Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


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

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!

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

Author


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, wrote more than thirty plays and more than one hundred sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean.

Date Published: 1603-01-01

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/hamlet-act-iii-scene-iii-oh-my-offence-rank