Presented by Paul W. Collins All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this work may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a databaseor retrieval system, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, audio or video recording, or other, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Contact: email@example.com Note: Spoken lines from Shakespeare’s drama are in the public domain, as is the Globe edition (1864) of his plays, which provided the basic text of the speeches in this new version of Hamlet. But Hamlet, by William Shakespeare: Presented by Paul W. Collins, is a copyrighted work, and is made available for your personal use only, in reading and study. Student, beware: This is a presentation, not a scholarly work, so you should be sure your teacher, instructor or professor considers it acceptable as a reference before quoting characters’ comments or thoughts from it in your report or term paper.
Returnings Darkness surrounds the battlement high atop the King of Denmark’s massive castle at Elsinore, as a bleak autumn night wears away near the close of the first thousand-year span of the Christian Lord’s dominion.
An aging sentinel paces steadily in silence, occasionally peering out over the strait, then down toward roads into shadowed land beyond the stone fortress. Francisco is finishing his long watch. The royal court has been much troubled, he knows, by the king’s death, the queen’s remarriage—and a rumor of war.
As he approaches a tower, another soldier comes up to relieve him. “Who’s there?” asks the dim figure, emerging from a torch-lit arch.
“Nay, answer me!” says the sentry. “Stand, and unfold yourself!” he challenges.
“Long live the king!” says Barnardo.
“You come most carefully upon your hour.”
“Get thee to bed, Francisco.”
“For this relief much thanks; ’tis bitter cold, and I am sick at heart.”
“Have you had quiet guard?”
“Not a mouse stirring.”
“Well, good night. If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, th’arrivals on my watch, bid them make haste,” says Barnardo, walking away to begin his own set of rounds.
Francisco, weary, is already leaving. “I think I hear them,” he grumbles. “Stand, ho! Who’s there?”
Two young gentlemen are climbing the narrow steps into the flickering light. “Friends to this ground,” says Horatio, a visitor at the palace. “And liegemen to the Dane,” adds Marcellus, an officer of that king’s guard.
“’Give you good night,” says Francisco, starting down.
“Farewell, honest soldier. Who hath relieved you?” asks Marcellus.
“Barnardo has my place. ’Give you good night.” He disappears into the gloom below.
Marcellus calls, “Holla! Barnardo!”
As he hurries back, the sentinel asks, eagerly, “Say: what, is Horatio there?”
“A piece of him,” the student answers dryly as they shake hands; he questions the value of their dead-of-night visit.
“Welcome, Horatio!” says Barnardo. “Welcome, good Marcellus.”
“Well, has this thing appeared again tonight?” asks the lieutenant.
“I have seen nothing,” Barnardo admits.
“Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy, and will not let belief take hold of him touching this dreaded sight, twice seen by us,” says Marcellus. “Therefore I have entreated him along with us to watch the minutes of this night, so that if again the apparition come, he may approve our eyes, and speak to it.”
Horatio is visiting from Germany, where he pursues advanced university studies in philosophy. “’Twill not appear,” says the skeptic.
“Sit down a while,” says Barnardo, “and let us once again assail your ears, that are so fortified against our story, what we have two nights seen.”
“Well, sit we down,” says Horatio, moving to a stone bench near the torch by the tower, “and let us hear Barnardo speak of this.”
The soldier pulls his cloak closer, then begins. “Last night of all, when yond same star that’s westward from the pole had made his course t’illume that part of heaven where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, the bell then beating one—”
“Peace! Break thee off!” cries the officer. They rise, amazed, as the faint image of a man in regal armor appears, hovering at the edge of the wavering light. “Look, where it comes again!”
“In the same figure, like the king that’s dead!” whispers Barnardo.
As the vision moves nearer, the lieutenant prompts his younger friend: “Thou art a scholar—speak to it, Horatio!”
“Looks it not like the king?” asks Barnardo. “Mark it, Horatio!”
“Most like!” breathes the student. “It harrows me with fear and wonder!”
Barnardo stares, wide-eyed. “It would be spoken to.”
