Home / Uncategorized / The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act One Scenes 3 & 4

The Legally Annotated HAMLET – Act One Scenes 3 & 4

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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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Scene 3

Enter Laertes, and Ophelia his Sister.

Laer. My necessaries are inbarckt, farwell,

And sister, as the winds giue benefit

And conuay, in assistant doe not sleepe

But let me heere from you.

Ophe.                               Doe you doubt that?

Laer. For Hamlet, and the trifling of his fauour,

Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood

A Violet in the youth of primy nature,

Forward, not permanent, sweete, not lasting,

The perfume and suppliance of a minute

No more.

Ophe.    No more but so.


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Laer.                              Thinke it no more. [10]

For nature cressant does not growe alone

In thewes and bulkes, but as this temple waxes

The inward seruice of the minde and soule

Growes wide withall, perhapes he loues you now,

And now no soyle nor cautell doth besmirch

The vertue of his will, but you must feare,

His greatnes wayd, his will is not his owne,

[For hee himselfe is subiect to his Birth:]

He may not as vnualewed persons doe,

Carue for himselfe, for on his choise depends [20]

The safty and health of this whole state,

And therefore must his choise be circumscribd

Vnto the voyce and yeelding of that body

Whereof he is the head, then if he saies he loues you,

It fits your wisdome so farre to belieue it

As he in his particuler act and place

May giue his saying deede, which is no further

Then the maine voyce of Denmarke goes withall.

Then way what losse your honor may sustaine

If with too credent eare you list his songs [30]

Or loose your hart, or your chast treasure open

To his vnmastred importunity.

Feare it Ophelia, feare it my deare sister,

And keepe you in the reare of your affection

Out of the shot and danger of desire,

“The chariest maide is prodigall inough

If she vnmaske her butie to the Moone

“Vertue it selfe scapes not calumnious strokes

“The canker gaules the infants of the spring

Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d, [40]

And in the morne and liquid dewe of youth

Contagious blastments are most iminent,

Be wary then, best safety lies in feare,

Youth to it selfe rebels, though non els neare.

Ophe. I shall the effect of this good lesson keepe

As watchman to my hart, but good my brother

Doe not as some vngracious pastors doe,

Showe me the steepe and thorny way to heauen

Whiles a puft, and reckles libertine

Himselfe the primrose path of dalience treads. [50]

And reakes not his owne reed.

Enter Polonius.

Laer. O feare me not,

I stay too long, but heere my father comes

A double blessing, is a double grace,

Occasion smiles vpon a second leaue.

Pol. Yet heere Laertes? a bord, a bord for shame,

The wind sits in the shoulder of your saile,

And you are stayed for, there my blessing with thee,

And these fewe precepts in thy memory

Looke thou character, giue thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any vnproportion’d thought his act, [60]

Be thou familier, but by no meanes vulgar,

Those friends thou hast, and their a doption tried,

Grapple them vnto thy soule with hoopes of steele,

But doe not dull thy palme with entertainment

Of each new hatcht vnfledgd courage, beware

Of entrance to a quarrell, but being in,

Bear’t that th’opposed may beware of thee,

Giue euery man thy eare, but fewe thy voyce,

Take each mans censure, but reserue thy iudgement,

Costly thy habite as thy purse can buy, [70]

But not exprest in fancy; rich not gaudy,

For the apparrell oft proclaimes the man

And they in Fraunce of the best ranck and station,

Or of a most select and generous, chiefe in that:

Neither a borrower nor a lender boy,

For loue oft looses both it selfe, and friend,

And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry;

This aboue all, to thine owne selfe be true

And it must followe as the night the day

Thou canst not then be false to any man: [80]

Farwell, my blessing season this in thee.

Laer. Most humbly doe I take my leaue my Lord.

Pol. The time inuests you goe, your seruants tend.

Laer. Farwell Ophelia, and remember well

What I haue sayd to you.

Ophe.                             Tis in my memory lockt

And you your selfe shall keepe the key of it.

Laer. Farwell.

Exit Laertes.

Pol. What ist Ophelia he hath sayd to you?

Ophe. So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.

