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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    Not Peer Reviewed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 VIII

    How Hamlet, being in Denmark, was assailed by Wiglerus his uncle, and after betrayed by his last wife, called Hermetrude, and was slain; after whose death she married his enemy, Wiglerus.

    Hamlet having obtained the victory against the King of England, and slain him, laden with great treasures and accompanied with his two wives, set forward to sail into Denmark, but by the way he had intelligence that Wiglere, his uncle, and son to Roderick, having taken the royal treasure from his sister Geruth (mother to Hamlet), had also seized upon the kingdom, saying that neither Horvendile nor any of his held it but by permission, and that it was in him to whom the property belonged to give the charge thereof to whom he would. But Hamlet, not desirous to have any quarrel with the son of him from whom his predecessors had received their greatness and advancement, gave such and so rich presents to Wiglere that he, being contented, withdrew himself out of the country and territories of Geruth's son. But within certain time after, Wiglere, desirous to keep all the country in subjection, enticed by the conquest of Scanie and Sialandie, and also that Hermetrude (the wife of Hamlet, whom he loved more then himself) had secret intelligence with him, and had promised him marriage, so that he would take her out of the hands of him that held her, sent to defy Hamlet, and proclaimed open war against him. Hamlet, like a good and wise prince, loving especially the welfare of his subjects, sought by all means to avoid that war; but again refusing it he perceived a great spot and blemish in his honor, and, accepting the same, he knew it would be the end of his days. By the desire of preserving his life on the one side and his honor on the other side pricking him forward, but, at the last, remembering that never any danger whatsoever had once shaken his virtues and constancy, chose rather the necessity of his ruin than to lose the immortal fame that valiant and honorable men obtained in the wars. And there is as much difference between a life without honor and an honorable death, as glory and renown is more excellent than dishonor and evil report.

    But the thing that spoiled this virtuous prince was the over-great trust and confidence he had in his wife Hermetrude, and the vehement love he bare unto her, not once repenting the wrong in that case done to his lawful spouse, and for the which (peradventure that misfortune had never happened unto him, and it would never have been thought that she, whom he loved above all things, would have so villainously betrayed him), he not once remembring his first wife's speeches, who prophesied unto him that the pleasures he seemed to take in his other wife would in the end be the cause of his overthrow, as they had ravished him of the best part of his senses, and quenched in him the great prudence that made him admirable in all the countries in the ocean seas, and through all Germany. Now, the greatest grief that this king (besotted on his wife) had was the separation of her whom he adored, and, assuring himself of his overthrow, was desirous either that she might bear him company at his death or else to find her a husband that should love her (he being dead) as well as ever he did. But the disloyal Queen had already provided herself of a marriage to put her husband out of trouble and care for that, who, perceiving him to be sad for her sake, when she should have absented herself from him, she, to blind him the more and to encourage him to set forward to his own destruction, promised to follow him whithersoever he went, and to take the like fortune that befell to him, were it good or evil, and that so she would give him cause to know how much she surpassed the English woman in her affection towards him, saying, that woman is accursed that feareth to follow and accompany her husband to the death. So that, to hear her speak, men would have said that she had been the wife of Mithridates, or Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, she made so great a show of love and constancy. But by the effect it was after easily perceived how vain the promise of this unconstant and wavering princess was; and how uncomparable the life of this Scottish queen was to the vigor of her chastity, being a maid before she was married. For that Hamlet had no sooner entered into the field but she found means to see Wiglere, and the battle begun, wherein the miserable Danish Prince was slain; but Hermetrude presently yielded herself, with all her dead husband's treasure, into the hand of the tyrant, who, more than content with that metamorphosis so much desired, gave order that presently the marriage, bought with the blood and treason of the son of Horvendile, should be celebrated.

    Thus you see that there is no promise or determination of a woman, but that a very small discommodity of fortune mollifieth and altereth the same, and which time doeth not pervert; so that the misfortunes subject to a constant man shake and overthrow the natural slippery loyalty of the variable steps of women, wholly without and any faithful assurance of love or true unfeigned constancy. For as a woman is ready to promise, so is she heavy and slow to perform and effect that which she hath promised, as she that is without end or limit in her desires, flattering herself in the diversity of her wanton delights and taking pleasure in diversity and change of new things, which as soon she doth forget and grow weary of. And, to conclude, such she is in all her actions, she is rash, covetous, and unthankful, whatsoever good or service can be done unto her. But now I perceive I err in my discourse, vomiting such things unworthy of this sects; but the vices of Hermetrude have made me say more than I meant to speak, as also the author, from whence I take this history, hath almost made me hold this course, I find so great a sweetness and liveliness in this kind of argument, and the rather because it seemeth so much the truer, considering the miserable success of poor King Hamlet.

    70Such was the end of Hamlet, son to Horvendile, Prince of Jutie; to whom, if his fortune had been equal with his inward and natural gifts, I know not which of the ancient Grecians and Romans had been able to have compared with him for virtue and excellency, but hard fortune following him in all his actions, and yet he, vanquishing the malice of his time with the vigor of constancy, hath left us a notable example of haughty ( courage, worthy of a great prince, arming himself with hope in things that were wholly without any color or show thereof, and in all his honorable actions made himself worthy of perpetual memory, if one only spot had not blemished and darkened a good part of his praises. For that the greatest victory that a man can obtain is to make himself victorious and lord over his own affections, and that restraineth the unbridled desires of his concupiscence; for if a man be never so princely, valiant, and wise, if the desires and enticements of his flesh prevail and have the upper hand, he will embase his credit, and, gazing after strange beauties, become a fool, and, as it were, incensed, dote on the presence of women. This fault was in the great Hercules, Sampson; and the wisest man that ever lived upon the earth, following this train, therein impaired his wit; and the most noble, wise, valiant, and discreet personages of our time, following the same course, have left us many notable examples of their worthy and notable virtues.

    But I beseech you that shall read this history not to resemble the spider, that feedeth of the corruption that she findith in the flowers and fruits that are in the gardens, whereas the bee gathereth her honey out of the best and fairest flower she can find. For a man that is well brought up should read the lives of whoremongers, drunkards, incestuous, violent, and bloody persons, not to follow their steps and so to defile himself with such uncleanness, but to shun palliardise, abstain the superfluities and drunkenness in banquets, and follow the modesty, courtesy, and continency that recommendeth Hamlet in this discourse, who, while other made good cheer, continued sober; and where all men sought as much as they could to gather together riches and treasure, he, simply accounting riches nothing comparable to honor, sought to gather a multitude of virtues, that might make him equal to those that by them were esteemed as gods; having not as then received the light of the Gospel, that men might see among the barbarians, and them that were far from the knowledge of one only God, that nature was provoked to follow that which is good, and those forward to embrace virtue, for that there was never any nation, how rude or barbarous soever, that took not some pleasure to do that which seemed good, thereby to win praise and commendations, which we have said to be the reward of virtue and good life. I delight to speak of these strange histories, and of people that were unchristened, that the virtue of the rude people may give more splendor to our nation, who, seeing them so complete, wise, prudent, and well advised in their actions, might strive not only to follow (imitation being a small matter), but to surmount them, as our religion surpasseth their superstition, and our age more purged, subtle, and gallant, than the season wherein they lived and made their virtues known.