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Act 4, Scene 7


hamlet original play and modern translation
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Original Play

Modern Translation

Enter CLAUDIUS and LAERTES

CLAUDIUS and LAERTES enter.

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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.

CLAUDIUS
Now you' must admit that I'm innocent, and accept me for a friend, since you've heard and been convinced that that the man who killed your father was actually trying to kill me.

LAERTES
It well appears. But tell me
Why you proceeded not against these feats,
So criminal and so capital in nature,
As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
You mainly were stirred up.

LAERTES
It looks that way. But explain to me why you did not take legal action against Hamlet for his capital crimes, when both your wisdom and your own safety must have demanded that you should.

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CLAUDIUS
Oh, for two special reasons,
Which may to you perhaps seem much unsinewed,
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 timbered for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,
And not where I had aimed them.

CLAUDIUS
Oh, for two key reasons which to you may seem weak, but yet to me are strong. The queen, his mother, loves and is devoted to him. And (whether it's a virtue or a curse) she is so closely connected to my life and soul that I can't live apart from her, just as a planet can't leave its orbit. The other reason why I couldn't charges against Hamlet in a public court is that the commoners loves him. In their affection they overlook all his faults. In fact, like a stream that turns stone to wood, they actually somehow see all his faults as virtues. Whatever I said against him would end up, like an arrow aimed into a strong wind, coming back to hurt me.

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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.

LAERTES
So I've lost my noble father, and my sister has been driven crazy. My sister, who, if I can praise her for what she used to be, was the equal in perfection to any other woman who ever lived. But I'll get my revenge.

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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—

CLAUDIUS
Don't lose sleep over that. You must not think that I'm so lazy and dull that I will let someone threaten and mock me and act as if it's just a game. Soon you'll hear more about my plans. I loved your father, and I love myself. And that, I hope, will help you see—

Enter a MESSENGER

A MESSENGER enters with letters.

How now, what news? Whats' going on? What's your news?

MESSENGER
Letters, my lord, from Hamlet.
This to your majesty, this to the queen. (gives CLAUDIUS letters)

MESSENGER
Letters, my lord, from Hamlet. This one's for your highness, this one for the queen. (gives CLAUDIUS letters)

CLAUDIUS
From Hamlet? Who brought them?

CLAUDIUS
From Hamlet? Who delivered them?

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MESSENGER
Sailors, my lord, they say. I saw them not.
They were given me by Claudio. He received them
Of him that brought them.

MESSENGER
I was told sailors, my lord. I didn't see them. Claudio gave the letter to me, and he got them from the one who delivered them.

CLAUDIUS
Laertes, you shall hear them.—Leave us.

CLAUDIUS
Laertes, you will hear what these letters say. Leave us now.

Exit MESSENGER

The MESSENGER exits.

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(reads)
"High and mighty,
You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. Tomorrow 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."

(reads)
"Your majesty,
I've been returned to your kingdom naked—with nothing to call my own. Tomorrow I'll ask permission to meet with you, at which point I'll first apologize and then tell the story of how I came back to Denmark so suddenly and strangely.

What should this mean? Are all the rest come back? Or is it some abuse, and no such thing? What does this mean? Have all the others come back also? Or is it some trick, and none of this is true?

LAERTES
Know you the hand?

LAERTES
Do you recognize the handwriting?

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CLAUDIUS
'Tis Hamlet's character. "Naked"?
And in a postscript here, he says "alone."
Can you advise me?

CLAUDIUS
It's Hamlet's handwriting. "Naked," he says. And in a P.S. he adds, "alone." What do you think?

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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 diddest thou."

LAERTES
I'm lost, my lord. But let him come. It warms my sick heart that I'll get to look him in the face and say, "You did this."

CLAUDIUS
If it be so, Laertes—
As how should it be so? How otherwise?—
Will you be ruled by me?

CLAUDIUS
If that's how it is, Laertes—and why shouldn't it? How could it be otherwise? Will you follow my orders?

LAERTES
Ay, my lord—
So you will not o'errule me to a peace.

LAERTES
Yes, my lord, as long as you won't try to force me toward peace.

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CLAUDIUS
To thine own peace. If he be now returned,
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 devise,
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 practice
And call it accident.

CLAUDIUS
Only to your own peace of mind. If he's returned and now has no plans to continue his trip, then I'll trick him into taking on some new challenge, which I'm coming up with now, that will 'surely kill him. His death will result in no blame. Even his mother will call it an accident.

LAERTES
My lord, I will be ruled
The rather if you could devise it so
That I might be the organ.

LAERTES
My lord, I'll follow your lead. I want only to be the agent of his death.

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CLAUDIUS
It falls right.
You have been talked 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.

CLAUDIUS
That seems only right. Since you left, people have been talking about—and Hamlet has overheard it—a quality of yours in which, they say, you shine. All your other talents together didn't make him as envious as this one quality did, though to me it's of the least importance.

LAERTES
What part is that, my lord?

LAERTES
What quality is that, my lord?

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CLAUDIUS
A very ribbon 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 encorpsed and demi-natured
With the brave beast. So far he topped my thought,
That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.

CLAUDIUS
One of those decorative ribbons on the cap of youth—yet a necessary one, too, since pretty clothes are like the uniforms of youth, just as formal clothes business suits are the necessary outfits of full maturity. Two months ago I met a gentleman from Normandy. I've watched and fought against the French and know how well they ride, but this man's skill was like magic. He seemed a part of the saddle, and made his horse do such amazing things, that he seemed as if he were one with the horse. His skill was beyond my understanding, and even in my imagination I can't do the tricks he did.

