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  • Title: The History of Hamlet
  • Author: François de Belleforest
  • Editor: David Bevington
  • General textual editors: James D. Mardock, Eric Rasmussen
  • Coordinating editor: Michael Best

  • Copyright François de Belleforest. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: François de Belleforest
    Editor: David Bevington
    Not Peer Reviewed

    The History of Hamlet

    The Argument

    1It is not at this present, neither yet a small time since, that envy reigning in the world hath in such sort blinded men, that without respect of consanguinity, friendship, or favor whatsoever, they forget themselves so much as that they spared not to defile their hands with the blood of those men who by all law and right they ought chiefly to defend and cherish. For what other impression was it that entered into Romulus's heart, when, under pretense of I know not what law, he defiled his hands with the blood of his own brother, but the abominable vice of desire to reign? Which, if in all the occurrences, prosperities, and circumstances thereof, it were well weighed and considered, I know not any man that had not rather live at his ease, and privately without charge, than, being feared and honored of all men, to bear all the charge and burden upon his shoulders; to serve and please the fantasies of the common people; to live continually in fear, and to see himself exposed to a thousand occasions of danger, and most commonly assailed and spoiled when he thinks verily to hold Fortune as slave to his fantasies and will, and yet buys such and so great misery for the vain and frail pleasures of this world, with the loss of his own soul; making so large a measure of his conscience that it is not once moved at any murder, treason, deceit, nor wickedness whatsoever he committed, so the way may be opened and made plain unto him whereby he may attain to that miserable felicity, to command and govern a multitude of men, as I said of Romulus, who, by a most abominable action, prepared himself a way to heaven -- but not by virtue.

    The ambitious and seditious orator of Rome supposed the degrees and steps to heaven, and the ways to virtue, to consist in the treasons, ravishments, and massacres committed by him that first laid the foundations of that city. And not to leave the histories of Rome, what, I pray you, incited Anclus Martinus to massacre Tarquin the Elder but the desire of reigning as a king, who before had been the only man to move and solicit the said Tarquinius to bereave the right heirs and inheriters thereof? What caused Tarquinius the Proud traitorously to imbrue his hands in the blood of Servius Tullius, his father-in-law, but only that fumish and unbridled desire to be commander over the city of Rome? Which practice never ceased nor discontinued in the said principal city of the empire as long as it was governed by the greatest and wisest personages chosen and elected by the people; for therein have been seen infinite numbers of seditions, troubles, pledges, ransomings, confiscations, and massacres, only proceeding from this ground and principle, which entereth into men's hearts and maketh them covet and desirous to be heads and rulers of a whole commonwealth. And after the people were deprived of that liberty of election, and that the empire became subject to the pleasure and fantasy of one man, commanding all the rest, I pray you peruse their books and read diligently their histories, and do but look into the means used by the most part of their kings and emperors to attain to such power and authority, and you shall see how poisons, massacres, and secret murders were the means to push them forwards that durst not openly attempt it or else could not compass to make open wars. And for that the history (which I pretend to show unto you) is chiefly grounded upon treason committed by one brother against the other, I will not err far out of the matter, thereby desiring to show you that it is and hath been a thing long since practiced and in use by men, to spill the blood of their nearst kinsmen and friends to attain to the honor of being great and in authority; and that there hath been some that, being impatient of staying till their just time of succession, have hastened the death of their own parents, as Absolon would have done to the holy King David, his father; and as we read of Domitian, that poisoned his brother Titus, the most courteous and liberal prince that ever swayed the empire of Rome. And God knows we have many the like examples in this our time, where the son conspired against the father; for that Sultan Zelin, emperor of Turks, was so honest a man, that fearing Bajazeth, his father, would die of his natural death, and that thereby he should have stayed too long for the empire, bereaved him of his life; and Sultan Soliman, his successor, although he attempted not anything against his father, yet being moved with a certain fear to be deposed from his empery, and bearing a hatred to Mustapha, his son (incited thereunto by Rustain Bassa, whom the Jews, enemies to the young prince, had by gifts procured thereunto), caused him to be strangled with a bow string, without hearing him (that never had offended his father) once speak to justify his innocency. But let us leave the Turks, like barbarians as they are, whose throne is ordinarily established by the effusion of the blood of those that are nearest of kindred and consanguinity to the empire, and consider what tragedies have been played to the like effect in the memory of our ancestors, and with what charity and love the nearst kindreds and friends among them have been entertained. One of the other, if you had not the histories extant before you, if the memory were not in a manner fresh and known almost to every man, I would make a long discourse thereof; but things being so clear and evident, the truth so much discovered, and the people almost, as it were, glutted with such treasons, I will omit them, and follow my matter, to show you that, if the iniquity of a brother caused his brother to lose his life, yet that vengeance was not long after delayed, to the end that traitors may know, although the punishment of their trespasses committed be stayed for a while, yet that they may assure themselves that, without all doubt, they shall never escape the puissant and revenging hand of God, who, being slow to anger, yet in the end doth not fail to show some signs and evident tokens of his fearful judgment upon such as, forgetting their duties, shed innocent blood and betray their rulers, whom they ought chiefly to honor, serve, and reverence.

    The Preface

    although in the beginning of this history I had determined not to have troubled you with any other matter than a history of our own time, having sufficient tragical matter to satisfy the minds of men; but because I cannot well discourse thereof without touching many personages whom I would not willingly displease, and partly because the argument that I have in hand seemed unto me a thing worthy to be offered to our French nobility, for the great and gallant occurrences therein set down, I have somewhat strayed from my course, as touching the tragedies of this our age, and, starting out of France and over Netherlanders' countries, I have ventured to visit the histories of Denmark, that it may serve for an example of virtue and contentment to our nation (whom I specially seek to please), and for whose satisfaction I have not left any flower whatsoever untasted, from whence I have not drawn the most perfect and delicate honey, thereby to bind them to my diligence herein; not caring for the ingratitude of the time present, that leaveth (as it were rejecteth) without recompense such as serve the commonwealth, and by their travel and diligence honor their country and illustrate the realm of France. So that oftentimes the fault proceedeth rather from them than from the great personages that have other affairs which withdraw them from things that seem of small consequence. Withal, esteeming myself more than satisfied in this contentment and freedom which I now enjoy, being loved of the nobility, for whom I travel without grudging, favored of men of learning and knowledge, for admiring and reverencing them according to their worthiness and honored of the common people, of whom, although I crave not their judgment, as not esteeming them of ability to eternize the name of a worthy man, yet I account myself sufficiently happy to have attained to this felicity, that few or no men refuse or disdain to read my works, many admiring and wondering thereat; as there are some that, provoked by envy, blame and condemn it. To whom I confess myself much bound and beholding, for that by their means I am the more vigilant, and so by my travel much more beloved and honored than ever I was; which to me is the greatest pleasure that I can enjoy, and the most abundant treasures in my coffers, wherewith I am more satisfied and contented than (if without comparison) I enjoyed the greatest treasures in all Asia. Now, returning to our matter, let us begin to declare the history.

    Chapter I

    How Horvendile and Fengon were made governors of the Province of Ditmars, and how Horvendile married Geruth, the daughter to Roderick, chief King of Denmark, by whom he had Hamlet: and how after his marriage his brother Fengon slew him traitorously, and married his brother's wife, and what followed.

    5You must understand that long time before the Kingdom of Denmark received the faith of Jesus Christ and embraced the doctrine of the Christians, that the common people in those days were barbarous and uncivil and their princes cruel, without faith or loyalty, seeking nothing but murder, and deposing, or, at the least, offending each other, either in honors, goods, or lives; not caring to ransom such as they took prisoners, but rather sacrificing them to the cruel vengeance naturaly imprinted in their hearts, in such sort that, if there were sometime a good prince or king among them who, being adorned with the most perfect gifts of nature, would addict himself to virtue and use courtesy, although the people held him in admiration (as virtue is admirable to the most wicked), yet the envy of his neighbors was so great that they never ceased until that virtuous man were dispatched out of the world. King Roderick, as then reigning in Denmark, after he appeased the troubles in the country and driven the Sweathlanders (Swedes) and Slaveans from thence, he divided the kingdom into divers provinces, placing governors therein, who after (as the like happened in France) bare (bore) the names of dukes, marquesses, and earls, giving the government of Jutie (Jutland, Denmark) (at this present called Ditmarse) lying upon the country of the Cimbrians, (a Germanic tribe) in the strait or narrow part of land that showeth like a point or cape of ground upon the sea, which neithward bordereth upon the country of Norway, [to] two valiant and warlike lords, Horvendile and Fengon, sons to Gervendile, who likewise had been governor of that province.

    Now the greatest honor that men of noble birth could at that time win and obtain was in exercising the art of piracy upon the seas, assailing their neighbors and the countries bordering upon them; and how much the more they used to rob, pill, and spoil other provinces and islands far adjacent, so much the more their honour and reputation increased and augmented; wherein Horvendile obtained the highest place in his time, being the most renowned pirate that in those days scoured the seas and havens of the north parts; whose great fame so moved the heart of Collere, King of Norway, that he was much grieved to hear that Horvendile, surmounting him in feats of arms, thereby obscuring the glory by him already obtained upon the seas -- honor more than covetousness of riches in those days being the reason that provoked those barbarian princes to overthrow and vanquish one the other, not caring to be slain by the hands of a victorious person. This valiant and hardy king having challenged Horvendile to fight with him body to body, the combat was by him accepted, with conditions that he which should be vanquished should lose all the riches he had in his ships, and that the vanquisher should cause the body of the vanquished that should be slain in the combat to be honorably buried, death being the price and reward of him that should lose the battle. And to conclude, Collere, King of Norway, although a valiant, hardy, and courageous prince, was in the end vanquished and slain by Horvendile, who presently caused a tomb to be erected, and therein, with all honorable obsequies fit for a prince, buried the body of King Collere, according to their ancient manner and superstitions in these days and the conditions of the combat, bereaving the King's ships of all their riches; and having slain the King's sister, a very brave and valiant warrior, and overrun all the coast of Norway and the Northern Islands, returned home again laden with much treasure, sending the most part thereof to his sovereign, King Roderick, thereby to procure his good liking, and so to be accounted one of the greatest favorites about His Majesty.

    The King, allured by those presents, and esteeming himself happy to have so valiant a subject, sought by a great favor and courtesy to make him become bounden unto him perpetually, giving him Geruth his daughter to his wife, of whom he knew Horvendile to be already much enamored. And, the more to honor him, determined himself in person to conduct her into Jutie, where the marriage was celebrated according to the ancient manner. And, to be brief, of this marriage proceeded Hamlet, of whom I intend to speak, and for his cause have chosen to renew this present history.

    Fengon, brother to this prince Horvendile, who [not] only fretting and despiting in his heart at the great honor and reputation won by his brother in warlike affairs but solicited and provoked by a foolish jealousy to see him honored with royal alliance, and fearing thereby to be deposed from his part of the government, or rather desiring to be only governor, thereby to obscure the memory of the victories and conquests of his brother Horvendile, determined, whatsoever happened, to kill him; which he effected in such sort that no man once so much as suspected him, every man esteeming that from such and so firm a knot of alliance and consanguinity there could proceed no other issue than the full effects of virtue and courtesy. But, as I said before, the desire of bearing sovereign rule and authority respecteth neither blood nor amity, nor caring for virtue, as being wholly without respect of laws, or majesty divine; for it is not possible that he which invadeth the country and taketh away the riches of another man without cause or reason should know or fear God. Was not this a crafty and subtle counselor? But he might have thought that the mother, knowing her husband's case, would not cast her son into the danger of death. But Fengon, having secretly assembled certain men, and perceiving himself strong enough to execute his enterprise, Horvendile his brother being at a banquet with his friends, suddenly set upon him, where he slew him as traitorously, as cunningly he purged himself of so detestable a murder to his subjects; for that before he had any violent or bloody hands, or once committed parricide upon his brother, he had incestuously abused his wife, whose honor he ought as well to have sought and procured as traitorously he pursued and effected his destruction.

    And it is most certain that the man that abandoneth himself to any notorious and wicked action, whereby he becometh a great sinner, he careth not to commit much more heinous and abominable offenses, and covered his boldness and wicked practice with so great subtlety and policy, and under a veil of mere simplicity, that, being favored for the honest love that he bare to his sister-in-law, for whose sake, he affirmed, he had in that sort murdered his brother, that his sin found excuse among the common people, and of the nobility was esteemed for justice; for that Geruth, being as courteous a princess as any then living in the north parts, and one that had never once so much as offended any of her subjects, either commons or courtiers, this adulter and infamous murderer slandered his dead brother that he would have slain his wife, and that he, by chance finding him upon the point ready to do it, in defense of the lady had slain him, bearing off the blows which as then he struck at the innocent princess without any other cause of malice whatsoever. Wherein he wanted no false witnesses to approve his act, which deposed in like sort as the wicked calumniator himself protested, being the same persons that had borne him company and were participants of his treason; so that instead of pursuing him as a parricide and an incestuous person, all the courtiers admired and flattered him in his good fortune, making more account of false witnesses and detestable wicked reporters, and more honoring the calumniators than they esteemed of those that, seeking to call the matter in question and admiring the virtues of the murdered prince, would have punished the massacrers and bereavers of his life. Which was the cause that Fengon, boldened and encouraged by such impunity, durst venture to couple himself in marriage with her whom he used as his concubine during good Horvendile's life, in that sort spotting his name with a double vice, and charging his conscience with abominable guilt and twofold impiety, as incestuous adultery and parricide murder; and that the unfortunate and wicked woman, that had received the honor to be the wife of one of the valiantest and wiseth princes in the north, embased herself in such vile sort as to falsify her faith unto him, and, which is worse, to marry him that had been the tyrannous murderer of her lawful husband; which made divers men think that she had been the causer of the murder, thereby to live in her adultery without control.

    10But where shall a man find a more wicked and bold woman than a great personage once having loosed the bands of honor and honesty? This princess, who at the first, for her rare virtues and courtesies, was honored of all men and beloved of her husband, as soon as she once gave ear to the tyrant Fengon, forgot both the rank she held among the greatest names and the duty of an honest wife on her behalf. But I will not stand to gaze and marvel at women, for that there are many which seek to blaze and set them forth, in which their writings they spare not to blame them all for the faults of some one or few women. But I say that either nature ought to have bereaved man of that opinion to accompany with women, or else to endow them with such spirits as that they may easily support the crosses they endure, without complaining so often and so strangely, seeing it is their own beastliness that overthrows them. For if it be so that a woman is so imperfect a creature as they make her to be, and that they know this beast to be so hard to be tamed as they affirm, why then are they so foolish to preserve them, and so dull and brutish as to trust their deceitful and wanton embracings? But let us leave her in this extremity of laciviousness, and proceed to show you in what sort the young prince Hamlet behaved himself to escape the tyranny of his uncle.

    Chapter II

    How Hamlet counterfeited the madman to escape the tyranny of his uncle, and how he was tempted by a woman, through his uncle's procurement, who thereby thought to undermine the Prince, and by that means to find out whether he counterfeited madness or not; and how Hamlet would by no means be brought to consent unto her, and what followed.

    Geruth having (as I said before) so much forgotten herself, the Prince Hamlet perceiving himself to be in danger of his life, as being abandoned of his own mother and forsaken of all men, and assuring himself that Fengon would not detract the time to send him the same way his father Horvendile was gone, to beguile the tyrant in his subtleties (that esteemed him to be of such a mind that if he once attained to man's estate he would not long delay the time to revenge the death of his father), counterfeiting the madman with such craft and subtle practices that he made show as if he had utterly lost his wits; and under that veil he covered his pretense, and defended his life from the treasons and practices of the tyrant his uncle. And although he had been at the school of the Roman Prince who, because he counterfeited himself to be fool, was called Brutus, yet he imitated his fashions and his wisdom. For every day being in the Queen's palace, who as then was more careful to please her whoremaster than ready to revenge the cruel death of her husband or to restore her son to his inheritance, he rent and tore his clothes, wallowing and lying in the dirt and mire, his face all filthy and black, running through the streets like a man distraught, not speaking one word but such as seemed to proceed of madness and mere frenzy, all his actions and gestures being no other than the right countenances of a man wholly deprived of all reason and understanding, in such sort that as then he seemed fit for nothing but to make sport to the pages and ruffling courtiers that attended in the court of his uncle and father-in-law. But the young prince noted them well enough, minding one day to be revenged in such manner that the memory thereof should remain perpetually to the world.

    Behold, I pray you, a great point of a wise and brave spirit in a young prince, by so great a show of imperfection in his person for advancement, and his own embasing and despising, to work the means and to prepare the way for himself to be one of the happiest kings in his age. In like sort, never any man was reputed by any of his actions more wise and prudent than Brutus dissembling a great alteration in his mind, for that the occasion of such his device of foolishness proceeded only of a good and mature counsel and deliberation, not only to preserve his goods and shun the rage of the proud tyrant, but also to open a large way to procure the banishment and utter ruin of wicked Tarquinius, and to enfranchise the people (which were before oppressed) from the yoke of a great and miserable servitude. And so not only Brutus, but this man and worthy prince, to whom we may also add King David that counterfeited the madman among the petty Kings of Palestina to preserve his life from the subtle practices of those kings.

    I show this example unto such as, being offended with any great personage, have not sufficient means to prevail in their intents or revenge the injury by them received. But when I speak of revenging any injury received upon a great personage or superior, it must be understood by such an one as is not our sovereign, against whom we may by no means resist, nor once practice any treason nor conspiracy against his life. And he that will follow this course must speak and do all things whatsoever that are pleasing and acceptable to him whom he meaneth to deceive, practice his actions, and esteem him above all men, clean contrary to his own intent and meaning; for that is rightly to play and counterfeit the fool, when a man is constrained to dissemble and kiss his hand, whom in heart he could wish an hundred foot depth under the earth, so he might never see him more, if it were not a thing wholly to be disliked in a Christian, who by no means ought to have a bitter gall or desires infected with revenge.

    15Hamlet, in this sort counterfeiting the madman, many times did divers actions of great and deep consideration, and often made such and so fit answers that a wise man would soon have judged from what spirit so fine an invention might procced, for that standing by the fire and sharpening sticks like poniards and pricks, one in smiling manner asked him wherefore he made those little staves so sharp at the points? "I prepare," saith he, "piercing darts and sharp arrows to revenge my father's death." Fools, as I said before, esteemed those his words as nothing; but men of quick spirits and such as had a deeper reach began to suspect somewhat, esteeming that under that kind of folly there lay hidden a great and rare subtlety, such as one day might be prejudicial to their prince, saying, that under color of such rudeness he shadowed a crafty policy (concealed a crafty stratagem}}, and by his devised simplicity he concealed a sharp and pregnant spirit. For which cause they counseled the King to try and know, if it were possible, how to discover the intent and meaning of the young Prince; and they could find no better nor more fit invention to entrap him than to set some fair and beautiful woman in a secret place that, with flattering speeches and all the craftiest means she could use, should purposely seek to allure his mind to have his pleasure of her. For the nature of all young men, especially such as are brought up wantonly, is so transported with the desires of the flesh, and entereth so greedily into the pleasures thereof, that it is almost impossible to cover the foul affection, neither yet to dissemble or hide the same by art or industry, much less to shun it. What cunning or subtlety soever they use to cloak their pretense, seeing occasion offered, and that in secret, especially in the most enticing sin that reigneth in man, they cannot choose (being constrained by voluptuousness) but fall to natural effect and working.

    To this end certain courtiers were appointed to lead Hamlet into a solitary place within the woods, whither they brought the woman, enciting him to take their pleasures together, and to embrace one another -- subtle practices used in these our days, not to try if men of great account be extract out of their wits, but rather to deprive them of strength, virtue, and wisdom, by means of such devilish practitioners and infernal spirits, their domestical servants, and ministers of corruption. And surely the poor Prince at this assault had been in great danger, if a gentleman that in Horvendile's time had been nourished with him had not shown himself more affectioned to the bringing up he had received with Hamlet than desirous to please the tyrant, who by all means sought to entangle the son in the same nets wherein the father had ended his days. This gentleman bare the courtiers (appointed as aforesaid of this treason) company, more desiring to give the Prince instruction what he should do than to entrap him, making full account that the least show of perfect sense and wisdom that Hamlet should make would be sufficient to cause him to lose his life. And therefore by certain signs he gave Hamlet intelligence in what danger he was like to fall, if by any means he seemed to obey or once like the wanton toys and vicious provocations of the gentlewoman sent thither by his uncle. Which much abashed the Prince, as then wholly being in affection to the lady, but by her he was likewise informed of the treason, as being one that from her infancy loved and favored him, and would have been exceeding sorrowful for his misfortune and much more to leave his company without enjoying the pleasure of his body, whom she loved more than herself. The Prince in this sort having both deceived the courtiers and the lady's expectation, that affirmed and swore that he never once offered to have his pleasure of the woman, although in subtlety he affirmed the contrary, every man thereupon assured themselves that without all doubt he was distraught of his senses, that his brains were as then wholly void of force and incapable of reasonable apprehension, so that as then Fengon's practice took no effect. But for all that he left not off, still seeking by all means to find out Hamlet's subtlety, as in the next chapter you shall perceive.

