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ACT IV SCENE VElsinore. A room in the castle.
Enter QUEEN GERTRUDE, HORATIO, and a Gentleman.
QUEEN GERTRUDEI will not speak with her.
GentlemanShe is importunate, indeed distract:
Her mood will needs be pitied.
QUEEN GERTRUDEWhat would she have?
GentlemanShe speaks much of her father; says she hears
There’s tricks i’ the world; and hems, and beats her heart;
Spurns enviously at straws; speaks things in doubt,
That carry but half sense: her speech is nothing,
Yet the unshaped use of it doth move
The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts; 10
Which, as her winks, and nods, and gestures
yield them,
Indeed would make one think there might be thought,
Though nothing sure, yet much unhappily.
HORATIO‘Twere good she were spoken with; for she may strew
Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds.
QUEEN GERTRUDELet her come in.
Exit Gentlemen.
Aside. To my sick soul, as sin’s true nature is,
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:
So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt. 20
Re-enter HORATIO, with OPHELIA.
OPHELIAWhere is the beauteous majesty of Denmark?
QUEEN GERTRUDEHow now, Ophelia!
How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandal shoon.
QUEEN GERTRUDEAlas, sweet lady, what imports this song?
OPHELIASay you? nay, pray you, mark.
He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone; 30
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
QUEEN GERTRUDENay, but, Ophelia,–
OPHELIAPray you, mark.
White his shroud as the mountain snow,–
QUEEN GERTRUDEAlas, look here, my lord.
Larded with sweet flowers
Which bewept to the grave did go
With true-love showers.
KING CLAUDIUSHow do you, pretty lady? 40
OPHELIAWell, God ‘ild you! They say the owl was a baker’s
daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not
what we may be. God be at your table!
KING CLAUDIUSConceit upon her father.
OPHELIAPray you, let’s have no words of this; but when they
ask you what it means, say you this:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine. 50
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
KING CLAUDIUSPretty Ophelia!
OPHELIAIndeed, la, without an oath, I’ll make an end on’t:
By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
By cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I ha’ done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.
KING CLAUDIUSHow long hath she been thus?
OPHELIAI hope all will be well. We must be patient: but I
cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him
i’ the cold ground. My brother shall know of it:
and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my
coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies;
good night, good night.
KING CLAUDIUSFollow her close; give her good watch,
I pray you.
O, this is the poison of deep grief; it springs
All from her father’s death. O Gertrude, Gertrude, [60]
When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions. First, her father slain:
Next, your son gone; and he most violent author
Of his own just remove: the people muddied,
Thick and unwholesome in their thoughts and whispers,

