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The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act One Scene 2

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by Mark Andre Alexander

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


Scene 1 | Scene 2 | Scenes 3 & 4 | Scene 5

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[1. 2]

Florish. Enter Claudius, King of Denmarke,

Gertrad the Queene,

Counsaile: as Polonius, and his Sonne Laertes,

Hamlet, Cum Alijs.

Claud. Though yet of Hamlet our deare brothers death

The memorie be greene, and that it vs befitted

To beare our harts in griefe, and our whole Kingdome,

To be contracted in one browe of woe

Yet so farre hath discretion fought with nature,

That we with wisest sorrowe thinke on him

Together with remembrance of our selues:

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Therefore our sometime Sister, now our Queene

Th’imperiall ioyntresse to this warlike state

Haue we as twere with a defeated ioy [10]

With an auspitious, and a dropping eye,

With mirth in funerall, and with dirdge in marriage,

In equall scale waighing delight and dole

Taken to wife: nor haue we heerein bard

Your better wisdomes, which haue freely gone

With this affaire along (for all our thankes)

Now followes that you knowe young Fortinbrasse,

Holding a weake supposall of our worth

Or thinking by our late deare brothers death

Our state to be disioynt, and out of frame [20]

Coleagued with this dreame of his aduantage

He hath not faild to pestur vs with message

Importing the surrender of those lands

Lost by his father, with all bands of lawe

To our most valiant brother, so much for him:

Now for our selfe, and for this time of meeting,

Thus much the busines is, we haue heere writ

To Norway Vncle of young Fortenbrasse

Who impotent and bedred scarcely heares

Of this his Nephewes purpose; to suppresse [30]

His further gate heerein, in that the leuies,

The lists, and full proportions are all made

Out of his subiect, and we heere dispatch

You good Cornelius, and you Valtemand,

For bearers of this greeting to old Norway,

Giuing to you no further personall power

To busines with the King, more then the scope

Of these delated articles allowe:

Farwell, and let your hast commend your dutie.

Cor. Vo. In that, and all things will we showe our dutie. [40]

King. We doubt it nothing, hartely farwell.

And now Laertes whats the newes with you?

You told vs of some sute, what ist Laertes?

You cannot speake of reason to the Dane

And lose your voyce; what wold’st thou begge Laertes,?

That shall not be my offer, not thy asking,

The head is not more natiue to the hart

The hand more instrumentall to the mouth

Then is the throne of Denmarke to thy father,

What would’st thou haue Laertes?

Laer.                                           My dread Lord, [50]

Your leaue and fauour to returne to Fraunce,

From whence, though willingly I came to Denmarke,

To showe my dutie in your Coronation;

Yet now I must confesse, that duty done

My thoughts and wishes bend againe toward Fraunce

And bowe them to your gracious leaue and pardon.

King. Haue you your fathers leaue, what saies Polonius?

Polo. Hath my Lord wroung from me my slowe leaue

By laboursome petition, and at last

Vpon his will I seald my hard consent, [60]

I doe beseech you giue him leaue to goe.

King. Take thy faire houre Laertes, time be thine

And thy best graces spend it at thy will:

But now my Cosin Hamlet, and my sonne.

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Claudius’s use of the legal term jointress signals the special nature of his claim to what would normally be Hamlet’s inheritance (the castle as well as the former King’s property). As Old Hamlet’s younger brother, Claudius had no hope of acquiring property expect by marriage. Gertrude is a rich widow and dowager queen. Claudius proclaims that Gertrude’s property is held in jointure, an estate of land held jointly by two or more people. Thus, Gertrude’s property (Hamlet’s inheritance) has in some measure been transferred to Claudius. In Hamlet’s first soliloquey, we are presented with the brutal significance of this hasty marriage and its legal consequences.

“[Hamlet’s] rights of inherirance were subject to his mother’s behavior in various ways. for one thing, he could not be sure of exactly what property would pass directly to him until the expiration of forty days. The Magna Carta protected a widow’s right to dower…and the privilege, called her quarantine, to remain for forty days in the husband’s principal residence before selecting and retiring to her dower lands.” (Burton 78)

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Ham. A little more then kin, and lesse then kind.

King. How is it that the clowdes still hang on you.

Ham. Not so much my Lord, I am too much in the sonne.

Queene. Good Hamlet cast thy nighted colour off

And let thine eye looke like a friend on Denmarke,

Doe not for euer with thy vailed lids   [70]

Seeke for thy noble Father in the dust,

Thou know’st tis common all that liues must die,

Passing through nature to eternitie.

Ham. I Maddam, it is common.

Quee.                                         If it be

VVhy seemes it so perticuler with thee.

