How Conscience Makes Cowards of Us All (Mar25)

How Conscience Makes Cowards of Us All
Hamlet pondered over which course contained the least unhappiness—
whether to suffer here and not incur new dangers, or
whether to end it all and chance the unknown terrors of the
next world. See how Hamlet reasoned.
(Shakespeare ma\es his will, March 25, 1616.)
Read from Shakespeare’s HAMLET Vol. 46, pp. 144-158

Ham. To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die; to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die; to sleep;—
To sleep? Perchance to dream! Ay, there’s the rub;7
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shufH’d off this mortal coil,8
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d9 love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus10 make
With a bare bodkin?11 Who would fardels12 bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn”
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,14
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.—Soft you now!

7 Impediment. 8 Turmoil of life. 9 Undervalued. 10 Acquittance. 11 Dagger.
12 Burdens. 13 Boundary. 11 Brooding, anxiety.

The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins rememb’red.
Oph. Good my Lord,
How does your honour for this many a day ?
Ham. I humbly thank you, well, well, well.
Oph. My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to re-deliver.
I pray you, now receive them.
Ham. No, no;
I never gave you aught.
Oph. My honour’d lord, I know right well you did,
And, with them, words of so sweet breath compos’d
As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
There, my lord.
Ham. Ha ha! are you honest?15
Oph. My lord!
Ham. Are you fair?
Oph. What means your lordship?
Ham. That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit
no discourse to your beauty.
Oph. Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce16 than with
honesty ?
Ham. Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform
honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can
translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometime a paradox,
but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.
Oph. Indeed, my lord you made me believe so.
Ham. You should not have believ’d me, for virtue cannot so
inoculate17 our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you
Oph. I was the more deceived.
Ham. Get thee to a nunnery; why wouldst thou be a breeder of
sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me
of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I

I5 Chaste. 16 Intercourse. 17 Graft.

am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck
than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape,
or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between heaven and earth? We are arrant knaves all; believe none
of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where’s your father?
Oph. At home, my lord.
Ham. Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool
nowhere but i n ‘ s own house. Farewell!
Oph. O, help him, you sweet heavens!
Ham. If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry:
be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape
calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go. Farewell! Or, if thou wilt
needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what
monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too.
Oph. O heavenly powers, restore him!
Ham. I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God has
given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig, you
amble, and you lisp and nick-name God’s creatures and make your
wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more o n ‘ t ; it hath made
me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages. Those that are
married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are.
To a nunnery, go. Exit.
Oph. O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword;
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
The observ’d of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck’d the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown18 youth
Blasted with ecstasy.19 O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
18 Full-blown. 19 Madness.

Re-enter KING and POLONIUS
King. Love! his affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little,
Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul
O’er which his melancholy sits on brood,
And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose20
Will be some danger; which for to prevent,
I have in quick determination
Thus set it down: he shall with speed to England
For the demand of our neglected tribute.
Haply the seas and countries different
With variable objects shall expel
This something-settled matter in his heart,
Whereon his brains still beating puts him thus
From fashion of himself. What think you on’t?
Pol. It shall do well; but yet do I believe
The origin and commencement of this grief
Sprung from neglected love. How now, Ophelia!
You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said;
We heard it all. My lord, do as you please,
But, if you hold it fit, after the play
Let his queen mother all alone entreat him
To show his griefs. Let her be round2 1 with him,
And I’ll be plac’d, so please you, in the ear
Of all their conference. If she find him not,
To England send him, or confine him where
Your wisdom best shall think.
King. It shall be so.
Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go. Exeunt.
[SCENE II. A hall in the castle]
Enter HAMLET and Players
Ham. Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc’d it to you,
trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your

20 Breaking of the shell; outcome. 21 Direct.

players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do
not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind
of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give
it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to see a robustious1
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split
the ears of the groundlings2 who for the most part are capable
of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise. I could have
such a fellow whipp’d for o’erdoing Termagant.3 It out-herods
Herod.4 Pray you, avoid it.
1. Play. I warrant your honour.
Ham. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be
your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action;
with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty5 of
nature. For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing,
whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere,
the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her
own image, and the very age6 and body of the time his form and
pressure.7 Now this overdone, or come tardy off,8 though it make
the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure9
of the which one must, in your allowance, o’erweigh a whole
theatre of others. O, there be players that I have seen play, and
heard others praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely, that,
neither having the accent of Christians nor the gait of Christian,
pagan, nor man, have so strutted and bellowed that I have thought
some of Nature’s journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
1. Play. I hope we have reform’d that indifferently with us, sir.
Ham. O, reform it altogether. And let those that play your clowns
speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them
that will themselves laugh to set on some quantity of barren spectators
to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question
of the play be then to be considered. That’s villanous, and shows a
most pitiful ambition in the Fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
Exeunt Players.

