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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    Not Peer Reviewed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 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.