Ham. Seemes Maddam, nay it is, I know not seemes,

Tis not alone my incky cloake coold mother

Nor customary suites of solembe blacke

Nor windie suspiration of forst breath

No, nor the fruitfull riuer in the eye, [80]

Nor the deiected hauior of the visage

Together with all formes, moodes, chapes of griefe

That can deuote me truely, these indeede seeme,

For they are actions that a man might play

But I haue that within which passes showe

These but the trappings and the suites of woe.

King. Tis sweete and commendable in your nature Hamlet,

To giue these mourning duties to your father

But you must knowe your father lost a father,

That father lost, lost his, and the suruiuer bound [90]

In filliall obligation for some tearme

To doe obsequious sorrowe, but to perseuer

In obstinate condolement, is a course

Of impious stubbornes, tis vnmanly griefe,

It showes a will most incorrect to heauen

A hart vnfortified, or minde impatient

An vnderstanding simple and vnschoold

For what we knowe must be, and is as common

As any the most vulgar thing to sence,

Why should we in our peuish opposition [100]

Take it to hart, fie, tis a fault to heauen,

A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,

To reason most absurd, whose common theame

Is death of fathers, and who still hath cryed

From the first course, till he that died to day

This must be so: we pray you throw to earth

This vnpreuailing woe, and thinke of vs

As of a father, for let the world take note

You are the most imediate to our throne,

And with no lesse nobilitie of loue [110]

Then that which dearest father beares his sonne,

Doe I impart toward you for your intent

In going back to schoole in Wittenberg,

It is most retrogard to our desire,

And we beseech you bend you to remaine

Heere in the cheare and comfort of our eye,

Our chiefest courtier, cosin, and our sonne.

Quee. Let not thy mother loose her prayers Hamlet,

I pray thee stay with vs, goe not to Wittenberg.

Ham. I shall in all my best obay you Madam.[120]

King. Why tis a louing and a faire reply,

Be as our selfe in Denmarke, Madam come,

This gentle and vnforc’d accord of Hamlet

Sits smiling to my hart, in grace whereof,

No iocond health that Denmarke drinkes to day,

But the great Cannon to the cloudes shall tell.

And the Kings rowse the heauen shall brute againe,

Respeaking earthly thunder; come away

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Hamlet’s first line reflects his concern. As long as Claudius remains at Elsinore (with Hamlet too much in the sun), he can claim, through the jointure, the castle itself.

“As fortresses, and necessary for the defense of the realm, [castles] were excluded from selection as dower in the matter of publid interest, in order to have them held by a male….[But] the moment Claudius introduced Gertrude as “our queen,/ Th’imperial jointress to this warlike state”…Hamlet was confronted with the staggering fact that his mother;s remarriage put the newly elected king firmly in possession before the expiration of her quarantine.” (Burton 78)

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Florish. Exeunt all, but Hamlet

Ham. O that this too too sallied flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolue it selfe into a dewe, [130]

Or that the euerlasting had not fixt

His cannon gainst [Selfe-]slaughter, O God, God,

How wary, stale, flat, and vnprofitable

Seeme to me all the vses of this world?

Fie on’t, ah fie, tis an vnweeded garden

That growes to seede, things rancke and grose in nature,

Possesse it meerely that it should come thus

But two months dead, nay not so much, not two,

So excellent a King, that was to this

Hiperion to a satire, so louing to my mother, [140]

That he might not beteeme the winds of heauen

Visite her face too roughly, heauen and earth

Must I remember, why she should hang on him

As if increase of appetite had growne

By what it fed on, and yet within a month,

Let me not thinke on’t; frailty thy name is woman  

A little month or ere those shooes were old

With which she followed my poore fathers bodie

Like Niobe all teares, why she

O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason [150]

Would haue mourn’d longer, married with my Vncle,

My fathers brother, but no more like my father

Then I to Hercules, within a month,

Ere yet the salt of most vnrighteous teares,

Had left the flushing in her gauled eyes

She married, O most wicked speede; to post

With such dexteritie to incestious sheets,

It is not, nor it cannot come to good,

But breake my hart, for I must hold my tongue.     

Enter Horatio,Marcellus, and Bernardo.

Hora. Haile to your Lordship.

Ham.                                   I am glad to see you well; [160]

Horatio, or I do forget my selfe.

Hora. The same my Lord, and your poore seruant euer.

Ham. Sir my good friend, Ile change that name with you,

And what make you from Wittenberg Horatio?


Mar. My good Lord.

Ham. I am very glad to see you, (good euen sir)

But what in faith make you from Wittenberg?

Hora. A truant disposition good my Lord.

Ham. I would not heare your enimie say so, [170]

Nor shall you doe my eare that violence

To make it truster of your owne report

Against your selfe, I knowe you are no truant,

But what is your affaire in Elsonoure?

Weele teach you for to drinke ere you depart.

Hora. My Lord, I came to see your fathers funerall.

Ham. I prethee doe not mocke me fellowe studient,

I thinke it was to my mothers wedding.

Hora. Indeede my Lord it followed hard vppon.

