The Danish Saxo Grammaticus' story of Amleth
or Amlethes was the original from which Shakespeare drew
inspiration to create the play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
Saxo himself drew on an earlier Icelandic story which is
archetypal, and related to legends from the whole world
that point to cosmic changes, sometimes earth-shattering
changes, remembered in folk history and folk memory.
Amlethes' story has strange parallels to
"the truth" about the whole AGW-IPCC story, with
its shambholic conference in Copenhagen (a name that can
be translated as "swindlers' haven"), and the
"capture" of the ringleaders "asleep"
under the "wallhanging" of the FOIA2009 Climategate
from the little-known
classic "Hamlet's Mill"
THE PROPER GATE through which to enter
the realm of pre-Shakespearean Hamlet is the artless account
given by Saxo Grammaticus. What follows is the relevant
part of book III, only slightly shortened. [Hamlet is Shakespeare's
adaptation of Saxo's name Amleth, or Amlethes].
The Story begins with the feats of Orvendel,
Amlethus' father— especially his victory over King
Koll of Norway—which drove Orvendel's brother Fengo,
"stung with jealousy," to murder him. "Then
he took the wife of the brother he had butchered, capping
unnatural murder with incest."
Amleth beheld all this, but feared lest too
shrewd a behaviour might make his uncle suspect him. So
he chose to feign dullness, and pretend an utter lack of
wits. This cunning course not only concealed his intelligence,
but ensured his safety. Every day he remained in his mother's
house utterly listless and unclean, flinging himself on
the ground and bespattering his person with foul and filthy
dirt. His discoloured face and visage smutched with slime
denoted foolish and grotesque madness. All he said was of
a piece with these follies; all he did savoured of utter
He used at times to sit over the fire, and,
raking up the embers with his hands, to fashion wooden crooks,
and harden them in the fire, shaping at their tips certain
barbs, to make them hold more tightly to their fastenings.
When asked what he was about, he said that he was preparing
sharp javelins to avenge his father. This answer was not
a little scoffed at, all men deriding his idle and ridiculous
pursuit; but the thing helped his purpose afterwards. Now
it was his craft in this matter that first awakened in the
deeper observers a suspicion of his cunning. For his skill
in a trifling art betokened the hidden talent of a craftsman
. . . Lastly, he always watched with the most punctual care
over his pile of stakes that he had pointed in the fire.
Some people, therefore, declared that his mind was quick
enough, and fancied that he only played the simpleton .
. . His wiliness (said these) would be most readily detected,
if a fair woman were put in his way in some secluded place,
who should provoke his mind to the temptations of love .
. . , if his lethargy were feigned, he would seize the opportunity,
and yield straightway to violent delights.
So men were commissioned to draw the young
man in his rides into a remote part of the forest, and there
assail him with a temptation of this nature. Among these
chanced to be a foster-brother of Amleth, who had not ceased
to have regard to their common nurture . . . He attended
Amleth among his appointed train . . . and was persuaded
that Amleth would suffer the worst if he showed the slightest
glimpse of sound reason, and above all if he did the act
of love openly. This was also plain enough to Amleth himself.
For when he was bidden mount his horse, he deliberately
set himself in such a fashion that he turned his back to
the neck and faced about, fronting the tail; which he proceeded
to encompass with the reins, just as if on that side he
would check the horse in its furious pace . . . The reinless
steed galloping on, with the rider directing its tail, was
ludicrous enough to behold.
Amleth went on, and a wolf crossed his path
amid the thicket; when his companions told him that a young
colt had met him, he retorted that in Fengo's stud there
were too few of that kind fighting. This was a gentle but
witty fashion of invoking a curse upon his uncle's riches.
When they averred that he had given a cunning answer, he
answered that he had spoken deliberately: for he was loth
to be thought prone to lying about any matter, and wished
to be held a stranger to falsehood; and accordingly he mingled
craft and candour in such wise that, though his words did
lack truth, yet there was nothing to betoken the truth and
betray how far his keenness went.
Again, as he passed along the beach, his
companions found the rudder of a ship which had been wrecked,
and said they had discovered a huge knife. "This,"
said he, "was the right thing to carve such a huge
ham"; by which he really meant the sea, to whose infinitude,
he thought, this enormous rudder matched.
Also, as they passed the sandhills, and bade
him look at the meal, meaning the sand, he replied that
it had been ground small by the hoary tempests of the ocean.
His companions praising his answer, he said that he had
spoken wittingly. Then they purposely left him, that he
might pluck up more courage to practice wantonness.
The woman whom his uncle had dispatched met
him in a dark spot, as though she had crossed him by chance;
and he took her and would have ravished her, had not his
foster-brother, by a secret device, given him an inkling
of the trap. Alarmed, and fain to possess his desire in
greater safety, he caught up the woman in his arms and dragged
her off to a distant and impenetrable fen. Moreover, when
they had lain together, he conjured her earnestly to disclose
the matter to none, and the promise of silence was accorded
as heartily as it was asked. For both of them had been under
the same fostering in their childhood; and this early rearing
in common had brought Amleth and the girl into great intimacy.