“Question it, Horatio!” urges Marcellus.
Horatio steps forward. “What art thou, that usurp’st this time of night, together with that fair and warlike form in which the majesty of buried Denmark did sometimes march?
But the ghostly monarch vanishes into the darkness.
“’Tis gone, and will not answer,” says Marcellus.
“Hownow, Horatio!—you tremble and look pale! Is not this something more than fantasy?” demands Barnardo, his tale confirmed. “What think you on’t?”
“Before my God,” says Horatio, “I might not this believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes!”
“Is it not like the king?” asks Marcellus.
“As thou art to thyself! Such was the very armour he had on when he the ambitious Norway combated; so frowned he once, when, in an angry parle, he smote the sledded Pole on the ice. ’Tis strange!”
“Thus twice before, and just at this dead hour, with martial stalk hath he gone by our watch,” Marcellus tells him.
Horatio’s expression is grave. “In what particular thought to work I know not; but in the gross and scope of my opinion, this bodes some strange eruption to our state!”
Marcellus concurs. “Now, sit down and tell me, he that knows, why this same strict and most observant watch so nightly toils the subject of the land.” Vigilant horsemen ride along the shore, and soldiers at guard posts continually observe the main highways—sentinels all. “And why such daily cast of brazen cannon, and foreign mart for implements of war?—why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task does not divide the Sunday from the week?
“What might be toward, that this sweaty haste doth make the night joint-labourer with the day? Who is’t that can inform me?”
“That can I,” says Horatio. The soldiers lean closer. “At least, as the whisper goes.
“Our last king, whose image even but now appeared to us, was, as you know, by King Fortinbras of Norway dared to the combat,”—a challenge in chivalry, “thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride.
“In which our valiant King Hamlet—for so this side of our known world esteemed him—did slay this Fortinbras, who, by a sealèd compact well ratified by law and heraldry, did forfeit with his life all those his lands which he stood seized of to the conqueror.
“But now, sir, Prince Fortinbras, of unprovèd mettle hot and full, hath in the skirts of Norway here and there sharked up a list of landless resolutes, for food and diet, to some enterprise that hath a stomach”—daring—“in’t. Which is no other, as it doth well appear unto our state, but to recover from us, by strong hand and terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands so by his father lost!
“And that, I take it, is the main motive of our preparations, the source of this our watch, and the chief head of this posthaste and rummage in the land!”
Barnardo nods. “I think it be no other but e’en so! It may well sort that this portentous figure, that comes armèd through our watch so like the king, was and is the question of these wars!”
“A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye,” says Horatio. He thinks. “In the most high and palmy state of Rome, a little ere the mightiest Julius fell, the graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets!—at stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood, disasters in the sun! And the moist star upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands”—the moon—“was sick almost as doomsday with eclipse!
“And even like the precurse of fearèd events, as harbingers preceding still the Fates, and prologue to the omen coming on, have heaven and earth remonstrated together unto our climatures and countrymen—
“But, soft—behold!” He jumps to his feet. “Lo, where it comesagain!”
As the royal warrior approaches, Horatio steels himself. “I’ll cross it, though it blast me!” He confronts the figure. “Stay, illusion! If thou hast any sound or use of voice, speak to me! If there be any good thing to be done that may do ease to thee, and grace to me, speak to me!”
Horatio tries again: “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate, which perhaps foreknowing may avoid, oh, speak! Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life extorted treasure in the womb of earth, for which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death, speak of it! Stay, and speak!”
The men hear, faintly, the crowing of a distant rooster. The ghost again retreats along the battlement.
Horatio points. “Stop it, Marcellus!”
“Shall I strike at it with my partisan?” asks the soldier, brandishing his spear.
“Do, if it will not stand!”
The men hurry along the parapet. “’Tis here!” shouts Barnardo. “’Tis here!” cries Horatio.
“’Tis gone,” says Marcellus, looking around. “We do wrong it, being so majestical, to offer it the show of violence; for it is, as the air, invulnerable, and our vain blows malicious mockery!”