    Chapter III

    How Fengon, uncle to Hamlet, a second time to entrap him in his politic madness, caused one of his counselors to be secretly hidden in the Queen's chamber, behind the arras to hear what speeches passed between Hamlet and the Queen; and how Hamlet killed him, and escaped that danger, and what followed.

    Among the friends of Fengon, there was one that above all the rest doubted of Hamlet's practices in counterfeiting the madman; who for that cause said that it was impossible that so crafty a gallant as Hamlet, that counterfeited the fool, should be discovered with so common and unskillful practices, which might easily be perceived; and that to find out his politic pretense it were necessary to invent some subtle and crafty means, more attractive, whereby the gallant might not have the leisure to use his accustomed dissimulation. Which to effect he said he knew a fit way and a most convenient mean to effect the King's desire and thereby to entrap Hamlet in his subtleties, and cause him of his own accord to fall into the net prepared for him and thereby evidently show his secret meaning. His device was thus: that King Fengon should make as though he were to go some long voyage concerning affairs of great importance, and that in the meantime Hamlet should be shut up alone in a chamber with his mother, wherein some other should secretly be hidden behind the hangings, unknown either to him or his mother, there to stand and hear their speeches and the complots by them to be taken concerning the accomplishment of the dissembling fool's pretense; assuring the King that if there were any point of wisdom and perfect sense in the gallant's spirit, that without all doubt he would easily discover it to his mother, as being devoid of all fear that she would utter or make known his secret intent, being the woman that had borne him in her body and nourished him so carefully; and withal offered himself to be the man that should stand to hearken and bear witness of Hamlet's speeches with his mother, that he might not be esteemed a counselor in such a case wherein he refused to be the executioner for the behoof and service of his prince. This invention pleased the King exceeding well, esteeming it as the only and sovereign remedy to heal the Prince of his lunacy; and to that end, making a long voyage, issued out of his palace and rode to hunt in the forest. Meantime the counselor entered secretly into the Queen's chamber and there hid himself behind the arras, not long before the Queen and Hamlet came thither, who, being crafty and politic, as soon as he was within the chamber, doubting some treason, and fearing if he should speak severely and wisely to his mother touching his secret practices he should be understood and by that means intercepted, used his ordinary manner of dissimulation, and began to crow like a cock, beating with his arms in such manner as cocks use to strike with their wings, upon the hangings of the chamber; whereby, feeling something stirring under them, he cried, "A rat, a rat," and presently drawing his sword thrust it into the hangings, which done, pulled the counselor half dead out by the heels, made an end of killing him, and, being slain, cut his body in pieces, which he caused to be boiled and then cast it into an open vault or privy, that so it might serve for food to the hogs.

    By which means having discovered the ambush, and given the inventor thereof his just reward, he came again to his mother, who in the meantime wept and tormented herself to see all her hopes frustrate, for that what fault soever she had committed, yet was she sore grieved to see her only child made a mere mockery, every man reproaching her with his folly, one point whereof she had as then seen before her eyes, which was no small prick to her conscience, esteeming that the gods sent her that punishment for joining incestuously in marriage with the tyrannous murderer of her husband; who likewise ceased not to invent all the means he could to bring his nephew to his end, accusing her own natural indiscretion as being the ordinary guide of those that so much desire the pleasures of the body, who, shutting up the way to all reason, respect not what may ensue of their lightness and great inconstancy, and how a pleasure of small moment is sufficient to give them cause of repentance during their lives and make them curse the day and time that ever any such apprehensions entered into their minds, or that they closed their eyes to reject the honesty requisite in ladies of her quality and to despise the holy institution of those dames that had gone before her, both in nobility and virtue, calling to mind the great praises and commendations given by the danes to Rinde, daughter to King Rothere, the chastest lady in her time, and withal so shamefast that she would never consent to marriage with any prince or knight whatsoever; surpassing in virtue all the ladies of her time, as she herself surmounted them in beauty, good behavior, and comeliness. And while in this sort she sat tormenting herself, Hamlet entered into the chamber, who having once again searched every corner of the same, distrusting his mother as well as the rest, and perceiving himself to be alone, began in sober and discreet manner to speak unto her, saying,

    20"What treason is this, O most infamous woman, of all that ever prostrated themselves to the will of an abominable whoremonger, who, under the veil of a dissembling creature, covereth the most wicked and detestable crime that man could ever imagine or was committed? Now may I be assured to trust you, that, like a vile wanton adultress, altogether impudent and given over to her pleasure, runs spreading forth her arms joyfully to embrace the traitorous villainous tyrant that murdered my father, and most incestuously receivest the villain into the lawful bed of your loyal spouse, imprudently entertaining him instead of the dear father of your miserable and discomforted son, if the gods grant him not the grace speedily to escape from a captivity so unworthy the degree he holdeth and the race and noble family of his ancestors. Is this the part of a queen and daughter to a king? To live like a brute beast and like a mare that yieldeth her body to the horse that hath beaten her companion away, to follow the pleasure of an abominable king that hath murdered a far more honester and better man than himself in massacring Horvendile, the honor and glory of the Danes, who are now esteemed of no force nor valor at all, since the shining splendor of knighthood was brought to an end by the most wickedest and cruellest villain living upon earth? I, for my part, will never account him for my kinsman, nor once know him for mine uncle, nor you, my dear mother, for not having respect to the blood that ought to have united us so straitly together, and who neither with your honor nor without suspicion of consent to the death of your husband could ever have agreed to have marricd with his cruel enemy.

    O Queen Geruthe, it is the part of a bitch to couple with many and desire acquaintance of divers mastiffs; it is licentiousness only that hath made you deface out of your mind the memory of the valor and virtues of the good king your husband and my father. It was an unbridled desire that guided the daughter of Roderick to embrace the tyrant Fengon, and not to remember Horvendile (unworthy of so strange entertainment), neither that he killed his brother traitorously, and that she being his father's wife betrayed him, although he so well favored and loved her, that for her sake he utterly bereaved Norway of her riches and valiant soldiers to augment the treasures of Roderick, and make Geruthe wife to the hardiest prince in Europe. It is not the part of a woman, much less of a princess, in whom all modesty, courtesy, compassion, and love ought to abound, thus to leave her dear child to fortune in the bloody and murderous hands of a villain and traitor. Brute beasts do not so, for lions, tigers, ounces, and leopards fight for the safety and defense of their whelps; and birds that have beaks, claws, and wings resist such as would ravish them of their young ones. But you, to the contrary, expose and deliver me to death, whereas ye should defend me. Is not this as much as if you should betray me, when you, knowing the perverseness of the tyrant and his intents, full of deadly counsel as touching the race and image of his brother, have not once sought nor desired to find the mean to save your child and only son by sending him into Swethland, Norway, or England, rather than to leave him as a prey to your infamous adulter?

    Be not offended, I pray you, madam, if, transported with dolor and grief, I speak so boldly unto you, and that I respect you less than duty requireth; for you, having forgotten me and wholly rejected the memory of the deceased king my father, must not be abashed if I also surpass the bounds and limits of due consideration. Behold into what distress I am now fallen, and to what mischief my fortune and your over-great lightness and want of wisdom have induced me, that I am constrained to play the madman to save my life, instead of using and practicing arms, following adventures, and seeking all means to make myself known to be the true and undoubted heir of the valiant and virtuous King Horvendile. It was not without cause and just occasion that my gestures, countenances, and words seem all to proceed from a madman, and that I desire to have all men esteem me wholly deprived of sense and reasonable understanding, because I am well assured that he that hath made no conscience to kill his own brother, accustomed to murders and allured with desire of government without control in his treasons, will not spare to save himself with the like cruelty in the blood and flesh of the loins of his brother by him massacred; and therefore it is better for me to feign madness than to use my right senses as nature hath bestowed them upon me, the bright shining clearness therof I am forced to hide under this shadow of dissimulation, as the sun doth her beams under some great cloud when the weather in summertime overcasteth. The face of a madman serveth to cover my gallant countenance, and the gestures of a fool are fit for me, to the end that, guiding myself wisely therein, I may preserve my life for the Danes and the memory of my late deceased father; for the desire of revenging his death is so engraven in my heart that, if I die not shortly, I hope to take such and so great vengeance that these countries shall forever speak thereof.

    Nevertheless, I must stay the time, means, and occasion, lest by making over-great haste I be now the cause of mine own sudden ruin and overthrow, and by that means end before I begin to effect my heart's desire. He that hath to do with a wicked, disloyal, cruel, and discourteous man must use craft and politic inventions, such as a fine wit can best imagine, not to discover his enterprise; for seeing that by force I cannot effect my desire, reason alloweth me by dissimulation, subtlety, and secret practices to proceed therein. To conclude, weep not, madam, to see my folly, but rather sigh and lament your own offense, tormenting your conscience in regard of the infamy that hath so defiled the ancient renown and glory that in times past honored Queen Geruth; for we are not to sorrow and grieve at other men's vices, but for our own misdeeds and great follies. Desiring you, for the surplus of my proceedings, above all things, as you love your own life and welfare, that neither the King nor any other may by any means know mine intent; and let me alone with the rest,for I hope in the end to bring my purpose to effect."

