. Blood of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons, baked hard on the streets by the sun. Roasted in wrath and fire and covered with more blood than was within him, and with eyes flaming like gems, Pyrrhus seeks the old grandfather Priam. Go on from there," Hamlet told the actor.
"By God, my lord, well spoken, and with good pacing and very vivid," Polonius threw in.
The actor began: "Soon he finds Priam, helplessly fighting off the Greeks. But his faithful sword can't help him now, it falls, refusing to kill. An unequal match, Pyrrhus rages at Priam. The gust from his fierce swordsmanship felled the man. Then the castle Ilium, as if affected by Priam's fate, topples, and the crash deafens Pyrrhus. His sword which was aiming for the grey hair of Priam halts in mid-air. So, like a warrior in art, Pyrrhus stands still, captured between the will and the goal. But like the calm that comes before the storm, when the clouds are slow and the wind still, until the moment the thunder frightens the air. So it was with Pyrrhus' pause, vengeance was reborn with the rain. Never did the Cyclops' hammers fall on Mars' armour, forged for eternity, with less pity than Pyrrhus' sword fell on Priam. Fortune, flee! You gods must agree to rid Fortune of her power. Remove all the spokes from her wheel and let the remnants roll far from Heaven, as low to the fiends."
"This is too long!" Polonius said, clearly disturbed by the content.
"It shall go to the barber, to be trimmed along with your beard. Please continue, player. He only likes a farce or some bawdy nonsense, otherwise he falls asleep. Get to the part about Hecuba."
"But who- ah, woe! - had seen the veiled Queen-"
"The veiled Queen’?" interrupted Hamlet.
"That's good," said Polonius.
“-running barefoot, up and down, trying to extinguish the flames with her tears. A rag on her head, where once there had been a crown. A sheet around her exposed and exhausted body. Even the most hateful man, witnessing this, would have protested on her behalf. But the gods themselves were oblivious to her agony as she saw Pyrrhus mutilate her husband into eight. Her howling was so loud it must have perturbed the gods and made the stars, the eyes of Heaven, shed tears."
"Oh, look how his colour has changed!" Polonius said. "There are tears in his eyes."
"That's very good," Hamlet told the actor, "I'll have you read the rest later. Polonius, will you see that the players have suitable accommodation? Ensure they are well taken care of, for they are the chroniclers of our time. You would be better with a bad epitaph in death than be the butt of their jokes when you are living."
"My lord, I shall treat then well."
"Like the body of Christ. With reverence. If every man was treated well, who would need whipping? The less they are deserving, the more merit in your kindness. Take them in."
"Follow me," said Polonius.
"Go with him, friends. We'll hear a play tomorrow. Before you go, a word in your ear, player friend, can you perform The Murder of Gonzago?"
"Yes, my lord."
"We will have that play tomorrow night. Can you learn a short speech that I will write as an insert?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Good. Now, players, follow Polonius, and see that you don't mock him!"
Hamlet was in high spirits as Polonius and the company left.
"My good friends," Hamlet said to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, "I'll leave you at leisure until later. In the meantime be comfortable at Elsinore."
"Good, my lord," said Rosencrantz.
"Indeed, away with you!"
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern left Hamlet and returned to the guest quarters arranged for them by the King and the Queen.
Alone again Hamlet sunk into melancholic thought.
"Now I am alone. Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Is it not amazing that the actor we saw give such intense feeling to something that is just a fiction, a dream of passion, such soulful distress? His face went white, tears ran down his cheeks. His voice broke and his whole body found suitable expressions for his grief. And all for nothing! For Hecuba! Who is Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba? What would he do if he had my motive and urge for revenge? He would drown the stage with tears, and make hairs stand on end, he would drive the guilty insane and petrify the innocent. The ear and the eye would be amazed. Yet I, a dull and confused rascal mope about like a daydreamer ineffectively scheming, saying nothing- I can't even avenge the murder of a glorious King. Am I a coward? Who calls me a villain? Who tugs at my beard or blows in my face? Does anyone? Would I accept it? I would accept it! It cannot be, but it is that I am chicken-hearted, lacking the gall to counter abuse. It must be, for otherwise I would have fed all the vultures around with the usurper's offal. Bloody, bawdy, villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, cold murderer! Why, what a fool I am! This is brave! The son of a dear father, prompted to revenge by and hell, should unburden his heart with language befitting a whore. No! No! I have to think about this. I have heard that the guilty watching a play have by the impact of the scene confessed their guilt. Murder may not have a tongue but guilt will make sure it finds a voice. I will get the players to perform a murder which resembled that of my father, this in the presence of my uncle. I'll watch his every move, if he blanches I must act. The spirit I have seen may be a devil, for the devil has the power to assume pleasing shapes and in my melancholy he has taken the opportunity to delude me, that is his game. I'll have the evidence before I act. The play's the thing to snare the conscience of the King."