Vocabulary in Hamlet
Vocabulary Examples in Hamlet:
In this case, not the color of the familiar russet potato, but the reddish-brown of a muddy dawn, which the dawn wears like a "mantle" (cloak). Here Shakespeare personifies the dawn by making it capable of "wearing" a mantle or being "clad" (clothed). It then walks out over a hill, suggesting the slow rise of the sun as the light falls over the crest of the hill.
Traditionally, a cock or rooster crows at the crack of dawn, heralding the start of a new day. Given that it was midnight at the beginning of the play, we can now assume that several hours have passed in the course of this scene. Shakespeare will often use little clues like this to suggest time passing or give the reader information about the hour, season, or weather.
Neptune, Roman god of the seas, who controlled the waters in and around the Roman Empire. Shakespeare suggests that, while Neptune was certainly very powerful, his empire was still beholden to the moon, "the moist star," who held sway over the tides. This tells us much about Shakespeare's understanding of astronomy in that he mistakenly calls the moon a star (likely for poetry's sake) but correctly states that the moon pulls the tides.
Horatio's attempting to understand the Ghost's reasons for returning. In doing so, Shakespeare aligns him again with the audience, making the appearance of the Ghost less a supernatural oddity and more a question of what dangers lie ahead. Why has he come, Horatio's asking, and what is it about our world that makes it both possible and necessary for him to arrive?
That is, with military bearing. "To stalk," in its original verb form, meant to walk stealthily or with cunning (particularly in regards to hunting animals), and only in recent years has come to mean stalking or following a person. In this line, "stalk" indicates that the Ghost carries himself like a soldier, moving both proudly and, we can assume, cautiously, so as not to draw attention from the sitting king. He comes at night, remember, the reason for which we still haven't discovered.
"Polacks" has been used since around 1590 to describe Polish people. There may, however, be an alternate meaning, according to Patrick Murray, the editor of an Irish edition of Hamlet. Murray argues that Shakespeare may have meant "pole-axe," a reference to the dead King Hamlet breaking up the ice with his battle axe. Given Shakespeare's fondness for word play, this is entirely possible.
Putting the adjective "good" in front of a man's name was a sign of respect most often used between people who were already familiar with one another. Here, Shakespeare uses it to signify that the two men know each other and that they work together, giving them call to refer to each other as "good." This wasn't, in general, a sign of one's good character, though in this case it may also mean that.
"Holla" originated in the 1520s and by 1580 was used as a command to get a person's attention. It means to "stop" or "cease" and wasn't generally used as a greeting, though may have degenerated into one over time. Here, Marcellus uses it to tell Bernardo to stop and speak to him for a moment in what appears to be half greeting, half command.
That is, followers. "Liege" means "lord" or "sovereign," and liegemen are those in service of that lord or sovereign. The more modern definition (that liegemen are all vassals in service of a nobleman) doesn't apply in this case, since Horatio is himself a nobleman. Instead, the two men have pledged their allegiance to the king (or "Dane"). This allegiance will become more important as the drama unfolds.
This expression, used to call attention to something (for example: Land, ho!), likely originated in Middle English or is of Norse origin. Francisco uses it like a military command, demanding that the newcomers identify themselves to him. In this, you see him parroting Bernardo in the first line of the play, a parallelism that cements the idea that Francisco is here to replace the less narratively significant Bernardo.
The "mind's eye" is a human's ability to visualize or otherwise experience things within their mind. While Horatio actually did see Hamlet's father's ghost in the previous scene, Hamlet is only imagining his father here. The play can be seen as occurring mostly in Hamlet's "mind's eye" as it explores his internal landscape as he attempts to understand the external world. Shakespeare did not coin this term but he did make it a popular expression.
Hamlet means that he wants the men to witness and understand this event with him, but he doesn't want them to tell anyone about it. If there's a Ghost that wants to speak to him then there's likely to be something wrong, and Hamlet might well be in danger. To keep his enemies and the King from learning what that is and taking measures against him, he would need to keep this information quiet. He trusts that these men will be loyal to him. We'll see if this trust has been misplaced.
A sable is a species of animal that lives primarily in Russia and Siberia and has become popular for its soft fur, which is made into coats or "sables" for royalty. Today, women typically wear sables to parties and gatherings, and few men, if any, are seen with sable coats outside of cold climates. A silvered sable, then, looks very much like a fine piece of gray fur, though it is, in this case, just King Hamlet's beard.
A truncheon is a heavy club that's used by warriors in hand-to-hand battle, and to come within truncheon's length is to come into combat range with the Ghost (just a few feet away). The fact that the Ghost carries a truncheon suggests to Horatio that he's come back to discuss the impending war, but the Ghost's true intentions, and whether or not he will speak to Prince Hamlet, remains to be seen.
"Truant," or truancy, refer to a student's absence from school. Horatio suggests that he's truant by nature, that it's in his disposition, but, as Hamlet knows, this isn't true. He says so merely in jest, and in this joke we come to understand that the two men are friends and know each other well enough to read between the lines of what the other's saying. Horatio may well be Hamlet's greatest friend in Elsinore, and the only one he thinks he can trust.
"Impious" means unholy or profane and here suggests that grief and the various performances of grief are in themselves impious acts which run contrary to God's will that all men should die. Grief, then, becomes an indulgence in defiance of God's wishes and is considered impious or inappropriate. This is just one of many tactics Claudius uses to try and get Hamlet to stop mourning his father.
Meaning, dutiful, required. Like Laertes, Hamlet appears at the castle mostly out of a sense of obligation. He'd rather be in Wittenberg, a fact Claudius knows all to well, as he uses this pointed, unpleasant word. Claudius might also be engaging in some clever wordplay, as "obsequey" means "funeral service."
The dejected behavior or the dejected expression of his face. In this passage, Hamlet refers to his black clothes, his heavy sighs ("windy suspiration"), and his tears, their "fruitful river" flowing in the wake of his father's death. His use of the word "fruitful" suggests that the tears are both plentiful and productive, meaning that his grief has a purpose and a meaning. Like many people, he believes that sorrow can teach him something about the world; we'll have to wait and see what that is.
"Vailed lids" recalls the black veils that people sometimes wear in mourning. It suggests that, while Hamlet's eyes are open, he doesn't see the truth of what's happening. This is another pun. "Vail" is in fact a separate word, meaning profit or worth, and refers to Hamlet's value, as the Prince of Denmark. This may be an attempt on Gertrude's part to remind Hamlet of who he is and of who he could be, as the next in line for the throne.
Here meaning to venerate or to regard with awe rather than to fear. The word "dread" derives from the Old English adrædan, a contraction of ondrædan, to "counsel or advise against," with the prefix "on-" meaning "against" and the suffix "rædan" meaning "to advise." By examining the word's etymology, we find that Laertes is in fact expressing his respect for the King and asking his advice.
In general, "gait" refers to someone's manner or stride while walking. In this case, it refers to Fortinbras' path or his course of action with regards to war. By Claudius' use of the word "further," we can assume that Fortinbras has already taken steps to fight with the Danes, and that Claudius has some sense of his next moves. From this, we can assume that Clausius is, in fact, worried about a war with Norway, otherwise he wouldn't bother to send this message.
