Scene 15

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Synopsis

Fortinbrasse and his Army of Norway have arrived in Denmark, at the harbor of Elsinore Town, and are starting to move inland. Fortinbrasse dispatches his Captain to Elsinore Castle, to get the written license from Claudius which Fortinbrasse can show to prove his army is in Denmark legally.

Hamlet, on his way to the harbor with R & G, sees the army and meets the Captain. From talking with the Captain, Hamlet learns that the army is led by Fortinbrasse, and, so the Captain says, it's on its way to Poland. When Hamlet asks where their objective is, in Poland, the Captain doesn't say, he changes the subject.

Hamlet makes a speech about what a man is, and should be. He ponders bravery, and cowardice, and contemplates Fortinbrasse's army. He berates himself for not taking revenge against Claudius yet. He then continues with R & G to board the ship to England.

Characters

The Scene 15 Characters are: Fortinbrasse, Captain, Hamlet, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern.

Passage Links

Hamlet's soliloquy #034

Jump down to the Notes.


Dialogue

Scene 15      [ ~ For England? ~ ]      (Act 4 Scene 4)

#15-Setting: Outside the Castle;
            Near the harbor of Elsinore Town;
            Just after sunrise.

#15-000-SD  (Fortinbrasse enters, with his army, including a Captain at his side)

#15-001  Fortinbrasse:  Go, captain, from me greet the Danish King,
                        Go, captain, and greet the Danish King for me.
#15-002        Tell him, that by his license, Fortinbrasse
                        Tell him, that by his writ of authorization, Fortinbrasse
#15-003        Craves the conveyance of a promised march
                        Desires the legal means for the agreed-upon passage
#15-004        Over his kingdom; you know the rendezvous;
                        Across his kingdom.  You know the rendezvous point.
#15-005        If that his Majesty would ought with us,
                        Should it be, that his Majesty wants to deal with me, personally,
#15-006        We shall express our duty in his eye,
                        I shall express my duty, before him.
#15-007        And let him know so.
                        And tell him so.
#15-008  Captain:  I will do it, my Lord.
                        I will do that, my Lord.
#15-009  Fortinbrasse:  Go softly on.
                        Go ahead, in a friendly way.

#15-009-SD1  (Fortinbrasse exits)

#15-009-SD2  (Hamlet enters;
                   followed by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)

#15-010  Hamlet:  Good sir, whose powers are these?
                        Good sir, whose military forces are these?
#15-011  Captain:  They are of Norway, sir.
                        They are from Norway, sir.
#15-012  Hamlet:  How purposed, sir, I pray you?
                        What is their objective, sir, if I may ask?
#15-013  Captain:  Against some part of Poland.
                        They're to attack a part of Poland.
#15-014  Hamlet:  Who commands them, sir?
                        Who commands them, sir?
#15-015  Captain:  The nephew to old Norway, Fortenbrasse.
                        The nephew of old King Norway, Fortinbrasse.
#15-016  Hamlet:  Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
                        Does it march against the Polish mainland, sir,
#15-017        Or for some frontier?
                        Or someplace on the outskirts?
#15-018  Captain:  Truly to speak, and with no addition,
                        To tell the truth, and with no exaggeration,
#15-019        We go to gain a little patch of ground
                        We seek to win a little patch of ground
#15-020        That hath in it no profit but the name;
                        That has no advantage to it, except the name.
#15-021        To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
                        I wouldn't pay five ducats, only five, to rent it and try to farm it.
#15-022        Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
                        Nor would it yield to King Norway, or to the Polish King
#15-023        A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
                        A higher price, if it were sold outright.
#15-024  Hamlet:  Why, then the Polack never will defend it.
                        Why, then, the Polish army will never defend it.
#15-025  Captain:  Yes, it is already garrisoned.
                        Yes, it is already garrisoned.
#15-026  Hamlet (aside):  Two thousand souls, & twenty thousand ducats
                        So many men, at so much cost,
#15-027        Will not debate the question of this straw;
                        Aren't going to just deliberate the issue of this trifle.
#15-028        This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
                        This is like being eaten at by an abscess, caused by too much comfort and security,
#15-029        That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
                        That bursts inside, without showing any external symptom of
#15-030        Why the man dies.  (to the Captain):  I humbly thank you, sir.
                        Why the man dies.  I humbly thank you, sir.
#15-031  Captain:  God buy you, sir.
                        Goodbye, sir.

