Home  »  The Oxford Shakespeare  »  Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act II. Scene II.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

A Room in the Castle.


King.Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!

Moreover that we much did long to see you,

The need we have to use you did provoke

Our hasty sending. Something have you heard

Of Hamlet’s transformation; so I call it,

Since nor the exterior nor the inward man

Resembles that it was. What it should be

More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him

So much from the understanding of himself,

I cannot dream of: I entreat you both,

That, being of so young days brought up with him,

And since so neighbour’d to his youth and humour,

That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court

Some little time; so by your companies

To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather,

So much as from occasion you may glean,

Whe’r aught to us unknown afflicts him thus,

That, open’d, lies within our remedy.

Queen.Good gentlemen, he hath much talk’d of you;

And sure I am two men there are not living

To whom he more adheres. If it will please you

To show us so much gentry and good will

As to expend your time with us awhile,

For the supply and profit of our hope,

Your visitation shall receive such thanks

As fits a king’s remembrance.

Ros.Both your majesties

Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,

Put your dread pleasures more into command

Than to entreaty.

Guil.But we both obey,

And here give up ourselves, in the full bent,

To lay our service freely at your feet,

To be commanded.

King.Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.

Queen.Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz;

And I beseech you instantly to visit

My too much changed son. Go, some of you,

And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.

Guil.Heavens make our presence, and our practices

Pleasant and helpful to him!

Queen.Ay, amen![Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and some Attendants.


Pol.The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,

Are joyfully return’d.

King.Thou still hast been the father of good news.

Pol.Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege,

I hold my duty, as I hold my soul,

Both to my God and to my gracious king;

And I do think—or else this brain of mine

Hunts not the trail of policy so sure

As it hath us’d to do—that I have found

The very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.

King.O! speak of that; that do I long to hear.

Pol.Give first admittance to the ambassadors;

My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.

King.Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.[Exit POLONIUS.

He tells me, my sweet queen, that he hath found

The head and source of all your son’s distemper.

Queen.I doubt it is no other but the main;

His father’s death, and our o’erhasty marriage.

King.Well, we shall sift him.


Welcome, my good friends!

Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?

Volt.Most fair return of greetings, and desires.

Upon our first, he sent out to suppress

His nephew’s levies, which to him appear’d

To be a preparation ’gainst the Polack;

But, better look’d into, he truly found

It was against your highness: whereat griev’d,

That so his sickness, age, and impotence

Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests

On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys,

Receives rebuke from Norway, and, in fine,

Makes vow before his uncle never more

To give the assay of arms against your majesty.

Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,

Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee,

And his commission to employ those soldiers,

So levied as before, against the Polack;

With an entreaty, herein further shown,[Giving a paper.

That it might please you to give quiet pass

Through your dominions for this enterprise,

On such regards of safety and allowance

As therein are set down.

King.It likes us well;

And at our more consider’d time we’ll read,

Answer, and think upon this business:

Meantime we thank you for your well-took labour.

Go to your rest; at night we’ll feast together:

Most welcome home.[Exeunt VOLTIMAND and CORNELIUS.

Pol.This business is well ended.

My liege, and madam, to expostulate

What majesty should be, what duty is,

Why day is day, night night, and time is time,

Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,

And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,

I will be brief. Your noble son is mad:

Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,

What is ’t but to be nothing else but mad?

But let that go.

Queen.More matter, with less art.

PolMadam, I swear I use no art at all.

That he is mad, ’tis true; ’tis true ’tis pity;

And pity ’tis ’tis true: a foolish figure;

But farewell it, for I will use no art.

Mad let us grant him, then; and now remains

That we find out the cause of this effect,

Or rather say, the cause of this defect,

For this effect defective comes by cause;

Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.


I have a daughter, have while she is mine;

Who, in her duty and obedience, mark,

Hath given me this: now, gather, and surmise.

To the celestial, and my soul’s idol, the most beautified Ophelia.

That’s an ill phrase, a vile phrase; ‘beautified’ is a vile phrase; but you shall hear. Thus:

In her excellent white bosom, these, &c.

Queen.Came this from Hamlet to her?

Pol.Good madam, stay awhile; I will be faithful.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love.

O dear Ophelia! I am ill at these numbers:

I have not art to reckon my groans; but that I love thee best, O most best! believe it. Adieu.

Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst
this machine is to him,

This in obedience hath my daughter shown me;

And more above, hath his solicitings,

As they fell out by time, by means, and place,

All given to mine ear.

King.But how hath she

Receiv’d his love?

Pol.What do you think of me?

King.As of a man faithful and honourable.

Pol.I would fain prove so. But what might you think,

When I had seen this hot love on the wing,—

As I perceiv’d it, I must tell you that,

Before my daughter told me,—what might you,

Or my dear majesty, your queen here, think,

If I had play’d the desk or table-book,

Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb,

Or look’d upon this love with idle sight;

What might you think? No, I went round to work,

And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:

‘Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star;

This must not be:’ and then I precepts gave her,

That she should lock herself from his resort,

Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.

Which done, she took the fruits of my advice;

And he, repulsed,—a short tale to make,—

Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,

Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,

Thence to a lightness; and by this declension

Into the madness wherein now he raves,

And all we wail for.

King.Do you think ’tis this?

Queen.It may be, very likely.

Pol.Hath there been such a time,—I’d fain know that,—

That I have positively said, ‘’Tis so,’

When it prov’d otherwise?

King.Not that I know.

Pol.Take this from this, if this be otherwise:[Pointing to his head and shoulder.

If circumstances lead me, I will find

Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed

Within the centre.

King.How may we try it further?

Pol.You know sometimes he walks four hours together

Here in the lobby.

Queen.So he does indeed.

Pol.At such a time I’ll loose my daughter to him;

Be you and I behind an arras then;

Mark the encounter; if he love her not,

And be not from his reason fallen thereon,

Let me be no assistant for a state,

But keep a farm, and carters.

King.We will try it.

Queen.But look, where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.

Pol.Away! I do beseech you, both away.

I’ll board him presently.[Exeunt KING, QUEEN, and Attendants.

Enter HAMLET, reading.

O! give me leave.

How does my good Lord Hamlet?

Ham.Well, God a-mercy.

Pol.Do you know me, my lord?

Ham.Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

Pol.Not I, my lord.

Ham.Then I would you were so honest a man.

Pol.Honest, my lord!

Ham.Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

Pol.That’s very true, my lord.

Ham.For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion,—Have you a daughter?

Pol.I have, my lord.

Ham.Let her not walk i’ the sun: conception is a blessing; but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to ’t.

Pol.[Aside.]How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter: yet he knew me not at first; he said I was a fishmonger: he is far gone, far gone: and truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love; very near this. I’ll speak to him again. What do you read, my lord?

Ham.Words, words, words.

Pol.What is the matter, my lord?

Ham.Between who?

Pol.I mean the matter that you read, my lord.

Ham.Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams: all which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for you yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if, like a crab, you could go backward.

Pol.[Aside.]Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

Ham.Into my grave?

Pol.Indeed, that is out o’ the air.[Aside.]How pregnant sometimes his replies are! a happiness that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of meeting between him and my daughter. My honourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

Ham.You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal; except my life, except my life, except my life.

Pol.Fare you well, my lord.[Going.

Ham.These tedious old fools!


Pol.You go to seek the Lord Hamlet; there he is.

Ros.[To POLONIUS.]God save you, sir![Exit POLONIUS.

Guil.Mine honoured lord!

Ros.My most dear lord!

Ham.My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?

Ros.As the indifferent children of the earth.

Guil.Happy in that we are not over happy;

On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.

Ham.Nor the soles of her shoe?

Ros.Neither, my lord.

Ham.Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?

Guil.Faith, her privates we.

Ham.In the secret parts of Fortune? O! most true; she is a strumpet. What news?

Ros.None, my lord, but that the world’s grown honest.

Ham.Then is doomsday near; but your news is not true. Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Guil.Prison, my lord!

Ham.Denmark’s a prison.

Ros.Then is the world one.

Ham.A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.

RosWe think not so, my lord.

Ham.Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Ros.Why, then your ambition makes it one; ’tis too narrow for your mind.

Ham.O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

Guil.Which dreams, indeed, are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

Ham.A dream itself is but a shadow.

Ros.Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.

Ham.Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars’ shadows. Shall we to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.

Ros. & Guil.We’ll wait upon you.

Ham.No such matter; I will not sort you with the rest of my servants, for, to speak to you like an honest man, I am most dreadfully attended. But, in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?

Ros.To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.