So, when he had returned home, they all jeeringly
asked him whether he had given way to love, and he avowed
that he had ravished the maid. When he was next asked where
he did it, and what had been his pillow, he said that he
had rested upon the hoof of a beast of burden, upon a cockscomb,
and also upon a ceiling. For, when he was starting into
temptation, he had gathered fragments of all these things,
in order to avoid lying . . .
The maiden, too, when questioned on the matter,
declared that he had done no such thing; and her denial
was the more readily credited when it was found that the
escort had not witnessed the deed. But a friend of Fengo,
gifted more with assurance than judgment, declared that
the unfathomable cunning of such a mind could not be detected
by a vulgar plot, for the man's obstinacy was so great that
it ought not to be assailed with any mild measures . . .
Accordingly, said he, his own profounder acuteness had hit
on a more delicate way, which was well fitted to be put
in practice, and would effectually discover what they desired
to know. Fengo was purposely to absent himself, pretending
affairs of great import. Amleth should be closeted alone
with his mother in her chamber; but a man should first be
commissioned to place himself in a concealed part of the
room and listen needfully to what they talked about . .
. The speaker, loth to seem readier to devise than to carry
out the plot, zealously proffered himself as the agent of
the eavesdropping. Fengo rejoiced of the scheme, and departed
on pretence of a long journey. Now he who had given this
counsel repaired privily to the room where Amleth was shut
up with his mother, and lay down skulking in the straw.
But Amleth had his antidote for the treachery.
Afraid of being overheard by some eavesdropper,
he at first resorted to his usual imbecile ways, and crowed
like a noisy cock, beating his arms together to mimic the
flapping of wings. Then he mounted the straw and began to
swing his body and jump again and again, wishing to try
if aught lurked there in hiding. Feeling a lump beneath
his feet, he drove his sword into the spot, and impaled
him who lay hid. Then he dragged him from his concealment
and slew him. Then, cutting his body into morsels, he seethed
it in boiling water, and flung it through the mouth of an
open sewer for the swine to eat, bestrewing the stinking
mire with his hapless limbs. Having in this wise eluded
the snare, he went back to the room. Then his mother set
up a great wailing and began to lament her son's folly to
his face but he said: "Most infamous of women! dost
thou seek with such lying lamentations to hide thy most
heavy guilt? Wantoning like a harlot, thou hast entered
a wicked and abominable state of wedlock, embracing with
incestuous bosom thy husband's slayer . . ." With such
reproaches he rent the heart of his mother and redeemed
her to walk in the ways of virtue.
When Fengo returned, nowhere could he find
the man who had suggested the treacherous espial. . . Amleth,
among others, was asked in jest if he had come on any trace
of him, and replied that the man had gone to the sewer,
but had fallen through its bottom and been stifled by the
floods of filth, and that he had then been devoured by the
swine that came up all about that place. This speech was
flouted by those who heard; for it seemed senseless, though
really it expressly avowed the truth.
Fengo now suspected that his stepson was
certainly full of guile, and desired to make away with him,
but durst not do the deed for fear of the displeasure, not
only of Amleth's grandsire Rorik, but also of his own wife.
So he thought that the King of Britain should be employed
to slay him, so that another could do the deed, and he be
able to feign innocence. . .
Amleth, on departing, gave secret orders
to his mother to hang the hall with knotted tapestry, and
to perform pretended obsequies for him a year from thence;
promising that he would then return.
Two retainers of Fengo then accompanied him,
bearing a letter graven in wood . . . ; this letter enjoined
the King of the Britons to put to death the youth who was
sent over to him. While they were reposing, Amleth searched
their coffers, found the letter, and read the instructions
therein. Whereupon he erased all the writing on the surface,
substituted fresh characters, and so, changing the purport
of the instructions, shifted his own doom upon his companions.
Nor was he satisfied with removing from himself the sentence
of death and passing the peril on to others, but added an
entreaty that the King of Britain would grant his daughter
in marriage to a youth of great judgment whom he was sending
to him. Under this was falsely marked the signature of Fengo.
Now when they had reached Britain, the envoys
went to the king and proffered him the letter which they
supposed was an implement of destruction to another, but
which really betokened death to themselves. The king dissembled
the truth, and entreated them hospitably and kindly. Then
Amleth scouted all the splendour of the royal banquet like
vulgar viands, and abstaining very strangely, rejected that
plenteous feast, refraining from the drink even as from
the banquet. All marvelled that a youth and a foreigner
should disdain the carefully cooked dainties of the royal
board and the luxurious banquet provided, as if it were
some peasant's relish. So, when the revel broke up, and
the king was dismissing his friends to rest, he had a man
sent into the sleeping room to listen secretly, in order
that he might hear the midnight conversation of his guests.
Now, when Amleth's companions asked him why he had refrained
from the feast of yestereve, as if it were poison, he answered
that the bread was flecked with blood and tainted; that
there was a tang of iron in the liquor; while the meats
of the feast reeked the stench of a human carcase, and were
infected by a kind of smack of the odour of the charnel.
He further said that the king had the eyes of a slave, and
that the queen had in three ways shown the behaviour of
a bondmaid. Thus he reviled with insulting invective not
so much the feast as its givers. And presently his companions,
taunting him with his old defect of wits, began to flout
him with many saucy jeers . . .