    Although the Queen perceived herself nearly touched, and that Hamlet moved her to the quick where she felt herself interested, nevertheless she forgot all disdain and wrath which thereby she might as then have had, hearing herself so sharply chidden and reproved, for the joy she then conceived, to behold the gallant spirit of her son, and to think what she might hope and the easier expect of his so great policy and wisdom. But on the one side she durst not lift up her eyes to behold him, remembering her offense, and on the other side she would gladly have embraced her son, in regard of the wise admonitions by him given unto her, which as then quenched the flames of unbridled desire that before had moved her to affect King Fengon, to engraff in her heart the virtuous actions of her lawful spouse, whom inwardly she much lamented, when she beheld the lively image and portraiture of his virtue and great wisdom in her child, representing his father's haughty and valiant heart. And so, overcome and vanquished with his honest passion, and weeping most bitterly, having long time fixed her eyes upon Hamlet, as being ravished into some great and deep contemplation, and as it were wholly amazed, at the last embracing him in her arms (with the like love that a virtuous mother may or can use to kiss and entertain her own child), she spake unto him in this manner:

    25"I know well, my son, that I have done thee great wrong in marrying with Fengon, the cruel tyrant and murderer of thy father and my loyal spouse. But when thou shalt consider the small means of resistance, and the treason of the palace, with the little cause of confidence we are to expect or hope for of the courtiers, all wrought to his will, as also the power he made ready if I should have refused to like of him, thou wouldest rather excuse than accuse me of lasciviousnes or inconstancy, much less offer me that wrong to suspect that ever thy mother Geruthe once consented to the death and murder of her husband; swearing unto thee, by the majesty of the gods, that if it had lain in my power to have resisted the tyrant, although it had been with the loss of my blood, yea, and my life, I would surely have saved the life of my lord and husband with as good a will and desire as, since that time, I have often been a means to hinder and impeach the shortening of thy life, which, being taken away, I will no longer live here upon earth. For seeing that thy senses are whole and sound, I am in hope to see an easy means invented for the revenging of thy father's death. Nevertheless, mine own sweet son, if thou hast pity of thyself or care of the memory of thy father, although thou wilt do nothing for her that deserveth not the name of a mother in this respect, I pray thee, carry thine affairs wisely: be not hasty nor over-furious in thy enterprises, neither yet advance thyself more than reason shall move thee to effect thy purpose. Thou seest there is not almost any man wherein thou mayest put thy trust, nor any woman to whom I dare utter the least part of my secrets, that would not presently report it to thine adversary, who, although in outward show he dissembleth to love me the better to enjoy his pleasures of me, yet he distrusteth and feareth me for thy sake, and is not so simple to be easily persuaded that thou art a fool or mad; so that if thou chance to do anything that seemeth to proceed of wisdom or policy, how secretly soever it be done, he will presently be informed thereof, and I am greatly afraid that the devils have showed him what hath passed at this present between us (fortune so much pursueth and contrarieth our ease and welfare) or that this murder that now thou hast committed be not the cause of both our destructions, which I by no means will seem to know, but will keep secret both thy wisdom and hardy enterprise; beseeching the gods, my good son, that they guiding thy heart, directing thy counsels, and prospering thy enterprise, I may see thee possess and enjoy that which is thy right, and wear the crown of Denmark by the tyrant taken from thee; that I may rejoice in thy prosperity, and therewith content myself, seeing with what courage and boldness thou shalt take vengeance upon the murderer of thy father, as also upon all those that have assisted and favored him in his murderous and bloody enterprise."

    "Madam," said Hamlet, "I will put my trust in you, and from henceforth mean not to meddle further with your affairs, beseeching you, as you love your own flesh and blood, that you will from henceforth no more esteem of the adulterer, mine enemy, whom I surely kill or cause to be put to death, in despite of all the devils in hell. And have he never so many flattering courtesans to defend him, yet will I bring him to his death, and they themselves also shall bear him company therein, as they have been his perverse counselors in the action of killing my father, and his companions in his treason, massacre, and cruel enterprise. And reason requireth that, even as traitorously they then caused their prince to be put to death, that with the like (nay well, much more) justice they should pay the interest of their felonious actions.

    "You know, madam, how Hother, your grandfather and father to the good King Roderick, having vanquished Guimon, caused him to be burnt, for that the cruel villain had done the like to his lord Gevare, whom he betrayed in the nighttime. And who knoweth not that traitors and perjured persons deserve no faith nor loyalty to be observed towards them, and that conditions made with murderers ought to be esteemed as cobwebs and accounted as if they were things never promised nor agreed upon. But if I lay hands upon Fengon, it will neither be felony nor treason, he being neither my king nor my lord, but I shall justly punish him as my subject, that hath disloyally behaved himself against his lord and sovereign prince. And seeing that glory is the reward of the virtuous and the honor and praise of those that do service to their natural prince, why should not blame and dishonor accompany traitors, and ignominious death all those that dare be so bold as to lay violent hands upon sacred kings, that are friends and companions of the gods, as representing their majesty and persons? To conclude, glory is the crown of virtue and the price of constancy, and seeing that it never accompanieth with infelicity, but shunneth cowardice and spirits of base and traitorous conditions, it must necessarily follow that either a glorious death will be mine end or with my sword in hand, laden with triumph and victory, shall bereave them of their lives that made mine unfortunate and darkened the beams of that virtue which I possessed from the blood and famous memory of my predecessors. For why should men desire to live, when shame and infamy are the executioners that torment their consciences, and villany is the cause that withholdeth the heart from valiant enterprises, and diverteth the mind from honest desire of glory and commendation, which endureth forever? I know it is foolishly done to gather fruit before it is ripe, and to seek to enjoy a benefit not knowing whether it belong to us of right; but I hope to effect it so well, and have so great confidence in my fortune that hitherto hath guided the action of my life, that I shall not die without revenging myself upon mine enemy, and that himself shall be the instrument of his own decay, and to execute that which of myself I durst not have enterprised."

    After this, Fengon, as if he had been out some long journey, came to the court again and asked for him that had received the charge to play the intelligencer to entrap Hamlet in his dissembled wisdom, was abashed to hear neither news nor tidings of him, and for that cause asked Hamlet what was become of him, naming the man. The Prince, that never used lying, and who in all the answers that ever he made during his counterfeit madness never strayed from the truth (as a generous mind is a mortal enemy to untruth), answered and said that the counselor he sought for was gone down through the privy, where, being choked by the filthiness of the place, the hogs meeting him had filled their bellies.

    Chapter IV

    How Fengon the third time devised to send Hamlet to the King of England, with secret letters to have him put to death; and how Hamlet, when his companions slept, read the letters, and instead of them counterfeited others, willing the King of England to put the two messengers to death, and to marry his daughter to Hamlet, which was effected; and how Hamlet escaped out of England.

    30A man would have judged anything rather than that Hamlet had committed that murder. Nevertheless Fengon could not content himself, but still his mind gave him that the fool would play him some trick of legerdemain and willingly would have killed him; but he feared King Roderick, his grandfather, and further durst not offend the Queen, mother to the fool, whom she loved and much cherished, showing great grief and heaviness to see him so transported out of his wits. And in that conceit, seeking to be rid of him, determined to find the means to do it by the aid of a stranger, making the King of England minister of his massacring resolution, choosing rather that his friend should defile his renown with so great a wickedness than himself to fall into perpetual infamy by an exploit of so great cruelty, to whom he purposed to send him, and by letters desire him to put him to death.

    Hamlet, understanding that he should be sent into England, presently doubted the occasion of his voyage, and for that cause speaking to the Queen, desired her not to make any show of sorrow or grief for his departure, but rather counterfeit a gladness, as being rid of his presence, whom, although she loved, yet she daily grieved to see him in so pitiful estate, deprived of all sense and reason; desiring her further that she should hang the hall with tapestry, and make it fast with nails upon the walls, and keep the brands for him which he had sharpened at the points, then whenas he said he made arrows to revenge the death of his father. Lastly, he counseled her that the year after his departure being accomplished she should celebrate his funerals, assuring her that at the same instant she should see him return with great contentment and pleasure unto her for that his voyage.

    Now, to bear him company were assigned two of Fengon's faithful ministers, bearing letters engraved in wood that contained Hamlet's death, in such sort as he had advertised the King of England. But the subtle Danish Prince (being at sea) whilst his companions slept, having read the letters, and known his uncle's great treason, with the wicked and villainous minds of the two courtiers that led him to the slaughter, razed out the letters that concerned his death, and instead thereof graved others, with commission to the King of England to hang his two companions; and, not content to turn the death they had devised against him upon their own necks, wrote further that King Fengon willed him to give his daughter to Hamlet in marriage. And so arriving in England the messengers presented themselves to the King, giving him Fengon's letters, who, having read the contents, said nothing as then, but stayed convenient time to effect Fengon's desire, meantime using the Danes familiarly, doing them that honor to sit at his table (for that Kings as then were not so curiously nor solemnly served as in these our days), for in these days mean kings and lords of small revenue are as difficult and hard to be seen as in times past the monarchs of Persia used to be; or as it is reported of the great King of Ethiopia, who will not permit any man to see his face, which ordinarily he covereth with a veil. And as the messengers sat at the table with the King, subtle Hamlet was so far from being merry with them that he would not taste one bit of meat, bread, nor cup of beer whatsoever as then set upon the table, not without great wondcring of the cornpany, abashed to see a young man and a stranger not to esteem of the delicate meats and pleasant drinks served at the banquet, rejecting them as things filthy, evil of taste, and worse prepared. The King, who for that time dissembled what he thought, caused his guests to be conveyed into their chamber, willing one of his secret servants to hide himself therein, and so to certify him what speeches passed among the Danes at their going to bed.

    Now they were no sooner entered into the chamber, and those that were appointed to attend upon them gone out, but Hamlet's companions asked him why he refused to eat and drink of that which he found upon the table, not honoring the banquet of so great a king, that entertained them in friendly sort, with such honor and courtesy as it deserved? Saying further, that he did not well, but dishonored him that sent him, as if he sent men into England that feared to be poisoned by so great a king. The Prince, that had done nothing without reason and prudent consideration, answered them, and said: "What, think you that I will eat bread dipped in human blood, and defile my throat with the rust of iron, and use that meat that stinketh and savoreth of man's flesh already putrified and corrupted and that scenteth like the savor of a dead carrion long since cast into a vault? And how would you have me to respect the King that hath the countenance of a slave? And the Queen who, instead of great majesty, hath done three things more like a woman of base parentage and fitter for a waiting-gentlewoman than beseeming a lady of her quality and estate?" And having said so, used many injurious and sharp speeches as well against the King and Queen as others that had assisted at that banquet for the entertainment of the Danish ambassadors. And therein Hamlet said truth, as hereafter you shall hear, for that in those days, the north parts of the world, living as then under Satan's laws, were full of enchanters, so that there was not any young gentleman whatsoever that knew not something therein sufficient to serve his turn, if need required, as yet in those days in Gothland and Biarmy there are many that knew not what the Christian religion permitteth, as by reading the histories of Norway and Gothland you may easily perceive. And so Hamlet, while his father lived, had been instructed in that devilish art whereby the wicked spirit abuseth mankind and advertiseth him as he can of things past.