For good Polonius’ death; and we have done but greenly,

In hugger-mugger to inter him: poor Ophelia
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without the which we are pictures, or mere beasts:
Last, and as much containing as all these, 70
Her brother is in secret come from France;
Feeds on his wonder, keeps himself in clouds,
And wants not buzzers to infect his ear
With pestilent speeches of his father’s death;
Wherein necessity, of matter beggar’d,
Will nothing stick our person to arraign
In ear and ear. O my dear Gertrude, this,
Like to a murdering-piece, in many places
Gives me superfluous death.
A noise within.
QUEEN GERTRUDEAlack, what noise is this?
KING CLAUDIUSWhere are my Switzers? Let them guard the door.
Enter a Messenger.
What is the matter?
GentlemanSave yourself, my lord: 81
The ocean, overpeering of his list,
Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste
Than young Laertes, in a riotous head,
O’erbears your officers. The rabble call him lord;
And, as the world were now but to begin,
Antiquity forgot, custom not known,
The ratifiers and props of every word,
They cry ‘Choose we: Laertes shall be king:’
Caps, hands, and tongues, applaud it to the clouds: 90
‘Laertes shall be king, Laertes king!’
QUEEN GERTRUDEHow cheerfully on the false trail they cry!
O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!
KING CLAUDIUSThe doors are broke.
Noise within.
Enter LAERTES, armed; Danes following.
LAERTESWhere is this king? Sirs, stand you all without.
DanesNo, let’s come in.
LAERTESI pray you, give me leave.
DanesWe will, we will.
They retire without the door.
LAERTESI thank you: keep the door. O thou vile king,
Give me my father!
QUEEN GERTRUDECalmly, good Laertes.
LAERTESThat drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard, 100
Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot
Even here, between the chaste unsmirched brow
Of my true mother.
KING CLAUDIUSWhat is the cause, Laertes,
That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?
Let him go, Gertrude; do not fear our person:
There’s such divinity doth hedge a king,
That treason can but peep to what it would,
Acts little of his will. Tell me, Laertes,
Why thou art thus incensed. Let him go, Gertrude.
Speak, man.
LAERTESWhere is my father?
QUEEN GERTRUDEBut not by him.
KING CLAUDIUSLet him demand his fill. 110
LAERTESHow came he dead? I’ll not be juggled with:
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation. To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.
KING CLAUDIUSWho shall stay you?
LAERTESMy will, not all the world:
And for my means, I’ll husband them so well,
They shall go far with little.
If you desire to know the certainty 121
Of your dear father’s death, is’t writ in your revenge,
That, swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe,
Winner and loser?
LAERTESNone but his enemies.
KING CLAUDIUSWill you know them then?
LAERTESTo his good friends thus wide I’ll ope my arms;
And like the kind life-rendering pelican,
Repast them with my blood.
KING CLAUDIUSWhy, now you speak
Like a good child and a true gentleman.
That I am guiltless of your father’s death, 130
And am most sensible in grief for it,
It shall as level to your judgment pierce
As day does to your eye.
LAERTESHow now! what noise is that?
Re-enter OPHELIA.
O heat, dry up my brains! tears seven times salt,
Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!
By heaven, thy madness shall be paid by weight,
Till our scale turn the beam. O rose of May!
Dear maid, kind sister, sweet Ophelia!
O heavens! is’t possible, a young maid’s wits 140
Should be as moral as an old man’s life?
Nature is fine in love, and where ’tis fine,
It sends some precious instance of itself
After the thing it loves.
They bore him barefaced on the bier;
Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny;
And in his grave rain’d many a tear:–
Fare you well, my dove!
LAERTESHadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge,
It could not move thus. 150
You must sing a-down a-down,
An you call him a-down-a.
O, how the wheel becomes it! It is the false
steward, that stole his master’s daughter.
LAERTESThis nothing’s more than matter.
OPHELIAThere’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray,
love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.
LAERTESA document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted. 159
OPHELIAThere’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you
some violets, but they withered all when my father
died: they say he made a good end,–
For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.
LAERTESThought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
She turns to favour and to prettiness.
And will he not come again?
And will he not come again? 170
No, no, he is dead:
Go to thy death-bed:
He never will come again.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll:
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan:
God ha’ mercy on his soul!
And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God be wi’ ye.
LAERTESDo you see this, O God?
KING CLAUDIUSLaertes, I must commune with your grief, 180
Or you deny me right. Go but apart,
Make choice of whom your wisest friends you will.
And they shall hear and judge ‘twixt you and me:
If by direct or by collateral hand
They find us touch’d, we will our kingdom give,
Our crown, our life, and all that we can ours,
To you in satisfaction; but if not,
Be you content to lend your patience to us,
And we shall jointly labour with your soul
To give it due content.
LAERTESLet this be so; 190
His means of death, his obscure funeral–
No trophy, sword, nor hatchment o’er his bones,
No noble rite nor formal ostentation–
Cry to be heard, as ’twere from heaven to earth,
That I must call’t in question.
KING CLAUDIUSSo you shall;
And where the offence is let the great axe fall.
I pray you, go with me.

Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 6


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 5

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


2. indeed distract, not merely importunate, but quite out of her senses; for distract, cp. i. 2. 20, “disjoint and out of frame.”

3. Her mood … pitied, it is impossible not to pity her condition; for will, see Abb. § 319.

5. There’s tricks i’ the world, there are strange doings going on in the world; cp. K. J. i. 1. 232, “There’s toys abroad”: heart, breast.

6. Spurns … straws, kicks impatiently at straws in her path; is angry at the merest trifles; cp. A.C. iii. 5. 17, 8, where it is said of Antony in a bad temper that he “spurns The rush that lies before him”: in doubt, in dubious language.

7-13. her speech … unhappily, her words in themselves convey no distinct meaning, yet, used as they are in such disorder, they provoked their hearers to try to gather some meaning from them, to piece them together, so that they may give a coherent sense; they (sc. the hearers) make a guess at that sense, and clumsily endeavour to suit the words to the interpretation they put upon them; and those words, as they are eked out by her winks, nods, and gestures, would certainly lead one to suppose that they possibly contain the thought of some great misfortune of which she is conscious, though conscious only in a dim, confused way.

14. strew, unintentionally suggest.

15. ill-breeding minds, minds always ready to conceive evil, to put the worst construction upon anything said.

17. To my … is, to my soul, ill at ease with itself, as is always the case when guilt is present to it; cp. above, iii. 1. 83, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. ”

18. toy, trifle: amiss, disaster; for the word used as a substantive, cp. Sonn. xxxv. 7, “Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss“; and cli. 3.