“It was about to speak, when the cock crew,” says Barnardo.
“And then it started—like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons,” notes Horatio. “I have heard that the cock, trumpet to the morn, doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat awake the god of day—and at his warning, the fugitive and erring spirit, whether in sea or fire, in earth or air, hies to its confine—and of the truth herein, this present object made probation!”
Marcellus nods. “It faded on the crowing of the cock. Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, the bird of dawning singeth all night long; and then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad! The nights are wholesome then: no planets strike, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallowed and so gracious is the time.”
“So have I heard, and do in part believe it,” says Horatio; whatever it should be, Christmastide has hardly been free of crime. “But, look, the morn in russet mantle clad walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.
“Break we our watch up, and by my advice, let us impart what we have seen tonight unto young Hamlet—for, upon my life, this spirit, silent to us, will speak to him! Do you consent we shall acquaint him with it, as needful in our loves, fitting our duty?”
“Let’s do’t, I pray!” says Marcellus. “And I this morning know where we shall find him most conveniently.”
The prince, who intends to return to college in Germany, has been summoned to the king’s council. In the throne room just after daybreak, Prince Hamlet, son of the late King Hamlet, stands among the nobles, courtiers and attendants assembled before Claudius, recently crowned as Danish sovereign, and his bride, Queen Gertrude—the prince’s mother. With them on the dais are the king’s chief counselor, Lord Polonius, and his son, Laertes.
“Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the memory be green,” the king begins, “and though it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe, yet discretion hath fought with nature so far that we with wisest sorrow think on him together with remembrance of ourselves.
“Therefore our sometime sister-in-law, now our queen, the imperial jointress to this warlike state, have we—as ’twere with a defeated joy, with an auspicious yet a dropping eye, with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage, in equal scale weighing delight and dole—taken to wife.” He smiles at the court. “Nor have we herein barred your better wisdoms, which have freely gone with this affair along. For all, our thanks!
“Now follows what you know: young Fortinbras—holding a weak supposal of our worth, or thinking by our late, dear brother’s death our state to be disjoint and out of frame—co-leaguèd with a dream of his advantage!—hath not failed to pester us with messages importuning the surrender of those lands lost by his father, with all bonds of law, to our most-valiant brother.
“So much! For him!” he says, scornfully.
He turns to Polonius, who hands him a document. “Now, as for ourself, and for this time of meeting, thus much the business is: we have here written to the uncle of young Fortinbras, the King of Norway, who, impotent and bed-ridden, scarcely hears of this, his nephew’s purpose, to suppress his further gait—as the levies, the lists and full proportions are all made out of his subjects.
“And we here dispatch you, good Cornelius, and you, Voltemand, as bearers of this greeting to old Norway. Farewell, and let your haste commend your duty!”
The courtiers bow. “In that and all things will we show our duty,” says Cornelius, taking the written demand.
“We doubt it nothing; heartily fare well!” says Claudius, as they depart.
“And now, Laertes,” he says, beaming, “what’s the news with you? You told us of some suit; what is’t, Laertes? You cannot speak in reason to the Dane and waste your voice! What wouldst thou beg, Laertes, that shall not be my offer, not thy asking? The head is not more native to the heart, the hand more instrumental to the mouth, than is the throne of Denmark to thy father! What wouldst thou have, Laertes?”
The proud young gentleman answers, “My dread lord, your leave and favour to return to France, from whence willingly I came to Denmark to show my duty in your coronation. Yet now, I must confess, that duty done, my thoughts and wishes bend again toward France—but bow them to your gracious leave and pardon.”
“Have you your father’s leave? What says Polonius?”
“He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave by laboursome petition,” Lord Polonius replies, “and at last upon his will I sealed my hard consent. I do beseech you, give him leave to go.”
“Take thy fair hour, Laertes!—time be thine,” says the king, “and thy best graces spend it at thy will!” Laertes smiles and bows, eager to resume the pleasures of Paris.
