Elsinore. A room in Elsinore castle.
(King; Rosencrantz; Guildenstern; Polonius; Hamlet)
Claudius has prepared Hamlet’s commission for England, and instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to leave with him and keep an eye on him. Polonius passes by and tells Claudius that he is on his way to hide in the Queen’s closet to spy on her meeting with Hamlet. Alone, Claudius reflects on his crime, and is stricken with remorse. He attempts to pray, but cannot bring himself to ask forgiveness while he still enjoys everything he gained by committing the murder. Hamlet, passing by, sees him at prayer and almost kills him, but reflects that if killed at prayer, Claudius will go to heaven, so he decides to wait until Claudius is doing something sinful, in the hopes of sending him straight to hell. Claudius realizes that his prayers are going nowhere — ironically, Hamlet’s caution was useless. (101 lines)
Enter King, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern.
I like him not, nor stands it safe with us
To let his madness range. Therefore prepare you.
I your commission will forthwith dispatch,
And he to England shall along with you.
The terms of our estate may not endure
Hazard so near ’s as doth hourly grow
Out of his brows.
We will ourselves provide.
Most holy and religious fear it is
To keep those many many bodies safe
That live and feed upon your Majesty.
The single and peculiar life is bound
With all the strength and armor of the mind
To keep itself from noyance, but much more
That spirit upon whose weal depends and rests
The lives of many. The cess of majesty
Dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw
What’s near it with it. Or it is a massy wheel
Fix’d on the summit of the highest mount,
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
Are mortis’d and adjoin’d, which when it falls,
Each small annexment, petty consequence,
Attends the boist’rous ruin. Never alone
Did the King sigh, but with a general groan.
Arm you, I pray you, to this speedy voyage,
For we will fetters put about this fear,
Which now goes too free-footed.
We will haste us.
Exeunt Gentlemen, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
My lord, he’s going to his mother’s closet.
Behind the arras I’ll convey myself
To hear the process. I’ll warrant she’ll tax him home,
And as you said, and wisely was it said,
’Tis meet that some more audience than a mother,
Since nature makes them partial, should o’erhear
The speech, of vantage. Fare you well, my liege,
I’ll call upon you ere you go to bed,
And tell you what I know.
Thanks, dear my lord.
O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven,
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will.
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offense?
And what’s in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon’d being down? Then I’ll look up.
My fault is past, but, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? “Forgive me my foul murder”?
That cannot be, since I am still possess’d
Of those effects for which I did the murder:
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardon’d and retain th’ offense?
In the corrupted currents of this world
Offense’s gilded hand may shove by justice,
And oft ’tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law, but ’tis not so above:
There is no shuffling, there the action lies
In his true nature, and we ourselves compell’d,
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,
To give in evidence. What then? What rests?
Try what repentance can. What can it not?
Yet what can it, when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that struggling to be free
Art more engag’d! Help, angels! Make assay,
Bow, stubborn knees, and heart, with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe!
All may be well.
Now might I do it pat, now ’a is a-praying;
And now I’ll do’t—and so ’a goes to heaven,
And so am I reveng’d. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father, and for that
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
’A took my father grossly, full of bread,
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May,
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought
’Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed,
At game a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in’t—
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn’d and black
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays,
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.