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"The whole realm of Denmark was thrown into dismay by the sudden death of its monarch. The good king, Hamlet-so it was reported—while sleeping, as was his afternoon wont, in the orchard which formed part of the palace grounds, had been stung by a ser. pent; and from the venom inflicted by the wound, he had instantly sickened and died. Ere the nation could recover from its conster. nation, and while the rightful heir to the throne was plunged in filial grief, Claudius (the late king's brother] seized the crown and caused himself to be proclaimed king. So artfully had all his plans been laid, so resolutely and so promptly did he carry them all out, that he established his claims to the succession, or rather fixed him. self firmly in the possession of his usurped dominion, before the public voice, on behalf of its lawful prince, could be upraised to dispute his pretensions. Scarcely had this first bold step been securely taken, than it was followed by the solemnity of coronation, and, shortly after, by the ceremonial of marriage between the reigning monarch and his late brother's widow. The habitual acquies. cence with which royal proceedings are for the most part regarded by the populace, could hardly restrain the expressions of amazement and dissatisfaction which these events excited. But these occurred in such rapid succession, were carried with so high a hand, and were executed so peremptorily, that they passed without open murmurs, without attempted opposition.'
Claudius, who knew the full effect of pomp and ostentation in dazzling the public eye, omitted no circumstance that could blind the judgment. The rumour of the surpassing magnificence of the ceremonies that had taken place at the Danish court had been circulated far and wide, and many had come from a distance to witness the gorgeous festivities. Among these were Horatio, fellow-pupil of Prince Hamlet, from Wittemberg, in Saxony; and Laertes, son of the chief minister of Denmark, who had come from France. While the new court was still in the fresh flush of these ceremonials, a report reached the ear of young Hamlet that an apparition resembling his dead father had been seen by the soldiers upon guard on the platform of the palace at midnight. He, amazed at this intelligence, resolved to take his stand with Marcellus, one of the guard, and his friend Horatio, the next midnight. They did so.
* Mary C. Clarke's Girlkood of Shakespeare's Heroines, vol. ii, p. 225.
His father's spirit appeared, disclosed the murder that had been committed, and charged Hamlet to avenge it against his unnatural brother, but not to do anything against his mother. Hamlet promised obedience, and the ghost vanished. Hamlet's friends who had !een seriously afraid lest any harm should come to the prince through this supernatural visitant, soon appeared and found him dispirited and unhinged in mind. He besought them to keep this event secret, and they swore to do so. From this time Hamlet affected a certain wildness and strangeness in his apparel, speech, and behaviour, and so counterfeited madness that he deceived the king and queen. He had previously loved Ophelia, daughter of the prime minister, Polonius ; but with this burden of revenge laid on him, he felt he could no longer dally with the innocence of love, and he determined to break with her, and did so. His mother and Claudius, informed of this circumstance by the old statesman, believed, at first, that the true cause of his madness was his love for Ophelia. But the malady lay far deeper, and was of a different nature. His imagination was haunted by the visitation of the apparition, and the duty it had imposed on him. He could not, however, help thinking that there might be some delusion in regard to it, and he wished to be certain. While he was in this irresolute state, some players came to the court, and he got them to agree to perform a play before the king and queen, which might cause the former to betray his hidden guilt. The story of this play was of a murder done in Venice, by Lucianus, on his brother Gonzago, the duke, who shortly thereafter gained the love of his brother's widow. The king was conscience-stricken at the play, and, starting up terrified, retired from the representation. Hamlet was then perfectly satisfied that the ghost had told him the truth, and was thereupon strongly moved to take instant vengeance. He was, however, just at that moment summoned to a private conference with the queen in her own room. This had been done at the desire of the king, on the suggestion of Polonius, who had undertaken to ensconce himself behind the arras in the queen's closet, that he might hear what he said to his mother, and should so learn how much Hamlet knew of the means by which the crown had been gained. Hamlet, in passing toward the queen's room, saw the king in his bedroom kneeling and praying, and would instantly have killed him ; but that he thought if he slew him then, he would really not be revenging the murder, but benefiting the sinner by sending him to his account while in a repentant mood; at least so he fashioned the excuse for inaction to his own mind. On entering his mother's apartment, she began to rebuke him for giving offence to his father. He, indignant at this name being applied to his father's murderer, spoke angrily. She was afraid, and thinking he was really mad, cried out for help. Polonius called from his hiding-place, 'Help, the queen !' and Hamlet, thinking it was the king who was there, thrust his sword into the arras and killed Polonius. Hamlet then spoke to his mother plainly of the great crime which had been done, and the
impropriety of her conduct in becoming consort to her husband's murderer. While Hamlet was doing so, the apparition entered the chamber to remind him of the revenge he had undertaken, and to counsel kindliness to his mother. She promised to Hamlet that she would remember his advice, and the conference ended. Then Hamlet, taking the body of Polonius up, carried it away, greatly grieving that through him, although unwittingly, the father of Ophelia had been slain.
