Act 3, Sc. 3: How does the King's realization lead to his conflict?


Oh, 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 ther rain enpugh 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 pardoned being down? Then I'll look up.

My fault is past. But oh, what form of prayer

Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul foul murder'?

That cannot be, since I am still possessed

Of those effects for which I did the murder -

My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.

May one be pardoned and retain th'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 compelled

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 cannot 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 new-born babe.

All may be well. [He kneels]

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It turns out that Claudius has a conscience after all! He knows he is guilty of the, primal eldest curse (killing one's brother) yet he cannot repent his sin. Claudius is unwilling to give up the things that he sinned to obtain. Claudius is aware that he cannot fool God with his prayers.