Act IV - Scene V

[Elsinore. A room in the Castle.]

Enter Horatio, Gertrude, and a Gentleman.

QUEEN:
I will not speak with her.
GENTLEMAN:
She is importunate, indeed distract. Her mood
will needs be pitied.
QUEEN:
What would she have?
GENTLEMAN:
She speaks much of her father; says she hears(5)
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(10)
The hearers to collection; they aim at it,
And botch the words up fit to their own thoughts;
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.(15)
HORATIO:
'Twere good she were spoken with; for she may
strew
Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds.
Let her come in.

[Exit Horatio.]

QUEEN:
To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is,(20)
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss.
So full of artless jealousy is guilt
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.

[Enter Gentleman, with Ophelia distracted.]

OPHELIA:
Where is the beauteous Majesty of Denmark?
QUEEN:
How now, Ophelia?(25)
OPHELIA:
[Sings.]
How should I your true love know
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff
And his sandal shoon.(30)
QUEEN:
Alas, sweet lady, what imports this song?
OPHELIA:
Say you? Nay, pray you, mark.

[Sings.]

He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,(35)
At his heels a stone.
O, ho!
QUEEN:
Nay, but Ophelia—
OPHELIA:
Pray you, mark.

[Sings.]

White his shroud as the mountain snow—(40)

Enter King.

QUEEN:
Alas, look here, my lord!
OPHELIA:
[Sings.]
Larded all with sweet flowers;
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true-love showers.(45)
KING:
How do you, pretty lady?
OPHELIA:
Well, God 'eild 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!(50)
KING:
Conceit upon her father.
OPHELIA:
Pray let's have no words of this; but when they ask,
you what it means, say you this:

[Sings.]

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,(55)
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose and donn'd his clo'es
And dupp'd the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid(60)
Never departed more.
KING:
Pretty Ophelia!
OPHELIA:
Indeed, without an oath, I'll make an end on't!

[Sings.]

By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!(65)
Young men will do't if they come to't
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me,
You promis'd me to wed.'

(He answers:)

'So would I 'a' done, by yonder sun,(70)
An thou hadst not come to my bed.'
KING:
How long hath she been thus?
OPHELIA:
I hope all will be well. We must be patient. But I can-
not choose but weep, to think they would 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,(75)
ladies. Good night, sweet ladies. Good night, good night.

[Exit]

KING:
Follow 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,
When sorrows come, they come not single spies.(80)
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,(85)
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,
Her brother is in secret come from France;(90)
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(95)
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:
Alack, what noise is this?
KING:
Where are my Switzers? Let them guard the door.(100)

Enter another Gentleman.

What is the matter?
GENTLEMAN:
Save yourself, my lord.
The ocean, overpeering of his list,
Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste
Than young Laertes, in a riotous head,(105)
O'erbears your offices. 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!'(110)
Caps, hands and tongues applaud it to the clouds,
'Laertes shall be king! Laertes king!'

A noise within.

QUEEN:
How cheerfully on the false trail they cry.
O, this is counter, you false Danish dogs!

Enter Laertes with others.

KING:
The doors are broke.(115)
LAERTES:
Where is this King? Sirs, stand you all without.
ALL:
No, let's come in!
LAERTES:
I pray you give me leave.
ALL:
We will, we will!
LAERTES:
I thank you. Keep the door.(120)
O thou vile king,
Give me my father!
QUEEN:
Calmly, good Laertes.
LAERTES:
That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard;
Cries cuckold to my father; brands the harlot(125)
Even here, between the chaste unsmirched brows
Of my true mother.
KING:
What is the cause, Laertes,
That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?
Let him go, Gertrude. Do not fear our person.(130)
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.(135)
LAERTES:
Where is my father?
KING:
Dead.
QUEEN:
But not by him!
KING:
Let him demand his fill.
LAERTES:
How came he dead? I'll not be juggled with:(140)
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(145)
Most throughly for my father.
KING:
Who shall stay you?
LAERTES:
My will, not all the world!
And for my means, I'll husband them so well,
They shall go far with little.(150)
KING:
Good Laertes,
If you desire to know the certainty
Of your dear father's death, is't writ in your revenge
That, swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe,
Winner and loser?(155)
LAERTES:
None but his enemies.
KING:
Will you know them then?
LAERTES:
To his good friends thus wide I'll ope my arms
And, like the kind life-rendering pelican,
Repast them with my blood.(160)
KING:
Why, now you speak
Like a good child and a true gentleman.
That I am guiltless of your father's death,
And am most sensibly in grief for it,
It shall as level to your judgment pierce(165)
As day does to your eye.