LAERTES
A Norman was 't?

LAERTES
He was from Normandy?

CLAUDIUS
A Norman.

CLAUDIUS
From Normandy.

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LAERTES
Upon my life, Lamond!

LAERTES
I swear it must have been Lamond.

CLAUDIUS
The very same.

CLAUDIUS
That's who it was.

LAERTES
I know him well. He is the brooch indeed
And gem of all the nation.

LAERTES
I know him well. He's the jewel of his country.

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CLAUDIUS
He made confession of you,
And gave you such a masterly report
For art and exercise in your defense,
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—

CLAUDIUS
He mentioned you, giving you such high praise for four skill at fencing that he exclaimed that he could not imagine anyone being able to match you. French fencers, he swore, would be clumsy, defenceless, and seem as if they were blind should they try to duel with you. This description made Hamlet so jealous that he talked about nothing else but having you return to practice dueling against him. Now, the point is …

LAERTES
What out of this, my lord?

LAERTES
What's the point, my lord?

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CLAUDIUS
Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?

CLAUDIUS
Laertes, did you love your father? Or are your putting on a show of grief—a face without a heart?

LAERTES
Why ask you this?

LAERTES
How could you ask this?

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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 pleurisy,
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 of th' ulcer:
Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake
To show yourself in deed your father's son
More than in words?

CLAUDIUS
Not because I think you didn't love your father, but that I know that love exists in a particular time and place, and that the passage of time can weaken the spark and fire of that love. Every flame of love eventually burns itself out. Nothing remains the same forever. Even a good thing can grow too big and die from its extreme size. What we want to do, we should do right then, because our desires might be blocked by as many obtstructions or delays as there are words in the dictionary and accidents in life. And then all our "woulds" and "shoulds" become like little more than sighs. But back to the heart of the problem: Hamlet's coming back. What would you do, rather than just say, to prove that you you are your father's son?

LAERTES
To cut his throat i' th' church.

LAERTES
Cut Hamlet's throat in the church.

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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 returned 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 practice
Requite him for your father.

CLAUDIUS
No place, I agree, should protect that murderer. Revenge should have no limits. But good Laertes, will you do this: stay inside your room? When Hamlet returns he'll learn you've come home. I'll have people praise your excellence and add an extra shine to the accliam the Frenchman gave you. Finally, we'll bring the two of you together and bet on which of you will win. Hamlet, who is so careless and trusting, won't examine the swords beforehand. So you'll be able to easily choose a sword with a sharpened point and in the middle of this practice duel you'll get revenge for the death of your father.

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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 scratched withal. I'll touch my point
With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly
It may be death.

LAERTES
I'll do it. And I'll also cover my sword with an oil that I bought from a snake-oil salesman. This oil is so poisonous that if a knife dipped in it draws blood, no cure in the world can save the victim. I'll cover the point of my sword with it, so that if I even graze him, he'll probably die.

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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 assayed. 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 venomed stuck,
Our purpose may hold there.—But stay, what noise?

CLAUDIUS
Let's think more about this, and consider whether there's anything else we'll have the opportunity to do to ensure we get the outcome we want. If our plan should fail, and if people figure out our plot because we execute it badly, we'd be better off not having tried it at all. We should therefore have a backup plan that will do the trick if the first fails. Hmm, let me think—we're going to bet on your dueling skill—I've got it! When from all your exertion the two of you have gotten hot and thirsty—make sure the duel is very active to ensure that happens—Hamlet will want a drink. I'll have a cup ready for just that purpose, and once he sips from it—even if he escapes your poisoned sword—we will get what we want. But quiet, what's that sound?

Enter GERTRUDE

GERTRUDE enters.

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GERTRUDE
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow.—Your sister's drowned, Laertes.

GERTRUDE
The bad news keeps coming, as if each piece follows right on the heels of the one before. Your sister's drowned, Laertes.

LAERTES
Drowned? Oh, where?

LAERTES
Drowned? Oh, where?

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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 crowflowers, 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 pendant 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 a while they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds
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,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

GERTRUDE
There's a willow that leans over the brook, its white leaves hanging over the glassy water. Ophelia came there, making braided crowns from crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and those wild purple orchids that free-spoken shepherds call by an obscene name, but which innocent girls call "dead men's fingers." She climbed out onto the tree to hang her crowns from a bending branch. But the branch broke, and she and her flowery treasures fell into swiftly moving brook. Her clothes spread wide in the water, and held her up while she sang bits of old hymns, acting as if she could not comprehend the danger, or as if she was a creature that naturally lived in water. But eventually her clothes, heavy with absorbed water, pulled the poor girl out of her song and down to a muddy death.

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LAERTES
Alas, then she is drowned.

LAERTES
Oh god, then she is drowned.

GERTRUDE
Drowned, drowned.

GERTRUDE
Drowned, drowned.

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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 doubts it.

LAERTES
You've had too much water already, poor Ophelia, so I won't cry for you. But yet crying is what humans do. We all follow our natures, no matter what shame we feel for it. When I've stopped crying, I'll be done acting like a woman. Good-bye, my lord. I have fiery words I'd dearly like to say, but my foolish tears drown them.

Exit LAERTES

LAERTES exits.

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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.

CLAUDIUS
Let's follow him, Gertrude. I had to do so much to calm him down! Now I fear this might start him up again. Therefore, let's follow him.

Exeunt

They exit.

 

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