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ACT I SCENE IVThe platform.
HAMLETThe air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.
HORATIOIt is a nipping and an eager air.
HAMLETWhat hour now?
HORATIOI think it lacks of twelve.
HAMLETNo, it is struck.
HORATIOIndeed? I heard it not: then it draws near the season
Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk.
[A flourish of trumpets, and ordnance shot off, within]
What does this mean, my lord?
HAMLETThe king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,10
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.
HORATIOIs it a custom?
HAMLETAy, marry, is’t:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour’d in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes20
From our achievements, though perform’d at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth–wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin–
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o’er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,30
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery, or fortune’s star,–
Their virtues else–be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo–
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.
HORATIOLook, my lord, it comes!
[Enter Ghost]
HAMLETAngels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,40
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!
Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements; why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn’d,
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws,50
To cast thee up again. What may this mean,
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?
[Ghost beckons HAMLET]
HORATIOIt beckons you to go away with it,
As if it some impartment did desire
To you alone.
MARCELLUSLook, with what courteous action60

It waves you to a more removed ground:

But do not go with it.
HORATIONo, by no means.
HAMLETIt will not speak; then I will follow it.
HORATIODo not, my lord.
HAMLETWhy, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin’s fee;
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
It waves me forth again: I’ll follow it.
HORATIOWhat if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff70
That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? think of it:
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.
HAMLETIt waves me still.
Go on; I’ll follow thee.
MARCELLUSYou shall not go, my lord.
HAMLETHold off your hands.80
HORATIOBe ruled; you shall not go.
HAMLETMy fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.
Still am I call’d. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!
I say, away! Go on; I’ll follow thee.
[Exeunt Ghost and HAMLET]
HORATIOHe waxes desperate with imagination.
MARCELLUSLet’s follow; ’tis not fit thus to obey him.
HORATIOHave after. To what issue will this come?
MARCELLUSSomething is rotten in the state of Denmark.90
HORATIOHeaven will direct it.
MARCELLUSNay, let’s follow him.

Next: Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 4

From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.

Stage Direction. The platform, sc. in front of the castle.

1. shrewdly, bitterly; shrewd, past participle of M. E. shrewen, to curse; thence used of anything sharp or bitter, especially of temper or language.

2. eager, sharp; O. F. aigre, Lat. acer sharp, keen; cp. i. v. 6, and Sonn. cxviii. 2, “With eager compounds we our palate urge.”

3. lacks of twelve, is somewhat short of midnight.

6. held … walk, has been accustomed to walk; wont, “a corruption from woned, from the verb ‘wonye‘, E. E. ‘wunnian’ A.S. ‘to dwell'” (Abb. § 5).

Stage Direction. A flourish of trumpets, a sounding of trumpets in a triumphal manner.

8. doth wake to-night, sits up feasting; is ‘making a night of it,’ as the slang expression is; hence a wake = a vigil, and then the feast of the dedication of a church (formerly kept by watching all night): rouse, see note on i. 2. 127.

9. wassail, revelry; from waes heal, i,e. be of good health; cp. L. L. L. V. 2. 318, “At wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs”: up-spring, Steevens quotes Chapman’s Alphonsus, iii., “We Germans have no changes in our dances: An Almain and an upspring that is all,” to show that this was a German dance, and Eltze further asserts that it was “the Hupfauf” the last and consequently the wildest dance of the old German merry-makings, though Schmidt speaks of that dance as “apocryphal”; others explain the word as ‘upstart,’ referring it to the king, and with this explanation the words swaggering and reels seem better to agree, the latter word being especially used of the movements of a drunkard.

10. Rhenish, Rhine wine.

11. kettle-drum, a drum resembling a kettle in shape; Douce quotes Cleaveland’s Fuscara, “Tuning his draughts with drowsie hums As Danes carowse by kettledrums“: bray, like blare, used especially of trumpets, clarions, and such like wind instruments.

12. The triumph of his pledge, the victorious deed of drinking a toast, pledging some one in a toast; Delius points out that the words are said in the bitterest irony.

