Act 4, Scene 7

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[Enter Claudius and Laertes]

Claudius

Now must your conscience my acquittance 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.

Laertes

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

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 guilts 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.    

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.

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 ...
[Enter a Messenger]
How now? What news?

Messenger

                                          Letters, my lord, from Hamlet. 
This to your majesty, this to the queen.
[He gives letters.]

Claudius   

From Hamlet? Who brought them?

Messenger

Sailors, my lord, they say. I saw them not.
They were given me by Claudio. He received them.

Claudius   

Laertes, you shall hear them.
[To the Messenger]  Leave us. 
[Exit Messenger. Claudius 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 th' occasions of my sudden and more strange 
return.
Hamlet."
What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?
Or is it some abuse? Or no such thing?

Laertes  

Know you the hand?     

Claudius

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

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 didest thou."

Claudius

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

Laertes

If so you'll not o'errule me to a peace.

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 device,
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. Some two months hence,
Here was a gentleman of Normandy.
I've seen myself, and served against, the French, 
And they ran well on horseback. But this gallant
Had witchcraft in't. He grew into his seat,
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
As had he been incorpsed 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.

Laertes

                                              A Norman was't?

Claudius   

A Norman.

Laertes

Upon my life, Lamound.

Claudius

                                           The very same.

Laertes

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

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, 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.

Laertes

                            What out of this, my lord? 

Claudius

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

Laertes

                                         Why ask you this?

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

Laertes

                                     To cut his throat i'th' church.

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 o'er 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.

Laertes

                                                  I will do't, 
And for that purpose I'll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank.
So mortal — 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.    

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 comings ... 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.
[Enter Gertrude.]

Claudius   

                                                          How now, sweet Queen? 

Gertrude

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

Laertes   

Drowned! Oh , where?

Gertrude

There is a willow grows aslant a brook, 
That shows his hoary 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
Clamb'ring 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 awhile, they bore her up.
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and endued 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.    

Laertes

                             Alas, then, she is drowned?

Gertrude   

Drowned, drowned.

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. 
[He weeps.]                            
                                            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.    
[Exit Laertes.]    

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.
[Exit.]