Act IV - Scene IV

[A plain in Denmark.]

Enter Fortinbras with his Army over the stage.

FORTINBRAS:
Go, Captain, from me greet the Danish king.
Tell him that by his license Fortinbras
Craves the conveyance of a promised march
Over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous.
If that his Majesty would aught with us,(5)
We shall express our duty in his eye;
And let him know so.
CAPTAIN:
I will do't, my lord.
FORTINBRAS:
Go softly on.

[Exit Fortinbras and Forces.]

Enter Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and others.

HAMLET:
Good sir, whose powers are these?(10)
CAPTAIN:
They are of Norway, sir.
HAMLET:
How purposed, sir, I pray you?
CAPTAIN:
Against some part of Poland.
HAMLET:
Who commands them, sir?
CAPTAIN:
The nephew to old Norway, Fortinbras.(15)
HAMLET:
Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
Or for some frontier?
CAPTAIN:
Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.(20)
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
HAMLET:
Why, then the Polack never will defend it.
CAPTAIN:
Yes, it is already garrison'd.(25)
HAMLET:
Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw.
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. I humbly thank you, sir.(30)
CAPTAIN:
God be wi' you, sir.
ROSENCRANTZ:
Will't please you go, my lord?
HAMLET:
I'll be with you straight. Go a little before.
How all occasions do inform against me
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,(35)
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason(40)
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event—
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward—I do not know(45)
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do,'
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me.
Witness this army, of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,(50)
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd,
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great(55)
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,(60)
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,(65)
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Exit.

Footnotes

  1. Hamlet worries that he is over-thinking avenging his father's murder. He refers to lingering over objections, the interference of conscience, etc., to the extent that the action itself (killing King Claudius) is put off or missed altogether.

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Hamlet has talked himself into pursuing his revenge by any means necessary, regardless of who dies in the process. We know that he intends to kill Claudius, and it seems likely, from this line, that more will die, and he won't mind this happening.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. This "eggshell" refers to the small piece of land which Fortinbras has decided to "conquer," even though the Poles have no real intention of defending it, because it's worthless. He sees a certain nobility in this futile march, which Fortinbras leads not out of anger but ambition. Hamlet respects this and wishes he too could be great.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. "Craven" in this case meaning cowardly, defeated, or abject. A craven "scruple" or reason to worry is cowardly hesitation born of too much thinking. Hamlet contrasts his scruples with a "bestial oblivion" that likens ignorance to animals with no capacity to reason. Hamlet isn't sure which one's keeping him alive and, thus, which has been his experience.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. Hamlet feels that everything he does gives away his intentions to his enemies. In this way, all his actions "inform" against him by making it obvious that he's moving against the king. He wants Rosencrantz to go ahead of him to give the appearance that he's walking in a simple procession and has no hidden agenda.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. To "fust" means to become moldy or smelly, in this case out of disuse. Hamlet says that God gave us our intelligence for a reason and that we shouldn't waste His gift and act like unintelligent beasts who do nothing but eat and sleep. Being human means being a thinking being to him, which is not so far from Descartes famous saying, "I think, therefore I am."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. In general, an "imposthume" refers to a welt or sore, but in this case means a metaphorical sore or corrupted section of government. The Norwegians are fighting for a small piece of land that no one cares about because they're so bored during peace time that they feel they have to do something. It's a complete waste, and everyone knows it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Fortinbras asks leave of Claudius to march across his kingdom to Poland, where he wants to wage war. This kind of "conveyance" was common during warfare and would need to have been formally requested of the king and queen. Here, there might be some suspicion that Fortinbras still holds a grudge, so Fortinbras is careful to say that he's willing to talk with Claudius and put their problems to rest.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor