The young Norwegian prince, Fortinbras, had landed on the coast near Elsinore. He sent for his captain and gave him his instructions.

‘Go and greet the Danish king from me,’ he said. ‘Tell him that with his permission, Fortinbras desires to take his army on the march across Denmark that he agreed to. You know where to rendezvous with me. If his majesty wants to see me we shall go to him. Tell him that.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the captain

Hamlet, on his way to the harbour, wondered what the military activity was. He motioned the coachman to stop and he hailed the senior officer as he came abreast. ‘Good sir, whose army is this?’ he said.

‘Norway’s, sir,’ the captain said.

‘Can you tell me where they’re going, please?’

‘Marching against some part of Poland, sir.’

‘Who is their commander, sir?’

‘Fortinbras, old Norway’s nephew.’

‘Is it a full-scale expedition against Poland or a small border dispute?’

‘To tell you the truth, and without exaggerating,’ the captain said, ‘we’re going there to capture a tiny piece of land that has no value apart from the fact that it will represent a victory. I wouldn’t pay five ducats rent, no, not five, to farm it. And it wouldn’t bring a higher rate if either the Poles or Norway were to sell it.’

‘Well then,’ said Hamlet, ‘the Poles will never defend it.’

The captain laughed. ‘Yes they will. It’s already garrisoned. Two thousand soldiers and twenty thousand ducats aren’t enough to settle the dispute over this straw.’

‘This is the abscess that grows slowly and secretly during years of peace and luxury then breaks internally and shows no outward sign of the cause of the man’s death.’ said Hamlet. ‘I thank you, sir.’

The Captain saluted him and rode on.

‘Shall we go, my lord?’ said Rosencrantz.

Hamlet sat back and stared out at the sea. How the examples provided by everything around him denounced him and reminded him of his inability to sweep to his revenge! What was a man if his most profitable employment was to eat and sleep? Nothing more than an animal. He who made us with that vast capacity for understanding, that ability to reflect on experience and learn from it, didn’t give us that god-like reason just to let it go mouldy from disuse. He didn’t know what it was that was stopping him. Whether it was animal-like inability to understand or some cowardly nit-picking – thinking too precisely about it, analysing his thoughts, which were one quarter wisdom and always three quarters cowardice. He didn’t know why he was saying, ‘this still has to be done’ since he had the reason and the desire and the strength and the means to do it. Examples as weighty as the earth keep urging him. Look at the way this inexperienced young prince, puffed with divine ambition and scorning everything that fortune, death and danger could throw at him, was leading this huge expensive army on a campaign to gain a piece of land that was nothing more than an eggshell. True greatness wasn’t a matter of rushing into action for any trivial cause but when honour was at stake it was noble to act, no matter how trivial the cause was. Where did he stand, then, his father murdered, his mother stained – two huge incentives – and not do anything? It was to his shame that he was watching the imminent death of twenty thousand men who were going to their deaths as easily as one would go to bed, for almost no reason, fighting for a plot of land that was so small that they wouldn’t even fit on it, that wasn’t even big enough for the fallen to be buried on.

Oh, from now on his thoughts would be bloody, or not worth having!


Read more scenes from Hamlet:

Hamlet in Modern English|Hamlet original text
Modern Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1|Hamlet text Act 1, Scene 1
Modern Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2|Hamlet text Act 1, Scene 2
Modern Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3|Hamlet text Act 1, Scene 3
Modern Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4|Hamlet text Act 1, Scene 4
Modern Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5|Hamlet text Act 1, Scene 5
Modern Hamlet Act 2, Scene 1|Hamlet text Act 2, Scene 1
Modern Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2|Hamlet text Act 2, Scene 2
Modern Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1|Hamlet text Act 3, Scene 1
Modern Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2|Hamlet text Act 3, Scene 2
Modern Hamlet Act 3, Scene 3|Hamlet text Act 3, Scene 3
Modern Hamlet Act 3, Scene 4|Hamlet text Act 3, Scene 4
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 1|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 1
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 2|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 2
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 3|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 3
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 4|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 4
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 5
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 6|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 6
Modern Hamlet Act 4, Scene 7|Hamlet text Act 4, Scene 7
Modern Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1|Hamlet text Act 5, Scene 1

Read all of Shakespeare’s plays translated to modern English >>

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