Hamlet: Act 4, Scene 7

           Enter KING and LAERTES.

1. my acquittance seal: ratify my acquittal; i.e., acknowledge my innocence in Polonius' death.
  1   Now must your conscience my acquittance seal,
  2   And you must put me in your heart for friend,
3. Sith: since.  with a knowing ear: i.e., you have become convinced of the truth of what you have heard. 4. he which hath your noble father slain: i.e., Hamlet.
  3   Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear,
  4   That he which hath your noble father slain
  5   Pursued my life.

  5                                 It well appears: but tell me
6. proceeded not against: didn't take legal action against.  feats: acts. 7. capital: punishable by death.
  6   Why you proceeded not against these feats,
  7   So criminal and so capital in nature,
8-9. As  . . .  up: i.e., since you were powerfully motived to take action out of regard for your own safety, warned by your wisdom of the danger posed by Hamlet, and urged on by all the other circumstances of Hamlet's murder of Polonius.
  8   As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
  9   You mainly were stirr'd up.

  9                                         O, for two special reasons;
10. unsinew'd: without strong sinews, weak.
 10   Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew'd,
 11   But yet to me they are strong. The queen his mother
 12   Lives almost by his looks; and for myself—
13. either which: one or the other.
 13   My virtue or my plague, be it either which—
14. conjunctive: closely joined.
 14   She's so conjunctive to my life and soul,
15-16. as the star moves not but in his sphere, / I could not but by her: as a star moves only by virtue of the ...more
 15   That, as the star moves not but in his sphere,
 16   I could not but by her. The other motive,
17. count: account, reckoning.
 17   Why to a public count I might not go,
18. the general gender: the common people.
 18   Is the great love the general gender bear him;
 19   Who, dipping all his faults in their affection,
20. spring: i.e., a spring with such a high concentration of lime that it coats wood with limestone. 21. Convert  . . .  graces: i.e., convert his faults ...more 22. slightly timber'd: light. loud: strong. 23. Would have reverted to my bow again: i.e., would have reversed course and flown back to my bow.  ...more
 20   Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone,
 21   Convert his gyves to graces; so that my arrows,
 22   Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,
 23   Would have reverted to my bow again,
 24   And not where I had aim'd them.

 25   And so have I a noble father lost;
26. terms: condition.
 26   A sister driven into desperate terms,
27-29. Whose worth, if praises may go back again, / Stood challenger on mount of all the age / For her perfections: i.e., whose worth, if it is allowed to praise her as she was before she went mad, could rival, as from on high, all the perfections of the age.
 27   Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
 28   Stood challenger on mount of all the age
 29   For her perfections: but my revenge will come.

30. for that: i.e., for fear of failing to get revenge.
 30   Break not your sleeps for that: you must not think
31. flat: spiritless.
 31   That we are made of stuff so flat and dull
32. let our beard be shook: —To shake (tweak or pluck) a man's beard was a deadly insult. with: by. 33. You shortly shall hear more: i.e., you will soon see how I will make good on my threats against Hamlet.
 32   That we can let our beard be shook with danger
 33   And think it pastime. You shortly shall hear more:
 34   I loved your father, and we love ourself;
 35   And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine—

           Enter a MESSENGER with letters.

 36   How now! what news?

 36                                Letters, my lord, from Hamlet:
37. this to the queen: —This is an intriguing loose end. Hamlet's letter to his mother is never mentioned again.
 37   This to your majesty; this to the queen.

 38   From Hamlet! who brought them?

 39   Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not:
40. Claudio: —This is the only mention of Claudio. Apparently he is an intermediary between the messenger and the sailor/pirate who had the letters from Hamlet.
 40   They were given me by Claudio; he received them
 41   Of him that brought them.

 41                                      Laertes, you shall hear them.
 42   —Leave us.

           [Exit Messenger.]


 43   "High and mighty, You shall know I am
44. naked: without weapons or followers. —The point is that Hamlet poses no physical threat to the king, as the king ...more 46. pardon thereunto: permission to do so.
 44   set naked on your kingdom. Tomorrow shall
 45   I beg leave to see your kingly eyes: when I shall, first
 46   asking your pardon thereunto, recount the occasion of
 47   my sudden and more strange return.
 48                                    HAMLET."
 49   What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?
50. abuse: deceit.
 50   Or is it some abuse, and no such thing?

51. hand, character: —In this context, both words mean "handwriting."
 51   Know you the hand?

 51                                'Tis Hamlet's character. "Naked!"
 52   And in a postscript here, he says "alone."
53. devise me: explain it to me.
 53   Can you devise me?

 54   I'm lost in it, my lord. But let him come;
 55   It warms the very sickness in my heart,
 56   That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,
 57   "Thus didst thou."