    It toucheth not the matter herein to discover the parts of divination in man, and whether this Prince, by reason of his over-great melancholy, had received those impressions, divining that which never any but himself had before declared, like the philosophers who, discoursing of divers deep points of philosophy, attribute the force of those divinations to such as are Saturnists by complexion, who oftentimes speak of things which, their fury ceasing, they then already can hardly understand who are the pronouncers; and for that cause Plato saith, many diviners and many poets, after the force and vigor of their fire beginneth to lessen, do hardly understand what they have written, although entreating of such things, while the spirit of divination continueth upon them, they do in such sort discourse thereof that the authors and inventers of the arts themselves by them alleged commend their discourses and subtle disputations. Likewise I mean not to relate that which divers men believe, that a reasonable soul becometh the habitation of a meaner sort of devils, by whom men learn the secrets of things natural; and much less do I account of the supposed governors the world feigned by magicians, by whose means they brag to effect marvelous things. It would seem miraculous that Hamlet should divine in that sort, which after proved so true if, as I said before, the devil had not knowledge of things past; but to grant it he knoweth things to come, I hope you shall never find me in so gross an error. You will compare and make equal derivation and conjecture with those that are made by the spirit of God, and pronounced by the holy prophets, that tasted of that marvelous science, to whom only was declared the secrets and wondrous works of the Almighty. Yet there are some imposturious companions that impute so much divinity to the devil, the father of lies, that they attribute unto him the truth of the knowledge of things that shall happen unto men, alleging the conference of Saul with the witch, although on example out of the Holy Scriptures, specially set down for the condemnation of wicked man, is not of force to give a sufficient law to all the world; for they themselves confess that they can divine, not according to the universal cause of things, but by signs borrowed from such like causes, which are all ways alike, and by those conjectures they can give judgment of things to come, but all this being grounded upon a weak support (which is a simple conjecture) and having so slender a foundation, as some foolish or late experience, the fictions being voluntary, it should be a great folly in a man of good judgment, specially one that embraceth the preaching of the gospel, and seeketh after no other but the truth thereof, to repose upon any of these likelihoods or writings full of deceit.

    35As touching magical operations, I will grant them somewhat therein, finding divers histories that write thereof, and that the Bible maketh mention, and forbiddeth the use thereof: yea, the laws of the gentiles and ordinances of emperors have been made against it in such sort, that Mahomet, the great heretic and friend of the devil, by whose subtleties he abused most part of the east countries, hath ordained great punishments for such as use and practice those unlawful and damnable arts; which, for this time leaving of, let us return to Hamlet, brought up in these abuses, according to the manner of his country, whose companions, hearing his answer, reproached him of folly, saying that he could by no means show a greater point of indiscretion than in despising that which is lawful and rejecting that which all men received as a necessary thing, and that he had not grossly so forgotten himself as in that sort to accuse such and so excellent a man as the King of England, and to slander the Queen, being then as famous and wise a princess as any at that day reigning in the islands thereabouts, to cause him to be punished according to his deserts; but he, continuing in his dissimulation, mocked him, saying that he had not done anything that was not good and most true. On the other side, the King, being advertised thereof by him that stood to hear the discourse, judged presently that Hamlet, speaking so ambiguously, was either a perfect fool or else one of the wisest princes in his time, answering so suddenly and so much to the purpose upon the demand by his companions made touching his behavior; and, the better to find the truth, caused the baker to be sent for, of whom inquiring in what place the corn grew whereof he made bread for the table, and whether in that ground there were not some signs or news of a battle fought, whereby human blood had therein been shed? The baker answered that not far from thence there lay a field full of dead men's bones, in times past slain in a battle, as by the great heaps of wounded skulls might well appear, and for that the ground in that part was become fertiler than other grounds, by reason of the fat and humors of the dead bodies, that every year the farmers used there to have in the best wheat they could find to serve His Majesty's house. The King perceiving to be true, according to the young Prince's words, asked where the hogs had been fed that were killed to be served at his table? And answer was made him that those hogs, getting out of the said field wherein they were kept, had found the body of a thief that had been hanged for his demerits and had eaten thereof. Where the King of England, being abashed, would needs know with what water the beer he used to drink of had been brewed? Which having known, he caused the river to be digged somewhat deeper, and therein found great store of swords and rusty armors that gave ill savor to the drink.

    It were good I should here dilate somewhat of Merlin's prophecies, which are said to be spoken of him before he was fully one year old; but if you consider well what hath already been spoken, it is no hard matter to divine of things past, although the minister of Satan therein played his part, giving sudden and prompt answers to this young Prince, for that herein are nothing but natural things, such as were well known to be true, and therefore not needful to dream of things to come. This known, the King, greatly moved with a certain curiosity to know why the Danish Prince said that he had the countenance of a slave, suspecting thereby that he reproached the baseness of his blood, and that he would affirm that never any prince had been his sire, wherein to satisfy himself he went to his mother, and, leading her into secret chamber, which he shut as soon as they were entered, desired her of her honor to show him of whom he was engendered in this world. The good lady, well assured that never any man had been acquainted with her love touching any other man than her husband, sware that the King her husband only was the man that had enjoyed the pleasures of her body; but the King her son, already with the truth of the Danish prince's answers, threatened his mother to make her tell by force, if otherwise she would not confess it, who, for fear of death, acknowledged that she had prostrated her body to a slave and made him father to the King of England; whereat the King was abashed and wholly ashamed.

    I give them leave to judge who, esteeming themselves honester than their neighbors and supposing that there can be nothing amiss in their houses, make more inquiry than is requisite to know the which they would rather not have known. Nevertheless, dissembling what he thought, and biting upon the bridle rather than he would deprive himself by publishing the lasciviousness of his mother, thought better to leave a great sin unpunished thean thereby to make himself contemptible to his subjects, who peradventure would have rejected him as not desiring to have a bastard to reign over so great a kingdom.

    But as he was sorry to hear his mother's confession, on the other side he took great pleasure in the subtlety and quick spirit of the young Prince, and that for cause went unto him to ask him why he had reproved three things in his Queen convenient for a slave and savoring more of baseness than of royalty, and far unfit for the majesty of a great prince? The King, not content to have received a great displeasure by knowing himself to be a bastard, and to have heard with what injuries he charged her whom he loved best in all the world, would not content himself until he also understood that which displeased him, as much as his own proper disgrace, which was that his queen was the daughter of a chambermaid, and withal noted certain foolish countenances she made, which not only showed of what parentage she came, but also that her humors savored of the baseness and low degree of her parents, whose mother, he assured the King, was as then yet holden in servitude. The King admiring the young Prince, and beholding in him some matter of greater respect than in the common sort of men, gave him his daughter in marriage, according to the counterfeit letters by him devised, and the next day caused the two servants of Fengon to be executed, to satisfy, as he thought, the King's desire. But Hamlet, although the sport pleased him well, and that the King of England could not have done him a greater favor, made as though he had been much offended, threatening the King to be revenged. But the King, to appease him, gave him a great sum of gold, which Hamlet caused to be molten and put into two staves, made hollow for the same purpose, to serve his turn there with as need should require; for of all other the King's treasures he took nothing with him into Denmark but only those two staves, and as soon as the year began to be at an end, having somewhat before obtained license of the King his father-in-law to depart, went for Denmark; then, with all the speed he could to return again into England to marry his daughter, and so set sail for Denmark.

    Chapter V

    How Hamlet, having escaped out of England, arrived in Denmark the same day that the Danes were celebrating his funerals, supposing him to be dead in England; and how he revenged his father's death upon his uncle and the rest of the courtiers; and what followed.

    40Hamlet in that sort sailing into Denmark, being arrived in the country, entered into the palace of his uncle the same day that they were celebrating his funerals, and, going into the hall, procured no small astonishment and wonder to them all, no man thinking other but that he had been dead; among the which many of them rejoiced not a little for the pleasure which they knew Fengon would conceive for so pleasant a loss, and some were sad, as remembering the honorable King Horvendile, whose victories they could by no means forget, much less deface out of their memories that which appertained unto him, who as then greatly rejoiced to see a false report spread of Hamlet's death, and that the tyrant had not as yet obtained his will of the heir of Jutie, but rather hoped God would restore him to his senses again for the good and welfare of that province.

    Their amazement at the last being turned into laughter, all that as then were assistant at the funeral banquet of him whom they esteemed dead mocked each at other for having been so simply deceived; and, wondering at the Prince, that in his so long a voyage he had not recovered any of his senses, asked what was become of them that had borne him company into Great Britain? To whom he made answer, showing them the two hollow staves, wherein he had put his molten gold that the King of England had given him to appease his fury, concerning the murder of his two companions, and said, "Here they are both." Whereat many that already knew his humours presently conjectured that he had played some trick of legerdemain, and, to deliver himself out of danger, had thrown them into the pit prepared for him; so that, fearing to follow after them and light upon some evil adventure, they went presently out of the court.

    And it was well for them that they did so, considering the tragedy acted by him the same day, being accounted his funeral but in truth their last days, that as then rejoiced for their overthrow; for when every man busied himself to make good cheer, and Hamlet's arrival provoked them more to drink and carouse, the Prince himself at that time played the butler and a gentleman attending on the tables, not suffering the pots nor goblets to be empty, whereby he gave the noblemen such store of liquor that all of them, being full laden with wine and gorged with meat, were constrained to lay themselves down in the same place where they had supped, so much their senses were dulled and overcome with the fire of over-great drinking (a vice common and familiar among the Almains and other nations inhabiting the north parts of the world); which when Hamlet perceiving, and finding so good opportunity to effect his purpose and be revenged of his enemies, and by the means to abandon the actions, gestures, and apparel of a madman, occasion so fitly finding his turn, and as it were effecting itself, failed not to take hold thereof, and seeing those drunken bodies filled with wine, lying like hogs upon the ground, some sleeping, others vomiting the over-great abundance of wine which without measure they had swallowed up, made the hangings about the hall to fall down and cover them all over, which he nailed to the ground, being boarded, and at the ends thereof he stuck the brands whereof I spake before, by him sharpened, which served for pricks, binding and tying the hangings in such sort that, what force soever they used to loose themselves, it was unpossible to get from under them; and presently he set fire in the four corners of the hall in such sort that all that were as then therein not one escaped away but were forced to purge their sins by fire and dry up the great abundance of liquor by them received into their bodies, all of them dying in the inevitable and merciless flames of the hot and burning fire.