14. to my mind, to my thinking; in my opinion.

15. And … born, and therefore by my birth accustomed to the fashion; cp. R. J. iv. 1. 109, “Then, as the manner of our country is.”

16. More honour’d … observance, which it is more honourable to neglect than to observe.

17. heavy-headed revel, revelry that ends in a heavy head, a headache: or perhaps only ‘stupid,’ ‘doltish’; east and west, far and wide; from one side of the world to the other.

18. Makes … nations, causes us to be vilified and reproached by other nations; for tax’d, cp. A. Y. L. ii. 7. 71, “who cries out on pride That can therein tax any private party?”; of, by.

19. clepe, call; A.S. cleopian, clypian, of which the participle still survives in the archaic y-clept, sometimes affectedly used at the present day.

19, 20. and with … addition, brand us with the title of hogs; addition, in this sense is more commonly used by Shakespeare of an honourable title. In 0th. ii. 3. 79-8l, the Dane is coupled with the German and the Hollander for their love of drinking, while the Englishman is said to outdo them all in this accomplishment.

21. though … height, though performed with the loftiest chivalry and courage; Furness considers at height to be an instance of the absorption of the definite article between the two words, Abbott simply a case of omission.

22. The pith … attribute, the most essential and most valuable part of our reputation for courage, sc. by making out that courage is inspired by liquor. So, we speak of ‘Dutch courage,’ meaning courage inspired by hollands gin; and so Lamartine in his description of the battle of Waterloo accounts for the furious charges of our cavalry by asserting that they had been drugged with brandy. For attribute, cp. T. C. ii. 3. 25, “Much attribute he hath, and much the reason Why we ascribe it to him.”

23, 4. So, oft … them, in a similar manner it often happens in the case of particular men (here opposed to a whole nation) that in consequence of some natural blemish; …. mole, more commonly used of a physical mark, as in M. N. D. v. 1. 418, “Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,” etc.

25. As, Walker remarks that the word is here used not in the sense of ‘for instance,’ but in that of ‘namely,’ ‘wit.’ The particulars enumerated in this passage are 1) in their birth, 2) By the o’ergrowth, etc., 3) by some habit. wherein they are not guilty, for which defect they cannot be held answerable.

26. Since … origin, since the nature of a man cannot choose from what source it will be derived; his, = its.

27, 8. By the … reason, owing to the fact of some particular temperament developing itself to excess, and so breaking down the stronghold of reason; the figure is that of a plant, which by being allowed to grow unchecked to an excessive size, breaks down by its weight the enclosures and barriers by which it ought to be hemmed in. Warburton refers to the different humours, the sanguine, the melancholy, the phlegmatic, etc., by one or other of which each man was of old supposed to be governed.

29, 30. that too much … manners, which by its excessive admixture viciously affects the form of manners naturally pleasing; for plausive, = worthy of applause, cp. A. W. i. 2. 53, “his plausive words He scatter’d not in ears”: that these men, it chances, I say, that these men; the construction being continued from 1. 23.

31. Carrying … defect, bearing about upon them the brand of some one defect.

32. Being … star, which they owe either to nature or to fortune; in the one case the defect is spoken of as the dress which nature has forced upon them, in the other as some affliction due to the malignant influence of fortune’s stars.

33, 4. Their virtues … undergo, their virtues in all other respects, even though they are as pure as grace itself, as infinite as it is possible for the nature of man to support.

35, 6. Shall … fault, are certain in the general estimation of mankind to he looked upon as tainted with evil contracted from that particular fault; for censure, see note on 1. 69 above; take, used in the sense of contracting a disease.

40. Be thou … damn’d. whether you be a good spirit or an evil one condemned to hell; spirit of health, “a healed or saved spirit” (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

41. Bring with thee, whether you bring with you.

43. Thou comest … shape, you appear in a form which so provokes interrogation; cp. Macb. i. 3. 43.

45. King … Dane. Hamlet in his excitement heaps one title upon another, expressing his readiness to use any term of address which may be likely to elicit an answer.