[A noise within.]

LAERTES:
Let her come in.
How now? What noise is that?

Enter Ophelia.

O heat, dry up my brains! Tears seven times salt,
Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!(170)
By heaven, thy madness shall be paid with 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
Should be as mortal as an old man's life?(175)
Nature is fine in love, and where 'tis fine,
It sends some precious instance of itself
After the thing it loves.
OPHELIA:

[Sings.]

They bore him barefac'd on the bier(180)
(Hey non nony, nony, hey nony)
And on his grave rain'd many a tear.
Fare you well, my dove!
LAERTES:
Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge,
It could not move thus.(185)
OPHELIA:
You must sing 'down a-down,' and you 'Call him a-
down-a.' O, how the wheel becomes it! It is the false stew-
ard, that stole his master's daughter.
LAERTES:
This nothing's more than matter.
OPHELIA:
There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you,(190)
love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts.
LAERTES:
A document in madness! Thoughts and remembrance
fitted.
OPHELIA:
There's fennel for you, and columbines. There's rue for
you, and here's some for me. We may call it herb of grace o'(195)
Sundays. O, you must wear your rue with a difference!
There's a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they with-
er'd all when my father died. They say he made a good end—

[Sings.]

For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.(200)
LAERTES:
Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,
She turns to favour and to prettiness.
OPHELIA:

[Sings.]

And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?(205)
No, no, he is dead;
Go to thy deathbed;
He never will come again.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll.(210)
He is gone, he is gone,
And we cast away moan.
God 'a'mercy on his soul!
And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God be wi' you.(215)

Exit.