#15-031-SD  (the Captain exits)

#15-032  Rosencrantz:  Will it please you go, my Lord?
                        Will it please you to keep going now, my Lord?
#15-033  Hamlet:  I'll be with you straight, go a little before.
                        I'll be with you right away, walk on ahead a little.

#15-033-SD  (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit)

   (Hamlet continues):
#15-034        How all occasions do inform against me,
                        How everything that happens shames me,
#15-035        And spur my dull revenge.  What is a man
                        And spurs onward my weary revenge!  What is a man
#15-036        If his chief good and market of his time
                        If his main motivation and business during his life
#15-037        Be but to sleep and feed?  A beast, no more.
                        Is only to sleep and eat? - An animal, no more than that.
#15-038        Sure, he that made us with such large discourse
                        Surely, He who made us with such great power of reason,
#15-039        Looking before and after, gave us not
                        To predict what's ahead, and remember what's behind, did not give us
#15-040        That capability and god-like reason
                        That consciousness, and god-like mental capacity
#15-041        To fust in us unused; now whether it be
                        To mold away in us, unused.  Now, whether it might be
#15-042        Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
                        The obliviousness of a beast, or some cowardly scruple
#15-043        Of thinking too precisely on the event -
                        From thinking too analytically about my fate -
#15-044        A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom,
                        A kind of thinking that when quartered, itself, has only one part wisdom
#15-045        And ever three parts coward - I do not know
                        And certainly three parts cowardice - I do not know
#15-046        Why yet I live to say "this thing's to do,"
                        Why I still live to say, "this thing's yet to be done,"
#15-047        Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
                        Because I do have just cause, and desire, and the strength, and a way
#15-048        To do it; examples gross as earth exhort me;
                        To do it.  Exemplars as obvious as the earth encourage me.
#15-049        Witness this army of such mass and charge,
                        For one, in evidence: this army of such size and weight,
#15-050        Led by a delicate and tender prince,
                        Led by a young, mortal prince,
#15-051        Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,
                        Whose spirit, inspired with noble ambition,
#15-052        Makes mouths at the invisible event,
                        Sneers at his unknown fate, and
#15-053        Exposing what is mortal, and unsure,
                        Exposing his mortal body, with no guarantee,
#15-054        To all that fortune, death, and danger dare;
                        To everything that luck, death, and danger challenge him with,
#15-055        Even for an eggshell.  Rightly to be great,
                        Even for a thing of little value.  Rightly, to be "great,"
#15-056        Is not to stir without great argument,
                        Does not mean moving only when there's some great issue,
#15-057        But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
                        But to fight valiantly over even a single burning straw,
#15-058        When honor's at the stake; how stand I, then,
                        When honor's tied to the stake.  How do things stand with me, then,
#15-059        That have a father killed, a mother stained,
                        Who have a father killed, a mother disgraced, and with
#15-060        Excitements of my reason, and my blood,
                        Agitations of my mind, and of my emotions,
#15-061        And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
                        And yet I let things go dormant, while, to my shame, I see
#15-062        The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
                        The imminent deaths of so many men,
#15-063        That for a fantasy and trick of fame
                        Who, for their dreams and the allure of fame,
#15-064        Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
                        Go to their graves as easily as going to bed, as they fight for a little ground
#15-065        Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
                        Which is not even big enough for the battle, and
#15-066        Which is not tomb enough and continent
                        Which is not even tomb enough or enough land area
#15-067        To hide the slain; oh from this time forth,
                        To bury the dead.  Oh, from this time forth,
#15-068        My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.
                        My thoughts must be murderous, or be worth nothing.

#15-068-SD    (Hamlet exits)

End of Scene 15

Scene Links

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Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20

Notes

Jump up to the start of the Dialogue.

15-Setting
  • Place - Near the Elsinore Town harbor.
  • Time of Day - Early morning.
  • Calendar Time -

Return: #Setting

15-000-SD

(Fortinbrasse enters, with his army, including a Captain at his side)

Return: #000-SD

15-001

Fortinbrasse: Go, captain, from me greet the Danish King,

Return: #001

15-002

Tell him, that by his license, Fortinbrasse

license - written authorization, that is, a writ of authorization. Fortinbrasse is referring to an actual legal document which Claudius is required to issue under the terms of the "peace" treaty between Denmark and Norway.