Meaning, disorganized or disarranged. In medieval Europe, a power vacuum was particularly dangerous and made countries far more vulnerable to attack. Claudius knows that, without leadership in place, other countries would view the Danes as weak, and plays on this fact in order to appeal to his audience sense of self-preservation. This makes him very persuasive, but that's not, in fact, the same thing as being a good King.
Another line indicating that the marriage took place shortly after King Hamlet's death. It appears at first that Claudius has gotten it backwards, as "mirth" is typically associated with marriages and "dirges" (funeral songs) are played after a death, but this mistake is very telling of Claudius' true feelings and suggests that he is, in fact, happy about his brother's death. It's unclear whether or not Gertrude also feels this way, which will cause tension between her and her son Hamlet later on in the play.
That is, a woman who holds the right of inheritance. Some critics argue that any jointure agreement in Denmark would raise very real threats to King Hamlet's heirs, and that Shakespeare uses this term both to develop the theme of inheritance in the play and to establish motive for a revenge plot that we'll see later in the play. Though the use of the word "imperial" suggests that Gertrude has all the power over the estate, the reality is that she's helpless and has very little control over what happens.
In Hamlet's day no distinctions were made between in-laws and siblings, and as King Hamlet's wife, Gertrude wouldn't have just been Claudius' sister-in-law, but his actual sister. In this line, "sometime" means "at one time" or "in the past" and "our" means that Gertrude is both Claudius' queen and the queen of the Danish people. By using "our," Claudius invokes the royal "we" in order to position himself as the voice of his people. It's a subtle way of getting his subjects to trust him.
Shakespeare used the word "green" to mean young, as in his play *Antony and Cleopatra," when Cleopatra speaks the famous line about youthful "salad days" (salad being green). This word indicates to the reader that King Hamlet's death is very recent, and that King Claudius has only just ascended to the throne to fill that vacuum of power. Claudius has yet to reveal how he really feels about this.
When something is "sullied," it is soiled, tarnished, defiled. Thus, Hamlet's flesh, once pure and innocent, has become defiled and impure because his mother has married her husband's brother and made his uncle into the King. In this, we also find a question of paternity, as it's possible (though never confirmed) that Claudius and Gertrude were having an affair even before King Hamlet's death, and that Prince Hamlet may well be his uncle's son, instead.
This line has two significant meanings. One, that Ophelia might expect Hamlet to be faithful ("tethered" to her), but that doesn't necessarily mean that he will or that he won't stray (with a larger tether). Two, it speaks to the different levels of freedom afforded to men, who can walk freer (on a larger tether) than a woman in the Middle Ages can. As a nobleman, Polonius would've seen this behavior in the court and would take measures to prevent his daughter from falling victim to it.
Essentially, Polonius has called Hamlet (and, by extension, any suitor) a wolf in sheep's clothing, not revealing his true intent (likely of a sexual nature) until he has thoroughly convinced Ophelia (and, by extension, any potential love interest or girlfriend) of his innocence. The word "implorators" is a portmanteau of "implore" and "orator," suggesting that Hamlet's great gift is his capacity for making great speeches, which he can use to his advantage against Ophelia.
From the French term "parler," meaning "to speak," parley in a general sense means to talk or to engage in conversation. Formally, it's used among members of a certain social class or between opposing sides of a conflict, military or otherwise, to suggest that a meeting be held to "parley" or discuss the possibility of coming to agreement on a topic (in this case, the nature of Ophelia and Hamlet's relationship).
"To entreat" means to beg or beseech or to enter into a negotiation, often of a financial nature. Here, Polonius uses it to mean both that Ophelia shouldn't beg for attention and that she should set her standards higher in her dealings with Hamlet. Thus far, she has allowed him a lot of leeway, as the Prince, to visit her and make proclamations which he may or may not mean or hold to in the near future. In that sense, Polonius is trying to protect Ophelia from the very real possibility of being jilted.
To Polonius, Hamlet's love for Ophelia will unquestionable fade, rendering it in effect dead ("extinct") on arrival, having no real aim or intent other than to distract the Prince from his ruminations. His metaphor about light and heat builds on the notion of passion as a fire or flame and takes inspiration from the physics of fire, in which the thing aflame will inevitably be consumed.
A "springe" is a snare to catch small-game, such as the woodcock, a small wading bird. Shakespeare makes one of his characteristic bawdy puns with the word "woodcock," suggesting that "to catch" one would mean ensnaring a man in a situation of a sexual nature. It's unlikely that Ophelia will be interested in this, given her sensitive nature, but given Hamlet's flair for the dramatic, he might well get carried away in his passion.
In Shakespeare's time, "tenders" could refer to a type of coin that wasn't legal tender because it wasn't "sterling" or up to the quality of legal money. It's slightly anachronistic for Shakespeare to speak of money as sterling here, because it's a particularly British term that wouldn't have been used in Denmark in Hamlet's time, as they used the Danish krone, or "crown."
An expression drawn from the phrase "by the Virgin Mary," a mild oath used in the Middle Ages. We assume, from this exclamation, that Polonius knows about Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship to an extent and that he doesn't approve of it (unsurprising considering that he's her father). He's also very clearly pleased with Laertes for looking out for his sister in this way. They're a close family.
Another famous line from the play, this one diverges from the previous topic of money and money-lending to provide a broader piece of commentary or advice to Laertes: that he should never let what other people say or do affect him or make him stray from his principle. He should instead remain "true" to him self (and, by extension, the precepts that his father has lain out for him in this speech).
Today, the word "censure" generally means the expression of disapproval, particularly in a formal or legal setting. In Shakespeare's time, however, it still meant "advice" or "opinion," making this line and those about it mean, "listen to what other people have to say, remain courteous, and always stay true to your own opinions." This same precept applies to Polonius' advice, and Laertes' non-response to it may suggest that he's taken his father's advice (without necessarily agreeing with it).
Laertes has already received his father's permission to go to France. Under perfect circumstances he would've already begun his journey by now, but instead he's still in the castle, where he'll be forced to once again take his leave of his father (though this time it will merely be a formality). His statement, "a double blessing is a double grace," hints at this series of events while drawing on a superstition of the time (that receiving permission twice will make the journey that much more auspicious).
Shakespeare makes an oblique Biblical reference to Matthew 7: 13-14: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way..." Shakespeare alters the description somewhat to make the way or path to heaven look more dangerous than it does in the Bible while maintaining the essence of the danger implied by the subsequent line in the Bible: "broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction."
"Calumnious strokes" are slanderous or defamatory remarks, in this case aimed against Ophelia with the ultimate goal of destroying her reputation. Thus far, there hasn't been any gossip about Hamlet and Ophelia (that we know of), but, as Laertes suggests, that could easily change. Ophelia need not lose her virtue to be ruined, and any calumnious strokes against her character would have damaged her ability to marry in the future.
