Hamlet, Act III, Scene III [Oh my offence is rank]

- 1564-1616
The King's Speech

O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder!—Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will;
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offence?
And what's in prayer but this twofold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd being down? then I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder?
That cannot be; since I am still possess'd 
Of those effects for which I did the murder,—
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offence? 
In the corrupted currents of this world 
Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice; 
And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself 
Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above: 
There is no shuffling, there the action lies 
In his true nature; and we ourselves compell'd, 
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults, 
To give in evidence. What then? what rests? 
Try what repentance can: what can it not? 
Yet what can it when one can not repent? 
O wretched state! O bosom black as death! 
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free, 
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay! 
Bow, stubborn knees! and, heart with strings of steel
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well!

More by William Shakespeare

Venus and Adonis [But, lo! from forth a copse]

But, lo! from forth a copse that neighbours by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young, and proud,
Adonis' trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud;
     The strong-neck'd steed, being tied unto a tree,
     Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.

Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven's thunder;
     The iron bit he crushes 'tween his teeth
     Controlling what he was controlled with.

His ears up-prick'd; his braided hanging mane
Upon his compass'd crest now stand on end;
His nostrils drink the air, and forth again,
As from a furnace, vapours doth he send:
     His eye, which scornfully glisters like fire,
     Shows his hot courage and his high desire.

Sometime her trots, as if he told the steps,
With gentle majesty and modest pride;
Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps,
As who should say, 'Lo! thus my strength is tried;
     And this I do to captivate the eye
     Of the fair breeder that is standing by.'

What recketh he his rider's angry stir,
His flattering 'Holla,' or his 'Stand, I say?'
What cares he now for curb of pricking spur?
For rich caparisons or trapping gay?
     He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,
     Nor nothing else with his proud sight agrees.

Look, when a painter would surpass the life, 
In limning out a well-proportion'd steed,
His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
As if the dead the living should exceed;
     So did this horse excel a common one,
     In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone

Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
     Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
     Save a proud rider on so proud a back.

Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares;
Anon he starts at stirring of a feather;
To bid the wind a race he now prepares,
And whe'r he run or fly they know not whether;
     For through his mane and tail the high wind sings,
     Fanning the hairs, who wave like feather'd wings.

He looks upon his love, and neighs unto her;
She answers him as if she knew his mind;
Being proud, as females are, to see him woo her,
She puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind,
     Spurns at his love and scorns the heat he feels,
     Beating his kind embracements with her heels.

Then, like a melancholy malcontent,
He vails his tail that, like a falling plume
Cool shadow to his melting buttock lent:
He stamps, and bites the poor flies in his fume.
     His love, perceiving how he is enrag'd,
     Grew kinder, and his fury was assuag'd.

His testy master goeth about to take him;
When lo! the unback'd breeder, full of fear,
Jealous of catching, swiftly doth forsake him,
With her the horse, and left Adonis there.
     As they were mad, unto the wood they hie them,
     Out-stripping crows that strive to over-fly them.

     I prophesy they death, my living sorrow,
     If thou encounter with the boar to-morrow.

"But if thou needs wilt hunt, be rul'd by me;
Uncouple at the timorous flying hare,
Or at the fox which lives by subtlety,
Or at the roe which no encounter dare:
     Pursue these fearful creatures o'er the downs,
     And on they well-breath'd horse keep with they hounds.

"And when thou hast on food the purblind hare,
Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles
How he outruns with winds, and with what care
He cranks and crosses with a thousand doubles:
     The many musits through the which he goes
     Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.

"Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,
To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell,
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell,
     And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
     Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:

"For there his smell with other being mingled,
The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,
Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled 
With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;
     Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies,
     As if another chase were in the skies.

"By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
To hearken if his foes pursue him still:
Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;
     And now his grief may be compared well
     To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.

"Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch
Turn, and return, indenting with the way;
Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch,
Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay:
     For misery is trodden on by many,
     And being low never reliev'd by any.

"Lie quietly, and hear a little more;
Nay, do not struggle, for thou shalt not rise:
To make thee hate the hunting of the boar,
Unlike myself thou hear'st me moralize,
     Applying this to that, and so to so;
     For love can comment upon every woe."

Three Songs

Come unto these yellow sands,
   And then take hands:
Court'sied when you have, and kiss'd,--
   The wild waves whist--
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
   Hark, hark!
      Bow, wow,
   The watch-dogs bark:
      Bow, wow.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow!

                         --from The Tempest


Tell me where is Fancy bred, Or in the heart or in the head? How begot, how nourishèd? Reply, reply. It is engender'd in the eyes; With gazing fed; and Fancy dies In the cradle where it lies. Let us all ring Fancy's knell: I'll begin it,--Ding, dong, bell! All. Ding, dong, bell! --from The Merchant of Venice Where the bee sucks, there suck I: In a cowslip's bell I lie; There I couch when owls do cry. On the bat's back I do fly After summer merrily: Merrily, merrily, shall I live now, Under the blossom that hangs on the bough. -from The Tempest

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [Blow, blow, thou winter wind]

Lord Amiens, a musician, sings before Duke Senior's company


  Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
  Thou art not so unkind
      As man's ingratitude;
  Thy tooth is not so keen,
  Because thou art not seen,
      Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
  Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
      This life is most jolly.

  Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
  That does not bite so nigh
      As benefits forgot:
  Though thou the waters warp,
  Thy sting is not so sharp
      As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing . . .

Related Poems

Mortality

O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a fast-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

The child that a mother attended and loved,
The mother that infant's affection that proved;
The husband that mother and infant that blessed,
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those that beloved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the scepter hath borne,
The brow of the priest that the miter hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman who climbed with his goats to the steep,
The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint that enjoyed the communion of heaven,
The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flower and the weed
That wither away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that hath often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen,—
We drink the same stream,and  we feel the same sun,
And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, they too would shrink;
To the life we are clinging to, they too would cling;
But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumber may come;
They enjoyed, but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

They died, ay! they died! and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the changes they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together like sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, and the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,—
O why should the spirit of mortal be proud?