Hamlet, Act II Scene II, lines 280-291, Translation

Original Text:

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone  all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my  disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile  promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave  o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,  why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation  of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in  reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and  admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a  god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,  what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me; no, nor woman neither…”

First Translation:

I have, as of late- I do not know why- lost all my joy and ceased all my physical activities. Yes, this mood of mine goes along with this goodly earth- an infertile protuberance in the universe. The sky, look at it, it is the brave support for the heavens; majestically scattered with the sun’s golden rays. It is all a semblance to me, nothing more than a foul and disease-ridden breath of air. What a piece of work is a man! How powerful in Reason! How limitless in thought! In design and in spirit how demonstratively intelligent! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! An animal par excellence! And yet, to me, it is all just an amalgamation of dust. Man does not delight me- no neither do women…

Principle: Literal translation. I chose to replace “promontory” with “protuberance” because that is also it’s meaning in the human anatomy, and also because it highlights Hamlet’s futility for the world more sharply. I chose to replace “overhanging firmament” with “support for the heavens”, because it goes along with the cosmological structure Hamlet is briefly spelling out. I chose to keep “What a piece of work is a man!” intact because this line is the essence of this passage: a disparagement on Man’s abilities, and thus I myself didn’t want to disparage it. I chose to replace “in form and moving how express and admirable!” with “In design and spirit how demonstratively intelligent!” because I felt the “in form and moving” part of this line was connoting the observation that Man is an animate object, and what makes him animate is his “spirit” and this spirit is “expressed” rather than tangibly observed which makes it still demonstrative to the human intellect. This also explains why I replaced “intelligent” with “admirable” to go along with the “form” of Man stated at first in the phrase, which I chose to replace with “design”. I chose “amalgamation” over preserving the question “what is this quintessence of dust?” because in the Medieval times, “quintessence” was believed to be a substance that permeates throughout all nature, so all things can be reduced to this “dust”.

Second Translation:

I, as of late, don’t ask me why, have come into my hour of despair. An hour where my joy stimulates my repulsion. Yes, my despair does hold hands with this goodly world, but look at the sun! Look at how it puts it’s golden blinding rays on the wrinkles and deformities of this goodly frame we call earth. This majestic sky- we shall never see it’s true complexion, it’s all full of ghastly air! This world, to me, is degenerating. And in the meaning of this decline underlies Man. What a painful sight Man is. He errs the beauty of the earth and stays faithful to the otherworlds that give him comfort. All species have evolved and have gotten to a mode of being beyond themselves, yet Man always refrains from too much exertion. He calls himself a knower, a thinker, yet has no knowledge of himself. And his power to Reason- his power? Every principle of Reason Man inherits makes him inauthentic, for he uses it to order the secret chaos that is himself. In action how like an angel? What makes most men act is not their will, but their jealousy. Man’s godlike apprehension? Well, maybe one day for the lucky few…
Man, the beauty of the world, the immense variation among species, I see their essence: nothing but dust.
No, Man does not entertain me; neither do women…

Principle: A more “updated” version, but still in correspondence with the essence of the original text. I also added on some sentences to make it almost a response to the Shakespearean observations on Man (thus the mini Q&A towards the end), and to give them more depth. I also tried to make it flow better, in the original text the transition from Hamlet’s distaste for the world was abruptly switched to his distaste for Man. I chose to rephrase the essential line of the text (“What a piece of work is a man!”) here to reduce the rhetorical sarcasm that was prevalent in the original text.


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