To be "chary" means to be reluctant or suspicious of doing something, in this case giving up one's virginity before wedlock. To be "prodigal" means to be extravagant and reckless, the exact opposite of "chary." Laertes uses this contrast to suggest how quickly and easily a woman can give in to lust and how damaging this can be for her reputation if someone finds out or if the man abandons her. Note that Hamlet has no formal obligation to marry Ophelia, and that he can dump her even after she loses her virginity. That's reason enough for her to be cautious.
Laertes refers to Ophelia's virginity. In Hamlet's time, chastity was very highly prized, and a woman's virtue and social status depended largely on her ability to maintain (or appear to maintain) her chastity. By extension, a man's honor was tied to his wife and daughter's chastity, with his blood line and heirs only being assured if there could be no question of his wife's faithfulness. Any indiscretion or gossip would cause serious problems when it came time to inherit the estate.
If we take "soil" to mean something dirty or impure, "cautel" to mean a trick or act of deceit, and "besmirch" to sully or dirty, then this line reads that, for the moment, no impure thoughts or crafty schemes have soiled Hamlet's "pure" love of Ophelia, suggesting that Hamlet hasn't made any sexual advances as of yet and that their romance remains a purely emotional one. That may change, as Laertes suggests, which is why Ophelia must be careful.
That is, the size and power of a man, as measured in his physical strength. Here Shakespeare employs an extended metaphor of the moon (in the words "crescent" and "waxing") to imply that nature itself has a cyclical pattern, and that though it often asserts in physical prowess, it can just as easily be found in the power of someone's mind. This is all to say that Ophelia shouldn't think of Hamlet too much, because this will naturally make her more interested, not less.
For Laertes, a wealthy nobleman's son, the necessities (or "necessaries") would likely have consisted of clothes, shoes, personal items, weapons, books, and a servant or two to prepare his meals and wash his linens. These items have been provided for him at his father's expense and leisure, as Laertes himself wouldn't have come into his own money until his father's death. Until then, he's beholden to the family, which it seems he doesn't mind.
Traditionally, the word "tender" appears either as an adjective describing a kind and gentle person or a verb meaning to offer or make a payment. In this case, it appears as a noun, meaning an offering of affection or tenderness, either in his words or actions (or perhaps even with jewelry or other gifts). This suggests something of the nature of their romance, which is young, affection, and not as of yet sexual. These things are subject to change.
Since the 15th Cnetury, "primrose" has been used metaphorically to refer to the first or best of something (primrose is popularly but erroneously thought to derive from prima rosa, "first rose"); so a "primrose path" is not necessarily one lined with primroses, but can be understood as a description of perfect loveliness or, in this case, a pleasant path to destruction characterized by romantic "dalliances" and acts far from righteous.
Shakespeare makes use of the obscure verb form of the word "beetle" to imply that the cliff projects over or overhangs the sea. He also draws on imagery from the Bible (the flood, the cliff) to recall a scene from Matthew 4 where the devil leads Jesus into the wilderness, tempts him to stray from God, then tells him to jump from the tallest point of a temple. In effect, Horatio equates the Ghost with the devil, suggesting that it doesn't have good intentions.
Frighten or startle. In this line, the word "disposition" harkens back to our earlier discussion of the word "complexion," so an alternate reading of this line could be that Hamlet's personality or "nature" might be altered by this experience of seeing his father's ghost. Hamlet suspects that what the Ghost has to say will "shake" or alter his values and beliefs, as well as his disposition.
"Cerements" or grave-clothes were wrapped around the body when it was buried or interred. For a ghost to rise, it would need to break through its grave-clothes and leave its sepulchre or tomb to walk the earth. Since Hamlet's father appears on stage in his armor, there's a tension here between whether or not the Ghost appears in corporeal form, as a solid figure, or in translucent form, like ghosts in films. Different productions of the play have answered this question differently.
Canonization is the process by which a person in the Christian church becomes sainted. In this sense, it also means that King Hamlet's bones have already been consecrated (buried, but also treated as holy). Hamlet's father would've been far from saintlike in his life (see: the Danes' drinking custom), but in death his son's respect for him continues to grow, until in this scene he becomes a near saintly figure, incapable of wrongdoing.
If the Ghost had appeared in any other shape or form, Hamlet implies, then he wouldn't feel the need to speak with it, but since it has come in the face of his dead father, he's willing to risk it. Here, the word "questionable" means both to be of uncertain origin and to be worthy of further questioning. Hamlet suspects that this Ghost might not have his best intentions at heart, and that it may not even be his father, further developing the theme of deceit in the play.
A "dram" is literally an eighth of a fluid ounce. In Q2, the second full quarto of Shakespeare's works, the line reads the "dram of eale," where "eale" might be a transcription error between quartos or could be an archaic spelling of "ale," an alcoholic beverage. Some Shakespeare scholars have suggested that "eale," as a product produced with yeast, changes this line's meaning to be that a small fault can, like too much yeast in a loaf a bread, ruin a person. This reading is supported by the use of the word "o'erleavens," meaning "to make bread rise too much," but hasn't been widely accepted among scholars.
In Hamlet's time, if one's complexion was "o'vergrown," one of their four "humours" was out of alignment. The four "humours" were bodily fluids (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile) and were said to govern one's personality. Too much or too little of any one "humour" could result in one being sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, or melancholic (generally undesirable characteristics that needed to be corrected). Hamlet himself appears to be melancholic, suggesting that he has too much black bile in his system.
"Pith" refers to the fluids and tissues of the spinal canal, while "marrow" refers to the same tissues inside a bone. Thus, we read this line to mean the stuff that makes our spines straight and bones strong, meaning the force and power of our character. In essence, Hamlet is saying that this custom of heavy drinking diminishes the Danes' achievements and makes them look weak.
In modern English, "to traduce" means to alter or modify or to move from one place to another. In Shakespeare's play, however, the word takes on its archaic definition, "to speak ill of" or to slander. With this definition, we take the line to mean that the Danes, being such heavy drinkers, have come to be known to the other nations as drunkards and fools, and that this reflects poorly on their nation as a whole.
Shakespeare puns on the colloquialism "to the manor born," which refers to the children of nobility who've been raised in the "manor," or the palatial home. To be "to the manner born," however, has a different connotation meaning that, as a native he's familiar with the custom of heavy drinking, but, as he says, doesn't approve of it. He seems to wish to have born to a different time and place, which is in itself a sign of his inherent privilege.
"Keeping wassail" means to carouse or drink heavily, suggesting that the King has something of a drinking problem. What's more, he makes a show of his drinking problem by ordering trumpets to call and ordnance (artillery, cannons, catapults, slings) to fire. This implies the King has an audience for his revelries, and that he feels no qualms about being intoxicated in front of his guards. It's at once a sign of self-assurance and an act of great impropriety.
Figuratively speaking, Hamlet is giving himself up (or placing his trust) in these men, but an alternately reading of the word "commend" suggests that he's insisting on his worth, both as a person and a prince, and trusting on the strength of that worth to ensure Horatio and Marcellus's loyalty in this matter. He has commended himself to them without receiving their oath, which makes this a foolhardy act on his part.
Hamlet has effectively tied their hands behind their back, making it impossible for them to discuss what they've seen, except in ambiguous suggestions like a shake of the head or a "maybe" or "if" that could hint at what they've witnessed without having to directly say it. Hamlet anticipates this desire to tell without having to tell and cuts it off at the pass, making them swear not to do it.
