William Shakespeare. Hamlet (in prose, read online)

Part 4. The King’s Council

Early in the morning king Claudius called a meeting of the Council, The members of the Council assembled in the grand hall of the palace, together with some representatives of the nobility. Among them was the old Lord Chamberlain, Polonius, accompanied by his young son Laertes. Prince Hamlet also came to the meeting, but modestly placed himself in the back rows.

The heralds called out and at the sounds of trumpets king Claudius came in, together with his wife, queen Gertrude. The king was a robust man of about forty, red-haired and with a curly red beard. Queen Gertrude was an elegant woman, somewhat older than her husband, still preserving her former beauty. She walked by the side of her husband and nodded graciously to the respectfully bowing courtiers.

It was the first Council meeting since the royal couple’s wedding, and enthronement. Opening the Council, the king made a speech, in which he first paid tribute to the memory of his late brother — king Hamlet — and then announced that with the Council’s permission he had married the queen-dowager Gertrude,

«Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death the mem­ory be green,»1 he said, «so that it us befitted to bear our hearts in grief2 and our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe,3 yet so far hath discretion fought with nature,4 that we with wisest sorrow think of him, together with remembrance of ourselves. Therefore our sometime sister, now our queen, the imperial jointress of this warlike state,5 have we, as ’twere with a defeated joy,6 — with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,7 in equal scale weigh­ing delight and dole,8— taken to wife. Nor have we herein barred your better wisdoms, which have freely gone with this affair along:9 for all, our thanks.»

An attentive observer might have seen that while pronouncing his speech, king Claudius constantly cast glances at prince Hamlet, as though he was speaking personally to him.

The prince stood with his head bent low and did not move.

Having dealt in this manner with his private affairs, the king passed to the official list on the agenda: he informed the Council of the strained situation created on the border of Denmark by the hostile actions of Fortinbras, the prince of Norway, who was determined to recover the lands lost by his father to king Hamlet.

«The king of Norway, uncle of Fortinbras,» said king Claudius, «being impotent and bed-rid,10 scarcely knows of, this his nephew’s purpose. Therefore we have decided to send you, good Cornelius, and you, Voltimand, to bring our greetings to old Norway and to discuss with him the situation, within the plenary powers entrusted to you by our letter.»11

The sealed letter was handed to the ambassadors and the king wished them farewell. The king then closed the meeting. While the members of the Council and the guests were leaving the hall, king Claudius made a sign to Polonius and his son to stay a while. To this both courtiers gladly obeyed. Prince Hamlet also stayed in the hall, but stood somewhat apart.

«And now, Laertes,» said the king, addressing the Lord Chamberlain’s son, «you spoke to us of some suit. What is it, Laertes?» And the king added that the great services rendered by his father Polonius to the State, gave him full right to believe that any reasonable suit on his part would always be granted by the crown.

«Your leave and favour to return to France,12 my lord,» exclaimed the encouraged youth, «from where I came to Denmark to show my duty at your coronation.»

«Have you your father’s leave? What says Polonius?» asked the king.

»He has, my lord, wrung from me my slow consent by his insistent pleadings,» answered Polonius. «I do beseech you, give him leave to go.»

«Take thy fair hour, Laertes,»13 the king decided, «time is thine and thou may spend it at thy own will.» Saying this the king dismissed the courtiers. With low bows to both their majesties Polonius and his son left the hall.


Comments to Hamlet in prose in Russian:

  1. Хотя еще свежо воспоминание о смерти Гамлета, нам дорогого брата
  2. больше б нам пристало хранить в сердцах печаль
  3. а всю державу нашу повергнуть в скорбь
  4. и все же, поскольку разум спорит с естеством
  5. державную наследницу воинственной страны
  6. и как бы радость затая на сердце
  7. храня ту радость на похоронах и не скрывая скорбь на свадьбе
  8. уравновесив как бы радость и печаль
  9. Причем не пренебрегли мы вашей мудрой волей, во всем нам давшей одобрение.
  10. больной, прикованный к постели
  11. в пределах полномочий, данных вам в послании нашем
  12. Доизволения Вашего во Францию вернуться
  13. Так, пользуйся, Лаэрт, счастливым часом

Part 5. An Obedient Son

The royal couple and prince Hamlet were left alone in the hall. For some time all three were silent and then, los­ing patience, the king turned to his nephew:

«And now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son…»1 he began, but Hamlet interrupted him:

«A little more than kin, and less than kind.»2 The king raised his brows, greatly amazed:

«How is it that the clouds still hang on you?»3 toe said, trying to play the part of a kind relative. But his voice sounded harsh.

