Home / Uncategorized / The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act Five Scene 1

The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act Five Scene 1

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by Mark Andre Alexander

Act One | Act Two | Act Three | Act Four | Act Five


Scene 1 | Scene 2

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Enter two Clownes.

Clowne. Is shee to be buried in Christian buriall, when she

wilfully seekes her owne saluation?

Other. I tell thee she is, therfore make her graue straight,

the crowner hath sate on her, and finds it Christian


Clowne. How can that be, vnlesse she drown’d herselfe in her

owne defence.

Other. Why tis found so.

Clowne. It must be so offended, it cannot be els, for heere

lyes the poynt, if I drowne my selfe wittingly, it argues [10]

an act, & an act hath three branches, it is to act,

to doe, to performe, or all; she drownd her selfe


Other. Nay, but heare you good man deluer.

Clowne. Giue mee leaue, here lyes the water, good, here

stands the man, good, if the man goe to this water

& drowne himselfe, it is will he, nill he, he goes,

marke you that, but if the water come to him, &

drowne him, he drownes not himselfe, argall, he that is

not guilty of his owne death, shortens not his owne life. [20]

Other. But is this law?

Clowne. I marry i’st, Crowners quest law.

Other. Will you ha the truth an’t, if this had not beene a

gentlewoman, she should haue been buried out a

christian buriall.

Clowne. Why there thou sayst, and the more pitty that

great folke should haue countnaunce in this world to

drowne or hang thoêselues, more then theyr euen

Christen: Come my spade, there is no auncient

gentlemen but Gardners, Ditchers, and Grauemakers, [30]

they hold vp Adams profession.

Other. Was he a gentleman?

Clowne. A was the first that euer bore Armes.

[Other. Why, he had none.

Clowne. What, art a heathen? How dost thou understand

the Scripture? The Scripture says Adam digged.

Could he dig without arms?] Ile put another

question to thee, if thou answerest me not to the

purpose, confesse thy selfe.

Other. Goe to. [40]

Clow. What is he that builds stronger then eyther the

Mason, the Shypwright, or the Carpenter.

Other. The gallowes maker, for that out-liues a

thousand tenants.

Clowne. I like thy wit well in good fayth, the gallowes dooes

well, but howe dooes it well? It dooes well to those that

do ill, nowe thou doost ill to say the gallowes is built

stronger then the Church, argall, the gallowes may doo

well to thee. Too’t againe, come.

Other. VVho buildes stronger then a Mason, a Shipwright, [50]

or a Carpenter.

Clowne. I, tell me that and vnyoke.

Other. Marry now I can tell.

Clowne. Too’t.

Other. Masse I cannot tell.

Clow. Cudgell thy braines no more about it, for your dull

asse wil not mend his pace with beating, and when

you are askt this question next, say a graue-

maker, the houses hee makes lasts till Doomesday.

Goe get thee in, and fetch mee a soope of liquer. [60]

In youth when I did loue did loue,               Song.

Me thought it was very sweet

To contract o the time for a my behoue,

O me thought there a was nothing a meet.


Enter Hamlet and Horatio.

Ham. Has this fellowe no feeling of his busines? a sings in


Hora. Custome hath made it in him a propertie of easines.

Ham. Tis een so, the hand of little imploiment hath the

dintier sence.

Clow. But age with his stealing steppes               Song. [70]

hath clawed me in his clutch,

And hath shipped me into the land,

as if I had neuer been such.

Ham. That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once,

how the knaue iowles it to the ground, as if twere

Caines iawbone, that did the first murder, this

might be the pate of a pollitician, which this asse now

ore-reaches; one that would circumuent God, might

it not?

Hora. It might my Lord. [80]

Ham. Or of a Courtier, which could say good morrow

sweet lord, how doost thou sweet lord? This might

be my Lord such a one, that praised my lord

such a ones horse when a went to beg it, might it


Hor. I my Lord.

Ham. Why een so, & now my Lady wormes Choples,

& knockt about the massene with a Sextens spade;

heere’s fine reuolution and we had the tricke to see’t,

did these bones cost no more the breeding, but to play [90]

at loggits with them: mine ake to thinke on’t.

Clow. A pickax and a spade a spade,               Song.

for and a shrowding sheet,

O a pit of Clay for to be made

for such a guest is meet.

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This passage and Hamlet’s play on legal terms in the skull passage below together are enough to establish Shakespeare’s legal credential’s. Here Shakespeare reveals his knowledge of the case of Hale v. Petit, a case only available in Law French, which is learned only by those trained in law.

For a detailed discussion, see Hale v. Petit.