1 Sturdy. 2 Spectators standing in the pit, then the cheapest part of the theatre.
3 Believed to be the god of the Saracens. A figure in the old plays and romances.
4 The raging Herod of the miracle-plays. 5 Moderation. 6 Generation.
7 Impress. 8 Hanging fire. 9 Opinion.


How now, my lord! Will the King hear this piece of work?
Pol. And the Queen too, and that presently.
Ham. Bid the players make haste. Exit POLONIUS.
Will you two help to hasten them ?
Ros./Guil } We will, my lord.

Ham. What ho! Horatio.

Hor. Here, sweet lord, at your service.
Ham. Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man
As e’er my conversation cop’d1 0 withal.
Hor. O, my dear lord,—
Ham. Nay, do not think I flatter,
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant” hinges of the knee
Where thrift1 2 may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of my choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hath ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
T o sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.—Something too much of this.—
There is a play to-night before the King.

10 As I ever encountered in my intercourse with men. 11 Ready (to bend). 12 Profit

One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death.
I prithee, when thou seest that act a-foot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle. If his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy.13 Give him heedful note;
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgements join
To censure14 of his seeming.
Hor. Well, my lord.
If he steal aught the whilst this play is playing,
And scape detecting, I will pay the theft.

Danish march. A flourish. Enter KING, QUEEN, POLONIUS, OPHELIA,
ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and other Lords attendant, with
the guard carrying torches
Ham. They are coming to the play; I must be idle.
Get you a place.
King. How fares our cousin Hamlet ?
Ham. Excellent, i’ faith,—of the chameleon’s dish. I eat the air,
promise-cramm’d. You cannot feed capons so.
King. I have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words are
not mine.
Ham. No, nor mine now. [To POLONIUS.] My lord, you play’d
once i’ the university, you say?
Pol. That I did, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.
Ham. And what did you enact?
Pol. I did enact Julius Caesar. I was kill’d i’ the Capitol; Brutus
kill’d me.
Ham. It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there.—
Be the players ready ?
Ros. Ay, my lord, they stay upon your patience.
Queen. Come hither, my good Hamlet, sit by me.

13 Forge, anvil. 14 Judge.

Ham. No, good mother, here’s metal more attractive.
[Lying down at OPHELIA’S feet.]
Pol. [To the King.] O, ho! do you mark that?
Ham. Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Oph. No, my lord.
Ham. I mean, my head upon your lap?
Oph. Ay, my lord.
Ham. Do you think I meant country matters?
Oph. I think nothing, my lord.
Ham. That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs.
Oph. What is, my lord?
Ham. Nothing.
Oph. You are merry, my lord.
Ham. Who, I?
Oph. Ay, my lord.
Ham. O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do but
be merry? For, look you, how cheerfully my mother looks, and my
father died within’s two hours.
Oph. Nay, ’tis twice two months, my lord.
Ham. So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have
a suit of sables.15 O heavens! die two months ago, and not forgotten
yet? Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life
half a year; but, by ‘r lady, he must build churches then, or else
shall he suffer not thinking on, with the hobby-horse, whose epitaph
is, “For, O , for, O , the hobby-horse is forgot.”

Hautboys play. The dumb-show enters.

Enter a King and Queen very lovingly, the Queen embracing him.
She kneels and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes
her up and declines his head upon her nec\; lays him down upon
a bank of flowers. She, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon
comes in a fellow, ta\es off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison
in the King’s ears, and exit. The Queen returns, finds the King
dead, and makes passionate action. The poisoner, with some two
or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The
dead body is carried away. The poisoner woos the Queen with