Pol. Marry well bethought [90]

Tis tolde me he hath very oft of late

Giuen priuate time to you, and you your selfe

Haue of your audience beene most free and bountious,

If it be so, as so tis put on me,

And that in way of caution, I must tell you,

You doe not vnderstand your selfe so cleerely

As it behooues my daughter, and your honor,

What is betweene you giue me vp the truth,

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A subtle, clever play on will, missed by the Arden editors, that only those with legal training would appreciate, one indicating that Shakespeare has read Henrie Swinburne’s A Briefe Treatise of Testaments and Last Wills (1590-91):

“It is an old question, whether he that hath taken an oth not to make a testament, may notwithstanding make a testament: and although there were many which did hold that in this case he could not make a testament, yet the greater number are of the contrarie opinion; esteeming the othe not to be lawfull, and consequently not of force to deprive a man of the libertie of making a testament. And therefore if a man first make a testament, and then sweareth never to revoke the same, yet notwithstanding he may make another testament and thereby revoke the former: for there is no cautele under heaven, whereby the libertie of making or revoking his testament can be utterly taken away.” (61)

“It is not lawful for legataries to carve for themselves, taking their legacies at their own pleasure, but must have them delivered by the executors.” (50)

Ordinary men may carve for themselves. But Laertes’ point is that Hamlet is not like ordinary men. Thus his will is not his own.

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Ophe. He hath my Lord of late made many tenders

Of his affection to me. [100]

Pol. Affection, puh, you speake like a greene girle

Vnsifted in such perrilous circumstance,

Doe you belieue his tenders as you call them?

Ophe. I doe not knowe my Lord what I should thinke.

Pol. Marry I will teach you, thinke your selfe a babie

That you haue tane these tenders for true pay

Which are not sterling, tender your selfe more dearely

Or (not to crack the winde of the poore phrase

Wrong it thus) you’l tender me a foole.

Ophe. My Lord he hath importun’d me with loue [110]

In honorable fashion.

Pol. I, fashion you may call it, go to, go to.

Ophe. And hath giuen countenance to his speech

My Lord, with almost all the holy vowes of heauen.

Pol. I, springs to catch wood-cockes, I doe knowe

When the blood burnes, how prodigall the soule

Lends the tongue vowes, these blazes daughter

Giuing more light then heate, extinct in both

Euen in their promise, as it is a making

You must not take for fire, from this time [120]

Be something scanter of your maiden presence

Set your intreatments at a higher rate

Then a commaund to parle; for Lord Hamlet,

Belieue so much in him that he is young,

And with a larger tider may he walke

Then may be giuen you: in fewe Ophelia,     

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Polonius thinks in terms of legal transactions, the recurring metaphors of this scene. He changes Ophelia’s use of tenders in its affectionate sense into one of legal commerce, legal tenders. This pandering talk sets up the fishmonger accusation that Hamlet levels later, accusing Polonius of being a pimp for his daughter.

It’s important to recognize that at this time, tender is a relatively new technical legal term. The OED records the first instance of this particular definition as 1577. This does not appear to have been a widely used term outside of legal circles. All legal usages of this term seem to originate in the 16th century.


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Doe not belieue his vowes, for they are brokers

Not of that die which their inuestments showe

But meere [implorators] of vnholy suites

Breathing like sanctified and pious bonds [130]

The better to [beguile]: this is for all,

I would not in plaine tearmes from this time foorth

Haue you so slaunder any moment leasure

As to giue words or talke with the Lord Hamlet,

Looke too’t I charge you, come your wayes.

Ophe. I shall obey my Lord.


Scene 4

Enter Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus.

Ham. The ayre bites shroudly, it is very colde.

Hora. It is nipping, and an eager ayre.

Ham. What houre now?

Hora.                            I thinke it lackes of twelfe.

Mar. No, it is strooke.

Hora.                         Indeede; I heard it not,

it then drawes neere the season,

Wherein the spirit held his wont to walke

A florish of trumpets and 2. peeces goes of.

What does this meane my Lord?

Ham. The King doth wake to night and takes his rowse.

Keepes wassell and the swaggring vp-spring reeles:

And as he draines his drafts of Rennish downe, [10]

The kettle drumme, and trumpet, thus bray out

The triumph of his pledge.

Hora.                              Is it a custome?

