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    Not Peer Reviewed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 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.