The king used the death of Polonius as a pretence for sending Hamlet from Denmark to England, under the care of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, by whom he despatched letters to the English court, requesting that the prince should be put to death as soon as he landed in that country. In the night-time Hamlet secretly got hold of these letters, erased his own name, inserted the names of his two companions, and thereupon sealed them up again. The ship was almost immediately attacked by pirates; Hamlet boarded the enemy's vessel, and the ship which he had left bore away, indifferent to his fate—the courtiers being thus carried to deserved destruction. The pirates, appreciating the prince's valour, and hoping he might yet do them a good turn at court, set him ashore as near to Denmark as they dared. Thence he wrote to the king an account of what had occurred, and announced his intended return to Elsinore.
In the meanwhile, Ophelia, distracted by despised love, and at her father's death, having come to a brook in the royal gardens, and wishing to hang some flowers on a willow there, fell into the water and was drowned. Laertes, who had returned from Paris, enraged at the slaughter of his father, and eager to excite a revolution against the king, received the news of her death with mingled feelings of sorrow and resentment. During the obsequies of Ophelia—at which Laertes was chief mourner, and the king, the queen, and the whole court were present—Hamlet arrived. He stood aside—knowing nothing of whose funeral it was—to allow the ceremony to proceed. On learning, however, that it was Ophelia, who had been laid to rest, he discovered himself, leaped into the grave, where Laertes was, proclaimed his love for her, and though Laertes, frantic with rage and grief, grappled with and would have strangled him, he besought his forgiveness. But the king set on Laertes, under cover of reconciliation, to challenge Hamlet to a trial of skill at fencing, which Hamlet accepted. Laertes had his foil, not blunted but poisoned, and after a few passes wounded Hamlet, who in the next scuffle gained Laertes' envenomed weapon, and thrust home at him. At this instant the queen shrieked out that she was dying. She had drank from a bowl into which the king had dropped some deadly poison. Hamlet ordered the doors to be shut; Laertes, who felt his fatal wound, confessed his guilt and revealed the king's treachery. Hamlet turned on his false uncle and slew him, and-after having besought Horatio to be his friend still, and transmit a true account of this strange tragedy to posterity-died.
CLAUDIUS, King of Denmark.
GERTRUDE, Queen of Denmark, and Mother of HAMLET.
Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Messengers, and other
SCENE-ELSINORE, except in IV, iv, where it is a plain in
Denmark, near the sea-shore.'t * The list of dramatis persone was first prefixed to the play in Rowe's edition, 1709 It is not found in the quartos or folios.
The early quartos and folios contain no indication of the place of each scene, In the early quartos the play is not divided into acts and scenes. This division was first made in the folio 1623, and even in it this is only carried as far as Il, ii.
HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK,
SCENE I.-ELSINORE. A Platform before the Castle.
FRANCISCO at his Post. Enter to him BERNARDO.
Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold Yourself.
Ber. Long live the king!
He. Fran. You come most carefully upon your hour. Ber. 'Tis now struck twelve; get thee to bed, Francisco.
Fran. For this relief much thanks: 'tis bitter cold, 5 And I am sick at heart.
Ber. Have you had quiet guard?
Not a mouse stirring.
you do meet Horatio and Marcellus, The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste. Fran. I think I hear them.-Stand, ho! Who is there?
Enter HORATIO and MARCELLUS.
And liegemen to the Dane.
O, farewell, honest soldier: Who hath reliev'd yo Fran.
Bernardo has my place. Give you good-night,
lolla! Bernardo! Ber.
15 What, is Horatio there!