To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love--
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear:
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.
O my prophetic soul! My uncle!
Lethe was one of several rivers in the Greek underworld. Although Shakespeare is perhaps giving a nod to the Ferryman Charon (he who brought the newly-departed souls across from Life to Death), his wharf and his Ferry were not across the Lethe, but across the Styx. This was the main river of the Underworld, and encircled it seven times. In other accounts, Charon ferries the dead across the river Acheron, which was the river of Pain. Souls were judged in the Underworld by Rhadamanthus and his brothers, and it was their job to decide whether the soul would go to the Isles of the Blessed, the Fields of Asphodel or to the hellish Tartarus. Those headed for the latter would travel there via the river Phelgethon, the river of Fire. The other river of the Underworld was the River Cocytus, which was the river of wailing, or tears. Shakespeare mentions Lethe more than any of the other rivers, but he does make reference to the Styx, to Cocytus and to Acheron. (No surprises that all three are mentioned in Titus Andronicus, which has so much to say about the dead...) . Phlegethon is not mentioned by him anywhere - perhaps he imagined the word might be hard to say at speed...!