Age Range: 20s - Early, 20s - Late, 30s - Early
Dialects: Standard American, Standard English
AuthorName: William Shakespeare
Eras: 1601-1700, 1501-1600
Rating: Suitable for all ages
Copyright Status: Public domain
This monologue has been intercut from a scene in which a mad Ophelia comes to speak with the Queen. The following is a summary and analysis of the scene:
Enter Queen, Horatio and a Gentleman:
This scene begins in the middle of a conversation. The first thing we hear is "I will not speak with her" (4.5.1), spoken by the Queen as she comes into the room. Horatio and a gentleman follow the Queen into the room, trying to get her to change her mind. As the scene progresses, we learn that they must be speaking of Ophelia, who has gone mad and wants to see the Queen. The gentleman says that "Her mood will needs be pitied." The Queen asks, "What would she have?" (4.5.3), but the gentleman doesn't answer her question. Instead, he tells the Queen it would be a safer to speak to Ophelia, because she has been talking about her father, and "tricks," and she's making people wonder what's going on. Horatio sums it up by saying, "Twere good she were spoken with; for she may strew / Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds" (4.5.14-15). Apparently Horatio has more influence with the Queen than the gentleman does, and she says that Ophelia can come in.
Alone for a moment while Horatio and the Gentleman go to get Ophelia, the Queen reveals why she doesn't want to speak to Ophelia. She says "To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is, / Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss" (4.5.17-18). That is, she feels great guilt, and any little thing can make her think that everything is about to go terribly wrong. We still don't know exactly what makes her feel guilty, but she feels so much guilt that she's afraid that even her efforts to hide it may give her away.
The rest of the scene is more interesting if we remember the Queen's fear of Ophelia's madness, and the fact that Ophelia has asked to speak with the Queen. Random craziness can be quite boring, but Ophelia, though she is indeed crazy, must think that she is delivering some sort of message to the Queen.
When Ophelia enters she asks, "Where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark?" (4.5.21), and sings an old ballad that begins "How should I your true-love know / From another one?" In the closet scene, Hamlet asked Queen Gertrude that same kind of question, and answered it, too. In his view, King Hamlet was her "true love," and he could be distinguished from "another one" by the fact that he was handsome and noble, whereas Claudius is an ugly murderer. In Ophelia's song, the question is answered by saying that the "true-love" is a pilgrim on his way to the holy shrine of St. James in Spain. Then the Queen asks Ophelia what she means, and Ophelia answers with another bit of song, beginning, "He is dead and gone, lady" (4.5.29). Ophelia's father is "dead and gone," but so is King Hamlet, and perhaps Ophelia is singing as one bereft woman to another.
As Ophelia is singing of the funeral of the one who is "dead and gone" the King enters, and Ophelia promptly changes a line of the old ballad. The ballad describes a beautiful, sentimental funeral, in which a pure white shroud covers the body. On the shroud are mounds of flowers, and as the body is lowered into the grave, the flowers are "bewept" by "true-love showers." That is, the dead one's lover is crying so hard that the flowers are getting all wet. Ophelia, however, adds a contradictory "not" to this pretty picture. She sings that the body was "Larded with sweet flowers / Which bewept to the grave did not go / With true-love showers" (4.5.38-40). There could be two connections between Ophelia's "not" and the King. The King got Polonius' funeral over with as quickly and quietly as possible. And probably the King didn't have much time for tears at his brother's funeral, either, seeing that he was set on marrying his brother's wife.
When the King asks Ophelia how she's doing, she answers with a greeting and then a kind of philosophical comment: "They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be" (4.5.42-44). According to legend, a baker's daughter was stingy when Jesus asked her for bread, so she was turned into an owl. This was a strange transformation, and what Ophelia says seems to indicate that we are all subject to such transformations, because we "know not what we may be." The King, for example, was the King's brother, and now he's the King himself. And Ophelia, for another example, was once beloved of both Hamlet and her father. Now, one has killed the other, and she's crazy.
Finally, Ophelia sings a song that she says will say "what it means." The song is about St. Valentine's day, and it starts out lilting and romantic, with a girl saying she is "a maid at your window, / To be your Valentine" (4.5.50-51). But then the song turns darkly cynical. The man opens his door to "Let in the maid, that out a maid / Never departed more"(4.5.54-55). This says, with a pun, that the girl was a virgin when she went in, but not when she came out. Then the girl complains that her valentine promised to marry her if she went to bed with him, and he pulls the old double-standard trick on her. Sure, he would have married her, if "thou hadst not come to my bed" (4.5.66).
Why does Ophelia sing this song? Perhaps because it expresses just what her brother told her about Hamlet. Laertes told her that even though it might look like Hamlet really loved her, as soon as he got her into bed, it would be all over, because he wouldn't marry her. If this is what Ophelia is referring to, being crazy seems to have made her more knowing about how the world goes.
As Ophelia leaves, she says can't help herself from weeping at the thought of "him" in the "cold ground." If the "him" is her father, her next words probably give the King a little scare: "My brother shall know of it . . . ." At the end, Ophelia seems to imagine herself as a kind of princess, calling for her coach and saying "Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies; good night, good night" (4.5.72-73).
Shakespeare's Navigators Contributors, "Hamlet Navigator: Summary of Act4, Scene 5," Shakespeare's Navigators @ Clicknotes.com, http://www.clicknotes.com/hamlet/Four5.html (accessed December 30, 2009).
[sings] How should I your true-love know From another one? By his cockle bat and' staff And his sandal...View Full Monologue Text
How should I your true-love know
From another one?
By his cockle bat and' staff
And his sandal shoon.
Say you? Nay, pray You mark.
[Sings] He is dead and gone, lady,
He is dead and gone;
At his head a grass-green turf,
At his heels a stone.
Pray you mark.
[Sings] White his shroud as the mountain snow-
Larded all with sweet flowers;
Which bewept to the grave did not go
With true-love showers.
Well, God dild you! They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. God be at your table!
Pray let's have no words of this; but when they ask, you what it means, say you this:
[Sings] To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning bedtime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose and donn'd his clo'es
And dupp'd the chamber door,
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Indeed, la, without an oath, I'll make an end on't!
[Sings] By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
Young men will do't if they come to't
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, 'Before you tumbled me,
You promis'd me to wed.'
'So would I 'a' done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.'
I hope all will be well. We must be patient; but I cannot choose but weep to think they would lay him i' th' cold ground. My brother shall know of it; and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach! Good night, ladies. Good night, sweet ladies. Good night, good night.