19. 20. So full … spilt, so full of clumsy suspicion is guilt that it betrays itself in the very fear of being discovered; for jealousy, = suspicion, cp. M. A. ii. 2. 49, “There shall appear such seeming truth of Hero’s disloyalty that jealousy shall be called assurance.” The metaphor is that of a man who, carrying a liquid, is so excited by his fear of spilling it that the nervous feeling causes his hand to tremble and the liquid to run over.

23, 4. know from, distinguish from.

25, 6. By his … shoon, by his wearing the habit of a pilgrim; cockle-shells were worn by pilgrims in their hats as emblematical of their crossing the sea to visit the Holy Land; sandal shoon, shoes formed of sandals worn under, and attached by straps to, the feet; shoon, an archaic plural.

28. Say you? what is it you say?

31, 2. At his … stone, graves of the poorer classes, especially in village churchyards, are generally covered with grass with a slab of stone at the foot having the date of birth, death, etc., engraved upon it.

35. shroud, grave-clothes, winding-sheet.

37. Larded, thickly covered; cp. M. W. iv. 6. 14, “The mirth so larded with my matter”; the word in this sense is generally used by Shakespeare in a figurative sense.

38, 9. Which … showers, the shroud of him who went to his grave bewept with showers of tears by his faithful lover.

41. ‘ild, yield, in the sense of reward.

41, 2. They say … daughter, an allusion to a story, told by Douce, of Christ paying a visit to a baker’s shop and asking for a piece of bread, when the daughter rebuked her mother for giving Him too large a piece, and as a punishment for her niggard behaviour was transformed into an owl.

43. God … table, be present with you when you eat.

44. Conceit … father, her fancy dwells upon her father’s death.

45. let’s have … this, let us have no dispute about this.

47. Saint Valentine’s day, On the feast of St. Valentine, birds, according to an old tradition, chose their mates for the year. “From this notion,” says Dyer, p. 280, “it has been suggested, arose the once popular practice of choosing valentines, and also the common belief that the first two single persons who meet in the morning of St. Valentine’s day have a great chance of becoming married to each other.” Douce traces the custom of choosing lovers on this day to the Lupercalia of Rome, a festival held about the same date, and during which a similar custom prevailed.

48. All … betime, at the earliest dawn of day; all, merely intensive.

49. at your window, greeting you at your window.

53. cannot … weep, cannot help weeping; cannot choose to do anything but weep; to think, at the thought that; the infinitive used indefinitely.

57. give … watch, watch her carefully.

6l, 2. they come … battalions, they do not come like single spies sent to discover the strength of the enemy, but in full force to attack his position.

63, 4. and he … remove, and he by his violence the cause of his richly-deserved banishment; for remove, = removal, cp. Lear, ii. 4. 4, “This night before there was no purpose in them Of this remove“; muddied, like a stream made muddy by heavy rain. Delius points out that this word and unwholesome refer primarily to the blood, and then to the mood of the people.

65. Thick … whispers, their thoughts and their language, so far as they dare let it be heard, are polluted with unwholesome matter, i.e. dangerous ideas.

66. For, on account of; greenly, without ripe judgement; cp. Oth. ii. 1. 251, “the knave … hath all those requisites in him that folly and green minds look after”; A. C. i. 5. 74, “My salad days, When I was green in judgement.”

67. In hugger-mugger, in this secret and hasty way; a reduplication like hotch-potch, hocus-pocus, mingle-mangle. Malone quotes Florio’s Dictionary, “Dinascoso, secretly, hiddenly, in hugger-mugger.”

68. Divided … judgement, estranged from her own sane judgement; out of her senses; cp. v. 2. 219.

69. the which, see Abb. § 270: are pictures, are no better than pictures.

70. and as … these, and a circumstance as full of import as all these put together.

72. Feeds on his wonder, broods over the amazement caused by his father’s death: keeps … clouds, shuts himself up in gloomy reserve.

73. wants not, is not without: buzzers, chattering fellows; fellows who go buzzing ahout him like noxious insects.

74. of his father’s death, as to the manner in which his father met his death.

75-7. Wherein … ear, in which suggestions the speaker, driven by necessity to substantiate his story, and having no actual circumstances to bring as proof, will not hesitate to accuse me from one person to another.

78. a murdering-piece, or murderer, was a cannon which discharged case-shot, i.e. shot confined in a case which burst in the discharge and scattered the shot widely; hence the superfluous death in the next line, any one of the missiles being sufficient to cause death.