Remember that earlier in Act I, Scene VI, Hamlet used the phrase "mole of nature" to refer to a spot on one's character or a negative aspect of one's personality. Here, "mole" refers both to the animal, a creature that burrows underground, where the Ghost appears to be, and to this "mole of nature," which doesn't tarnish the Ghost's character but rather tarnishes Hamlet's, in forcing him to lose himself in revenge.
Latin meaning "here and everywhere," ubique being the root of the English ubiquitous, meaning onnipresent, like God. Hamlet obliquely refers yet again to his father's holiness while at the same time expressing irritation with the Ghost's constant interruptions. This line also emphasizes Hamlet's education, as a man who can casually rattle off Latin.
A trustworthy or honest person, likened to a coin made of genuine metal, not a counterfeit. Shakespeare again builds on the theme of money established in Act I, Scene III, when Polonius spoke of Hamlet's "tenders" or affections as coin or "sterling." The parallel here is telling: Hamlet's father, the dead King, is a truepenny, while Hamlet himself, the Prince, is not.
A knave, or a young man, often a page or a servant to a nobleman, capable of being "arrant" (errant, that is, traveling) or of moving between social stations by way of villainy. It would've been simple enough for a young, unscrupulous man, like the former Prince Claudius, brother of the King, to use the information he's gathered in service of the kingdom to his advantage. Horatio and Marcellus could do the same.
"Globe" refers both to Hamlet's head or mind, which has been distracted by his studies and uninterested in memories, and to the globe itself, where "memory" meaning history becomes less and less important as time goes on. Soon, he implies, everyone will forget about his father, like his mother has, and he'll be the only one left holding onto his memories. In that sense, he's the sole bearer of his father's legacy.
Lazar, meaning a poor or diseased person, is derived from the name Lazarus, known in the Bible as the man Jesus raised from the dead. King Hamlet may be suggesting that these "tetters," while instant, may in fact be a recurring issue, returning "like Lazarus" after they have appeared to die or resolve themselves. Then again, he may be referring to the speed at which Lazarus rose from the dead—that is, instantaneously.
An eruption of the skin, as in eczema or ringworm, resulting in dryness, flaking, itching, and pus. Again, Shakespeare's knowledge of botany and medicine are called into question, as there seems to be no known poison that would cause all of these symptoms. Skin lesions are a common symptom of chronic arsenic poisoning, but it appears that there was only one instance of poisoning, so that might not be the cause.
Posset, meaning to curd or to curdle, as milk curdles when it sours. This suggests a thickening of the blood, a clumping of blood cells in the arteries, or "alleys," of the body. Such prolonged thickening of the blood can lead to blood clots and strained blood flow, all of which can be symptoms of poisoning and cause heart failure or death. In Hamlet's time, it would've been very difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these symptoms.
Quicksilver, also known as elemental mercury, moves quickly and unpredictably in its liquid form. It's also extremely poisonous, with its gaseous and solid states resulting in toxicity in less than a gram. Mercury poisoning is characterized by loss of sensation, lack of coordination, and the sudden onset of diseased like Minamata disease, all but the latter of which coincide with the symptoms of a traditional poisoning.
Hebenon, a poison of unknown origin. Shakespeare's scholars suggest that it could either be hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates, henbane, a kind of nightshade, ebony, sometimes spelled with an "h," or yew, a common poison extracted from the tree. Other scholars argue that Shakespeare's knowledge of botany was insufficient for him to know what poison, exactly, Claudius would've used; so he made one up.
Harrow, meaning, to torment or to tear apart. Shakespeare may be alluding to the Harrowing of Hell, a scene depicted in Dante's Inferno (a major source of inspiration for Shakespeare), in which Jesus descended into Hell in the days between his Crucifixion and his Resurrection and brought salvation to the souls that had been suffering there. In that sense, this line means both to torment and to set free from torment.
"Unreclaimed blood" refers to somebody having too much blood in the body. Blood is one of Hippocrates’ four bodily humors (the others being black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm), and it is associated with the emotion of sanguinity, or excessive passion and lust. ‘Hot-blooded’ is a modern term with similar meaning.
Ophelia and Polonius interpret Hamlet’s wild behavior as a symptom of his love for her. The audience, however, is privy to a more likely explanation: Hamlet really does have horrors out of hell to speak of (specifically, his new knowledge that Claudius murdered his father).
Polonius explains that if Reynaldo makes up small lies about Laertes to his acquaintances, these people may in turn divulge some unsavory truths about Laertes’ behavior, which Reynaldo will report to Polonius. The metaphor here is clear: lies are the bait, and true stories about Laertes are the carp (the fish they want to catch)
Polonius asks Reynaldo to casually speak with those who might know Laertes to figure out whether or not the men do, in fact, know Laertes. This is somewhat similar to Polonius’s own approach above, when he indirectly suggests that Reynaldo ought to ask after Laertes. Polonius may feel that he was being subtle, but he is not particularly good at the art in which he is instructing Reynaldo.
Polonius is telling Reynaldo that his ‘party in converse’ will agree with Reynaldo’s claims, especially if that person had observed Laertes behaving poorly. Reynaldo’s lies also add an element of trust: if this party were Laertes’s friend, they would not wish to divulge any details of inappropriateness if they thought Reynaldo would relay these stories to Polonius. By telling these stories as though they were humorous trifles, Reynaldo will not arouse suspicion.
Polonius suggests that Reynaldo can avoid dishonoring Laertes with his false stories of gambling and drinking by presenting them in a particular fashion. Later on, Polonius elaborates that the right “seasoning” would be to portray the events as the harmless, ‘quaint’ misbehavior - the ‘taints of liberty’ - common in young men.
Here, forgeries means ‘white lies’: Polonius is asking Reynaldo to lie about Laertes’ behavior (e.g. that Laertes is known to drink and swear). Reynaldo is understandably confused about this (Why would Polonius wish to give his own son a bad reputation?), but as we shall see, Polonius has an objective in mind.
That is, by deceit, we find out the truth. Polonius expects that the one Reynaldo speaks to will say, "Oh, no, this is not true of Laertes at all, and here's why," and leave open the possibility that this acquaintance will tell Reynaldo more (true) stories of Laertes’ misconduct. Thus Laertes' true conduct will be revealed and his honor will be publicized. This course of action on Polonius's part is understandable given that he seeks to prevent "another scandal"
Hamlet was so wild and incomprehensible that Ophelia could only compare his behavior to a demon escaped from hell to deliver some evil message. It is no wonder that Ophelia agrees with her father, Polonius, that Hamlet has gone mad, though they assume it is because he is kept from Ophelia's love.
One of the more famous lines from the play, it literally means that the play will reveal Claudius' guilt, but more generally means that plays (and other dramatic works) are capable of revealing their characters, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses by throwing them into uncomfortable situations that force them to reveal their true selves.
"Tent" in this case being a shortened version of attent, attend, intent, or tend, or in other words to pay attention to something. Hamlet will be watching Claudius deeply ("to the quick"), waiting for the king to give himself a way. He suspects Claudius will be doing the same to him, which makes this situation particularly dangerous.