LAERTES:
Do you see this, O God?
KING:
Laertes, I must commune with your grief,
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 call ours,
To you in satisfaction; but if not,(220)
Be you content to lend your patience to us,
And we shall jointly labour with your soul
To give it due content.
LAERTES:
Let this be so.
His means of death, his obscure burial—(225)
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:
So you shall;(230)
And where the offence is let the great axe fall.
I pray you go with me.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. As a nobleman and a trusted confidante of the king, Polonius would've been entitled to a lavish funeral, not unlike King Hamlet's in terms of ostentation. That he was buried quietly underscored the fact that Claudius and Gertrude are trying to cover up Hamlet's culpability (though not, in Claudius' cause, absolving him of guilt).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  2. Claudius speaks merely of himself and not of himself and Laertes, using the royal "we" to say that if he is touched (or has had a hand in Polonius' death, directly or otherwise), he will give his kingdom to Laertes. This would be a strange regime change, given that Hamlet's the next in line for the throne, but Laertes doesn't yet pick up on the strangeness of this or suspect that Hamlet is the murderer.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. "Poll" refers to the part of the head where the hair grows. "Flaxen" refers to the color of flax or of wheat, in this case probably a sandy blond. This is all to say that he (Polonius) was quite old when he died, but not so old that the hair on his head had turned gray (even though his beard had).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. Pelicans were then believed to feed their young with their own blood. Laertes thus figures himself as an altruistic person willing to "feed" or protect his father's friends by taking up their cause. In this way, he also presents himself as a wise and powerful man with the status to treat his father's friends like children. Given that he intends to kill the king, this arrogance isn't surprising.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. Notice that Gertrude doesn't reveal Polonius' true killer. Given license to speak, it's possible that she would've given Hamlet up in order to save her husband, but it isn't clear. This abrupt cry would seem to confirm that Gertrude does, in fact, love Claudius and doesn't think he deserves to be killed, regardless of the promises she's made to Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. If "rue" symbolizes pity, then it seems most likely that Ophelia gives the rue to her brother, who looks on her with more pity than any of the others, who already know about her madness. If we assume that Laertes, Claudius, and Ophelia are all standing together, then the next flower, daisy (false love) goes to either Claudius or Gertrude, as a symbol of her disillusionment with the crown.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Given that violets mean faithfulness, and that she says "my" father instead of "our" father, we can assume that Ophelia gives the violets to either Claudius or Gertrude, who would be entitled to her love and faithfulness by virtue of being the king and queen, and who wouldn't receive it, after what happened to Polonius.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Ophelia has begun throwing flowers, each of which have symbolic meanings: fennel means flattery, columbines mean cuckoldry, rue means pity, daisies mean false love, and violets mean faithfulness. From this, we can assume that Opehlia has been walking around with a bouquet of flowers, both like a woman in mourning and a bride to be.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. Laertes thinks Ophelia's nonsense says more than actual speech, or "matter." Likely, Laertes thinks that the steward and the master's daughter refer to other characters in the play, and he's trying to determine exactly who and what she's talking about. Though the lyrics don't quite coincide with any situation in the play, it's possible that she's referring to herself and Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Although there are no stage directions here, one can imagine Ophelia going from person to person, directing them on what to sing and what notes to hit, like a conductor standing before a stage. The "wheel" in this case refers to the succession of singers, whose lyrics cycle around the room, creating a wheel.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. A "bier" is a frame or tool for carrying, such as a handbarrow, litter, or stretcher. That they carried him "barefac'd" on it implies that he wasn't covered with a sheet, as the dead traditionally were. Given how many tears were shed on his grave, this lack of decorum shouldn't be taken as indication of his social status but rather as an artistic choice to make him seem beloved.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. An "instance of itself" means a sample of nature's refinement. Here, that "sample" is Ophelia's sanity, which has gone after her dead father Polonius and has, in some ways, honored him with its grace. Laertes thus characterizes Ophelia's beauty and goodness as a thing that can be lost under dire circumstances.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. Another way of saying "payback" or revenge. Laertes intends to kill whoever murdered his father and drove his sister mad. In this case, that murder is figured as "weight" or as a dead body that can then be placed on one side of the scale to balance it or tip it downward ("turn the beam").