“The Gravedigger’s comic explanation of Coroner’s Inquest law has been long recognized as a parody of the legal reasoning in Hales v. Petit, a case decided in 1564 and reported at length in Edmund Plowden’s Reports, the earliest case-book of English legal decisions.” (Burton 71)

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Ham. There’s another, why may not that be the skull of

a Lawyer, where be his quiddities now, his quillites,

his cases, his tenurs, and his tricks? why dooes he

suffer this madde knaue now to knocke him about the

sconce with a durtie shouell, and will not tell him of his [100]

action of battery, hum, this fellowe might be in’s

time a great buyer of Land, with his Statuts, his

recognisances, his fines, his double vouchers, his

recoueries, [Is this the fine of his fines and the

recovery of his recoveries,] to haue his fine pate full of

fine durt, will vouchers vouch him no more of

his purchases & doubles then the length

and breadth of a payre of Indentures? The very

conueyances of his Lands will scarcely lye in this box, &

must th’inheritor himselfe haue no more, ha. [110]

Hora. Not a iot more my Lord.

Ham. Is not Parchment made of sheepe-skinnes?

Hora. I my Lord, and of Calues-skinnes too.

Ham. They are Sheepe and Calues which seeke out assurance

in that, I wil speak to this fellow. Whose graue’s

this sirra?

Clow. Mine sir, or a pit of clay for to be made.

Ham. I thinke it be thine indeede, for thou lyest in’t.

Clow. You lie out ont sir, and therefore tis not yours; [120]

for my part I doe not lie in’t, yet it is mine.

Ham. Thou doost lie in’t to be in’t & say it is thine, tis

for the dead, not for the quicke, therefore thou lyest.

Clow. Tis a quicke lye sir, twill away againe from me to


Ham. What man doost thou digge it for?

Clow. For no man sir.

Ham. What woman then?

Clow. For none neither.

Ham. Who is to be buried in’t? [130]

Clow. One that was a woman sir, but rest her soule shee’s


Ham. How absolute the knaue is, we must speake by the

card, or equiuocation will vndoo vs. By the Lord

Horatio, this three yeeres I haue tooke note of it, the

age is growne so picked, that the toe of the peasant

coms so neere the heele of the Courtier he galls his

kybe. How long hast thou been Graue-maker?

Clow. Of the dayes i’th yere I came too’t that day that

our last king

Hamlet ouercame Fortenbrasse. [140]

Ham. How long is that since?

Clow. Cannot you tell that? euery foole can tell that, it

was that very day that young Hamlet was borne: hee

that is mad and sent into England.

Ham. I marry, why was he sent into England?

Clow. Why because a was mad: a shall recouer his wits

there, or if a doo not, tis no great matter there.

Ham. Why?

Clow. Twill not be seene in him there, there the men are

as mad as hee. [150]

Ham. How came he mad?

Clow. Very strangely they say.

Ham. How strangely?

Clow. Fayth eene with loosing his wits.

Ham. Vpon what ground?

Clow. Why heere in Denmarke: I haue been Sexten heere

man and boy thirty yeeres.

Ham. How long will a man lie i’th earth ere he rot?

Clow. Fayth if a be not rotten before a die, as we haue

many pockie corses, that will scarce hold [160]

the laying in, a will last you som eyght yeere, or nine

yeere. A Tanner will last you nine yeere.

Ham. Why he more then another?

Clow. Why sir, his hide is so tand with his trade, that

a will keepe out water a great while; & your water

is a sore decayer of your whorson dead body, heer’s

a scull now hath lyen you i’th earth twenty three


Ham. Whose was it?

Clow. A whorson mad fellowes it was, whose do you [170]

think it was?

Ham. Nay I know not.

Clow. A pestilence on him for a madde rogue, a

pourd a flagon of Renish on my head once; this same

skull sir, was sir Yoricks skull, the Kings Iester.

Ham. This?

Clow. Een that.

Ham. Alas poore Yoricke, I knew him Horatio, a fellow

of infinite iest, of most excellent fancie, hee hath bore

me on his backe a thousand times, and now how [180]

abhorred in my imagination it is: my gorge rises at

it. Heere hung those lyppes that I haue kist I know not

howe oft, where be your gibes now? your gamboles,

your songs, your flashes of merriment, that were

wont to set the table on a roare, not one now to mocke

your owne grinning, quite chopfalne. Now get you

to my Ladies table, & tell her, let her paint an

inch thicke, to this fauour she must come, make her

laugh at that. Prethee Horatio tell me one thing.

Hora. What’s that my Lord? [190]

Ham. Doost thou thinke Alexander lookt a this fashion

i’th earth?

Hora. Een so.

Ham. And smelt so pah.

Hora. Een so my Lord.

Ham. To what base vses wee may returne Horatio? Why

may not imagination trace the noble dust of

Alexander, till a find it stopping a bunghole?

Hor. Twere to consider too curiously to consider so.

Ham. No faith, not a iot, but to follow him thether with [200]

modesty enough, and likelyhood to leade it. Alexander

dyed, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth

to dust, the dust is earth, of earth vvee make Lome, &

why of that Lome whereto he was conuerted, might

they not stoppe a Beare-barrell?

