Another room in the castle.
Enter KING CLAUDIUS and LAERTES
KING 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.
LAERTES
It well appears: but tell me
Why you proceeded not against these feats,
So crimeful and so capital in nature,
As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
You mainly were stirr'd up.
KING CLAUDIUS
O, for two special reasons;
Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew'd,
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 timber'd for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aim'd them.
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.
KING 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--
Enter a Messenger
How now! what news?
Messenger
Letters, my lord, from Hamlet:
This to your majesty; this to the queen.
KING CLAUDIUS
From Hamlet! who brought them?
Messenger
Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not:
They were given me by Claudio; he received them
Of him that brought them.
KING CLAUDIUS
Laertes, you shall hear them. Leave us.
Exit Messenger
Reads
'High and mighty, You shall know I am set naked on
your kingdom. To-morrow shall 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?
LAERTES
Know you the hand?
KING CLAUDIUS
'Tis Hamlets character. 'Naked!
And in a postscript here, he says 'alone.'
Can you advise me?
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 didest thou.'
KING CLAUDIUS
If it be so, Laertes--
As how should it be so? how otherwise?--
Will you be ruled by me?
LAERTES
Ay, my lord;
So you will not o'errule me to a peace.
KING CLAUDIUS
To thine own peace. If he be now return'd,
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 device,
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 practise
And call it accident.
LAERTES
My lord, I will be ruled;
The rather, if you could devise it so
That I might be the organ.
KING CLAUDIUS
It falls right.
You have been talk'd 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.
LAERTES
What part is that, my lord?
KING CLAUDIUS
A very riband 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 incorpsed and demi-natured
With the brave beast: so far he topp'd my thought,
That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.
LAERTES
A Norman was't?
KING CLAUDIUS
A Norman.
LAERTES
Upon my life, Lamond.
KING CLAUDIUS
The very same.
LAERTES
I know him well: he is the brooch indeed
And gem of all the nation.
KING CLAUDIUS
He made confession of you,
And gave you such a masterly report
For art and exercise in your defence
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,--
LAERTES
What out of this, my lord?
KING CLAUDIUS
Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?
LAERTES
Why ask you this?
KING 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 plurisy,
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 o' the ulcer:--
Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake,
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
LAERTES
To cut his throat i' the church.
KING 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 return'd 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 practise
Requite him for your father.
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 scratch'd withal: I'll touch my point
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.
KING 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 assay'd: 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 venom'd stuck,
Our purpose may hold there.
Enter QUEEN GERTRUDE
How now, sweet queen!
QUEEN GERTRUDE
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
LAERTES
Drown'd! O, where?
QUEEN 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 crow-flowers, 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 pendent 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, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
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,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
LAERTES
Alas, then, she is drown'd?
QUEEN GERTRUDE
Drown'd, drown'd.
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 douts it.
Exit
KING 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.
Exeunt

King Claudius and Laertes had formed an unholy alliance. The King was delighted at the success of his manipulation.
"Now your conscience must acknowledge my innocence," the King said to Laertes. "And you must take me to your heart as a friend since you have agreed and believed that the man who killed your father also tried to kill me."
"So it appears. But tell me why you never took action against these crimes, capital crimes at that, but acted upon the matters that concerned your safety?"
The King sighed in a cunning way.
"Oh, for two special reasons which perhaps to you will sound rather weak. The Queen, his mother, dotes on him. As for me, my virtue or my plague, I find the Queen so vital to my life that, just as a star moves in its own sphere, I need her in my orbit. The other problem was the esteem in which my subjects hold him. They are so fond of him that they tolerate his faults. Like the spring that turns wood to stone, they convert his guilt to grace. My accusatory arrows were too slim to counter this force and would have been beaten back to my bow, so to speak."
"And so I have lost a noble father. And a sister who could have stood on a mountain and challenged the age to exceed her perfection is now insane. My revenge will come."
"Don't lose any sleep worrying about that. You must not think that I'm so soppy that I would allow a threat like Hamlet to be treated like a joke. You will shortly hear more. I loved you father, and I love myself. And that, I hope, will let you know-"
The King was interrupted by a messenger.
"This letter is for you, Majesty. This one is for the Queen."
"From Hamlet! Who brought them?"
"Sailors, my lord, so they said. I didn't see them. They were given to me by Claudio. He took them from the men who delivered them," said the messenger.
"Laertes, you shall hear what Hamlet has to say. Leave us, man."
Claudius opened the letter with some trepidation. 
"Your High and Mighty Lord, you should know that I am back in your Kingdom, destitute. Tomorrow, I beg to stand before your kingly presence and I shall, after begging your pardon, explain the reasons for my unexpected and strange return. Hamlet. What does this mean? Have the rest returned, too? Is this a fraud? Untrue?"
"Do you recognise Hamlet's handwriting?" asked Laertes.
"Oh, it's Hamlet's. Destitute? And in the postscript here he says, Alone. Laertes, can you advise me?"
