Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • 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    Not Peer Reviewed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 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.