    Which the Prince, perceiving, became wise, and knowing that his uncle, before the end of the banquet, had withdrawn himself into his chamber, which stood apart from the place where the fire burnt, went thither and, entering into the chamber, laid hand upon the sword of his father's murderer, leaving his own in the place, which, while he was at the banquet, some of the courtiers had nailed fast into the scabbard; and, going to Fengon said: "I wonder, disloyal king, how thou canst sleep here at thine ease, and all thy palace is burnt, the fire thereof having burnt the greatest part of thy courtiers and ministers of thy cruelty and detestable tyrannies; and which is more, I cannot imagine how thou shouldst well assure thyself and thy estate as now to take thy ease, seeing Hamlet so near thee armed with the shafts by him prepared long since, and at this present is ready to revenge the traitorous injury by thee done to his lord and father."

    Fengon, as then knowing the truth of his nephew's subtle practice, and hearing him speak with staid mind, and, which is more, perceived a sword naked in his hand, which he already lifted up to deprive him of his life, leaped quickly out of the bed, taking hold of Hamlet's sword, that was nailed into the scabbard, which, as he sought to pull out, Hamlet gave him such a blow upon the chine of the neck that he cut his head clean from his shoulders, and as he fell to the ground said, "This just and violent death is a just reward for such as thou art. Now go thy ways, and when thou comest in hell, see thou forget not to tell thy brother, whom thou traitorously slewest, that it was his son that sent thee thither with the message, to the end that beeing comforted thereby, his soul may rest among the blessed spirits, and quit me of the obligation that bound me to pursue his vengeance upon mine own blood, seeing that it was by thee that I lost the chief thing that tied me to this alliance and consanguinity."

    45A man, to say the truth, hardy, courageous, and worthy of eternal commendation, who, arming himself with a crafty, dissembling, and strange show of being distract out of his wits, under that pretense deceived the wise, politic, and crafty, thereby not only preserving his life from the treasons and wicked practices of the tyrant, but, which is more, by an new and unexpected kind of punishment revenged his father's death many years after the act committed, in such sort that, directing his courses with such prudence, and effecting his purposes with so great boldness and constancy, he left a judgment to be decided among men of wisdom, which was more commendable in him, his constancy or magnanimity, or his wisdom in ordering his affairs, according to the premeditable determination he had conceived.

    If vengeance ever seemed to have any show of justice, it is then when piety and affection constraineth us to remember our fathers unjustly murdered, as the things whereby we are dispensed withal, and which seek the means not to leave treason and murder unpunished; seeing David, a holy and just king, and of nature simple, courteous, and debonair, yet when he died he charged his son Solomon (that succeeded him in his throne) not to suffer certain men that had done him injury to escape unpunished. Not that this holy king (as then ready to die, and to give account before God of all his actions) was careful or desirous of revenge, but to leave this example unto us, that where the prince or country is interested, the desire of revenge cannot by any means (how small soever) bear the title of condemnation, but is rather commendable and worthy of praise; for otherwise the good Kings of Judah, nor others had not pursued them to death, that had offended their predecessors, if God himself had not inspired and engraven that desire within their hearts. Hereof the Athenian laws bear witness, whose custom was to erect images in remembrance of those men that, revenging the injuries of the commonwealth, boldly massacred tyrants and such as troubled the peace and welfare of the citizens.

    Hamlet, having in this manner revenged himself, durst not presently declare his action to the people, but to the contrary determined to work by policy, so to give them intelligence what he had done and the reason that drew him thereunto; so that, being accompanied with such of his father's friends that then were rising, he stayed to see what the people would do when they should hear of that sudden and fearful action. The next morning the towns bordering thereabouts, desiring to know from whence the flames of fire proceeded the night before they had seen, came thither, and perceiving the King's palace burnt to ashes, and many bodies (most part consumed) lying among the ruins of the house, all of them were much abashed, nothing being left of the palace but the foundation. But they were much more amazed to behold the body of the King all bloody, and his head cut off lying hard by him; whereat some began to threaten revenge, yet not knowing against whom; others, beholding so lamentable a spectacle, armed themselves, the rest rejoicing, yet not daring to make any show thereof; some detesting the cruelty, others lamenting the death of their prince, but the greatest part, calling Horvendile's murder to remembrance, acknowledging a just judgment from above that had thrown down the pride of the tyrant. And in this sort, the diversities of opinions among that multitude of people being many, yet every man ignorant what would be the issue of that tragedy, none stirred from thence, neither yet attempted to move any tumult, every man fearing his own skin, and, distrusting his neighbor, esteeming each other to be consenting to the massacre.

    Chapter VI

    How Hamlet, having slain his uncle and burnt his palace, made an oration to the Danes to show them what he done; and how they made him King of Denmark; and what followed.

    Hamlet then seeing the people to be so quiet, and most part of them not using any words, all searching only and simply the cause of this ruin and destruction, not minding to lose at any time, but aiding himself with the commodity thereof, entered among the multitude of people, and standing in the middle spake unto them as followeth:

    50"If there be any among you, good people of Denmark, that as yet have fresh within your memories the wrong done to the valiant King Horvendile, let him not be moved, nor think it strange to behold the confused, hideous, and fearful spectacle of this present calamity. If there be any man that affecteth fidelity and alloweth of the love and duty that man is bound to show his parents, and find it a just cause to call to remembrance the injuries and wrongs that have been done to our progenitors, let him not be ashamed, beholding this massacre, much less offended to see so fearful a ruin both of men and of the bravest house in all this country. For the hand that hath done this justice could not effect it by any other means, neither yet was it lawful for him to do it otherwise then by ruinating both sensible and unsensible things, thereby to preserve the memory of so just a vengeance.

    "I see well, my good friends, and am very glad to know so good attention and devotion in you, that you are sorry before your eyes to see Fengon so murdered and without a head, which heretofore you acknowledged for your commander; but I pray you remember this body is not the body of a king, but of an execrable tyrant and a parricide most detestable. O Danes! The spectacle was much more hideous when Horvendile your king was murdered by his brother. What, should I say a brother? Nay, rather by the most abominable executioner that ever beheld the same. It was you that saw Horvendile's members massacred, and that with tears and lamentions accompanied him to the grave, his body disfigured, hurt in a thousand places, and misused in ten times as many fashions. And who doubteth, seeing experience hath taught you, that the tyrant, in massacring your lawful king, sought only to infringe the ancient liberties of the common people? And it was one hand only that, murdering Horvendile, cruelly dispoiled him of life, and by the same means unjustly bereaved you of your ancient liberties, and delighted more in oppression then to embrace the pleasant countenance of prosperous liberty without adventuring for the same. And what madman is he that delighteth more in the tyranny of Fengon than in the clemency and renewed courtesy of Horvendile? If it be so that by clemency and affability the hardest and stoutest hearts are mollified and made tractable, and that evil and hard usage causeth subjects to be outrageous and unruly, why behold you not the debonair carriage of the first, to compare it with the cruelties and insolencies of the second, in every respect as cruel and barbarous as his brother was gentle, meek, and courteous? Remember, O you Danes, remember what love and amity Horvendile showed unto you, with what equity and justice he swayed the great affairs of this kingdom, and with what humanity and courtesy he defended and cherished you, and then I am assured that the simplest man among you will both remember and acknowledge that he had a most peaceable, just, and righteous king taken from him, to place in his throne a tyrant and murderer of his brother -- one that hath perverted all right, abolished the auncient laws of our fathers, contaminated the memories of our ancestors, and by his wickedness polluted the integrity of this kingdom, upon the neck thereof having placed the troublesome yoke of heavy servitude, abolishing that liberty wherein Horvendile used to maintain you, and suffered you to live at your ease. And should you now be sorry to see the end of your mischiefs, and that this miserable wretch, pressed down with the burden of his offenses, at this present payeth the usury of the parricide committed upon the body of his brother, and would not himself be the revenger of the outrage done to me, whom he sought to deprive of mine inheritance, taking from Denmark a lawful successor, to plant a wicked stranger, and bring into captivity those that my father had enfranchised and delivered out of misery and bondage? And what man is he that, having any spark of wisdom, would esteem a good deed to be an injury, and account pleasures equal with wrongs and evident outrages? It were then great folly and temerity in princes and valiant commanders in the wars to expose themselves to perils and hazards of their lives for the welfare of the common people, if that for a recompence they should reap hatred and indignation of the multitude. To what end should Hother have punished Balder, if, instead of recompence, the Danes and Swethlanders had banished him to receive and accept the successors of him that desired nought but his ruin and overthrow? What is he that hath so small feeling of reason and equity that would be grieved to see treason rewarded with the like, and that an evil act is punished with just demerit in the party himself that was the occasion? Who was ever sorrowful to behold the murderer of innocents brought to his end, or what man weepeth to see a just massacre done upon a tyrant, usurper, villain, and bloody personage?

    "I perceive you are attentive, and abashed for not knowing the author of your deliverance, and sorry that you cannot tell to whom you should be thankful for such and so great a benefit as the destruction of a tyrant and the overthrow of the place that was the storehouse of his villainies and the true receptacle of all the thieves and traitors in this kingdom. But behold, here in your presence, him that brought so good an enterprise to effect. It is I, my good friends, it is I that confess I have taken vengeance for the violence done unto my lord and father, and for the subjection and servitude that I perceived in this country, whereof I am the just and lawful successor. It is I alone that have done this piece of work, whereunto you ought to have lent me your hands and therein have aided and assisted me. I have only accomplished that which all of you might justly have effected, by good reason, without falling into any point of treason or felony. It is true that I hope so much of your good wills towards the deceased King Horvendile, and that the remembrances of his virtues is yet so fresh within your memories, that if I had required your aid herein, you would not have denied it, specially to your natural prince. But it liked me best to do it myself alone, thinking it a good thing to punish the wicked without hazarding the lives of my friends and loyal subjects, not desiring to burden other men's shoulders with this weight; for that I made account to effect it well enough without exposing any man into danger, and by publishing the same should clean have overthrown the device, which at this present I have so happily brought to pass. I have burnt the bodies of the courtiers to ashes, being companions in the mischiefs and treasons of the tyrant; but I have left Fengon whole, that you might punish his dead carcass (seeing that when he lived you durst not lay hands upon him), to accomplish the punishment and vengeance due unto him, and so satisfiy your choler upon the bones of him that filled his greedy hands and coffers with your riches and shed the blood of your brethren and friends.