15 Furs, or black garments. Probably intentionally ambiguous.

gifts; she seems loath and unwilling a while, but in the end accepts
his love. Exeunt.
Oph. What means this, my lord?
Ham. Marry, this is miching mallecho;1 6 that means mischief.
Oph. Belike this show imports the argument of the play ?
Ham. We shall know by this fellow. The players cannot keep
counsel, they’ll tell all.
Oph. Will they tell us what this show meant?
Ham. Ay, or any show that you’ll show him. Be not you asham’d
to show, he’ll not shame to tell you what it means.
Oph. You are naught,1 7 you are naught. I’ll mark the play.
Pro. For us, and for our tragedy,
Here stooping to your clemency,
We beg your hearing patiently. [Extf.]
Ham. Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
Oph. ‘Tis brief, my lord.
Ham. As woman’s love.
Enter [two Players,] a K i n g and his Queen
P. King. Full thirty times hath Phoebus’ cart1 8 gone round
Neptune’s salt wash and Tellus’ orbed ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrowed sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been,
Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands.
P. Queen. So many journeys may the sun and moon
Make us again count o’er ere love be done!
But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must;
For women’s fear and love holds quantity,19
In neither aught, or in extremity.
Now, what my love is, proof hath made you know;

16 Skulking mischief. 17 Improper. 18 Chariot. 19 Keep proportion.

And as my love is siz’d, my fear is so.
[Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.]
P. King. Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too.
My operant powers their functions leave to do;
And thou shalt live in this fair world behind,
Honour’d, belov’d; and haply one as kind.
For husband shalt thou—
P. Queen. O, confound the rest!
Such love must needs be treason in my breast!
In second husband let me be accurst!
None wed the second but who kill’d the first.
Ham. [Aside.] Wormwood, wormwood!
P. Queen. The instances that second marriage move
Are base respects of thrift, but none of love.
A second time I kill my husband dead,
When second husband kisses me in bed.
P. King. I do believe you think what now you speak,
But what we do determine oft we break.
Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;
Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree,
But fall unshaken when they mellow be.
Most necessary ’tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt.
What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures2 0 with themselves destroy.
Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;
Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.
This world is not for aye, nor ’tis not strange
That even our loves should with our fortunes change,
For ’tis a question left us yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.
The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;

20 Acts.

The poor advanc’d makes friends of enemies.
And hitherto doth love on fortune tend,
For who not needs shall never lack a friend;
And who in want a hollow friend doth try,
Directly seasons him his enemy.
But, orderly to end where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.
So think thou wilt no second husband wed;
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.
P. Queen. Nor earth to me give food, nor heaven light!
Sport and repose lock from me day and night!
[ T o desperation turn my trust and hope!
An anchor’s cheer2 1 in prison be my scope!]
Each opposite2 2 that blanks2 3 the face of joy
Meet what I would have well and it destroy!
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife,
If, once a widow, ever I be wife!
Ham. If she should break it now!
P. King. ‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here a while.
My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile
The tedious day with sleep. Sleeps.
P. Queen. Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain! Exit.
Ham. Madam, how like you this play?
Queen. The lady protests too much, methinks.
Ham. O, but she’ll keep her word.
King. Have you heard the argument ? Is there no offence i n ‘ t ?
Ham. No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest.
No offence i’ the world.
King. What do you call the play ?
Ham. The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically.24 This play is
the image of a murder done in Vienna. Gonzago is the duke’s name;
his wife, Baptista. You shall see anon. ‘Tis a knavish piece of work,
but what o’ that? Your Majesty and we that have free souls, it

21 Hermit’s fare. 22 Contrary thing. 23 Makes pale. 24 Figuratively.

touches us not. Let the gall’d jade wince, our withers are unwrung.
This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king.
Oph. You are a good chorus, my lord.
Ham. I could interpret between you and your love,2 5 if I could
see the puppets dallying.26
Oph. You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
Ham. It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.
Oph. Still better, and worse.
Ham. So you mistake2 7 your husbands. Begin, murderer; pox,
leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come, “the croaking raven
doth bellow for revenge.”
Luc. Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;
Confederate season, else no creature seeing.
Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate’s ban thrice blasted, thrice infected,
Thy natural magic and dire property
On wholesome life usurp immediately.
Pours the poison in [to the sleeper’s] ears.
Ham. He poisons him i’ the garden for’s estate. His name’s Gonzago;
the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian. You shall see
anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.
Oph. The King rises.
Ham. What, frighted with false fire?28
Queen. How fares my lord?
Pol. Give o’er the play.
King. Give me some light. Away!
All. Lights, lights, lights!
Exeunt all but HAMLET and HORATIO.
Ham. Why, let the strucken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play;
For some must watch, while some must sleep,—
So runs the world away.
25 Lover. 26 Referring to the interpreter who explains the action in a puppet show.
27 Implying that wives, having promised to take their husbands for better, for
• worse, break their word. 28 Fire-works.

Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers29—if the rest of my
fortunes turn Turk with me—with two Provincial roses3 0 on my
raz’d3 1 shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players, sir?
Hor. Half a share.
Ham. A whole one, I.
For thou dost know, O Damon dear,
This realm dismantled was
• Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
A very, very—pajock.
Hor. You might have rhym’d.
Ham. O good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand
pound. Didst perceive?
Hor. Very well, my lord.
Ham. Upon the talk of the poisoning?
Hor. I did very well note him.
Ham. Ah, ha! Come, some music! Come, the recorders!
For if the king like not the comedy,
Why, then, belike, he likes it not, perdy.
Come, some music!
Guil. Good my lord, vouchsafe me a word with you.
Ham. Sir, a whole history.
Guil. The King, sir,—
Ham. Ay, sir, what of him?
Guil. Is in his retirement marvellous distemper’d.32
Ham. With drink, sir?
Guil. No, my lord, rather with choler.33
Ham. Your wisdom should show itself more richer to signify this
to his doctor; for, for me to put him to his purgation would perhaps
plunge him into far more choler.
Guil. Good my lord, put your discourse into some frame, and
start not so wildly from my affair.
Ham. I am tame, sir; pronounce.

29 Feather head-dresses were much worn by actors. 30 Rosettes of ribbon.
31 Slashed. 32 Perturbed. 33 Anger.

Guil. The Queen, your mother, in most great affliction of spirit,
hath sent me to you.
Ham. You are welcome.
Guil. Nay, good my lord, this courtesy is not of the right breed.
If it shall please you to make me a wholesome answer I will do
your mother’s commandment; if not, your pardon and my return
shall be the end of my business.
Ham. Sir, I cannot.
Guil. What, my lord?
Ham. Make you a wholesome answer. My w i t ‘ s diseas’d. But,
sir, such answers as I can make, you shall command, or, rather, as
you say, my mother. Therefore no more, but to the matter. My
mother, you say,—
Ros. Then thus she says: your behaviour hath struck her into
amazement and admiration.34
Ham. O wonderful son, that can so astonish a mother! But is
there no sequel at the heels of this mother’s admiration? [Impart.]
Ros. She desires to speak with you in her closet ere you go to bed.
Ham. We shall obey, were she ten times our mother. Have you
any further trade with us ?
Ros. My lord, you once did love me.
Ham. So I do still, by these pickers and stealers.35
Ros. Good my lord, what is your cause of distemper ?
You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty if you deny your
griefs to your friend.
Ham. Sir, I lack advancement.
Ros. How can that be, when you have the voice of the King
himself for your succession in Denmark ?
Ham. Ay, but “While the grass grows,”—36 the proverb is something
Re-enter one with a recorder
O, the recorder! Let me see.—To withdraw37 with you:—why do you
go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into
a toil ?
34 Wonder. 35 Hands. 36 “—the steed starves.” 37 Talk apart.

Guil. O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too unmannerly.
Ham. I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this
Guil. My lord, I cannot.
Ham. I pray you.
Guil. Believe me, I cannot.
Ham. I do beseech you.
Guil. I know no touch of it, my lord.
Ham. ‘Tis as easy as lying. Govern these ventages” with your
finger and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse
most excellent music. Look you, these are the stops.
Guil. But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony.
I have not the skill.
Ham. Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops,
you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me
from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much
music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it
[speak. ‘Sblood,] do you think that I am easier to be play’d on than
a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret3 9 me,
you cannot play upon me.
God bless you, sir.
Pol. My lord, the Queen would speak with you, and presently.
Ham. Do you see that cloud that’s almost in shape like a camel?
Pol. By the mass, and it’s like a camel, indeed.
Ham. Methinks it is like a weasel.
Pol. It is back’d like a weasel.
Ham. Or like a whale?
Pol. Very like a whale.
Ham. Then will I come to my mother by and by. [Aside.]
They fool me to the top of my bent.—I will come by and by.
Pol. I will say so. Exit.

38 Wind-holes.
39 A pun on fret, to irritate and fret, a bar on a stringed instrument to guide the


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