«Not so, my lord, I’m too much in the sun,»4 was Hamlet’s bitter reply.

Queen Gertrude, who was anxiously watching both her husband and her son, decided that the time had come for her to interfere:

«Good Hamlet,» she said, «change thy mood a little, and let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.5 Do not for ever with thy vailed lids6 seek for thy noble father in the dust. Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.»7

«Ay, madam, it is common,» was Hamlet’s cold reply.

«Why seems it so particular with thee?» asked the queen.

«Seems, madam? nay, it is; I know not «seems»,»8 exclaimed Hamlet, and then continued: » Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, together with all signs of grief that can denote me truly;9 these indeed may «seem,» for they are actions that a man might play. But 1 have that within which is beyond the show10 — my constant grief and sorrow for my loss.»

King Claudius now found it necessary to interfere. He did not in any way sympathize with this rebellious youth, so openly hostile towards him, but he remembered that his mother the queen loved him dearly. King Claudius therefore thought it wiser to stick to his role of a kind relative.

«It is very kind of you, my Hamlet,» he said, «to give these mourning duties to your father,11 but you must know: your father lost his father, that father lost, lost his.12 The death of fathers is a law of nature, so why should we, in our peevish opposition,13 take it to heart? It is the duty of all those who are still alive to keep in memory their dead, so every son must weep for his father. But to go on weeping after the mourning period has expired is an unmanly grief — the one which shows an impatient mind and primitive understanding. It is a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature.»

King Claudius greatly valued his ability to reason and he was sure that no one would be able to resist the logical train of his thought. Convinced that he had succeeded in eliminating the fears and doubts of his nephew, he said: «We pray you, throw to earth this unnecessary grief,14 and think of us as of your father, for all the world must know that you are the nearest to our throne.»

Contrary the king’s expectation prince Hamlet was silent. What was it, king Claudius wondered: obstinacy or something more dangerous? He could not decide, but he was more and more convinced that his nephew should be watched constantly, as a person who could cause disturbance in court life or even in the country. And the king said decisively:

«For your intent of going back to Wittenberg, it is contrary to our desire. And we beseach you to remain here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye,15 and be our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.»

«Let not thy mother lose her prayers,16 Hamlet,» queen Gertrude said, coming to her husband’s support, «I pray you, stay with us, do not go to Wittenberg.»

Prince Hamlet understood that he had no other choice but to submit himself to the king’s will. And he replied to his mother:

«I shall in all my best obey you,17 madam.»

«Why, ’tis a loving and a fair reply,» king Claudius exclaimed, completely satisfied with the obedience of his nephew. He announced that in the evening he would drink Hamlet’s health, and that every toast would be accompanied by cannon fire, so that everybody might know of the accord reached between the king and his nephew.


Comments to Hamlet in prose in Russian:

  1. Поболее немного чем родственник, но поменее, чем добрый сын.
  2. Как, тучи все еще нависли над тобой?
  3. Ну, не совсем, милорд, меня ведь ослепляет солнце.
  4. и пусть твой взор увидит друга в государстве
  5. Зачем же вечно сквозь опущенные веки
  6. уйдя из этой жизни в вечность
  7. Кажется, сударыня? Нет, то не кажется, а есть, мне незнакомо слово «кажется»
  8. Не только этот траурный наряд… показывает, что я есть на самом деле
  9. Но у меня на сердце нечто, чему претит вся эта показуха
  10. что ты так чтишь усопшего отца
  11. тот умерший отец сам потерял отца
  12. в своем бесплодном отрицании
  13. отбрось же эту неподобающую грусть
  14. под лаской постоянных наших взоров
  15. Пусть мать твоя не расточает зря свои мольбы
  16. Во всем я вам охотно повинуюсь

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