Ham. I marry ist,

But to my minde, though I am natiue heere

And to the manner borne, it is a custome

More honourd in the breach, then the obseruance.

This heauy headed reueale east and west

Makes vs tradust, and taxed of other nations,

They clip vs drunkards, and with Swinish phrase

Soyle our addition, and indeede it takes [20]

From our atchieuements, though perform’d at height

The pith and marrow of our attribute,

So oft it chaunces in particuler men,

That for some vicious mole of nature in them

As in their birth wherein they are not guilty,

(Since nature cannot choose his origin)

By their ore-grow’th of some complextion

Oft breaking downe the pales and forts of reason,

Or by some habit, that too much ore-leauens

The forme of plausiue manners, that these men [30]

Carrying I say the stamp of one defect

Being Natures liuery, or Fortunes starre,

His vertues els be they as pure as grace,

As infinite as man may vndergoe,

Shall in the generall censure take corruption

From that particuler fault: the dram of eale

Doth all the noble substance of a doubt

To his owne scandle.

Enter Ghost.

Hora.                         Looke my Lord it comes.

Ham. Angels and Ministers of grace defend vs:

Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d, [40]

Bring with thee ayres from heauen, or blasts from hell,

Be thy intents wicked, or charitable,

Thou com’st in such a questionable shape,

That I will speake to thee, Ile call thee Hamlet,

King, father, royall Dane, o answere mee,

Let me not burst in ignorance, but tell

Why thy canoniz’d bones hearsed in death

Haue burst their cerements? why the Sepulcher,

Wherein we saw thee quietly interr’d

Hath op’t his ponderous and marble iawes, [50]

To cast thee vp againe? what may this meane

That thou dead corse, againe in compleat steele

Reuisites thus the glimses of the Moone,

Making night hideous, and we fooles of nature

So horridly to shake our disposition

With thoughts beyond the reaches of our soules,

Say why is this, wherefore, what should we doe?    Beckins.

Hora. It beckins you to goe away with it

As if it some impartment did desire

To you alone.

Mar.              Looke with what curteous action [60]

It waues you to a more remooued ground,

But doe not goe with it.

Hora.                           No, by no meanes.

Ham. It will not speake, then I will followe it.

Hora. Doe not my Lord.

Ham.                              Why what should be the feare,

I doe not set my life at a pinnes fee,

And for my soule, what can it doe to that

Being a thing immortall as it selfe;

It waues me forth againe, Ile followe it.

Hora. What if it tempt you toward the flood my Lord,

Or to the dreadfull somnet of the cleefe [70]

That bettles ore his base into the sea,

And there assume some other horrable forme

Which might depriue your soueraigntie of reason,

And draw you into madnes, thinke of it,

The very place puts toyes of desperation

Without more motiue, into euery braine

That lookes so many fadoms to the sea

And heares it rore beneath.

Ham.                                 It waues me still,

Goe on, Ile followe thee.

Mar. You shall not goe my Lord.

Ham.                                          Hold of your hands. [80]

Hora. Be rul’d, you shall not goe.

Ham.                                          My fate cries out

And makes each petty arture in this body

As hardy as the Nemeon Lyons nerue;

Still am I cald, vnhand me Gentlemen

By heauen Ile make a ghost of him that lets me,

I say away, goe on, Ile followe thee.

Exit Ghost and Hamlet.

Hora. He waxes desperate with imagion.

Mar. Lets followe, tis not fit thus to obey him.

Hora. Haue after, to what issue will this come?

Mar. Something is rotten in the state of Denmarke. [90]

Hora. Heauen will direct it.

Mar.                                  Nay lets follow him.


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Brokers contrive, make, and conclude bargains and contracts between merchants and tradesmen in matters of money and merchandize and receive a fee or reward. The distinction between a broker and a factor (as in Comedy of Errors) is that the factor is entrusted with possession, management, control, and disposal of the goods, while a broker usually has no such possession. Whenever Shakespeare speaks of a broker or factor, he uses the words with this distinction. The Arden editors arbitrarily changes bonds to “bawds,” wrongly thinking that both Q and F are mistaken, altering the cluster of metaphors. Perhaps the Arden editors should consult a lawyer.

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