Return: #002

15-003

Craves the conveyance of a promised march

Craves - is a word chosen especially for action. Fortinbrasse pats his stomach as he speaks the line. We recall from Scene 1 that his enterprise is a hungry one, "that hath a stomach in't." (Scene 1#110) In simple meaning, a paraphrase is "desires."

conveyance - has a wicked undertone. In law, a conveyance is a transfer of property from one person to another, or, the legal document that effects the transfer of the property. Fortinbrasse has in mind that the property will be that which he is standing on, namely the island of Zealand, Denmark, and the transfer will be from Claudius to himself.

Viewing conveyance naively, which is not at all the wisest way to view it, Fortinbrasse is only speaking of the "means of transportation." That is, the license he mentioned will provide him with the (legal) "means of transportation" across Denmark. If Fortinbrasse were interrogated, he would claim that is all he meant.

march - naively, call it a "passage." However, march has the distinct flavor of military activity.

Return: #003

15-004

Over his kingdom; you know the rendezvous;

Return: #004

15-005

If that his Majesty would ought with us,

Return: #005

15-006

We shall express our duty in his eye,

Return: #006

15-007

And let him know so.

Return: #007

15-008

Captain: I will do it, my Lord.

Return: #008

15-009

Fortinbrasse: Go softly on.

softly - quietly, so as not to arouse any suspicion of hostile intent.

Return: #009

15-009-SD1

(Fortinbrasse exits)

Return: #009-SD1

15-009-SD2

(Hamlet enters; followed by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern)

Return: #009-SD2

15-010

Hamlet: Good sir, whose powers are these?

Return: #010

15-011

Captain: They are of Norway, sir.

of Norway - of the King of Norway.

sir - The Captain does not know who Hamlet is.

Return: #011

15-012

Hamlet: How purposed, sir, I pray you?

Return: #012

15-013

Captain: Against some part of Poland.

Yeah, the part of "Poland" he's standing on, but the Captain isn't going to reveal that.

Return: #013

15-014

Hamlet: Who commands them, sir?

Return: #014

15-015

Captain: The nephew to old Norway, Fortenbrasse.

Return: #015

15-016

Hamlet: Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,

Return: #016

15-017

Or for some frontier?

Return: #017

15-018

Captain: Truly to speak, and with no addition,

Return: #018

15-019

We go to gain a little patch of ground

Return: #019

15-020

That hath in it no profit but the name;

Return: #020

15-021

To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;

All that castle stonework would make the land impossible to plow.

Return: #021

15-022

Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole

Return: #022

15-023

A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.

ranker - higher. Since the Captain is a military man, we can read some irreverent military jargon into this: a captain is "ranker" than a lieutenant, a major is "ranker" than a captain, a colonel is "ranker" than a major, etc. But the Captain's plain meaning when he says ranker rate is "higher rate."

Return: #023

15-024

Hamlet: Why, then the Polack never will defend it.

Return: #024

15-025

Captain: Yes, it is already garrisoned.

Return: #025

15-026

Hamlet (aside): Two thousand souls, & twenty thousand ducats

Hamlet hasn't done any accounting for personnel or expenditure. He's merely doing an off-the-cuff, order of magnitude estimate. It's a guess, in other words. Exactness is not the point, the point is that the Norwegians are risking a lot to gain very little, as Hamlet understands it. (But Hamlet doesn't know the Captain lied to him.)

Return: #026

15-027

Will not debate the question of this straw;

With stress on debate. Debate is talk, deliberation. Hamlet means Fortinbrasse isn't just deliberating what he should do, he's taking action. In the course of his thought, Hamlet is reproaching himself for only talking, and not taking action against Claudius.

question - issue. Point of contention.

"Debating the question" is, of course, a standard academic exercise at universities. Hamlet's language goes along with him being a university student. But Hamlet means Fortinbrasse is not treating the question, in which he takes an interest, as an academic exercise.

straw - object of little value. Hamlet means that even though Fortinbrasse's objective (as the Captain described it) is worth little, nevertheless, Fortinbrasse is going to fight for it.

Return: #027

15-028

This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,

Return: #028

15-029

That inward breaks, and shows no cause without

Return: #029

15-030

Why the man dies. (to the Captain): I humbly thank you, sir.

Return: #030

15-031

Captain: God buy you, sir.

Return: #031

15-031-SD

(the Captain exits)

In the direction of the Castle.

