David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s HAMLET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 5

— 1.5 —

Hamlet stopped walking and asked the ghost, “Where are you leading me? I’ll go no further.”

“Listen to me carefully,” the ghost said.

“I will.”

“The hour has almost come when I must return to the sulfurous and tormenting flames of Purgatory.”

“Alas, poor ghost!”

“Do not pity me,” the ghost said. “Instead, listen carefully to what I shall tell you.”

“Speak; I am bound by filial duty to hear you.”

“When you hear what I have to say, you will be bound to seek revenge.”


“I am your father’s spirit. I am doomed for a certain time to walk during the night, and during the day I am confined to fast in fires, until the foul sins I committed in my days of life are burnt and purged away. If I were not forbidden to tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could tell you things whose lightest word would harrow your soul, freeze your young blood, and make your two eyes, like falling stars, start from their sockets, and part your carefully arranged locks of hair and make each individual hair stand on end like the quills of the bad-tempered porcupine. But this revelation of the mysteries of Purgatory must not be made to ears of flesh and blood. Listen, listen, listen to me if you ever have loved your dear father —”

“Oh, God!”

“— revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”


“Murder most foul,” the ghost said. “Murder is foul at best, but my murder was very foul, strange, and unnatural. My murder is unnatural because it goes against the natural bonds of kinship.”

“Quickly tell me what happened,” Hamlet said, “so that I, with wings as swift as thinking or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.”

“I find you apt and eager,” the ghost said. “You would have to be duller than the overgrown weeds that root themselves in ease on the banks of the Lethe River, whose water souls drink to forget past events, not to be moved by what I have to say.

“Now, Hamlet, listen. It was reported that as I was sleeping in my garden, a serpent bit me. The whole ear of Denmark is by a false account of my death rankly abused. Know, you noble youth, that the serpent that stung your father’s life now wears his crown.”

“Oh, my prophetic soul! I suspected this! My uncle!”

“Yes, your uncle is the cause of my death. He is an incestuous and adulterous beast. He used his knowledge of witchcraft, and he used traitorous gifts — wicked wit and gifts have the power to seduce! — to win to his shameful lust the will of my most seemingly virtuous Queen Gertrude, your mother.

“Oh, Hamlet, how she fell! She took her love from me, whose love was of such quality that it kept the vow I had made to her when I married her, and she gave it to a wretch whose natural gifts were poor in comparison to those of mine. True virtue can never be seduced even if lust dresses itself up with a Heavenly appearance, but lust, even if it has a Heavenly appearance, can first gorge itself in a celestial bed, and then gorge itself with garbage.

“But, wait! I think that I smell the morning air, so I must be brief. As I was sleeping — I thought safely — within my garden, as was my habit each afternoon, your uncle stole into my garden, carrying a vial of the poisonous juice of the cursed hebenon plant, and he poured the leprous poison into the shells of my ears. This poison so hates the blood of man that as quickly as it courses through the veins of the body, it makes the healthy and wholesome blood curdle like acid when dropped into milk. Quickly, my skin became like the bark of a tree. My skin became leprous; a vile and loathsome crust covered all my smooth body.

“That is how I, while sleeping, lost my life, my crown, and my queen, all because of a brother’s hand. My life was cut short even in the blossom of my sin. I died without receiving the sacrament of holy communion, without confessing and being absolved from my sins, and without being anointed with holy oil. I was not given my last rites. I was not able to make a reckoning of my sins before I died, but instead I was sent to give an account of my sins with all my imperfections on my head. Oh, horrible! Oh, horrible! Most horrible!

“If you have any natural feeling in you, do not tolerate this. Do not allow the royal bed of Denmark to be a couch for lustfulness and damned incest. But, whatever you do, do not allow your mind to be corrupted by contact with your uncle, and do not plot to harm your mother. Leave her to Heaven and to her conscience — allow those thorns that lodge in her bosom to prick and sting her.

“Farewell now! The glowworm shows that the morning is near — the glowworm’s ineffectual fire begins to pale.

Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.”

The ghost departed.

Hamlet said to himself, “Oh, all you host of Heaven — you angels! Oh, Earth! What else shall I call on? Shall I call on Hell? Damn! Do not break, my heart. And you, my sinews, do not grow instantly old, but instead keep me standing upright.

“Shall I remember you! Yes, you poor ghost, I will remember you for as long as memory holds a seat in this distracted globe — this head — of mine. Remember you! Yes, from the tablet of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial and foolish records, all quotations from books, all ideas, all past impressions and observations that I have copied and written there in my youth. The only thing that shall live on in the book and volume of my brain will be your commandment. It will not be mixed with baser matter. Yes, by Heaven!

“Oh, most pernicious woman! Oh, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tablet — it is fitting that I write down that a person may smile, and smile, and still be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.”

Hamlet wrote on a tablet, and then he said, “So, uncle, there you are. Now to my watchword, aka motto — the words that I will live by. The ghost said, ‘Adieu, adieu! Remember me.’ I have sworn to remember it.”

Horatio called, “My lord! My lord!”

Marcellus called, “Lord Hamlet!”

“May Heaven protect Hamlet!” Horatio said.

Hamlet said to himself, “So be it.”

Horatio called, “Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!”

A falconer uses the words “Hillo, ho, ho” to call his falcon to return to him.