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. From these lines, we can assume that Laertes has heard a woman's voice and has most likely recognized it as his sister's. Thus, these two questions are spoken tenderly, affectionately, as if to soothe a weeping child. Laertes will soon see that his sister has gone mad, but in this moment, we see plainly that he's a very loving brother.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. "Stake" and "draw" are both terms from the gambling world, where one bets or stakes money when one is willing to take their chances with the cards and, hopefully, draw a winner. "Swoopstakes," then, means that one bets indiscriminately, taking out anyone in his path, regardless of whether or not they're friend or foe. Claudius may also mean that Laertes will draw a sword against anyone.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. In other words, Laertes doesn't care what happens to him in this world or the next; he just wants to avenge his father's death. Contrast this with Hamlet's soliloquies, which dwell heavily on heaven, hell, sin, and whether or not vengeance is worthwhile, and you can see how differently Laertes and Hamlet approach the same problem.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. Laertes scoffs at the idea of being calm, stating that if he were calm, Polonius would have to be a cuckold and Laertes' mother a "harlot," making Laertes' someone else's son. Or else why wouldn't he grieve for his father? He points to his brows as proof that he isn't a bastard, because the brows were said to be proof of a person's good breeding.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. In the wake of Polonius' death, the general population (or "rabble") has started to consider a coup led by Leartes that would overthrow Claudius. In doing so, they're breaking the laws of "antiquity" and "custom" wherein kings inherit the throne and demanding that their leader be accepted as the true king.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. Claudius (perhaps accidentally) gives himself away, evoking King Hamlet's murder by referring to an ear infection that is not unlike being poisoned. Gertrude witnessed a similar poisoning in the play within the play, but either doesn't make the connection to Claudius or chooses to look away. Knowing this, it's hard for the audience to justify her taking his side now.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. Notice the similarities in this line and Hamlet's speech about "bestial oblivion." Shakespeare draws this parallel to underscore the fact that Hamlet and Claudius are both intelligent men and that, unlike Polonius, Claudius may be a match for the prince, if not in lyrical skill than in murderous cunning.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. It's funny that Claudius would say this, given just how many spies he's enlisted to keep tabs on Hamlet. In addition to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he's used Polonius, Gertrude, Ophelia, and of course himself, which makes a small battalion of "sorrows" for Hamlet, who's been stripped of all his dearest relationships because of it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. A word used as a substitution for "God" when swearing oaths. This particular "oath" doubles as a wedding vow that the young man refuses to take because he's already had sex with his girlfriend and therefore doesn't need to marry her.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. In other words, there's no way to predict the future. Ophelia seems dismayed by the loss of her father, unable to work through the grief and the shock of knowing that he was there one day and then gone the next. Shakespeare uses this line as a chilling reminder that we're not sure what will happen to these characters or how these events will affect them.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. An allusion to a folktale about a girl who was turned into an owl after she rebuked her father for baking a free loaf of bread for Christ, who had disguised himself as a beggar. Polonius would've told Ophelia this story to instill filial loyalty in her (which may itself had led to this breakdown).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. A "cockle" is a bivalve like a mussel or a scallop whose shell is sewn onto the hats of pilgrims traveling to St. James of Compostella. This song compares the pilgrim to a man whose "true love" is so pure that it must be compared to the pilgrim's love of God in order to be put into perspective.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. Polonius' death has driven Ophelia slightly mad, and she's becoming paranoid and unpredictable. Though "her speech is nothing," or mad and meaningless, there's something in the way she speaks that gives other people pause (or "moves" them to collection). In her ravings, people find their own suspicions confirmed and draw conclusions Ophelia herself hasn't.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. It isn't clear from this line, but we'll soon learn that Gertrude is talking about Ophelia here. Horatio and the Gentleman have evidently been asking her to speak with Ophelia, and she's been walking away from them, refusing. This obstinance underscores Gertrude's impatience and suggests that she's recovering fairly well from the fright Hamlet gave her.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. This is an appropriate analogy, given that Denmark, like Holland, has lowlands (flats) which are subject to flooding by the ocean and have to be protected by dikes. To pray that the ocean doesn't overtake the king's territory is akin to wishing him good health and great fortune.

    — William Delaney
  29. Think of guilt as a cup or a bowl filled with water. When we try not to spill it, we become so shaky and afraid that the water spills anyway. This metaphor is easily overlooked, but neatly characterizes Gertrude as someone who tries very hard to be careful but can't, in the end, conceal the guilt that Hamlet has accused her of already.

    — William Delaney
  30. Recall that in Hamlet's time (and, indeed, in Shakespeare's) monarchs were said to have a divine right to rule. That is, they were anointed by God with the power to rule, thus making an overthrow like the one Laertes describes a very dangerous endeavor. This explains why Claudius feels so confident and why Hamlet has hedged so much in his decision to kill the king.

    — William Delaney
  31. From the ancient superstition that the first girl a man see on St. Valentine's Day is destined to be his true love. In this song, the man opens his bedroom door to let the girl in, and when she leaves she's no longer a virgin. That Ophelia sings this after talking about her father suggests that his advice not to talk to Hamlet came too late and that it ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship.

    — Scott Locklear, Owl Eyes Contributor