The king turns to the prince. “But now, my nephew Hamlet, and my son,—”
- A little more than kin—and less than kind, thinks the prince, who is clad in black mourning clothes.
“—how is it that the clouds still hang on you?” asks Claudius.
Hamlet shakes his head. “Not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun.”
Queen Gertrude sees his irritation—especially at son. “Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off, and let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark! Do not for ever with thy veilèd lids seek for thy noble father in the dusk! Thou know’st ’tis common: all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
“Aye, madam, it is common.”
The queen, ignoring the implied comment on her facile reasoning, asks, “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?”
“Seems, madam? Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems.’ ’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, nor customary suits of solemn black, nor windy suspiration of forcèd breath—no, nor the fruitful river in the eye, nor the dejected ’havior of the visage, together with all forms,moods,shapes of grief, that can denote me truly. Those indeed seem, for they are actions that a man might play. But I have that within which surpasseth show, those but the trappings and the suits of woe.”
The new king is annoyed. “’Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, to give these mourning duties to your father,” says Claudius. “But, you must know, your father lost a father; that father lost lost his, and the survivors bowed in filial obligation to do obsequious sorrow for some term. But to persevere in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness—’tis unmanly grief! It shows a will most incorrect to heaven, a heart unfortified, a mind impatient, an understanding simple and unschooled! For what we know must be, and is as common as any of the most vulgar things to sense—why should we in our peevish opposition take it to heart?
“Fie! ’Tis a fault to Heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to Nature!—to Reason most absurd, whose common theme is death of fathers, and who hath crièd, from the first corpse till he that died today, ‘This must be so!’
“We pray you, throw to earth this unavailing woe,” says the king, shifting to kindly warmth, “and think of us as of a father! For let the world take note: you are the most immediate to our throne, and with no less nobility of love than that which father bears his dearest son do I impart toward you!
“As for your intent in going back to school in Wittenberg, it is most retrograde to our desire, and we beseech you: bend you to remain here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye, our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son!”
The prince’s glowering stare is not encouraging. The queen quickly intervenes. “Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet, I pray thee!” says Gertrude. “Stay with us; go not to Wittenberg!”
Hamlet bows—to his mother. “I shall in all my best obey you, Madam.”
“Why, ’tis a loving and a fair reply,” says the pragmatic king. “Be as ourself in Denmark!” he tells the prince. “Madam, come! This gentle and unforcèd accord of Hamlet sits smiling to my heart! In grace whereof, no jocund health that Denmark drinks today but the great cannon to the clouds shall toll!—and the king’s rouse may the heavens all bruit again, re-speaking earthly thunder!” He takes her by the hand. “Come, away!”
Soon the royal party and court have departed in high spirits, leaving Hamlet alone to contend further with his grief—and his angry thoughts.
Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!—or that the Everlasting had not fixèd his canon ’gainst self-slaughter!
Oh, God! God! how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on’t! Ah, fie!—’tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature possess it merely!
That it should come to this! But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two!—so excellent a king that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr!
And so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly!
Heaven and earth, must I remember? Why, she would hang on him as if increasing appetite had grown by what it fed on! Yet within a month—let me not think on’t; frailty, thy name is woman!—a little month, or ere those shoes were cold with which she followed my poor father’s body, like Niobe all tears—why she, even she—oh, God, a beast that lacks discourse or reason would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle!—my father’s brother, but no more like my father than I to Hercules!
Within a month, ere yet the salt in most unrighteous tears had left off flushing her gallèd eyes, she married! Oh, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good!
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.
As the prince broods, three men enter the hall. “Hail to Your Lordship!” calls Horatio.
Hamlet turns to greet them. “I am glad to see you well! Horatio, or I do forget myself.”
“The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.”
“Sir, my good friend—I’ll exchange that name with you!” says Hamlet, smiling. “And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio?” He nods to the lieutenant. “Marcellus?”
“My good lord,” the officer confirms, bowing.
“I am very glad to see you,” says the prince, adding, to Barnardo, “Good day, sir.
“But what, in faith, takes you from Wittenberg?”