Ham.Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I thank you: and sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, come, deal justly with me: come, come; nay, speak.

Guil.What should we say, my lord?

Ham.Why anything, but to the purpose. You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour: I know the good king and queen have sent for you.

Ros.To what end, my lord?

Ham.That you must teach me. But let me conjure you, by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved love, and by what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for or no!

Ros.[Aside to GUILDENSTERN.]What say you?

Ham.[Aside.]Nay, then, I have an eye of you. If you love me, hold not off.

Guil.My lord, we were sent for.

Ham.I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king and queen moult no feather. I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, though, by your smiling, you seem to say so.

Ros.My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

Ham.Why did you laugh then, when I said, ‘man delights not me?’

Ros.To think, my lord, if you delight not in man, what lenten entertainment the players shall receive from you: we coted them on the way; and hither are they coming, to offer you service.

Ham.He that plays the king shall be welcome; his majesty shall have tribute of me; the adventurous knight shall use his foil and target; the lover shall not sigh gratis; the humorous man shall end his part in peace; the clown shall make those laugh whose lungs are tickle o’ the sere; and the lady shall say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt for ’t. What players are they?

Ros.Even those you were wont to take delight in, tragedians of the city.

Ham.How chances it they travel? their residence, both in reputation and profit, was better both ways.

Ros.I think their inhibition comes by the means of the late innovation.

Ham.Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city? Are they so followed?

Ros.No, indeed they are not.

Ham.How comes it? Do they grow rusty?

Ros.Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for ’t: these are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages,—so they call them,—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither.

Ham.What! are they children? who maintains ’em? how are they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no longer than they can sing? will they not say afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common players,—as it is most like, if their means are no better,—their writers do them wrong, to make them exclaim against their own succession?

Ros.Faith, there has been much to-do on both sides: and the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid for argument, unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.

Ham.Is it possible?

Guil.O! there has been much throwing about of brains.

Ham.Do the boys carry it away?

Ros.Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.

Ham.It is not very strange; for my uncle is King of Denmark, and those that would make mows at him while my father lived, give twenty, forty, fifty, a hundred ducats a-piece for his picture in little. ’Sblood, there is something in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.[Flourish of trumpets within.

Guil.There are the players.

Ham.Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands, come then; the appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony: let me comply with you in this garb, lest my extent to the players—which, I tell you, must show fairly outward—should more appear like entertainment than yours. You are welcome; but my uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived.

Guil.In what, my dear lord?

Ham.I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.


Pol.Well be with you, gentlemen!

Ham.Hark you, Guildenstern; and you too; at each ear a hearer: that great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling-clouts.

Ros.Happily he’s the second time come to them; for they say an old man is twice a child.

Ham.I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players; mark it. You say right, sir; o’ Monday morning; ’twas so indeed.

Pol.My lord, I have news to tell you.

Ham.My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was an actor in Rome,—

Pol.The actors are come hither, my lord.

Ham.Buzz, buzz!

Pol.Upon my honour,—

Ham.Then came each actor on his ass,—

Pol.The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.

Ham.O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!

Pol.What a treasure had he, my lord?


One fair daughter and no more,

The which he loved passing well.

Pol.[Aside.]Still on my daughter.

Ham.Am I not i’ the right, old Jephthah?

Pol.If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter that I love passing well.

Ham.Nay, that follows not.

Pol.What follows, then, my lord?


As by lot, God wot.

And then, you know,

It came to pass, as most like it was.

The first row of the pious chanson will show you more; for look where my abridgment comes.

Enter four or five Players.

You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad to see thee well: welcome, good friends. O, my old friend! Thy face is valanced since I saw thee last: comest thou to beard me in Denmark? What! my young lady and mistress! By ’r lady, your ladyship is nearer heaven than when I saw you last, by the altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not cracked within the ring. Masters, you are all welcome. We’ll e’en to ’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see: we’ll have a speech straight. Come, give us a taste of your quality; come, a passionate speech.

First Play.What speech, my good lord?