80. my Switzers, Swiss mercenaries were frequently employed as personal guards of the king in continental countries and even now form the Pope’s bodyguard.

82. overpeering of his list, when it raises its head above the boundary which usually confines it; the idea is that of the great billows raising their crests as they dash over the shore; list, limit, literally a stripe or border of cloth; for the verbal followed by of, see Abb. § 178.

83. Eats not the flats, does not swallow up the level stretches of country; cp. K. J. v. 6. 40, “half my power this night Passing these flats are taken by the tide.”

84. in a riotous head, with an armed force of riotous citizens; for head, cp. i. H. IV. iv. 4. 25, “a head Of gallant warriors.”

85. call him lord, acknowledge his supremacy.

86. as the world … begin, as though the world had only now to be started on its career.

87. Antiquity … known, antiquity being treated by them as something that never had any existence, and custom as something which needed no recognition.

88, 9. The ratifiers … king’, they, as though it rested with them to ratify or annul, to support or overturn, every proposition, cry, etc.

90. Caps … clouds, throwing up their caps, clapping their hands, and shouting at the top of their voices, they applaud their own decision to the very skies.

92. How cheerfully …cry! with what “gallant chiding'” (M. N. D. iv. 1. 120) these hounds hunt the false scent which they have so eagerly taken up! for cry, cp. T. S. Ind. i. 23, “He cried upon it at the merest loss,” said of a hound.

93. this is counter, to hunt counter was to hunt the wrong way of the scent, to trace the scent backwards; and here two ideas are combined, that of being on the wrong scent, and that of being on the right scent, but hunting back in the direction from which the game started instead of in the direction in which it had gone.

96. give me leave, allow me to enter alone.

98. keep the door, guard the door to prevent any aid being sent to the king.

102. That thy … giant-like? that you have broken out into a rebellion which has assumed such terrible proportions?

103. Let him go, do not try to hold him back.

104. hedge, protect as with a hedge which cannot be passed or overleaped.

105. 6. That treason … will, that treason is unable to do more than look over the hedge which separates it from the object of its vengeance, without being able to strike home.

110. Let him … fill, let him state his demands in full.

111. How … dead? how came he to die?

113. grace, religious feeling; cp. R. J. ii. 3. 28, “Two such opposed kings encamp them still In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will.”

114. I dare damnation, in such a cause as this I am ready to risk eternal damnation: To this … stand, here I firmly take my stand; this decision I am prepared to abide by.

115-7. That both … father, that, come what may, I will give up all my hopes of happiness here and hereafter, rather than not pursue my vengeance for my father. The Cl. Pr. Edd. compare Macb. iii. 2. 16, “But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer.”

118. My will … world, nothing in the world but my own free will.

119, 20. And for … little, and as regards the means at my command, I will make such prudent use of them that, though small, they shall go far.

122. is’t writ in your revenge, is it a part of the revenge you have prescribed to yourself?

123, 4. That, … loser, “are you going to vent your rage on both friend and foe; like a gambler who insists on sweeping the stakes [off the table], whether the point is in his favour or not?” (Moberly).

127. life-rendering pelican, from allowing its young to take fish of its pouch, the pelican was popularly believed to nourish them on its life-blood; cp. R. II. ii. 1. 126, “That blood already, like the pelican, Hast thou tapp’d out and drunkenly caroused.”

128. Repast, feed, nourish. Milton, Aeropagitica, p. 18, ed. Hales, uses the word figuratively, “repasting of our minds.”

129. good, duteous.

131. And am … it, and am deeply pained by it.

132, 3. It shall … eye, it shall force its way as directly to your judgement as the daylight; It, the nominative repeated owing to the parenthesis of 1. 131.

135. heat, i.e. the heat burning in his head: seven times, i.e. many times: cp. the heating of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace.

136. the sense … eye, that sensibility and property by which the eye is enabled to see; cp. L. L. L. v. 2. 348, “The virtue of your eye must break my oath.”

137,8. thy madness … scale, I will exact such retribution as shall be more than adequate to the deed which has driven you mad; turn the beam, cause the beam of the balance to bow owing to the greater weight in our scale.

138. of May! i.e. in the bloom of life’s spring-time.

141. mortal, subject to destruction.

142-4. Nature … loves, where love is concerned, nature shows herself in her tenderest form, and in such cases it sends some precious proof of itself (here Ophelia’s soundness of mind) as a tribute of affection to follow to the grave that which was so dear to it (here her father); for instance, see note on iii. 2. 176.

145. barefaced; with his face uncovered.