 57                                  If it be so, Laertes—
 58   As how should it be so? how otherwise?—
59. be ruled by me: take my advice, follow my lead.
 59   Will you be ruled by me?

 59                                      Ay, my lord;
60. So: provided that.  o'errule me to a peace: i.e., overrule my desire to take revenge on Hamlet.
 60   So you will not o'errule me to a peace.

 61   To thine own peace. If he be now return'd,
62. checking at: turning away from. ...more
 62   As checking at his voyage, and that he means
63-64. I will work him / To an exploit, now ripe in my device: i.e., I will con him into walking into an ambush which is now taking final shape in my imagination.
 63   No more to undertake it, I will work him
 64   To an exploit, now ripe in my device,
 65   Under the which he shall not choose but fall:
 66   And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,
67. uncharge the practise: hold (me) innocent (of) plot, deception.
 67   But even his mother shall uncharge the practise
 68   And call it accident.

 68                                   My lord, I will be ruled;
 69   The rather, if you could devise it so
70. organ: instrument, agent (of Hamlet's death).
 70   That I might be the organ.

 70                                       It falls right.
 71   You have been talk'd of since your travel much,
72. quality: skill.
 72   And that in Hamlet's hearing, for a quality
73. Your sum of parts: all your (other) accomplishments put together.
 73   Wherein, they say, you shine: your sum of parts
 74   Did not together pluck such envy from him
 75   As did that one, and that, in my regard,
76. Of the unworthiest siege: i.e., least important. ...more
 76   Of the unworthiest siege.

 76                                     What part is that, my lord?

77. riband: decorative ribbon.
 77   A very riband in the cap of youth,
78-79. youth . . . wears: youth looks becoming in the light and carefree clothes that it wears. ...more
 78   Yet needful too; for youth no less becomes
 79   The light and careless livery that it wears
80. his sables and his weeds i.e., its characteristic garments. ...more 81. Importing health and graveness: signifying prosperity and dignity.
 80   Than settled age his sables and his weeds,
 81   Importing health and graveness. Two months since,
 82   Here was a gentleman of Normandy:—
 83   I've seen myself, and served against, the French,
84. can well on horseback: are excellent riders.
 84   And they can well on horseback: but this gallant
 85   Had witchcraft in't; he grew unto his seat;
 86   And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
87-88. As  . . .  beast: as if he had been joined with the body of, and shared the nature of ...more 88. topp'd my thought: surpassed my imagination (of what was possible). 89. in forgery of shapes and tricks: in imagining feats and tricks (of horsemanship).
 87   As he had been incorpsed and demi-natured
 88   With the brave beast: so far he topp'd my thought,
 89   That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
 90   Come short of what he did.

 90                                       A Norman was't?

 91   A Norman.

 92   Upon my life, Lamond.

 92                                       The very same.

93. brooch: ornament.
 93   I know him well: he is the brooch indeed
 94   And gem of all the nation.

95. made confession of you: acknowledged your superiority.
 95   He made confession of you,
 96   And gave you such a masterly report
 97   For art and exercise in your defence
 98   And for your rapier most especial,
 99   That he cried out, 'twould be a sight indeed,
100-102. the scrimers of their nation, / He swore, had had neither motion, guard, nor eye, / If you opposed them: the fencers of France would have been clumsy, defenseless, and blind if Laertes were fighting against them.
100   If one could match you: the scrimers of their nation,
101   He swore, had had neither motion, guard, nor eye,
102   If you opposed them. Sir, this report of his
103   Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy
104   That he could nothing do but wish and beg
105. sudden: speedy.  play: fence.
105   Your sudden coming o'er, to play with him.
106   Now, out of this—

106                                What out of this, my lord?

107   Laertes, was your father dear to you?
108   Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
109   A face without a heart?

109                                  Why ask you this?

110   Not that I think you did not love your father;
111. begun by time: i.e., born from a particular set of circumstances. 112. in passages of proof: i.e., by examples of situations in which love is tested. 113. qualifies: dilutes, weakens.
111   But that I know love is begun by time;
112   And that I see, in passages of proof,
113   Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
114   There lives within the very flame of love
115. snuff: the charred part of a candlewick.
115   A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it;
116. nothing is at a like goodness still: nothing remains at the same perfection forever. 117. plurisy: excess, plethora.
116   And nothing is at a like goodness still;
117   For goodness, growing to a plurisy,
118. too much: excess. that: that which.
118   Dies in his own too much. That we would do
119   We should do when we would; for this "would" changes
120. abatements: diminutions.
120   And hath abatements and delays as many
121. accidents: random occurrences.
121   As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents;
122-123. a spendthrift sigh, / That hurts by easing: —A sigh was supposed to draw blood ...more 123. quick o' the ulcer: i.e., the heart of the problem. —The kind of ulcer referred to is external. A modern (C.E. 2015) example of such an ulcer is a bedsore. They were treated by draining the pus from the center, the "quick."
122   And then this "should" is like a spendthrift sigh,
123   That hurts by easing. But, to the quick o' the ulcer:—
124   Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake,
125   To show yourself your father's son in deed
126   More than in words?