    "Be joyful, then, my good friends; make ready the pyre for this usurping king. Burn his abominable body, boil his lascivious members, and cast the ashes of him that hath been hurtful to the world into the air; drive from you the sparks of pity, to the end that neither silver nor crystal cup nor sacred tomb may be the restful habitation of the relics and bones of so detestable a man. Let not one trace of a parricide be seen, nor your country defiled with the presence of the least member of this tyrant without pity, that your neighbors may not smell the contagion, nor our land the polluted infection of a body condemned for his wickedness. I have done my part to present him to you in this sort; now it belongs to you to make an end of the work, and put to the last hand of duty whercunto your several functions call you; for in this sort you must honor abominable princes, and such ought to be the funeral of a tyrant, parricide, and usurper, both of the bed and patrimony that no way belonged unto him, who having bereaved his country of liberty, it is fit that the land refuse to give him a place for the eternal rest of his bones. O my good friends, seeing you know the wrong that hath been done unto me, what my griefs are, and in what misery I have lived since the death of the King my lord and father, and seeing that you have both known and tasted these things then, whenas I could not conceive the outrage that I felt, what neede I recite it unto you? What benefit would it be to discover it before them that knowing it would burst (as it were with despite) to hear of my hard chance, and curse Fortune for so much embasing a royal prince, as to deprive him of his majesty, although not any of you durst so much as show one sight of sorrow or sadness?

    "You know how my father-in-law conspired my death and sought by divers means to take away my life; how I was forsaken of the Queen my mother, mocked of my friends, and dispised of mine own subjects. Hitherto I have lived laden with grief and wholy confounded in tears, my life still accompanied with fear and suspicion, expecting the hour when the sharp sword would make an end of my life and miserable anguishes. How many times, counterfeiting the madman, have I heard you pity my distress and secretly lament to see me disinherited? And yet no man sought to revenge the death of my father, nor to punish the treason of my incestuous uncle, full of murders and massacres. This charity ministered comfort, and your affectionate complaints made me evidently see your good wills, that you had in memory the calamity of your prince, and within your hearts engraven the desire of vengeance for the death of him that deserved a long life. And what heart can be so hard and untractable, or spirit so severe, cruel, and rigorous, that would not relent at the remembrance of my extremities and take pity of an orphan child so abandoned of the world? What eyes were so void of moisture but would distill a field of tears, to see a poor prince assaulted by his own subjects, betrayed by his mother, pursued by his uncle, and so much oppressed that his friends durst not show the effects of their charity and good affection? O my good friends, show pity to him whom you have nourished, and let your hearts take some compassion upon the memory of my misfortunes! I speak to you that are innocent of all treason and never defiled your hands, spirits, nor desires with the blood of the great and virtuous King Horvendile. Take pity upon the Queen, sometime your sovereign lady and my right honorable mother, forced by the tyrant, and rejoice to see the end and extinguishing of the object of her dishonor, which constrained her to be less pitiful to her own blood so far as to embrace the murderer of her own dear spouse, charging herself with a double burden of infamy and incest, together with injuring and disanulling of her house, and the ruin of her race. This hath been the occasion that made me counterfeit folly, and cover my intents under a veil of mere madness, which hath wisdom and policy thereby to enclose the fruit of this vengeance, which, that it hath attained to the full point of efficacy and perfect accomplishment, you yourselves shall be judges; for touching this and other things concerning my profit and the managing of great affairs, I refer myself to your counsels, and thereunto am fully determined to yield, as being those that trample under your feet the murderers of my father, and despise the ashes of him that hath polluted and violated the spouse of his brother, by him massacred; that hath committed felony against his lord, traitorously assailed the majesty of his king, and odiously thralled his country under servitude and bondage, and you his loyal subjects, from whom he, bereaving your liberty, feared not to add incest to parricide, detestable to all the world.

    55"To you also it belongeth by duty and reason commonly to defend and protect Hamlet, the minister and executor of just vengeance, who, being jealous of your honor and your reputation, hath hazarded himself, hoping you will serve him for fathers, defenders, and tutors, and, regarding him in pity, restore him to his goods and inheritances. It is I that have taken away the infamy of my country and extinguished the fire that embraced your fortunes. I have washed the spots that defiled the reputation of the Queen, overthrowing both the tyrant and the tyranny, and beguiling the subtilties of the craftiest deceiver in the world, and by that means brought his wickedness and impostures to an end. I was grieved at the injury committed both to my father and my native country, and have slain him that used more rigorous commandments over you than was either just or convenient to be used unto men that have commanded the valiantest nations in the world.

    "Seeing, then, he was such a one to you, it is reason that you acknowledge the benefit, and think well of for the good I had done your posterity, and, admiring my spirit and wisdorn, choose me your king, if you think me worthy of the place. You see I am the author of your preservation, heir of my father's kingdom, not straying in any point from his virtuous action, no murderer, violent parricide, nor man that ever offended any of you, but only the vicious. I am lawful successor in the kingdom and just revenger of a crime above all others most grievous and punishable. It is to me that you owe the benefit of your liberty received and of the subversion of that tyranny that so much afflicted you, that hath trodden under feet the yoke of the tyrant and overwhelmed his throne, and taken the scepter out of the hands of him that abused a holy and just authority. But it is you that are to recompence those that have well deserved. You know what is the reward of so great desert, and, being in your hands to distribute the same, it is of you that I demand the price of my virtue, and the recompense of my victory."

    This oration of the young prince so moved the hearts of the Danes and won the affections of the nobility that some wept for pity, other for joy, to see the wisdom and gallant spirit of Hamlet; and having made an end of their sorrow, all with one consent proclaimed him King of Jutie and Chersonnese, at this present the proper country of Denmark. And having celebrated his coronation and received the homages and fidelities of his subjects, he went into England to fetch his wife, and rejoiced with his father-in-law touching his good fortune; but it wanted little that the King of England had not accomplished that which Fengon with all his subtleties could never attain.

    Chapter VII

    How Hamlet, after his coronation, went into England; and how the King of England secretly would have put him to death; and how he slew the King of England, and returned again into Denmark with two wives; and what followed.

    Hamlet, being in England, showed the King what means he had wrought to recover his kingdom; but when the King of England understood of Fengon's death, he was both abashed and confused in his mind, at that instant feeling himself assailed with two great passions, for that in times past he and Fengon, having been companions together in arms, had given each other their faith and promises, by oath, that if either of them chanced to be slain by any man whatsoever, he that survived, taking the quarrel upon him as his own, should never cease till he were revenged, or at the least do his endeavor. This promise incited the barbarous king to massacre Hamlet, but the alliance presenting itself before his eyes, and beholding the one dead, although his friend, and the other alive, and husband to his daughter, made him deface his desire of revenge. But in the end, the conscience of his oath and promise obtained the upper hand and secretly made him conclude the death of his son-in-law, which enterprise after that was cause of his own death and overrunning of the whole country of England by the cruelty and despite conceived by the King of Denmark.

    60I have purposely omitted the discourse of that battle, as not much pertinent to our matter, as also, not to trouble you with too tedious discourse, being content to show you the end of this wise and valiant King Hamlet, who, revenging himself upon so many enemies, and discovering all the treasons practiced against his life, in the end served for a sport to fortune and an example to all great personages that trust overmuch to the felicities of this world, that are of small moment and less continuance.

    The King of England perceiving that he could not easily effect his desire upon the King, his son-in-law, as also not being willing to break the laws and rights of hospitality, determined to make a stranger the revenger of his injury and so accomplish his oath made to Fengon without defiling his hands with the blood of the husband of his daughter and polluting his house by the traitorous massacring of his friend. In reading of this history, it seemeth, Hamlet should resemble another Hercules, sent into divers places of the world by Eurystheus (solicited by Juno) where he knew any dangerous adventure, thereby to overthrow and destroy him ; or else Bellerophon sent to Ariobatus to put him to death;or (leaving profane histories) another Urias, by King David appointed to be placed in the forefront of the battle, and the man that should be first slain by the barbarians. For the King of England's wife being dead not long before (although he cared not for marrying another woman) desired his son-in-law to make a voyage for him into Scotland, flattering him in such sort that he made him believe that his singular wisdom caused him to prefer him to that embassage, assuring himself that it were impossible that Hamlet, the subtlest and wisest prince in the world, should take anything in the world in hand without effecting the same.

    Now the Queen of Scots, being a maid and of a haughty courage, despised marriage with all men, as not esteeming any worthy to be her companion, in such manner that by reason of this arrogant opinion there never came any man to desire her love but she caused him to lose his life. But the Danish King's fortune was so good, Hermetrude (for so was the Queen's name), hearing that Hamlet was come thither to entreat a marriage between her and the King of England, forgot all her pride, and, dispoiling herself of her stern nature, being as then determined to make him (being the greatest prince as then living) her husband, and deprive the English princess of her spouse, whom she thought fit for no men but herself; and so this Amazon, without love, disdaining Cupid, by her free will submitted her haughty mind to her concupiscence. The Dane, arriving in her court, desired she to see the old King of England's letters, and, mocking at his fond appetites, whose blood as then was half congealed, cast her eyes upon the young and pleasant Adonis of the North, esteeming herself happy to have such a prey fallen into her hands, whereof she made her full account to have the possession. And to conclude, she that never had been overcome by the grace, courtesy, valor, or riches of any prince nor lord whatsoever, was as then vanquished with the only report of the subtleties of the Dane; who, knowing that he was already fianced to the daughter of the King of England, spake unto him and said: "I never looked for so great a bliss, neither from the gods nor yet from fortune, as to behold in my countries the most complete prince in the North, and he that hath made himself famous and renowned through all the nations of the world, as well neighbors as strangers, for the only respect of his virtue, wisdom, and good fortune, serving him much in the pursuit and effect of divers things by him undertaken, and thine myself much beholding to the King of England (although his malice seeketh neither my advancement nor the good of you, my lord) to do me so much honor as to send me so excellent a man to entreat of a marriage (he being old, and a mortal enemy to me and mine) with me that am such a one as every man seeth, is not desirous to couple with a man of so base quality as he whom you have said to be the son of a slave. Think then, my lord, how much I account of your alliance, who, being accustomed with the sword to pursue such as durst embolden themselves to win my love, it is to you only to whom I make a present both of my kisses, embracings, scepter, and crown. What man is he, if he be not made of stone, that would refuse so precious a pawn as Hermetrude, with the kingdorn of Scotland? Accept, sweet King, accept this Queen, who with so great love and amity desireth your so great profit, and can give you more contentment in one day then the princess of England would yield you pleasure during her life. Although she surpass me in beauty, her blood being base, it is fitter for such a king as you are to choose Hermetrude, less beautiful but noble and famous, rather then the English lady with great beauty, but issuing from an unknown race, without any title of honor."