140. Hey non … nonny, “Such unmeaning burdens are common in ballads of most languages” (Nares).

149, 50. Hadst thou … thus, no words of persuasion that you could urge, if you were in your senses, could stir me to revenge as these disjointed, incoherent, utterances do.

152. An, if; see Abb. § 101.

153. the wheel, according to Steevens, the refrain; but the quotation by which he supports his explanation is generally regarded as mythical. Malone is inclined to think that the allusion is to the occupation of the girl whose song Ophelia quotes. Among other passages in some way bearing out his view he quotes T. N. ii. 4. 45-7, “The spinsters and the knitters in the sun … Do use to chant it”; he further suggests as possible that the allusion may be to an instrument called by Chaucer a rote, which was played upon by the friction of a wheel.

153, 4. It is … daughter, the ballad is on the subject of the false steward who, etc. No such ballad has yet been discovered.

155. This nothing’s … matter, these incoherent words stir my soul more than sensible ones would.

156. rosemary, from Lat. ros marinus, or ros maris, as Ovid calls it, the plant which delights in the sea spray. It was an emblem of faithful remembrance, and, according to Staunton, is here presented to Laertes, whom Ophelia in her distraction probably confounds with her lover; for, appropriate to, emblematical of.

157. pansies, from F. pensees, thoughts, of which the flower is supposed to be symbolical.

158. document, a writer in the Ed. Rev. for July 1869 shows that the word is here used “in its earlier and etymological, sense of instruction, lesson, teaching.”

159. fitted, each with its fitting emblem.

160. fennel … columbines, presented to the king as emblems of cajolery and ingratitude: there’s rue for you, said to the queen.

161. 2. we may … Sundays, “Ophelia only means, I think, that the queen may with peculiar propriety on Sundays, when she solicits pardon for the crime which she has so much occasion to rue and repent of, call her ‘rue’ herb of grace “… (Malone).

162. with a difference, according to the writer in the Ed. Rev. already quoted, one of the properties of rue was that of checking immodest thoughts, — a herb therefore appropriate to the queen.

163. a daisy, it does not appear to whom the daisy is given; according to Greene, quoted by Henley, it was a “dissembling” flower, and was used as a warning to young girls not to trust the fair promises of men: violets, emblematical of fidelity.

164. made a good end, died as a good man should die, at peace with all men and trusting to God’s mercy; cp. H. V. ii. 3. 13, “A’ made a finer end and went away an it had been any christom child.”

166. Thought, melancholy; cp A. C. iv. 6. 35. “If swift thought break it not (sc. his heart), a swifter mean Shall outstrike thought; but thought will do ‘t, I feel”: passion, suffering: hell itself, the most terrible thoughts.

167. She turns … prettiness, she lends a grace and attractiveness by the words in which she clothes them.

172. Go … deathbed, i.e. you need never hope to see him again however long you may live; corresponding with 1. 177.

175. All flaxen, as white as flax; all, intensive.

177. And we … moan, and we but waste our moans.

179. And of … souls, “Many epitaphs closed with such a pious prayer as this” (Cl. Pr. Edd.). For instances of of, used for on, see Abb. §§ 175, 181.

180, 1. I must … right, you do me the wrong unless you allow me to commune with you in your grief, i.e. unless you tell me what your wishes are in regard to your father’s death, and allow me to counsel you in the matter.

181. 2. Go but … will, do but go aside and choose out from your friends those who are likely to give you the best advice.

184, 5. If by … touch’d, if their verdict is that I am implicated in this crime directly or indirectly; find, used in the technical sense of the finding of a jury; cp. v. 1. 4.

188. Be you … us, allow yourself patiently to listen to what I have to say.

189, 90. And we … content, and you will find that I shall endeavour as earnestly as yourself to give peace to your mind: labour … soul, labour with you heart and soid.

191. His means of death, the manner of his death.

192. No trophy, in which there was no memorial erected to him; properly a monument to mark the spot at which the enemy turned and fled: hatchment, “not only the sword, but the helmet, gauntlets, spurs, and tabard (i.e. a coat whereon the armorial ensigns were anciently depicted …) are hung over the grave of every knight” (Sir J. Hawkins).

193. No noble … ostentation, no such rites as his rank demanded, none of the funeral pomp which he might justly claim.

194. 5. Cry, … question, call so loudly, as it were with his voice from heaven, that I am bound in all filial love to inquire into the circumstances and find out the meaning of them; cp. J. C. iv. 3. 165, “Now sit we close about this taper here And call in question our necessities.”

196. And where … fall, and let the fullest vengeance fall upon him who deserves it; axe, as the implement used in the execution of criminals.

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