Ham. Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funerall bak’t meates [180]

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,

Would I had met my dearest foe in heauen

Or euer I had seene that day Horatio,

My father, me thinkes I see my father.

Hora. Where my Lord?

Ham.                           In my mindes eye Horatio.

Hora. I saw him once, a was a goodly King.

Ham. A was a man take him for all in all

I shall not looke vppon his like againe.

Hora. My Lord I thinke I saw him yesternight.

Ham. Saw, who?

Hora.                  My Lord the King your father.[190]

Ham. The King my father?

Hora. Season your admiration for a while

With an attent eare till I may deliuer

Vppon the witnes of these gentlemen

This maruile to you.

Ham.                      For Gods loue let me heare?

Hora. Two nights together had these gentlemen

Marcellus, and Barnardo, on their watch

In the dead wast and middle of the night

Beene thus incountred, a figure like your father

Armed at poynt, exactly Capapea [200]

Appeares before them, and with solemne march,

Goes slowe and stately by them; thrice he walkt

By their opprest and feare surprised eyes

Within his tronchions length, whil’st they distil’d

Almost to gelly, with the act of feare

Stand dumbe and speake not to him; this to me

In dreadfull secresie impart they did,

And I with them the third night kept the watch,

Whereas they had deliuered both in time

Forme of the thing, each word made true and good, [210]

The Apparision comes: I knewe your father,

These hands are not more like.

Ham.                                     But where was this?

Mar. My Lord vppon the platforme where we watch,

Ham. Did you not speake to it?

Hora.                                       My Lord I did,

But answere made it none, yet once me thought

It lifted vp it head, and did addresse

It selfe to motion like as it would speake:

But euen then the morning Cock crewe loude,

And at the sound it shrunk in hast away

And vanisht from our sight.

Ham.                               Tis very strange. [220]

Hora. As I doe liue my honor’d Lord tis true

And we did thinke it writ downe in our dutie

To let you knowe of it.

Ham. Indeede Sirs but this troubles me,

Hold you the watch to night?

All.                                     We doe my Lord.

Ham. Arm’d say you?

All.                             Arm’d my Lord.

Ham. From top to toe?

All.                              My Lord from head to foote.

Ham. Then sawe you not his face.

Hora. O yes my Lord, he wore his beauer vp.

Ham. What look’t he frowningly? [230]

Hora. A countenance more in sorrow then in anger.

Ham. Pale, or red?

Hora. Nay very pale.

Ham.                        And fixt his eyes vpon you?

Hora. Most constantly.

Ham.                           I would I had beene there.

Hora. It would haue much a maz’d you.

Ham. Very like, stayd it long?

Hora. While one with moderate hast might tell a hundreth.

Both. Longer, longer.

Hora. Not when I saw’t.

Ham. His beard was grissl’d, no. [240]

Hora. It was as I haue seene it in his life

A sable siluer’d.

Ham.                I will watch to nigh

Perchaunce twill walke againe.

Hora.                                    I warn’t it will.

Ham. If it assume my noble fathers person,

Ile speake to it though hell it selfe should gape

And bid me hold my peace; I pray you all

If you haue hetherto conceald this sight

Let it be tenable in your silence still,

And what someuer els shall hap to night,

Giue it an vnderstanding but no tongue,   [250]

I will requite your loues, so farre you well:

Vppon the platforme twixt a leauen and twelfe

Ile visite you.

All.               Our dutie to your honor.


Ham. Your loues, as mine to you, farwell.

My fathers spirit (in armes) all is not well,

I doubt some foule play, would the night were come,

Till then sit still my soule, fonde deedes will rise

Though all the earth ore-whelme them to mens eyes.


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Why on earth is Hamlet pondering self-slaughter? Apart from the obvious, he has also been robbed of his inheritance. (Furthermore, Hamlet ironically prefigures Ophelia’s suicide and the gravedigger’s parody: “No law writer has yet stated the English law relating to suicides so completely as is done in Hamlet,” writes R. A. Guernsey. For details on the law and Ophelia’s suicide see R. A. Guernsey, Ecclesiastical Law in HAMLET: The Burial of Ophelia)


If Claudius and Gertrude had married two months after old Hamlet’s death, then Hamlet’s inheritance would be secure. But she married before the forty days quarantine were up. She had control of the castle and property during that time. Hamlet, knowing that the marriage happened within a month and that the marriage involves a jointure, he perceives that Claudius has ended up with all of his inheritance.

“In the ordinary course, Hamlet would inherit Elsinore and the rest of his two-thirds share in forty days, or earlier if [Gertrude] moved to her dower share before then. Instead, Gertrude remarried immediately. Not to just any eligible nobleman but to the new king; and he, very conveniently, was already holding his court at Elsinore and therefore in possession at the moment of his marriage….[T]his gave Claudius legal control of whatever Gertrude possessed, i.e., the still-undivided estates of the old king.” (Burton 78)



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