    Now think if the Dane, hearing such forcible reasons and understanding that by her which he half doubted, as also moved with choler for the treason of his father-in-law, that purposely sent him thether to lose his life, and being welcomed, kissed, and played withal by this queen, young and reasonable fair, if he were not easy enough to be converted, and like to forget the affection of his first wife, with this to enjoy the realm of Scotland, and so open the way to become King of all Great Britain. That, to conclude, he married her, and led her with him to the King of England's court, which moved the King from that time forward much more to seek the means to bereave him of his life; and had surely done it, if his daughter, Hamlet's other wife, more careful of him that had rejected her than of her father's welfare, had not discovered the enterprise to Hamlet, saying:

    "I know well, my lord, that the allurements and persuasions of a bold and altogether shameless woman, being more lascivious than the chaste embracements of a lawful and modest wife, are of more force to entice and charm the senses of young men; but for my part, I cannot take this abuse for satisfaction, to leave me in this sort without all cause, reason, or precedent fault once known in me, your loyal spouse, and take more pleasure in the alliance of her who one day will be the cause of your ruin and overthrow. . . . Many reasons induce me to love and cherish you, and those of great consequence, but especially and above all the rest, I am and must be careful of you, when I feel your child stirring in my womb; for which respect, without so much forgetting yourself, you ought to make more account of me than of your concubine, whom I will love because you love her, contenting myself that your son hateth her, in regard of the wrong she doth to his mother; for it is impossible that any passion or trouble of the mind whatsoever can quench those fierce passions of love that made me yours, neither that I should forget your favors past, when loyally you sought the love of the daughter of the King of England. Neither is it in the power of that thief that hath stolen your heart, nor my father's choler, to hinder me from seeking to preserve you from the cruelty of your dissembling friend (as heretofore by counterfeiting the madman you prevented the practices and treasons of your uncle Fengon), the complot being determined to be executed upon you and yours."

    65Without this advertisement, the Dane had surely been slain, and the Scots that came with him; for the King of England, inviting his son-in-law to a banquet with greatest courtesies that a friend can use to him whom he loved as himself, had the means to entrap him and cause him dance a pitiful galliard,in that sort to celebrate the marriage between him and his new lady. But Hamlet went thither with armor under his clothes, and his men in like sort; by which means he and his escaped with little hurt, and so after that happened the battale before spoken of, wherein the King of England losing his life, his country was the third time sacked by the barbarians of the islands and country of Denmark.

    Chapter VIII

    How Hamlet, being in Denmark, was assailed by Wiglerus his uncle, and after betrayed by his last wife, called Hermetrude, and was slain; after whose death she married his enemy, Wiglerus.

    Hamlet having obtained the victory against the King of England, and slain him, laden with great treasures and accompanied with his two wives, set forward to sail into Denmark, but by the way he had intelligence that Wiglere, his uncle, and son to Roderick, having taken the royal treasure from his sister Geruth (mother to Hamlet), had also seized upon the kingdom, saying that neither Horvendile nor any of his held it but by permission, and that it was in him to whom the property belonged to give the charge thereof to whom he would. But Hamlet, not desirous to have any quarrel with the son of him from whom his predecessors had received their greatness and advancement, gave such and so rich presents to Wiglere that he, being contented, withdrew himself out of the country and territories of Geruth's son. But within certain time after, Wiglere, desirous to keep all the country in subjection, enticed by the conquest of Scanie and Sialandie, and also that Hermetrude (the wife of Hamlet, whom he loved more then himself) had secret intelligence with him, and had promised him marriage, so that he would take her out of the hands of him that held her, sent to defy Hamlet, and proclaimed open war against him. Hamlet, like a good and wise prince, loving especially the welfare of his subjects, sought by all means to avoid that war; but again refusing it he perceived a great spot and blemish in his honor, and, accepting the same, he knew it would be the end of his days. By the desire of preserving his life on the one side and his honor on the other side pricking him forward, but, at the last, remembering that never any danger whatsoever had once shaken his virtues and constancy, chose rather the necessity of his ruin than to lose the immortal fame that valiant and honorable men obtained in the wars. And there is as much difference between a life without honor and an honorable death, as glory and renown is more excellent than dishonor and evil report.

    But the thing that spoiled this virtuous prince was the over-great trust and confidence he had in his wife Hermetrude, and the vehement love he bare unto her, not once repenting the wrong in that case done to his lawful spouse, and for the which (peradventure that misfortune had never happened unto him, and it would never have been thought that she, whom he loved above all things, would have so villainously betrayed him), he not once remembring his first wife's speeches, who prophesied unto him that the pleasures he seemed to take in his other wife would in the end be the cause of his overthrow, as they had ravished him of the best part of his senses, and quenched in him the great prudence that made him admirable in all the countries in the ocean seas, and through all Germany. Now, the greatest grief that this king (besotted on his wife) had was the separation of her whom he adored, and, assuring himself of his overthrow, was desirous either that she might bear him company at his death or else to find her a husband that should love her (he being dead) as well as ever he did. But the disloyal Queen had already provided herself of a marriage to put her husband out of trouble and care for that, who, perceiving him to be sad for her sake, when she should have absented herself from him, she, to blind him the more and to encourage him to set forward to his own destruction, promised to follow him whithersoever he went, and to take the like fortune that befell to him, were it good or evil, and that so she would give him cause to know how much she surpassed the English woman in her affection towards him, saying, that woman is accursed that feareth to follow and accompany her husband to the death. So that, to hear her speak, men would have said that she had been the wife of Mithridates, or Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, she made so great a show of love and constancy. But by the effect it was after easily perceived how vain the promise of this unconstant and wavering princess was; and how uncomparable the life of this Scottish queen was to the vigor of her chastity, being a maid before she was married. For that Hamlet had no sooner entered into the field but she found means to see Wiglere, and the battle begun, wherein the miserable Danish Prince was slain; but Hermetrude presently yielded herself, with all her dead husband's treasure, into the hand of the tyrant, who, more than content with that metamorphosis so much desired, gave order that presently the marriage, bought with the blood and treason of the son of Horvendile, should be celebrated.

    Thus you see that there is no promise or determination of a woman, but that a very small discommodity of fortune mollifieth and altereth the same, and which time doeth not pervert; so that the misfortunes subject to a constant man shake and overthrow the natural slippery loyalty of the variable steps of women, wholly without and any faithful assurance of love or true unfeigned constancy. For as a woman is ready to promise, so is she heavy and slow to perform and effect that which she hath promised, as she that is without end or limit in her desires, flattering herself in the diversity of her wanton delights and taking pleasure in diversity and change of new things, which as soon she doth forget and grow weary of. And, to conclude, such she is in all her actions, she is rash, covetous, and unthankful, whatsoever good or service can be done unto her. But now I perceive I err in my discourse, vomiting such things unworthy of this sects; but the vices of Hermetrude have made me say more than I meant to speak, as also the author, from whence I take this history, hath almost made me hold this course, I find so great a sweetness and liveliness in this kind of argument, and the rather because it seemeth so much the truer, considering the miserable success of poor King Hamlet.

    70Such was the end of Hamlet, son to Horvendile, Prince of Jutie; to whom, if his fortune had been equal with his inward and natural gifts, I know not which of the ancient Grecians and Romans had been able to have compared with him for virtue and excellency, but hard fortune following him in all his actions, and yet he, vanquishing the malice of his time with the vigor of constancy, hath left us a notable example of haughty ( courage, worthy of a great prince, arming himself with hope in things that were wholly without any color or show thereof, and in all his honorable actions made himself worthy of perpetual memory, if one only spot had not blemished and darkened a good part of his praises. For that the greatest victory that a man can obtain is to make himself victorious and lord over his own affections, and that restraineth the unbridled desires of his concupiscence; for if a man be never so princely, valiant, and wise, if the desires and enticements of his flesh prevail and have the upper hand, he will embase his credit, and, gazing after strange beauties, become a fool, and, as it were, incensed, dote on the presence of women. This fault was in the great Hercules, Sampson; and the wisest man that ever lived upon the earth, following this train, therein impaired his wit; and the most noble, wise, valiant, and discreet personages of our time, following the same course, have left us many notable examples of their worthy and notable virtues.

    But I beseech you that shall read this history not to resemble the spider, that feedeth of the corruption that she findith in the flowers and fruits that are in the gardens, whereas the bee gathereth her honey out of the best and fairest flower she can find. For a man that is well brought up should read the lives of whoremongers, drunkards, incestuous, violent, and bloody persons, not to follow their steps and so to defile himself with such uncleanness, but to shun palliardise, abstain the superfluities and drunkenness in banquets, and follow the modesty, courtesy, and continency that recommendeth Hamlet in this discourse, who, while other made good cheer, continued sober; and where all men sought as much as they could to gather together riches and treasure, he, simply accounting riches nothing comparable to honor, sought to gather a multitude of virtues, that might make him equal to those that by them were esteemed as gods; having not as then received the light of the Gospel, that men might see among the barbarians, and them that were far from the knowledge of one only God, that nature was provoked to follow that which is good, and those forward to embrace virtue, for that there was never any nation, how rude or barbarous soever, that took not some pleasure to do that which seemed good, thereby to win praise and commendations, which we have said to be the reward of virtue and good life. I delight to speak of these strange histories, and of people that were unchristened, that the virtue of the rude people may give more splendor to our nation, who, seeing them so complete, wise, prudent, and well advised in their actions, might strive not only to follow (imitation being a small matter), but to surmount them, as our religion surpasseth their superstition, and our age more purged, subtle, and gallant, than the season wherein they lived and made their virtues known.