“A truant disposition, good my lord.”
Hamlet chuckles. “I would not hear your enemy say so; nor shall you do mine ear that violence, making it truster of your own report against yourself! I know you are no truant. But what is your affair in Elsinore? We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart!” They have shared good times, and many a heady discussion, in Germany.
“My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral.”
“I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow student,” says Hamlet. “I think it was to see my mother’s wedding.”
“Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.”
“Thrift, thrift, Horatio!—the funeral’s baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables!
“Would I had met my direst foe in heaven ere ever I had seen that day, Horatio.” He looks toward the throne. “My father,” he says sadly. “Methinks I see my father.”
The others exchange glances. “Where, my lord?”
“In my mind’s eye, Horatio.”
The visiting student looks around the room, remembering. “I saw him here. He was a goodly king.”
“He was a man, take him for all in all! I shall not look upon his like again,” says Hamlet.
Horatio moves closer. “My lord, I think I saw him yesternight!”
“My lord, the king—your father!”
“The king my father!”
“Season your admiration for a while with an attent ear, till I may deliver, upon the witness of these gentlemen, this marvel to you!”
“For God’s love, let me hear!”
“Two nights together had these men, Marcellus and Barnardo, on their watch in the dead waste at the middle of night been thus encountered: a figure like your father, armored by point exactly, cap-à-pé,”—head to foot, “appears to them, and with solemn march goes slow and stately by them!” says Horatio. “Thrice he walked before their surprised and fear-oppressèd eyes, within his truncheon’s length, whilst they—distilled almost to jelly by the action of fear!—stand silent, and speak not to him!
“This to me in dreadful secrecy they did impart; and I with them the third night kept the watch—where the apparition comes!—as they had delivered, both time and form of the thing, each word made true and good!”
“But where was this?” asks Hamlet.
“My lord, upon the platform where we watchèd,” says Marcellus.
“Did you not speak to it?”
“My lord, I did,” says Horatio, “but answer made it none. Yet once methought it lifted up its head, and did address itself to motion like as it would speak; but just then the morning cock crew loud, and at the sound it shrunk in haste away, and vanished from our sight.”
Hamlet frowns. “’Tis very strange!”
“As I do live, my honoured lord, ’tis true!” says Horatio, “and we did think it writ down in our duty to let you know of it.”
“Indeed, indeed, sirs!” says Hamlet. “But this troubles me. Hold you the watch tonight?”
“We do, my lord,” says the soldier.
Hamlet thinks, picturing the specter. “Armored, say you?”
“My lord, from head to foot.”
“Then saw you not his face?”
“Oh, yes, my lord,” says Horatio. “He wore his visor up.”
“What, looked he frowningly?”
“A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.”
“Pale, or red?”
“Nay, very pale.”
“And fixed his eyes upon you?”
“I would I had been there!” says Hamlet earnestly.
“It would have much amazed you!”
“Very like, very like. Stayed it long?”
“While one with moderate haste might tell out a hundred.”
“Longer, longer,” says Barnardo.
“Not when I saw’t,” Horatio insists.
“His beard was grizzled, no?”
“It was as I have seen it in his life,” says Horatio, “a sable silvered.”
Hamlet has decided. “I will watch tonight. Perchance ’twill walk again.”
“I warrant it will!” says Horatio.
“If it assume my noble father’s person, I’ll speak to it, though Hell itself should gape and bid me hold my peace! I pray you all, if you have hitherto concealed this sight, let it be tenable in your silence still; and whatsoever else shall hap tonight, give it an understanding, but no tongue. I will requite your loves.
“So, fare you well. Upon the platform ’twixt eleven and twelve I’ll visit you.”
“Our duty to Your Honour,” says Horatio, bowing.
“Be your loves as mine to you,” replies the prince. “Farewell.”
The others depart; and again Hamlet is left alone with his thoughts.
My father’s spirit—in armor! All is not well—I suspect some foul play!
Would the night were come! Till then sit still, my soul!
Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes! Chapter Two