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Honor Among Thieves

Knightly Honor

How Many hast Thou Killed Today?

Can Honor Set a Leg?

The Peppered Ragamuffins

The Better Part of Valor is Discretion

The King’s Brothers, Friends, and Countrymen

The Honor of Kings

The Fewer, the Greater Share of Honor

Envious and Calumniating Time

The Honor of Quarreling over Nothing




William Shakespeare (1564-1616 CE) was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and emerged into prominence as a playwright when he wrote the three Henry IV plays in 1591 and 1592, followed by Richard III in 1593, and Richard II in 1594 or 1595. Thereafter there was an outpouring of plays that finally ceased with the Tempest in 1612, except for a few collaborations with other playwrights.

  In his early experience of writing about the struggles for the English crown, and of the civil wars and rebellions that ensued, Shakespeare developed his thoughts on the nature of kingly rule, the mayhem that followed usurpation of power, the suffering brought by wars, and the importance and elusiveness of the concept of honor. Shakespeare also wrote movingly about many other aspects of human life, but here extracts have been selected that relate to the concept of honor, war, and kingship. Shakespeare is known for his patriotic speeches but offsetting these is a humanistic concern for the fate of ordinary people and for the injustices associated with honor and privilege.

In the first extract Shakespeare’s great comic creation, Falstaff is portrayed with all his moral weaknesses. This makes his realistic views on honor in the fourth extract acceptable to many in the Elizabethan  audience because they do not take Falstaff seriously. In the second and third extracts, we see Shakespeare's counterbalance to Falstaff, the bloody and honor-crazy Hotspur. In the fifth extract, Shakespeare draws attention to  the fate of common soldiers pressed into service under such leaders as Falstaff. His “ragamuffins” serve as mere canon fodder, receiving no honor from their leader or anyone else. The matter of honor is brought up again in the sixth extract, with the death of Hotspur, who regrets its loss in battle more than he regrets losing his life. But Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, also puts immortal words in Hotspur's mouth as be dies.

When Henry succeeds to the throne to become Henry V, Shakespeare portrays him  as a shrewd leader who recognizes the need for support and loyalty from the ordinary soldiery. In the seventh extract Shakespeare portrays the King moving among his soldiers, giving them encouragement in the night before battle. Rarely does Shakespeare give a character his own name, but in the eighth extract a speech in the mouth of a soldier called Williams casts doubt on the honor of kings. In the extract that follows Shakespeare has Henry give a rousing speech foretelling the honor that ordinary soldiers will gain in battle, far different from the actual treatment received by Falstaff’s “ragamuffins”.

In the tenth extract, Shakespeare uses the troubles of Achilles and the Greeks at Troy to focus on the transitory nature of honor. In the eleventh, Hamlet observes how a whole army may go marching to its death in a squabble over a worthless  piece of land: how men participate in the irrational action of a group, in the name of honor.


1  Honor Among Thieves

In the rooms of Henry, Prince of Wales, Falstaff seeks to have thieves declared gentlemen when Henry becomes King.  But Henry thwarts him by offering Falstaff the job of hanging thieves. That is, he is suggesting the Falstaff can go hang himself.

[Enter Henry, Prince of Wales and Falstaff.]

Falstaff. Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?

Henry, Prince of Wales Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast for­gotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst  truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day. . .

Falstaff. Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art King, let not us that are squires of the night's body be called thieves of the day's beauty. Let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon. And let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

Henry, Prince of Wales Thou sayest well, and it holds well too; for the fortune of us that are the moon's men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon. As for proof, now—a purse of gold most resolutely snatched on Monday night and  most dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with swearing "Lay by" and spent with crying " Bring in "—now in as low an ebb as the foot of the ladder, and by and by in as high a flow as the ridge of the gallows. . .

Falstaff. Yea, and so used it that, were it not here apparent that thou art heir apparent— But I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art King? And resolution thus fobbed as it is with the rusty curb of old Father Antic the law? Do not thou, when thou art King, hang a thief.

Henry, Prince of Wales. No, thou shalt.

Falstaff. Shall I ? Oh, rare! By the Lord, I'll be a brave judge.