Hamlet called back, “Hillo, ho, ho, boy! Come, bird, come.”

Horatio and Marcellus walked over to Hamlet.

“How are you, my noble lord?” Marcellus asked.

“What happened, my lord?” Horatio asked.

“Something to be wondered at,” Hamlet replied.

“My good lord, tell us what happened,” Horatio requested.

“No; you’ll reveal it.”

“Not I, my lord,” Horatio said. “I swear it by Heaven.”

“I also swear that I will not reveal it,” Marcellus said.

“What do you say then to this?” Hamlet said. “Would anyone ever think —”

He stopped and then asked, “But you will keep this secret?”

Horatio and Marcellus replied, “Yes, we will. We swear it by Heaven, my lord.”

Hamlet thought about revealing to them what the ghost had said, but in the midst of speaking he changed his mind and said something obvious: “All complete and total villains dwelling in Denmark are … complete and total knaves.”

“No ghost, my lord, needs to come from the grave to tell us this,” Horatio said. “We already know it.”

“Why, you are right,” Hamlet said. “You are in the right, and so, without any more explanation at all, I think it fitting that we shake hands and part. You shall do as your business and desire shall point you; every man has business and desire, such as it is. As for me, I will go and pray.”

“These are wild and excited words, my lord,” Horatio said.

“I’m sorry that they offend you,” Hamlet said. “I am heartily sorry — yes, heartily.”

“I am not offended,” Horatio replied.

“By Saint Patrick you say that you are not offended,” Hamlet said, “but my words are about offense — and a lot of offense. Regarding this vision here, it is an honest and genuine ghost — I can tell you that. As for your desire to know what happened between the ghost and me, stifle that desire as much as you are able to. And now, good friends, as you are friends, scholars, and soldiers, grant me one poor thing I request.”

“What is it, my lord?” Horatio said. “We will grant it.”

“Never make known what you have seen tonight,” Hamlet said.

“My lord, we will not,” both Horatio and Marcellus said.

“Swear it,” Hamlet said.

“Truly, my lord, I will not reveal what I have seen tonight,” Horatio said.

“Neither will I, truly,” Marcellus said.

“Swear it upon the cross made by the hilt of my sword,” Hamlet said.

Hamlet drew his sword.

“We have sworn, my lord, already,” Marcellus said.

“Swear upon the cross made by the hilt of my sword,” Hamlet repeated.

The ghost’s voice came from under the ground: “Swear!”

“Ah, ha, boy!” Hamlet said, excitedly. “Do you say so? Are you there, truepenny — true and honest fellow?”

He said to Horatio and Marcellus, “Come on — you hear this fellow in the cellars — swear.”

“Propose the oath you want us to swear to, my lord,” Horatio said.

“Swear by my sword that you will never speak of this that you have seen.”

The ghost’s voice came from under the ground, but from a different spot than before: “Swear!”

Hamlet said about the ghost’s voice, “Hic et ubique? [Latin for ‘Here and everywhere?’] Then we’ll shift our ground and move to a different spot. Come over here, gentlemen, and lay your hands again upon my sword. Swear by my sword that you will never tell what you have heard.”

The ghost’s voice came from under the ground, and again it came from a different spot than before: “Swear by his sword!”

“Well said, old mole!” Hamlet said. “Can you dig and work in the earth so fast? You are a worthy miner! Once more, let us move, good friends.”

“Oh, day and night,” Horatio said, “but this is wondrously strange!”

“Since the ghost is a stranger, welcome it,” Hamlet said. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of by philosophers.”

He then said to both Horatio and Marcellus, “But come; swear here, as you have sworn oaths before, never, so help you God, no matter how strange or odd I act, as I perhaps hereafter shall think fitting to act in an antic and insane manner, that you, seeing me at such times, never shall do or say anything that reveals that you know that I am putting on an act. Swear that you will not fold your arms like this [Hamlet folded his arms], or shake your heads like this [Hamlet shook his head], or say some mysterious phrase such as ‘Well, well, we know,’ or ‘We could, if we would,’ or ‘If we wanted to speak,’ or ‘There are people who could say more if they wanted to,’ or such other ambiguous hint. In short, you will do nothing and you will say nothing that hints that you know that I am putting on an act. Swear this upon the grace and mercy that you will need on the Day of Judgment.”

The ghost’s voice came from under the ground: “Swear!”

Horatio and Marcellus put their hands on Hamlet’s sword and swore not to tell what they had seen, not to tell what they had heard, and not to reveal that Hamlet was faking it when he acted as if he were insane.

“Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!” Hamlet said.

Hamlet then said to Horatio and Marcellus, “With all my love, I commend myself to you. Whatever so poor a man as Hamlet may do to express his love and friendship to you, God willing, he shall not stint to do. Let us go in together. Keep https://www.amazon.com/William-Shakespeares-Hamlet-Retelling-Prose-ebook/dp/B00TWSEKDY/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8your fingers always on your lips, I ask you.”

Hamlet made a ‘shh!’ sign with his finger on his lips, and then he added, “The time is disordered. Oh, cursed spirit, I regret that I was ever born to set it right!”

Horatio and Marcellus wanted Hamlet to enter the castle first, but Hamlet said to them, “No, let’s go in together.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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