Hamlet may be referring to the heart, which trembles with fear; to the brain, which knows its guilt; or to the skin, which flushes or blanches, depending on one's feelings. More generally, he's saying that people who have reason to feel guilty or afraid tend to give themselves away when reminded of what they've done, so this is what he'll do to Claudius.
A "scullion" is the lowest rank of domestic servant, the kind of person who performs the grunt work in the kitchen. By referring to himself as a lowly servant and a common whore, Hamlet denigrates himself yet again, making his soliloquies (the words he "unpacks") seem trivial.
"Offal" meats are internal organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, and intestines, as well as the brain and tongue. "This slave" refers to Hamlet, and his internal organs are what would be feeding the "kites" or birds of prey in these lines. Essentially, Hamlet's that because he's not mad enough and bitter enough, his enemies think of him as a good meal.
"Mettle" means strength, and to be muddy-mettled means to have an uncertain or wavering amount of strength. Hamlet also refers to himself as dull or stupid, which we know he isn't, which suggests that his self-esteem has dipped considerably since he learned of his father's murder and found himself unable to act.
To be "pregnant" means to be full of something (in this case Hamlet's cause or plan of action), so to be "unpregnant" means to be devoid of meaning or reason. Hamlet likens himself to a "John-a-dreams" or a daydreamer who has no real plans, implying that his silence makes it seem like he isn't doing anything, even though he is.
Though Hamlet pretends to be mad, he has nothing to feel guilty about, which in this construction makes him "free." This suggests that Hamlet isn't mad, just appalled or dismayed at what's happened, and that Claudius, the guilty one, will be driven mad by his actions and his fear of being caught.
Recall that in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he spoke of the young actors whose voices "break" as they reach adolescence. Here, Hamlet's broken voice is meant to be a direct result of his grief, but because of this previous discussion also suggests that Hamlet is growing up in the process of enacting this plan.
Remember that in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, dreams were synonymous with ambitions. Here, the dream of passion can read both as a fantasy (or fiction) and as a life goal or ambition, suggesting that Hamlet aspires to passion, aspires to love and violence, but hasn't yet achieved it.
Hamlet thinks that it's better for people to speak well of you (to give a good rather than an "ill" report) while you're alive than to think well of you after you die. Most people would be more worried about having a bad epitaph, or looking bad in the annals of history, but Hamlet only cares about the present moment, which further enforces his single-minded desire for revenge.
Here "desert" refers to their worth or merit, meaning that Polonius will treat them as well as they deserve to be treated. Notice the stark difference between Hamlet and Polonius on this issue: Hamlet treats them well and politely, as someone of his station should, but Polonius doesn't seem to have any regard for such formalities.
"Milch" typically refers to milk or the act of milking or of being able to milk or be milked. Here, it refers to the quality of being fertile or abundant, meaning that, unless the gods aren't moved by "things mortal" (or human tragedy), their eyes will be overflowing with tears.
That is, anyone who had seen Hecuba in such a state would've made mean, snide comments about it, even though it wasn't Hecuba's fault that Fortune dealt her such a bad hand. Of course, anyone who did make such comments would've been committing treason, because Hecuba was still the queen, after all, and had good reason to suffer.
"Bisson" means blind or blinding. Rheum refers to the mucus and secretions particularly of the eyes, but also of the nose or mouth. In this case, "bisson rheum" means "blinding tears," and for Hecuba to be threatening the flames with her tears means that she's blinded herself to the point of not being able to see or avoid them.
"Mobled" means muffled, wrapped. Hamlet's question suggests that he disagrees with this phrasing. In The Shakespearian Referee, scholar Joachim Stocqueler argues that the word "mobled" was a copyediting mistake and that in the original printed edition the word actually read "ignobled."
"Fellies" are sections of a wheel's rims. Fortune was often depicted in art and literature as a woman who controlled fate by spinning an enormous wheel. In the play within the play, the character here performed wants to break the Wheel of Fortune in the hopes that this will destroy (or "take away") her power.
Meaning that if Polonius had his way, the play would be cut (as would a beard in a barber shop). Polonius doesn't appear to take offense at this, at least within the text, so it's possible that he didn't understand this particular jibe. Regardless, it's one of the more obviously rude statements that Hamlet has made and suggests that he's growing impatient.
Mars, the Roman god of War, known to the Greeks as Ares, whose armor was forged by Hephestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths. That the play within the play refers to the Roman god instead of the Greek is a result of its drawing its source material from The Aenied instead of The Iliad.
The Cyclopses were popular figures in Greek mythologies and there are many stories of their violence and power. In The Odyssey, Homer wrote of Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, the sea god, on his way home from Ilium after the Trojan War. In this story, Odysseus gets the better of Polyphemus. The same cannot be said of his men.
Ilium, another name for Troy and the source of the title of Homer's The Iliad. Here, Ilium begins to fall around Pyrrhus as he strikes at Priam, causing him to pause and listen. The word "senseless" directly contradicts the next line, in which the city seems to "feel" that Priam's hurt, which provides further evidence of Shakespeare's skill, in that he's able to alter his writing style to seem so comparatively terrible.
Pyrrhus finds Priam surrounded by a band of Greek warriors, trying to strike out at them but always falling short because he's wounded and doesn't have the strength. Likely, these warriors would've finished Priam off, but Pyrrhus decided to kill the king himself, in revenge for his father's death at the hands of Priam's son, Paris.
A carbuncle is a large precious stone with a fiery red color. In earlier texts, it's unclear whether it refers to a ruby, a garnet, or some other precious gem. In this case, the color again refers to the color of blood, which has coagulated or congealed on Pyrrhus' skin and clothes, like a coat of paint.
A shade of red, one of the primary heraldic colors used on a coat of arms. Here, the red color refers to the blood of Pyrrhus' enemies, which has covered him head to toe, making him look black and red. This description, though inaccurate in terms of skin color, aligns with the stories of Pyrrhus, who was known to be a particularly cruel and brutal fighter.
Heraldry is the process of determining whether or not a person has the necessary pedigree for a proper coat of arms. In this case, Hamlet's recitation of the play within the play suggests that its writer questioned Pyrrhus' heritage, implying that at least one of his parents was dark-skinned.
A sable is a small animal not unlike a ferret whose fur was and still is prized for use in the garment industry. Here, "sable" most likely refers to the hair on Pyrrhus' arms rather than the arms themselves. There's no indication in either Homer's The Iliad or other source texts that Pyrrhus was black, which seems especially unlikely given that both of his parents were Greek.
Pyrrhus, another name for Neoptolemus, Achilles' son. After Achilles was killed, Neoptolemus killed King Priam of Troy and then enslaved Andromache, Priam's daughter-in-law, the widow of Hector, a Trojan prince. Later, Neoptolemus became the king of Epirus, a region now known as the southeast part of Greece and Albania.
Hyrcania was a region roughly coinciding with parts of modern day Iran and Turkmenistan. The Greeks referred to the Caspian Sea as the Hyrcanian Sea, and the region was well-known for its ferocious tigers, here referred to as the Hyrcanian beast. Shakespeare uses the beast as a symbol of violence and cruelty.
Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he does not know why he feels so despondent, but this is a lie: he knows very well that he is struggling with the knowledge that Claudius killed his father, and the fact that he must avenge him by killing Claudius.
Claudius wonders what, ‘apart from his father’s death,’ is causing Hamlet to behave in this morose fashion. We the audience know it is because Hamlet discovered that his father did not die of natural causes, but was murdered by Claudius. Even so, Claudius’s remark comes across as callous: surely he should be more understanding of Hamlet’s deep grief at his father’s deat
Priam was the king of Troy during the Trojan War and father to Paris, the prince who seduced Helen of Troy, thus causing the war. In The Aeneid, Aeneas witnesses Priam's death at the hands of Achilles' son Pyrrhus, but can't prevent it and has to flee the city in order to save his father and son. His wife, sadly, doesn't survive. Character
Æneas and Dido are legendary figures described in Vergil's Æneid, an epic poem written by the Roman poet in the first century BCE. In the poem, Æneas is a hero whose descendants will destroy the city of Carthage, where Dido reigns as Queen. Æneas and Dido become lovers, but this doesn't save the city from destruction.
Recall Polonius' line from earlier in this scene: "Though this be madness, there is method in it." In these lines, "method" refers to a style or an approach that suggests an inherent or underlying logic to the performance: as the playwright creates an honest and straightforward play, so Hamlet creates or "performs" his madness as an actor would on the stage.
In other words, it wasn't a particularly high-minded play that seemed pretentious or used elevated language that alienated the audience. Shakespeare may be making a metafictional comment about his own playwriting, which tended, if not toward pretension, than to turns of phrase that were difficult enough to alienate some readers.
That is, no salty or salacious bits using vulgar or off-color language. In Hamlet's time, and particularly in Shakespeare's time, stage plays often needed to be vulgar to hold the attention of the very rowdy audiences they attracted. A modest play like the one Hamlet refers to wouldn't have done well in this environment.
In general, "caviary" (often spelled caviar or caviare) refers to the roe of the sturgeon or another large fish. In this case, "caviary" refers to the unpleasant experience of eating caviar for someone who hasn't yet acquired a taste for it. Shakespeare appears to have been the first to use the word "caviary" in this sense.
In Hamlet's time, any coin with a crack that went from the edge of the "ring" (or outer edge) inward toward the sovereign's head wasn't accepted as legal tender in the same way that a dollar bill that's torn in half isn't accepted. Hamlet uses this monetary metaphor to refer to a boy's voice, which will eventually "crack" with adolescence.
A chopine, or a kind of high-heeled shoe that was common in Europe at the time but rarely used in England except on the stage. Shakespeare uses it to establish that time has passed, allowing the character to grow and stand taller than she did with the high-heeled shoe.
That is, he's grown some facial hair. Modern readers will likely read the words "beard me" as a reference to the concept of a "beard," or a woman who allows a homosexual man to pass as heterosexual. Hamlet may or may not be picking up on the earlier sexual innuendo. If not, "beard me" means simply to suggest that Hamlet also grow facial hair.
A "chanson" is a French song, and a pious chanson is most likely a religious hymn or offertory. "The first row" refers to the beginning of the song, which has to be played (in this case) by the actors Hamlet greets. Thus, Hamlet turns Polonius' news of their arrival into a subtle piece of foreshadowing of his revenge plan.
Jephthah, a prominent judge and leader among the Israelites, vowed that when he returned from his campaign against the Ammonites, he would sacrifice whatever was on his doorstep to the Lord. Upon his return, he saw his daughter waiting for him, and sacrificed her as was his vow. The parallel between Jephthah and Polonius doesn't bode well for Ophelia.
Hamlet refers to Seneca the Younger, a Stoic philosopher and dramatist from the first century CE, and Plautus, a Roman playwright from the third century BCE. Seneca's dramas were often serious and tragic in nature while Plautus' were "light" and comedic. In alluding to these writers, Polonius cleverly picks up on Hamlet's allusion to Roscius and turns it against him.
In classical plays, writers often aspired to the Aristotelian unities, wherein all the action takes place in one place and time (typically a single day) and with minimal diversions into subplots. "Unlimited" poems (or plays written in verse) are then dramatic works that don't adhere to these unities.
In this context, a donkey or a mule. Hamlet may be building on the idea of Polonius' news as a buzzing insect or fly by suggesting that this fly buzzes around a donkey, as is typical with horses and cattle. In this construction, the fly is an actor, and Polonius is the "ass."
Quintus Roscius, a famed Roman actor from the first century BCE. Born a slave just outside Rome, he became one of the most well-respected actors in the Roman Empire, excelling particularly in comedy and tragedy. We're not sure what Hamlet was trying to say about Roscius because Polonius cuts him off.
Some scholars suggest that this line refers to a hunter looking up at a hawk that's easily visible when flying from the south (with the sun at its side) but not from the north-north-west, in direct line with the sun. In other words, Hamlet is only mad in certain lights and at specific times of day, but otherwise, he's perfectly sane.
Meaning, he knows the difference between the hunter (or bird of prey) and the hunted (the "handsaw," or heron). Hamlet reveals to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (though they don't understand it) that he knows very well how dangerous his uncle is, but that he thinks of himself as the hunter, not the hunted.
"Appurtenance," generally meaning a thing that belongs to another, in this case referring to a subordinate part of a larger system. Thus, fashion and ceremony (or pomp and circumstance) become the subordinate parts of "welcome," or the formal act of greeting and hosting guests.
Short for God's blood. In the Middle Ages, when the majority of the European population was Christian, people did their best not to take the Lord's name in vain, instead swearing or cursing on his body parts. Hence, the oath "God's blood," which should be understood as an expletive.
From the Latin ducatus, meaning the duke's coin, a ducat was a gold or silver coin used in Europe from the Middle Ages into the 20th Century. Ducats became the standard gold coin used in Europe after it was officially sanctioned in 1566 and remained so until it was de-sanctioned in 1857.
That is, to grimace at him or treat him with derision. Claudius appears not to have been particularly well liked before becoming king, but now everyone wants to get into his good graces. Hamlet draws the comparison here between citizens and members of the audience to emphasize how fickle they both are and how they'll pay for otherwise worthless things (a child's performance, a counterfeit king's favor).
In other words, it was impossible to produce a play without first having this controversy, suggesting that the audience enjoyed fights ("cuffs") between actors and writers and that this actually increased ticket sales.
"Tarre" meaning to irritate or provoke, not to "tar" or to cover in tar. Rosencrantz is saying that the general public has no qualms ("holds it to no sin") creating this problem between actors and playwrights. In all likelihood, the audience is amused by it, and that only makes things worse.
Hamlet points out that youth is temporary and that it seems foolish to train children to become actors if, by the time they're trained, they're too old to get any of the parts written by the playwrights focused on writing parts for children. In this way, Shakespeare comments on our unhealthy obsession with youth and its negative effect on the entertainment industry.