Henry, Prince of Wales Thou judgest false already. I mean thou shalt have the hanging of the thieves and so become a rare hangman.     

                                     (King Henry IV, Act I, Scene II)


2  Knightly Honor

The Percy family seeks to initiate a rebellion against King Henry IV and needs to sound out Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur, their most formidable knight. Northumberland (another Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland) and Worcester (Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester) try to explain their plans to him. Hotspur is so hot blooded that he explodes and goes off on a tangent at each point where they try to unfold their plot. With his fanatical view of on honor, Hotspur, as crazy as Don Quixote, forms a dramatic contrast with Falstaff.


Worcester.            Peace, cousin, say no more.

And now I will unclasp a secret book,

And to your quick-conceiving discontents

I'll ready matter deep and dangerous,

As full of peril and adventurous spirit

As to o'erwalk a current roaring loud

On the unsteadfast footing of a spear.

Hotspur. If he fall in, good night! Or sink or swim.

Send danger from the east unto the west,

So honor cross it from the north to south,

and let them grapple. Oh, the blood more stirs

To rouse a line than to start a hare!

Northumberland. Imagination of some great exploit

Drives him beyond the bounds of patience.

Hotspur. By Heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,

To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon,

Or dive into the bottom of the deep,

Where fathom line could never touch the ground,

And pluck up droned honor by the locks,

So he that doeth redeem her thence might wear

Without co-rival all her dignities.

But out upon the half-faced fellowship!

Worcester. He apprehends a world of figures here,

But not the form of what he should attend.

Good cousin, give me audience for a while.

Hotspur. I cry you mercy.

Northumberland.         Those same noble Scots

That are your prisoners—

Hotspur.                I'll keep them all.

By God, he shall not have a Scot of them.

No, if a Scot would save his soul, he shall not.

I'll keep them, by this hand.

Worcester.                   You start away

And lend no ear unto my purposes.

Those prisoners you shall keep.

                         (King Henry IV, Act I, Scene III)


3  How Many hast Thou Killed Today?


Shakespeare draws Hotspur's lack of the human touch in more detail as he describes him not listening to a long series of questions by his wife as to what he is doing. He then puts these mocking words into the mouth of the Prince of Wales before he calls in Falstaff to the tavern.

Henry, Prince of Wales.  . . . I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North, that kills me some six or seven dozen Scots at breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, "Fie upon this quiet life! I want work," "O my sweet Harry," says she, "How many hast thou killed today?" "Give my roan horse a drench", says he, and answers "Some fourteen" an hour after—" a trifle, a trifle." I'll play Percy, and that damned brawn shall play Dame Mortimer, his wife. "Bibo" says the drunkard. Call in ribs, call in tallow.

                       (King Henry IV, Act II, Scene IV)


4  Can Honor Set a Leg?

Falstaff seeks a promise of protection by Henry at the beginning of the Battle of Shrewsbury, where King Henry IV, with the aid of his son Henry, Prince of Wales, puts down the rebellion of the Percies, whose foremost knight is Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur.

Falstaff. Hal, if thou see me down in the battle, and bestride me so, 'tis a point of friendship.

Henry, Prince of Wales. Nothing but a colossus can do thee that friendship. Say thy prayers, and farewell.

Falstaff. I would 'twere bedtime, Hal, and all well.

Henry, Prince of Wales. Why, thou owest God a death. [Exit.]

Falstaff. 'Tis not due yet, I would be loath to pay Him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me? Well, 'tis no matter. Honor pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honor? A word. What is in that word honor? What is that honor? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.

                             (Henry IV, Part I, Act V Scene I)


5  The Peppered Ragamuffins

In the course of the battle, Falstaff comes across the dead body of Sir Walter Blunt, an ally of the Percies. 

 [Alarum. Enter Falstaff, alone. |

Falstaff. Though I could 'scape shot-free at London, I fear the shot here. Here's no scoring but upon the pate. Soft! Who are you? Sir Walter Blunt. There's honor for you! Here's no vanity! I am as hot as molten lead, and as heavy too. God keep lead out of me! I need no more weight than mine own bowels. I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered. There's not three of my hundred and fifty left alive, and they are for the town's end, to beg during life. But who comes here? [Enter the Henry, Prince of Wales]

Henry, Prince of Wales. What, stand's thou idle here? Lend me thy sword.