The King did not need advice. He was subtly roping Laertes into his plans.
"I am puzzled by it, my lord. But let him come. It aids the sickness in my heart to know I will confront him and say: This is your death!"
"If this letter is authentic, and it appears to be, will you take my advice, Laertes?"
"Yes, my lord, as long as it not about reconciliation."
"Reconcile your actions with your own conscience. If he has returned with no intention of leaving I will manipulate him into a plot of mine that will guarantee his downfall. His death will be blameless, even his mother will acknowledge that."
"My lord, I'm all for it, especially if your plan will permit my participation."
"Ideal. Since you went away there has been much talk, and Hamlet has heard it, of a quality you have in abundance. All your other skills combined didn't provoke as much envy in Hamlet as that one. Which I have to say, is not your best quality."
"Which quality is that, my lord?"
"Recklessness. It is typical of youth to be carefree as it is for the middle aged to appear reserved and successful and to imply health and conformity. Two months or so ago a gentleman from Normandy was here. I've seen and fought against the French myself. They are good on horseback, but this lad's skill was magical. As soon as he mounted that horse he was like Perseus. His talents were so far in excess of my imagination that any task I set him came short of what he accomplished."
"A Norman, did you say?"
"Yes, a Norman."
"Lamond?"
"Yes, that was his name!"
"I know him well. He is the jewel in the crown."
"He spoke of you. He gave such a shining account of your swordsmanship, that he said it would be something indeed if a match could be found for you. His countrymen he said couldn't match your agility, defence or accuracy should you oppose them. Hamlet was so jealous he begged for your return so that he could fence with you. Now out of this-"
"What can come out of this, my lord?" interrupted Laertes.
"Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like a portrait of sorrow, a face without a heart?"
"Why are you asking this?" Laertes asked, puzzled.
"It's not that I think you didn't love your father. It’s just that I know that time witnesses the beginnings of love and time, too, withers the intensity of it. Within the flame of love is the very thing that extinguishes it. Goodness can never retain its purity or consistency, it eventually succumbs to its own richness. What we would do, we should do instantly. Otherwise resolve becomes the victim of its own postponements and thoughtfulness. It finds its own alibis for not acting on impulse. The should becomes the mere sigh of a spendthrift. But back to the gist of the tumour: Hamlet is back. What will you do to prove you are your father's son, deeds not words?"
"I'll cut his throat in church!"
"Indeed, no place should harbour a murderer. Revenge should be unhindered. Do this for me, Laertes: stay in your room. Hamlet will be told you, too, have returned. I will orchestrate praise of your swordsmanship that will exceed that of the Frenchman. You will contest a duel, with wagers. Hamlet is trusting, negligent and immune to contrivance, he will not inspect the swords. So, easily, or with some handiwork, you can choose a foil which is not blunted. Then with the requisite tact you can avenge your father's murder."
"I will do it. And for that purpose I will season my sword. I bought a balm from a quack. So lethal is the formula that one only has to dip a knife into it and once it has drawn blood no herbal solution on this earth, however reputable, will be able to defeat the formula's fatal effect. I'll put the poison on the point of my sword and I'll just need to scratch him to kill him."
"Let's consider this further, and decide on the most convenient time and place for us to play our parts. If this should fail, our real intentions would be seen. We must think carefully. This project should have a contingency that will succeed if the first fails. Let me think. Yes, I'll make a wager on your skills. That's it! Ensure your bouts are energetic and when he is hot and thirsty and asks for a drink, I'll have prepared a drink especially for him. So, if by chance he escapes your venom, mine will be waiting for him. Task complete! What's that racket?"
The King was disturbed by screaming and pandemonium in the hallway. Gertrude came in sobbing.
"One woe treads on the heels of the last! They come thick and fast. Laertes, Ophelia has drowned!"
"Drowned? Where?"
"There is a willow that grows over the brook, its white leaves reflect in the water. Ophelia went there with garlands of daffodils, roses, daisies and long purples, which crude farmers give a rude name, but our virginal maidens call 'dead men's fingers'. Climbing up to hang her garlands on the boughs, a weak branch broke. She and her flowers fell into the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide and mermaid-like they kept her afloat. She sang snatches of old tunes, like someone oblivious to her own plight, or like a water-residing creature. But it wasn't long before her heavy and muddy clothes pulled her from her melodious songs to a muddy death."
"Alas, Ophelia has drowned," Laertes said.
"Drowned....drowned..." the Queen said.
"You have had too much water, poor Ophelia, so I will curtail my tears. But it is our nature, customs will be adhered to, regardless of shame. When my tears are gone, that will be the last of the woman in me. Adieu, my lord. I have a speech of fire within me but my tears would only douse it."
Laertes left, racked with grief.
"Let's go after him, Gertrude. I had to do so much to calm his rage, but I fear this will trigger it again. Let's follow him."
Claudius and Gertrude rushed after Laertes.