46. burst in ignorance, i.e. in the eager desire to have his ignorance dispelled.

49. inurn’d, entommbed; for urn, = grave, the Cl. Pr. Edd. compare H. V, i. 2. 228, “Or lay these bones in an unworthy urn.”

50. ponderous and marble, ponderous because made of marble.

51. may, can possibly; see Abb. § 307.

52. in complete steel, in panoply, armed from head to foot; complete, accent on the former syllable. Steevens remarks that the Ghost is probably introduced in armour for the sake of greater solemnity; though it was really the custom of the Danish kings to be buried in that manner.

53. Revisit’st … moon, revisit the earth at this hour of night when the moon is struggling to appear from behind the clouds.

54-6. and we … souls? It is doubtful whether the construction here is ‘making us (we where we should write us) to shake,’ or ‘that (from 1.52) we should be made to shake’; see Abb. § 216. In either case the general sense is ‘so that the mental organization of us who are the sport of nature should be convulsed with thoughts that our souls cannot grasp; for reaches, see note on i. 1. 173, and cp. below, ii. 1. 62.

57. should, ought.

59, 60. As if … alone, as if it had some knowledge which it wished to communicate to you in privacy.

61. waves you, invites you by waving its hand; removed, distant; cp. W. T. v. 2. 116, “she hath … visited that removed house.”

63. then, i.e. as it evidently will not speak to me here.

64. should be, can possibly be; see Abb. § 325.

65. I do not … fee, I do not value my life at the worth of a pin; set, used in the language of gaming for ‘stake’; I would not stake my life as an equivalent to a pin; fee, property, payment, from A.S. feoh, feo, cattle, property, of which cattle were the earliest form.

66. for, as regards.

69. What if … flood, suppose it should tempt you to the ocean: flood, frequently in this sense, e.g. M. N. D. ii. 1. 127, M. V. i. 1. 10.

71. That beetles … sea, that hangs frowningly over its base and dips down into the sea; beetles, … “the idea was adopted from the M. E. bitelbrowed, beetle-browed, having projecting or sharp brows … M. E. bitel, biting, sharp” … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

73. which might … reason, the sight of which might take away the controlling principle of your reason; for the construction here of deprive, see Abb. § 200, and for instances while pronominal and other adjectives are placed before a whole compound noun instead of, as they strictly should be, before the second of the two nouns, see Abb. § 423.

75. toys of desperation, desperate fancies; “an allusion to what many persons feel when on lofty heights, a desire of throwing themselves down” (Hunter).

76. Without more motive, though it have no other inducement.

78. waves me still, still invites me, by waving its arms, to follow it.

81. Be ruled, suffer yourself to be controlled, over-persuaded, by us in this matter; My fate cries out, my destiny calls upon me to act.

82, 3. And makes … nerve. Shakespeare seems always to have used nerve for sinew, tendon (in accordance with its derivation from Greek), not for a fibre conveying sensation; and from this passage to have supposed that nerve and artery were of the same texture, their outward appearance being very similar, and it not being known in his day that arteries convey the blood from the heart. Cp. The Faithful Friends, iii. 3, “till my veins And sinews crack, I’ll stretch my utmost strength.” Nemean, with the accent on the first syllable as in L. L. L. iv. 1. 90.

85. I’ll make … me, I’ll send him who hinders me to join the ghost in the regions below; to let, = to hinder, from A.S. laet, slow; to let, = allow, from A.S. laetan, to allow.

87. He waxes … imagination, his excited imagination is driving him into madness; to wax, to grow, increase, become.

89. Have after, let us follow him; frequent in Shakespeare, who also has ‘have at,’ ‘have to,’ ‘have through,’ ‘have with,’ ‘let me’ or ‘let us’ having to be supplied: issue, conclusion, result.

90. rotten, utterly unsound; in a morbid state.

91. it, “that is, the issue” (Cl. Pr. Edd.): Nay, let us not leave it to heaven to set things right, but act ourselves.


How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919.