All this the king heard from his retainer;
and declared that he who could say such things had either
more than mortal wisdom or more than mortal folly . . .
Then he summoned his steward and asked him whence he had
procured the bread . . . The king asked where the corn had
grown of which it was made, and whether any sign was to
be found there of human carnage? The other answered, that
not far off was a field, covered with the ancient bones
of slaughtered men, and still bearing plainly all the signs
of ancient carnage . . . The king . . . took the pains to
learn also what had been the source of the lard. The other
declared that his hogs had, through negligence, strayed
from keeping, and battened on the rotten carcase of a robber,
and that perchance their pork had thus come to have something
of a corrupt smack. The king, finding that Amleth's judgment
was right in this thing also, asked of what liquor the steward
had mixed the drink? Hearing that it had been brewed of
water and meal, he had the spot of the spring pointed out
to him, and set to digging deep down; and there he found
rusted away, several swords, the tang whereof it was thought
had tainted the waters. Others relate that Amleth blamed
the drink because, while quaffing it, he had detected some
bees that had fed in the paunch of a dead man; and that
the taint, which had formerly been imparted to the combs,
had reappeared in the taste. The king . . . had a secret
interview with his mother, and asked her who his father
had really been. She said she had submitted to no man but
the king. But when he threatened that he would have the
truth out of her by a trial, he was told that he was the
offspring of a slave . . . Abashed as he was with shame
for his low estate, he was so ravished with the young man's
cleverness that he asked him why he had aspersed the queen
with the reproach that she had demeaned herself like a slave?
But while resenting that the courtliness of his wife had
been accused in the midnight gossip of a guest, he found
that her mother had been a bondmaid . . .
Then the king adored the wisdom of Amleth
as though it were inspired, and gave him his daughter to
wife; accepting his bare word as though it were a witness
from the skies.
Moreover, in order to fulfill the bidding
of his friend, he hanged Amleth's companions on the morrow.
Amleth, feigning offence, treated this piece of kindness
as a grievance, and received from the king, as compensation,
some gold which he afterwards melted in the fire, and secretly
caused to be poured into some hollowed sticks.
When he had passed a whole year with the
king he obtained leave to make a journey, and returned to
his own land, carrying away of all his princely wealth and
state only the sticks which held the gold. On reaching Jutland,
he exchanged his present attire for his ancient demeanour,
which he had adopted for righteous ends . . .
Covered with filth, he entered the banquet-room
where his own obsequies were being held, and struck all
men utterly aghast, rumour having falsely noised abroad
his death. At last terror melted into mirth, and the guests
jeered and taunted one another, that he, whose last rites
they were celebrating as though he were dead, should appear
in the flesh. When he was asked concerning his comrades,
he pointed to the sticks he was carrying, and said, "Here
is both the one and the other." This he observed with
equal truth and pleasantry . . . for it pointed at the weregild
of the slain as though it were themselves.
Thereon, wishing to bring the company into
a gayer mood, he joined the cupbearers, and diligently did
the office of plying the drink. Then, to prevent his loose
dress hampering his walk, he girded his sword upon his side,
and purposely drawing it several times, pricked his fingers
with its point. The bystanders accordingly had both sword
and scabbard riveted across with an iron nail. Then, to
smooth the way more safely to his plot, he went to the lords
and plied them heavily with draught upon draught, and drenched
them all so deep in wine, that their feet were made feeble
with drunkenness, and they turned to rest within the palace,
making their bed where they had revelled ...
So he took out of his bosom the stakes he
had long ago prepared, and went into the building, where
the ground lay covered with the bodies of the nobles wheezing
off their sleep and their debauch. Then, cutting away its
supports, he brought down the hanging his mother had knitted,
which covered the inner as well as the outer walls of the
hall. This he flung upon the snorers, and then applying
the crooked stakes, he knotted and bound them in such insoluble
intricacy, that not one of the men beneath, however hard
he might struggle, could contrive to rise. After this he
set fire to the palace. The flames spread, scattering the
conflagration far and wide. It enveloped the whole dwelling,
destroyed the palace, and burnt them all while they were
either buried in deep sleep or vainly striving to arise.
Then he went to the chamber of Fengo, who
had before this been conducted by his train into his pavilion;
plucked up a sword that chanced to be hanging to the bed,
and planted his own in its place. Then, awakening his uncle,
he told him that his nobles were perishing in the flames,
and that Amleth was here, armed with his old crooks to help
him, and thirsting to exact the vengeance, now long overdue,
for his father's murder. Fengo, on hearing this, leapt from
his couch, but was cut down while, deprived of his own sword,
he strove in vain to draw the strange one . . . O valiant
Amleth, and worthy of immortal fame, who being shrewdly
armed with a feint of folly, covered a wisdom too high for
human wit under a marvellous disguise of silliness! and
not only found in his subtlety means to protect his own
safety, but also by its guidance found opportunity to avenge
his father. By this skillful defence of himself, and strenuous
revenge for his parent, he has left it doubtful whether
we are to think more of his wit or his bravery.