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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    Not Peer Reviewed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

    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.