Imperious Caesar dead, and turn’d to Clay,

Might stoppe a hole, to keepe the wind away.

O that that earth which kept the world in awe,

Should patch a wall t’expell the waters flaw.

But soft, but soft awhile, here comes the King, [210]


Enter K. Q. , Laertes and the corse.

The Queene, the Courtiers, who is this they follow?

And with such maimed rites? this doth betoken,

The corse they follow, did with desprat hand

Foredoo it owne life, twas of some estate,

Couch we a while and marke.

Laer. What Ceremonie els?

Ham. That is Laertes a very noble youth, marke.

Laer. What Ceremonie els?

Doct. Her obsequies haue been as farre inlarg’d

As we haue warrantie, her death was doubtfull, [220]

And but that great commaund ore-swayes the order,

She should in ground vnsanctified been lodg’d

Till the last trumpet: for charitable prayers,

Flints and peebles should be throwne on her:

Yet heere she is allow’d her virgin Crants,

Her mayden strewments, and the bringing home

Of bell and buriall.

Laer. Must there no more be doone?

Doct.                                             No more be doone.

We should prophane the seruice of the dead;

To sing a Requiem and such rest to her [230]

As to peace-parted soules.

Laer.                                Lay her i’th earth,

And from her faire and vnpolluted flesh

May Violets spring: I tell thee churlish Priest,

A ministring Angell shall my sister be

When thou lyest howling.

Ham.                            What, the faire Ophelia.

Quee. Sweets to the sweet, farewell,

I hop’t thou should’st haue been my Hamlets wife,

I thought thy bride-bed to haue deckt sweet maide,

And not haue strew’d thy graue.

Laer.                                       O treble woe

Fall tenne times double on that cursed head, [240]

Whose wicked deede thy most ingenious sence

Depriued thee of, hold off the earth a while,

Till I haue caught her once more in mine armes;

Now pile your dust vpon the quicke and dead,

Till of this flat a mountaine you haue made

To’retop old Pelion, or the skyesh head

Of blew Olympus.

Ham.                   What is he whose griefe

Beares such an emphesis, whose phrase of sorrow

Coniures the wandring starres, and makes them stand

Like wonder wounded hearers: this is I [250]

Hamlet the Dane.

Laer. The deuill take thy soule.

Ham.                                      Thou pray’st not well,

I prethee take thy fingers from my throat,

For though I am not spleenatiue rash,

Yet haue I in me something dangerous,

Which let thy wisedome feare; hold off thy hand,

King. Pluck them a sunder.

Quee. Hamlet, Hamlet.

All. Gentlemen.

Hora. Good my Lord be quiet. [260]

Ham. Why, I will fight with him vpon this theame

Vntill my eye-lids will no longer wagge.

Quee. O my sonne, what theame?

Ham. I loued Ophelia, forty thousand brothers

Could not with all theyr quantitie of loue

Make vp my summe. What wilt thou doo for her.

King. O he is mad Laertes.

Quee. For loue of God forbeare him.

Ham. S’wounds shew me what th’owt doe:

Woo’t weepe, woo’t fight, woo’t fast, woo’t teare thy selfe, [270]

Woo’t drinke vp Esill, eate a Crocadile?

Ile doo’t, doost come heere to whine?

To out-face me with leaping in her graue,

Be buried quicke with her, and so will I.

And if thou prate of mountaines, let them throw

Millions of Acres on vs, till our ground

Sindging his pate against the burning Zone

Make Ossa like a wart, nay and thou’lt mouthe,

Ile rant as well as thou.

Quee.                        This is meere madnesse,

And this a while the fit will worke on him, [280]

Anon as patient as the female Doue

When that her golden cuplets are disclosed

His silence will sit drooping.

Ham. Heare you sir,

What is the reason that you vse me thus?

I lou’d you euer, but it is no matter,

Let Hercules himselfe doe what he may

The Cat will mew, and Dogge will haue his day.

Exit Hamlet and Horatio.

King. I pray thee good Horatio waite vpon him.

Strengthen your patience in our last nights speech,

Weele put the matter to the present push: [290]

Good Gertrard set some watch ouer your sonne,

This graue shall haue a liuing monument,

An houre of quiet thereby shall we see

Tell then in patience our proceeding be.               Exeunt.

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This passage is remarkable in it’s play on words. Only someone with a sophisticated legal understanding can grasp the depth and subtlety of the play.

The skeptical reader who may think this a simple paragraph of plays on legal terms is invited to read an extended discussion on this passage as part of A Mature Metaphorical and Philosophical Legal Mind.

“The legal terms in this passage have a significant common feature: in additional to their more general meanings, they all describe elements of collusive lawsuits and procedures commonly used to defeat the rights of heirs in order to facilitate sales of real property by the present owners.” (Burton 104)

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