An "eyrie" is a brood of birds or a group of noble children, here called "eyases" (or young hawks) who were taken from their nests for the purposes of training. In this case, the children are too young to be very good actors, but are being trained because the stage managers want to draw in crowds.
In other words, the tragedians are very well known in the city, but aren't particularly favored at the castle, where they'll perform for a smaller crowd and thus earn less money because they won't be able to sell tickets. Likely, they only agreed to play at the castle because they want the favor of the new king.
When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the practice of replacing accomplished adult actors with newly trained children has recently gained popularity because the children could draw crowds with their cuteness. Thus, these characters are probably expressing the views of Shakespeare's own company.
"Sere" meaning the trigger of a gun. Something "tickle o' the sere" is easily triggered or ready to fire, like the lungs of someone ready to laugh. That some people are ready to laugh suggests that things at the castle have taken a turn for the absurd, with the dead king's brother marrying his sister-in-law.
Meaning that anyone who plays or acts like the king on the stage will be welcome. This could also mean anyone who "plays" with the king (that is, pleases or manipulates him, as when you "play" someone like a fiddle, or trick them). Hamlet would gladly welcome this king of entertainment, though he's not likely to get it.
To cote meaning to pass or outstrip (often said of two dogs running for a hare, when one breaks away to cut the hare off later on). Rosencrantz simply says that they passed the players (singers, actors) on the way to the castle and that they'll be here soon.
Hamlet has (we assume unintentionally) made a joke about his sexuality, stating that men don't "delight" or please him. That he has to quickly say that women don't please him either suggests that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are amused and stands as a verbal cue for the actors playing them to laugh.
In the Middle Ages and in Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the heavens were believed to form a vaulted ("o'erhanging") arch over the earth, which was often depicted with fire and celestial objects, with the assumption that the Earth was the center of the universe. That arch was known as the firmament and is now only referred to in the poetic sense.
"Promontory" often refers to highland or a place that juts out over the water, but here refers to something that has been in extended use (in this case, the earth). Hamlet suggests that the earth has become a place that either seems barren or produces little of value. Were he not so depressed, he implies, the earth would instead seem like a "goodly frame," or a nice place to live.
Hamlet kindly allows his friends to keep their promise to the king and queen by not forcing them to tell him why they're spying on him. Instead, he tells them what he's already figured out, allowing their oath (here personified as a bird) to remain intact without molting or losing a feather.
"Consonancy" meaning consonant, accordant, or in agreement. Hamlet appeals to the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are his age and that, by virtue of going to school together, they've grown up together, becoming adults in the same way at the same time. Other characters wouldn't respond to such an appeal, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do.
In other words, he doesn't want his friends to "wait" on (or for) him, implying that to do so would class them as servants. In reality, he just doesn't want to speak to his "friends," because he's grown suspicious of their motives. Instead of saying to so outright, he treats them very politely, appealing to their sense of social station and decorum.
That is, by my faith. Hamlet makes an excuse so that he doesn't have to keep talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who've been trying to engage him in the kind of discussion they would've had at Wittenberg. When he says, "I cannot reason," he means he can't reason anymore, suggesting that he's grown tired or his supposed friends.
Hamlet makes an analogy: if beggars, whose ambitions (for food, money, and shelter) consume their everyday lives, are bodies that cast shadows, then those shadows are monarchs, whose ambitions are the same but derive from a far less noble goal. "Outstretched" refers to a hero's desire to achieve (or reach for) greatness, which draws a parallel with the act of begging, or reaching for a handout.
Meaning he barely has any ambition at all, or he can't decide on what his ambition should be, making it "airy" and "light," or without any real substance. A shadow's shadow is then an amorphous thing with no shape or structure and no hope of being realized. Rosencrantz essentially says that he'll never make anything of himself, because he has no ambitions.
Guildenstern makes a play on the word "dream," which Hamlet uses to mean a nightmare but here means an ambition or a life goal. To be the shadow of a dream, then, means to be a byproduct or the idea of a dream where the dream itself is (or appears to be) unattainable.
Rosencrantz means that Hamlet's scholarly ambitions, or his intellect, make Elsinore seem small and beneath him. However, the audience knows that Hamlet's true "ambition" is to kill the king, which would, as it happens, place Hamlet on the throne.
Hamlet and Guildenstern have been (jokingly) sexualizing Fortune's body, beginning with Hamlet's question about living "in the middle of her favours," which Guildenstern then interprets as her "privates" (or genitals). Together, they've concluded that Fortune gets around ("is a strumpet") and doesn't favor anyone for long.
That is, that they're not the luckiest men ("the very button," or the top) and that Fortune isn't paying very much attention to them. As if often happens in Shakespeare's play, Fortune is fickle, and someone who's highly favored one day is likely to fall from grace the next. Better to be in the middle, Guildenstern says.
This is, of course, impossible, and Polonius can never "grow old as" (meaning be the same age as) Hamlet. By suggesting the impossible, Hamlet implies that Polonius is exactly as ugly as the old men in the book, but buries the comparison in the strangeness of his final remark.
Hamlet pretends to have been so engrossed in his book that he's startled by Polonius' appearance. This is an exaggerated response and suggests that in fact Hamlet isn't surprised and may well have heard part of their conversation (this may be why he walks the halls four hours a day).
A rich tapestry or fabric or a screen made of this material, allowing someone to be concealed behind it. Polonius intends to use this arras to spy on his daughter and Hamlet. This further develops the theme of deceit in the play and establishes Polonius as a crafty and untrustworthy person.
In other words, out of her league or beyond her social station. As the daughter of a nobleman, it wouldn't be unreasonable for Ophelia to marry a prince, but it would've required that both the king and queen agree and that they not have other plans to marry Hamlet to a foreign princess or nobleman with connections for political reasons.
That is, if he had kept silent, like an inanimate object. It's curious that Polonius chooses objects associated with writing down or recording information. Perhaps he suggests that even if he had been silent, he would still be keeping a record of what happened between Ophelia and Hamlet.
Meaning to ponder or consider. Polonius asks Claudius and Gertrude to listen and mark his words as he talks about his daughter. The word "perpend" also refers in its noun form to a vertical joint in brickwork, which explains why this one word sits alone on a line, like a joint connecting two of Polonius' thoughts.
An important switch. If Hamlet's madness is an "effect," then it's most likely just a result of his father's death, but if it's a "defect," then it's an essential part of his nature and poses more of a threat. This will become one of the central questions of the play as Hamlet's madness begins to spiral (deliberately or no, it's hard to say).
Shakespeare uses repetition here to emphasize how ridiculous it is that Polonius thinks he's being clever. All he says is, "It's true that it's a pity, and it's a pity that it's true," but the fact that he feels the need to say this, and that he thinks he's obeying Gertrude command to speak artfully, makes him seem all the more foolish.
Gertrude effectively tells Polonius to get to the point. She asks him to speak with less art (wit and tedious flourishes) and get to the matter, or substance, of what he's really trying to say. It's a shrewd bit of dialogue and suggests that Gertrude, after years of having lived with her son, can tell the difference between poetry and gibberish.
In other words, "A wise speech uses few words." Given Hamlet's tendency toward soliloquy and elevated language, this may be a dig on Polonius' part against the prince and any educated men like him. In writing this, however, Shakespeare sides with Hamlet, making Polonius into a fool.
