Reference > William Shakespeare > The Oxford Shakespeare > Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
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William Shakespeare (1564–1616).  The Oxford Shakespeare.  1914.
 
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
 
Act IV. Scene VII.
 
Another Room in the Same.
 
Enter KING and LAERTES.
  King.  Now must your conscience my acquittance seal,
And you must put me in your heart for friend,
Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear,        5
That he which hath your noble father slain
Pursu’d my life.
  Laer.        It well appears: but tell me
Why you proceeded not against these feats,
So crimeful and so capital in nature,        10
As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
You mainly were stirr’d up.
  King.        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        15
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,        20
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,        25
Too slightly timber’d for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aim’d them.
  Laer.  And so have I a noble father lost;
A sister driven into desperate terms,        30
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.  Break not your sleeps for that; you must not think
That we are made of stuff so flat and dull        35
That we can let our beard be shook with danger
And think it pastime. You shortly shall hear more;
I lov’d your father, and we love ourself,
And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine,—
 
Enter a Messenger.
        40
How now! what news?
  Mess.        Letters, my lord, from Hamlet:
This to your majesty; this to the queen.
  King.  From Hamlet! who brought them?
  Mess.  Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not:        45
They were given me by Claudio, he receiv’d them
Of him that brought them.
  King.        Laertes, you shall hear them.
Leave us.  [Exit Messenger.
  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 occasions of my sudden and more strange return.
HAMLET.    
        50
What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?
Or is it some abuse and no such thing?
  Laer.  Know you the hand?
  King.        ’Tis Hamlet’s character. ‘Naked,’
And in a postscript here, he says, ‘alone.’        55
Can you advise me?
  Laer.  I’m lost in it, my lord. But let him come:
It warms the very sickness in my heart,
That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,
‘Thus diddest thou.’        60
  King.        If it be so, Laertes,
As how should it be so? how otherwise?
Will you be rul’d by me?
  Laer.        Ay, my lord;
So you will not o’er-rule me to a peace.        65
  King.  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;        70
And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,
But even his mother shall uncharge the practice
And call it accident.
  Laer.        My lord, I will be rul’d;
The rather, if you could devise it so        75
That I might be the organ.
  King.        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        80
Did not together pluck such envy from him
As did that one, and that, in my regard,
Of the unworthiest siege.
  Laer.        What part is that, my lord?
  King.  A very riband in the cap of youth,        85
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:        90
I’ve seen myself, and serv’d 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 incorps’d and demi-natur’d        95
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.
  Laer.        A Norman was ’t?
  King.  A Norman.        100
  Laer.  Upon my life, Lamord.
  King.        The very same.
  Laer.  I know him well; he is the brooch indeed
And gem of all the nation.
  King.  He made confession of you,        105
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,        110
He swore, had neither motion, guard, nor eye,
If you oppos’d 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.        115
Now, out of this,—
  Laer.        What out of this, my lord?
  King.  Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?        120
  Laer.        Why ask you this?
  King.  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.        125
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,        130
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;        135
Hamlet comes back; what would you undertake
To show yourself your father’s son in deed
More than in words?
  Laer.        To cut his throat i’ the church.
  King.  No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize;        140
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        145
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        150
A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice
Requite him for your father.
  Laer.        I will do ’t;
And, for that purpose, I’ll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank,        155
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        160
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
It may be death.
  King.        Let’s further think of this;
Weigh what convenience both of time and means
May fit us to our shape. If this should fail,        165
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:        170
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 prepar’d him
A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,        175
If he by chance escape your venom’d stuck,
Our purpose may hold there. But stay! what noise?
 
Enter QUEEN.
How now, sweet queen!
  Queen.  One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,        180
So fast they follow: your sister’s drown’d, Laertes.
  Laer.  Drown’d! O, where?
  Queen.  There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,        185
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,        190
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,        195
Or like a creature native and indu’d
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.        200
  Laer.        Alas! then, she is drown’d?
  Queen.  Drown’d, drown’d.
  Laer.  Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick, nature her custom holds,        205
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.        Let’s follow, Gertrude.        210
How much I had to do to calm his rage!
Now fear I this will give it start again;
Therefore let’s follow.  [Exeunt.
 
 
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