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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    Not Peer Reviewed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 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.