126                                  To cut his throat i' the church.

127. No place . . . should murder sanctuarize: i.e., no place should offer asylum to a murderer.
127   No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize;
128   Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes,
129. Will you do this, keep close within your chamber: If you are willing to do this (i.e., take revenge on Hamlet), keep out of sight in your room.  131. We'll  . . .  excellence: I will urge on those who will praise your excellence. 132. double varnish: second coat of varnish. 133. in fine: finally.
129   Will you do this, keep close within your chamber.
130   Hamlet return'd shall know you are come home:
131   We'll put on those shall praise your excellence
132   And set a double varnish on the fame
133   The Frenchman gave you, bring you in fine together
134. remiss: careless; i.e., overly trusting.
134   And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,
135. generous: noble-minded.  free from contriving: free from the inclination to lay plots. 136. peruse: examine.
135   Most generous and free from all contriving,
136   Will not peruse the foils; so that, with ease,
137   Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
138. unbated: having no button, sharp.  —Foils used in a fencing match were (and still are) fitted with buttons on the tips, so that no one would get seriously hurt.  pass of practise: treacherous thrust.
138   A sword unbated, and in a pass of practise
139   Requite him for your father.

139                                            I will do't:
140   And, for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword.
141. unction: ointment.  mountebank: i.e., snake-oil salesman. 142. mortal: deadly.
141   I bought an unction of a mountebank,
142   So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
143. cataplasm: poultice.
143   Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,
144. simples: medicinal herbs. virtue: curative power.
144   Collected from all simples that have virtue
145   Under the moon, can save the thing from death
146   That is but scratch'd withal: I'll touch my point
147. that: so that.  gall: graze, wound.
147   With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,
148   It may be death.

148                              Let's further think of this;
149   Weigh what convenience both of time and means
150. fit us to our shape: i.e., suit our purposes best.
150   May fit us to our shape: if this should fail,
151. our drift look through our bad performance: our (evil) intention becomes visible because of our bad execution (of our plot). 153. back or second: i.e., a back-up plan.  hold: be effective, not fail. 154. blast in proof: blow up while being tested. Soft! i.e., wait a minute, let me think. ...more
151   And that our drift look through our bad performance,
152   'Twere better not assay'd: therefore this project
153   Should have a back or second, that might hold,
154   If this should blast in proof. Soft! let me see:
155   We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings—
156   I ha't.
157   When in your motion you are hot and dry—
158. As  . . .  end: i.e., and you should make your bouts of fencing more active to achieve that goal. 159. And  . . .  drink: and when, as he is hot and dry, he calls for drink. 160. nonce: occasion. 161. venom'd stuck: poisoned thrust.
158   As make your bouts more violent to that end—
159   And that he calls for drink, I'll have prepar'd him
160   A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,
161   If he by chance escape your venom'd stuck,
162   Our purpose may hold there. But stay, what noise?

           Enter QUEEN.

163   One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
164   So fast they follow; your sister's drown'd, Laertes.

165   Drown'd! O, where?

166. willow: —The willow is ...more aslant: sideways over.
166   There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
167. hoar: grey-white.
167   That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
168. Therewith: i.e., with willow branches.
168   Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
169. long purples: wild orchids.
169   Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
170. liberal: free-spoken.  a grosser name:Orchis mascula, the wild orchid ...more 171. cold: chaste.
170   That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
171   But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
172. coronet weeds: i.e., weeds woven into a coronet. ...more 173. envious sliver: malicious branch.
172   There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
173   Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
174   When down her weedy trophies and herself
175   Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
176   And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
177. lauds: hymns.
177   Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds;
178. incapable: not capable of understanding.
178   As one incapable of her own distress,
179. indued: adapted by nature.
179   Or like a creature native and indued
180. that element: i.e., water.
180   Unto that element: but long it could not be
181   Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
182   Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
183   To muddy death.

183                              Alas, then, she is drown'd?

184   Drown'd, drown'd.

185   Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
186   And therefore I forbid my tears: but yet
187-188. It is our trick: i.e., weeping is a natural human response ...more 188. these: these tears.
187   It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
188   Let shame say what it will: when these are gone,
189. The woman will be out: i.e., I will be done acting like a woman. 190. fain would: urgently desires to.
189   The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord:
190   I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze,
191. this folly: i.e., my own foolish tears.
191   But that this folly drowns it.


192                                           Let's follow, Gertrude:
193   How much I had to do to calm his rage!
194   Now fear I this will give it start again;
195   Therefore let's follow.