Many a nobleman lies stark and stiff

Under the hoofs of vaunting enemies

Whose deaths are yet unrevenged. I prithee lend me thy sword.

Falstaff. O Hal, I prithee give me leave to breathe a while. Turk Gregory never did such deeds in arms as I have done this day. I have paid Percy, I have made him sure.

Henry, Prince of Wales He is, indeed, and living to kill thee. I prithee lend me thy sword.

Falstaff. Nay, before God, Hal, if Percy be alive, thou get'st not my sword. But take my pistol, if thou wilt.

Henry, Prince of Wales Give it me. What, is it in the case?

Falstaff. Aye, Hal, 'tis hot, 'tis hot. There's that will sack a city.

[The Prince draws it out, and finds it to be a bottle of sack`.]

Henry, Prince of Wales. What, is it a time to jest and dally now? [He throws the bottle at him. Exit.]

Falstaff. Well, if Percy be alive I'll pierce him. If he do come in my way, so. If he do not, if I come in his willingly, let him make a carbonado of me. I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath. Give me life, which if I can save, so; if not, honor comes unlooked-for, and there's an end. [Exit.]

                                 (King Henry IV, Part 1, Act V, Scene III)


6  The Better Part of Valor is Discretion

In another part of the field of battle, the Prince encounters Hotspur. They fight and Hotspur is killed. Falstaff, having seen Hotspur approaching, had thrown himself to the ground and pretended to be dead.

 Henry Percy Hotspur. O Harry, thou hast robbed me of my youth!

I better brook the loss of brittle life

Than those proud titles thou hast won of me.

They wound my thoughts worse than thy sword my flesh.

But thought's the slave of life, and life Time's fool,

And Time, that takes survey of all the world,

Must have a stop. Oh, I could prophesy,

But that the earthy and cold hand of death

Lies on my tongue. No, Percy, thou art dust,

And food for —[Dies.]  

Henry, Prince of Wales. For worms, brave Percy.

       Fare thee well, great heart!

Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk!

When that this body did contain a spirit,

A kingdom for it was too small a bound,

But now two paces of the vilest earth

Is room enough. This earth that bears thee dead

Bears not alive so stout a gentleman.

If thou wert sensible of courtesy,

I should not make so dear a show of zeal.

But let my favors hide thy mangled face,

And, even in thy behalf, I'll thank myself

For doing these fair rites of tenderness.

Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to Heaven!

Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave,

But not remembered in thy epitaph!

[He sees Falstaff  the ground.]

What, old acquaintance! Could not all this flesh

Keep in a little life? Poor Jack, farewell!

I could have better spared a better man.

Oh, I should have a heavy miss of thee      

If I were much in love with vanity!

Death hath not struck so fat a deer today,

Though many dearer, in this bloody fray.

Emboweled will I see thee by and by.

Till then in blood by noble Percy lie.    [Exit.]  

Falstaff. [Rising up] Emboweled! If thou embowel

me today, I'll give you leave to powder me and eat

me too tomorrow. 'Sblood, 'twas time to counterfeit,

or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and

lot too. Counterfeit ? I lie, I am no counterfeit.

To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counter­feit

of a man who hath not the life of a man. But to

counterfeit dying when a man thereby liveth is to be

no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed.

The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life

                              (Henry IV, Part 1, Act V, Scene IV)


7  The King’s Brothers, Friends, and Countrymen

The scene is the field of Agincourt, at night, before the battle that takes place the following day. The Chorus sets the scene. After daybreak, the former Prince of Wales, now Henry V, encourages his troops, both on a personal level by moving amongst them, and later with a stirring speech about honor to all of them.

Chorus. Now entertain conjecture of a time

When creeping murmur and the poring dark

Fills the wide vessel of the universe.

From camp to camp through the foul womb of night

The hum of either army stilly sounds,  

That the fixed sentinels almost receive

The secret whispers of each other's watch.

Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames

Each battle sees the other's umbered face.

Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs

Piercing the night's dull ear. And from the tents

The armorers, accomplishing the knights,

With busy hammers closing rivets up

Give dreadful note of preparation.

The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,

And the third hour of drowsy morning name.

Proud of their numbers and secure in soul,

The confident and overlusty French

Do the low-rated English play at dice,

And chide the cripple tardy-gaited Night

Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp

So tediously away. The poor condemned English,

Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires

Sit patiently and inly ruminate

The morning's danger, and their gesture sad

Investing lank-lean cheeks and war-worn coats

Presenteth them unto the gazing moon

So many horrid ghosts. Oh, now who will behold

The royal captain of this ruined band

Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,

Let him cry " Praise and glory on his head! "

For forth he goes and visits all his host,

Bids them good morrow with a modest smile,

And calls them brothers, friends, and countrymen.

Upon his royal face there is no note

How dread an army hath enrounded him.

Nor doth he dedicate one jot of color

Unto the weary and all-watched night,

But freshly looks and overbears attaint

With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty,

That every wretch, pining and pale before,

Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks.

A largess universal like the sun

His liberal eye doth give to every one,

Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all

Behold, as may unworthiness define,

A little touch of Harry in the night.

(Henry V, Act IV, Prologue)

8   The Honor of Kings

In moving among his men at night before the battle, the disguised King Henry gets a little more than he expected in the way of opinion and advice from one Williams, who forthrightly expounds on the horrors of war for ordinary people pointing out that a king or noble, on the other hand, can expect at to be held in comfort for ransom if he is on the losing side. The king answers with so many words that it sounds like bluster, and William is not convinced.

King Henry. By my troth, I will speak my conscience of the King. I think he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is.

Bates. Then I would he were here alone. So should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men's lives saved.

King Henry. I dare say you love him not so ill, to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men's minds. Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the King's company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable,     

Williams. That's more than we know.

Bates. Aye, or more than we should seek after. For we know enough if we know we are the King's subjects. If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us.               

Williams. But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in a battle shall join together at the latter day and cry all "We died at such a place "some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now if these men do not die well  it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

King Henry. So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him. Or if servant under his master's command transporting a sum of money be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant's damnation. But this is not so. The King is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant. For they purpose not their death when they purpose their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbiterment of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers. Some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery. Now if these men have defeated the law and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God. War is His beadle, war is His vengeance, so that here men are punished for before-breach of the King's laws in now the King's quarrel. Where they feared the death, they have borne life away, and where they would be safe, they perish. Then if they die unprovided, no more is the King guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience. And dying so, death is to him advantage, or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained. And in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, He let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare.     

Williams. Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head: the king is not to answer for it.

Bates. I do not desire he should answer for me, and yet I determine to fight lustily for him.

King Henry. I myself heard the King say he would not be ransomed.

Williams. Aye, he said so to make us fight cheerfully. But when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed and we ne'er the wiser.

King Henry. If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.

Williams. You pay him then. That's a perilous shot out of an elder-gun, that a poor and private displeasure can do against a monarch. You may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning his face with a peacock's feather. You'll never trust his word after! Come, 'tis a foolish saying.

King Henry. Your reproof is something too round. I should be angry with you if the time were convenient. 

s. Let it be a quarrel between us if you live.

King Henry. I embrace it.                             

Williams.  How shall I know thee again?

King Henry. Give me any gage of thine, and I will wear it in my bonnet. Then, if ever thou darest acknowledge it, I will make it my quarrel.

Williams.  Here's my glove: give me another of thine.

King Henry. There.

Williams . This will I also ear in my cap. If ever thou come to me and say, after tomorrow “This is my Glove”, by this hand I will take thee a box on the ear.

                                    (Henry V Act IV Scene I)


The Fewer, the Greater Share of Honor

Later, after daybreak, King Henry rallies his army with a stirring speech that offers the glory of personal honor to spur his troops to battle. Now his men are no longer the criminals he alleged them to be in his argument with William, but his brothers again, to be promised that they will live in people's memories to the ending of the world.