Ham.I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted; or, if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleased not the million; ’twas caviare to the general: but it was—as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine—an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine. One speech in it I chiefly loved; ’twas Æneas’ tale to Dido; and thereabout of it especially, where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter. If it live in your memory, begin at this line: let me see, let me see:—

The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast,

’tis not so, it begins with Pyrrhus:—

The rugged Pyrrhus, he, whose sable arm,

Black as his purpose, did the night resemble

When he lay couched in the ominous horse,

Hath now this dread and black complexion smear’d

With heraldry more dismal; head to foot

Now is he total gules; horridly trick’d

With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,

Bak’d and impasted with the parching streets,

That lend a tyrannous and damned light

To their vile murders: roasted in wrath and fire,

And thus o’er-sized with coagulate gore,

With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus

Old grandsire Priam seeks.

So proceed you.

Pol.’Fore God, my lord, well spoken; with good accent and good discretion.

First Play.Anon, he finds him

Striking too short at Greeks; his antique sword,

Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,

Repugnant to command. Unequal match’d,

Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;

But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword

The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,

Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top

Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash

Takes prisoner Pyrrhus’ ear: for lo! his sword,

Which was declining on the milky head

Of reverend Priam, seem’d i’ the air to stick:

So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,

And like a neutral to his will and matter,

Did nothing.

But, as we often see, against some storm,

A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,

The bold winds speechless and the orb below

As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder

Doth rend the region; so, after Pyrrhus’ pause,

Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;

And never did the Cyclops’ hammers fall

On Mars’s armour, forg’d for proof eterne,

With less remorse than Pyrrhus’ bleeding sword

Now falls on Priam.

Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,

In general synod, take away her power;

Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,

And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,

As low as to the fiends!

Pol.This is too long.

Ham.It shall to the barber’s, with your beard. Prithee, say on: he ’s for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Say on; come to Hecuba.

First Play.But who, O! who had seen the mobled queen

Ham.‘The mobled queen?’—

Pol.That’s good; ‘mobled queen’ is good.

First Play.Run barefoot up and down, threat’ning the flames

With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head

Where late the diadem stood; and, for a robe,

About her lank and all o’er-teemed loins,

A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up;

Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep’d,

’Gainst Fortune’s state would treason have pronounc’d:

But if the gods themselves did see her then,

When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport

In mincing with his sword her husband’s limbs,

The instant burst of clamour that she made

Unless things mortal move them not at all

Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,

And passion in the gods.

Pol.Look! wh’er he has not turned his colour and has tears in ’s eyes. Prithee, no more.

Ham.’Tis well; I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon. Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for they are the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time: after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.

Pol.My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

Ham.God’s bodikins, man, much better; use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.

Pol.Come, sirs.

Ham.Follow him, friends: we’ll hear a play to-morrow.[Exit POLONIUS, with all the Players but the First.]Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the Murder of Gonzago?

First Play.Ay, my lord.

Ham.We’ll ha ’t to-morrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in ’t, could you not?

First Play.Ay, my lord.

Ham.Very well. Follow that lord; and look you mock him not.[Exit First Player.][To ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.]My good friends, I’ll leave you till night; you are welcome to Elsinore.

Ros.Good my lord![Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.

Ham.Ay, so, God be wi’ ye! Now I am alone.

O! what a rogue and peasant slave am I:

Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,

Could force his soul so to his own conceit

That from her working all his visage wann’d,

Tears in his eyes, distraction in ’s aspect,

A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!

For Hecuba!

What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba

That he should weep for her? What would he do

Had he the motive and the cue for passion

That I have? He would drown the stage with tears,

And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,

Make mad the guilty and appal the free,

Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed

The very faculties of eyes and ears.

Yet I,

A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,

Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,

And can say nothing; no, not for a king,

Upon whose property and most dear life

A damn’d defeat was made. Am I a coward?

Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?

Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face?

Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i’ the throat,

As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this?


Swounds, I should take it, for it cannot be

But I am pigeon-liver’d, and lack gall

To make oppression bitter, or ere this

I should have fatted all the region kites

With this slave’s offal. Bloody, bawdy villain!

Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!

O! vengeance!

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave

That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,

Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,

And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,

A scullion!

Fie upon ’t! foh! About, my brain! I have heard,

That guilty creatures sitting at a play

Have by the very cunning of the scene

Been struck so to the soul that presently

They have proclaim’d their malefactions;

For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak

With most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players

Play something like the murder of my father

Before mine uncle; I’ll observe his looks;

I’ll tent him to the quick: if he but blench

I know my course. The spirit that I have seen

May be the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy—

As he is very potent with such spirits—

Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds

More relative than this: the play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.[Exit.