Return: #031-SD

15-032

Rosencrantz: Will it please you go, my Lord?

Return: #032

15-033

Hamlet: I'll be with you straight, go a little before.

Return: #033

15-033-SD

(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit)

In the direction of the harbor, which is the opposite direction from the Castle.

Return: #033-SD

15-034

How all occasions do inform against me,

all occasions - all occurrences; everything that happens. "Occasion" goes back to Latin 'cadere' ("to befall,") so at root it's one of the "fall" words in the play.

inform against - shame. Or, chide, scold. Literally, to inform against is to accuse, but further, to be accused is to be scolded, in a way, or shamed.

To be publicly accused is to be publicly shamed (when the accusation is true, and it is true that Hamlet has only spoken against Claudius, so far, and has made no attempt to kill him.)

Return: #034

15-035

And spur my dull revenge. What is a man

spur - urge onward. Like spurring a tired horse. This is implicitly an instance of the Horse Motif.

dull - tedious, weary. In relation to the concepts of the play, the best paraphrase might be "dispirited."

That which is dull needs whetting. We may recall the Ghost speaking of "whetting Hamlet's purpose" in the Closet Scene, which was only a few hours ago. (Scene 11##122) Even though that was not really why the Ghost was there, the "whetting" didn't last long.

Return: #035

15-036

If his chief good and market of his time

Return: #036

15-037

Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

beast - spoken after Hamlet thought of a horse when he said "spur" two lines ago.

Return: #037

15-038

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse

Return: #038

15-039

Looking before and after, gave us not

Return: #039

15-040

That capability and god-like reason

Return: #040

15-041

To fust in us unused; now whether it be

Return: #041

15-042

Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple

Return: #042

15-043

Of thinking too precisely on the event -

precisely - analytically. Painstakingly. "Precise" goes back to Latin 'caedere' ("to cut,") so Hamlet is talking about "cutting the subject too fine."

the event -

Return: #043

15-044

A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom,

Return: #044

15-045

And ever three parts coward - I do not know

Return: #045

15-046

Why yet I live to say "this thing's to do,"

Return: #046

15-047

Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means

Return: #047

15-048

To do it; examples gross as earth exhort me;

Return: #048

15-049

Witness this army of such mass and charge,

mass - size. One of the meanings in Middle English.

charge - weight. That meaning is taken from early Middle English. Goes back to Old French 'charge' ("burden,") so again we encounter the "burden" concept. One will still encounter the idea of the "weight" of a military force, especially in terms like "light infantry," or "heavy artillery."

Return: #049

15-050

Led by a delicate and tender prince,

delicate - mortal.

tender - young. Of "tender" years.

Return: #050

15-051

Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,

Return: #051

15-052

Makes mouths at the invisible event,

Makes mouths - sneers.

the invisible event - of his fate, his death, an event Fortinbrasse cannot foresee, nor can Hamlet foresee his own fate.

Return: #052

15-053

Exposing what is mortal, and unsure,

Return: #053

15-054

To all that fortune, death, and danger dare;

Return: #054

15-055

Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great,

Return: #055

15-056

Is not to stir without great argument,

Return: #056

15-057

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw

Return: #057

15-058

When honor's at the stake; how stand I, then,

at the stake - tied to the stake, i.e. in a position to be destroyed. The picture is that of being burned at the stake. One would quarrel over even a single burning straw when honor is tied to the stake. The Fire Motif is implicit.

It can also be read in mundane terms as "at stake," a reading which is of no particular interest, however.

Return: #058

15-059

That have a father killed, a mother stained,

stained - besmirched; disgraced.

Return: #059

15-060

Excitements of my reason, and my blood,

Excitements - agitations.

blood - emotions; passions.

Return: #060

15-061

And let all sleep, while to my shame I see

Return: #061

15-062

The imminent death of twenty thousand men,

Return: #062

15-063

That for a fantasy and trick of fame

fantasy and trick - can be read as hendiadys: "alluring dream."

Return: #063

15-064

Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot

Return: #064

15-065

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,

Return: #065

15-066

Which is not tomb enough and continent

continent - land area.

Return: #066

15-067

To hide the slain; oh from this time forth,

To hide the slain - To bury the dead.

Return: #067

15-068

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.

Return: #068

15-068-SD

(Hamlet exits)

In the direction of the harbor, to proceed on the voyage to England.

Return: #068-SD


Scene Links

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Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20


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