 [Enter the King.]

Westmoreland. Oh, that we now had here

But one ten thousand of those men in England

That do no work today!


King Henry V. What's he that wishes so?

My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin.

If we are marked to die, we are enow to

To do our country loss, and if to live,

The fewer men, the greater share of honor.

God's will! I pray thee wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost.

It yearns me not if men my garments wear,

Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honor,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.

God's peace! I would not lose so great an honor

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

For the best hope I have. Oh, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart. His passport shall be made

And crowns for convoy put into his purse.

We would not die in that man's company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is called the feast of Crispian.

He that outlives this day and comes safe home

Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day and see old age

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors

And say, " Tomorrow is Saint Crispian."

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say " These wounds I had on (Crispin's Day."

Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,

Familiar in his mouth as household words,

Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.     

This story shall the good man teach his son,

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered—

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.   

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition.

And gentlemen in England now abed  

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day.

                        (Henry V, Act IV, Scene III)


10 Envious and Calumniating Time

In the Greek camp, after being coached by Ulysses as to how to get Achilles to return to the battle for Troy, Agamemnon and others walk past Achilles with disdain. Ulysses, pretending to be casually passing by, explains to Achilles the transient nature of fame and honor, and how Ajax has become the new hero of the Greeks.

Ulysses. How some men creep in skittish fortune's hall

Whiles others play the idiots in her eyesl

How one man eats into another's pride

While pride is fasting in his wantonness!

To see these Grecian lords! Why, even already

They clap the lubber Ajax on the shoulder

As if his foot were on brave Hector's breast

And great Troy shrieking.

Achilles. I do believe it, for they passed by me

As misers do by beggars, neither gave to me

Good word nor look. What, are my deeds forgot?

Ulysses. Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back

Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,

A great-sized monster of ingratitudes.

Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devoured

As fast as they are made, forgot as soon

As done. Perseverance, dear my lord,

Keeps honor bright. To have done is to hang

Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail

In monumental mockery. Take the instant way,

For honor travels in a strait so narrow,

Where one but goes abreast. Keep then the path,

For emulation hath a thousand sons

That one by one pursue. If you give way,

Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,

Like to an entered tide they all rush by

And leave you hindmost. 

Or like a gallant horse fall'n in first rank,

Lie there for pavement to the abject rear,

O'errun and trampled on.

Then what they do in present,

Though less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours.

For time is like a fashionable host

That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand,

And with his arms outstretched, as he would fly,

Grasps in the comer. Welcome ever smiles,

And Farewell goes out sighing. Oh, let not virtue seek

Remuneration for the thing it was;

For beauty, wit,

High birth, vigor of bone, desert in service,

Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all

To envious and calumniating time.       

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,

That all with one consent praise newborn gawds,

Though they are made and molded of things past,

And give to dust that is a little gilt

More laud than gilt o'erdusted.

The present eye praises the present object.

Then marvel not, thou great and complete man,

That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax,

Since things in motion sooner catch the eye

Than what not stirs.

                        (Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene III)



11 The Honor of Quarreling Over Nothing

Hamlet has a claim to the throne of Denmark, which his uncle has seized by murdering Hamlet’s father and marrying Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet chides himself for inaction when he sees an army under Fortinbras marching off to fight for a useless patch of ground. But why should people die for such a cause? Because to be great is to pick a quarrel over a mere straw.



Witness this army, of such mass and charge,

Led by a delicate and tender Prince

Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed

Makes mouths at the invisible event,   

Exposing what is mortal and unsure

To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,

Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great

Is not to stir without great argument,

But greatly to find quarrel in a straw   

When honor's at the stake. How stand I then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained,

Excitements of my reason and my blood,

And let all sleep while to my shame I see

The imminent death of twenty thousand men      

That for a fantasy and trick of fame

Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot

Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,

Which is not tomb enough and continent

To hide the slain?

                    (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene IV)



The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Edited by W. J. Craig. Oxford University Press, 1905. The plays can be viewed at Great Books Online.

                        Selection and commentary © Rex Pay 2000