In general, "levies" refer to taxes forcibly collected (or leveraged) by law. In this case, it refers to the conscription of troops, or the forced enlistment of men as soldiers in young Fortinbras' army. Fortinbras' uncle believed these armies to have been levied against the Polish king, but now sees that they were meant to fight Denmark.
That is, upon their arrival, or as the first order of business. As an ambassador, Voltimand speaks in a stiff and direct manner, answering Claudius' question ("What news?") in a straightforward and unadorned fashion. This displays both Shakespeare's facility with language and his ability to swiftly characterize people through their manner of speech.
In this case, Norway refers not to the nation itself but to the King of Norway, Claudius' "brother" in the sense of his being equal in status as a fellow king. King Fortinbras has recently died, remember, and his son, young Fortinbras, has threatened war on Denmark.
That is, they'll sort through his problems or find out what he knows. Notice that Claudius does the same thing to Polonius, using him for information about Hamlet. Thus we see that Claudius considers Polonius a tool and not really a trusted confidante.
In the Middle Ages, fruit was often served as dessert, due no doubt to its high sugar content. Polonius means that his news will come after what the ambassadors have to say, but also suggests that it will be "sweet" or that Claudius will enjoy hearing it. Given the context, this says as much about Polonius as it does about Claudius.
Polonius means that he takes his duty as seriously as he takes his soul, which he intends to keep clean in order to go to Heaven after he dies. However, an alternate meaning might be that he holds his soul and his duty in high esteem, meaning that he's proud of himself and his work.
Meaning, to the fullest extent, or completely. The metaphor derives from archery, in which one "bends" a bow in order to make a clean shot. Guildenstern might also mean that they're bending over backwards in order to accommodate this request, which they find really inappropriate.
Rosencrantz's use of the word "dread" suggests that he's personally opposed to spying on Hamlet, but knows that, because the king and queen are asking, this isn't really a request so much as it is a "command." To refuse would mean severe consequences, but to obey means turning on their friend.
Gertrude hints that there will be a reward involved if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do as they ask. Most often, this kind of reward takes the form of money, but this last line suggests that it may come in the form of favor or prestige in the court that's "fit" for a king.
That is, generosity or courtesy, the mark of a true gentleman. In Shakespeare's time, the "landed gentry" were a class of English nobles who owned and administered large estates, often overseeing many servants and farmers. It's not directly stated, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are almost certainly heirs to such estates.
"Neighbour'd" here meaning close, or of the same age as Hamlet, and "haviour" meaning "behavior." Claudius may also be suggesting that Rosencratz and Guildenstern are similarly moody and that this will both help them understand Hamlet and (maybe) make it easier for him to trust them.
In this case, not just the king's permission but the responsibility or the authority for Fortinbras to do something in the king's name. Thus, the king "commissions" Fortinbras the use the soldiers he's already conscripted to attack Poland, not unlike a patron who "commissions" a work of art.
That is, in yearly allowance. Noblemen such as Fortinbras and Hamlet were traditionally given yearly fees, or allowances, consisting of a large sum of money used for housing, meals, travel, and books, in Hamlet's case. This particular monetary award is an incentive paid every year Fortinbras doesn't go to war with Denmark.
In this case, an order to stop the progress or actions of something or someone (in this case Fortinbras), not an arrest warrant. King Norway wants to stop Fortinbras from putting together an army to take to war but by no means wants to arrest his nephew or go to war with Denmark.
That is, Hamlet could be confined in a nutshell and it wouldn't bother him, suggesting that it's not the size of the prison that matters. Though Shakespeare brought this phrase into popular use, it in fact originated in ancient Greece, where Cicero purportedly said that Homer's The Iliad had been written on a sheet of parchment that fit into the shell of a walnut.
This line can be read two ways: that man is literally a piece of God's work, and is therefore beautiful, or that despite being God's work man is still an ugly and uncrafted species. Given Hamlet's tone, it's more likely the latter. Some say that the current idiom "piece of work" comes from this very line in Hamlet.
The document sets forth the specific details of who and what (cannons, soldiers, horses, etc) will need safety and of who and what will be allowed to travel through Denmark (Fortinbras, squires, grooms, cooks, supply wagons, etc). It's essentially a peace treaty with very strict guidelines as to what is and isn't acceptable behavior.
Meaning that Fortinbras has taken advantage of his Uncle's illness, age, and impotence (powerlessness) to assemble an army to attack Denmark, even though the two countries are supposed to be allies. The phrase "falsely borne in hand" more generally means something that has been done in a clandestine or underhand manner.
Though this term is considered derogatory now and should not be used in conversation, in the Renaissance, it was a metonymy, or a word that substitutes for another word (in this case, the Polish nation), just as Norway was a metonymy for the King of Norway.
Hamlet suggests that Polonius's "news" is insignificant and as bothersome as a buzzing insect. Hamlet scholar Simon Augustine Blackstone says in his book The Riddles of Hamlet that the expression was used at Oxford when one began a story that was already known or had been told before.
Hercules was an ancient greek hero tasked with Twelve (seemingly impossible) Labours. Rosencrantz alludes to this by way of saying that he never would've expected the boys to be victorious. What's more, there was a sign outside of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's plays were produced, depicting Hercules holding up the world, further cementing the idea that Rosencrantz' opinions are actually Shakespeare's.
Hamlet puns on the fact that Hamlet is "fishing" for information, a pun that implies Hamlet overheard part of the previous conversation. This is also a clever insult on Hamlet's part, because the job of a fishmonger was (and is) one of the lowliest jobs around. What's more, in the slang of the day, "fishmonger" also meant "peddler of flesh," or pimp.
That is, turn her loose or allow her to speak to him. The image here is of an animal being let of the chain, suggesting that Polonius treats his daughter like property and uses her as a scapegoat (for Hamlet's madness) and bait (to catch him unaware).
Polonius refers to the Earth's center. Under the Ptolemaic system, the Earth was considered the center of the universe, and the Earth's core was considered a great mystery. Polonius' willingness to go so such lengths to find the truth suggests that he's a stubborn person.
Polonius refers to the chain he wears around his neck, which indicates his position in Claudius's court. He means that he will stake his job and prestige upon being correct (a dangerous but impressive bet that would've cemented Polonius' theory, if not in Claudius' head, then in Gertrude's).
Both Polonius and Claudius feel that Hamlet is "lost" to himself, or in other words that he has forgotten his manners and isn't behaving as a prince should. Polonius hopes that Gertrude will "find" Hamlet and set him straight, but realizes that Claudius should have the back-up plan in case she doesn't. This will lead to more trouble in scenes to come.
These "variable objects" could be anything from mountains and grass to swords and daggers. Claudius hopes that getting out of Denmark and essentially going on vacation will ease Hamlet's mind, but what he wants is to get Hamlet out of the way by any means necessary, even if it means "expelling" Hamlet's melancholy from his heart by force.
This image is of a chicken or a bird sitting on its eggs, or its brood of chicks. Hamlet's melancholy appears to be weighing on him, as Ophelia noted when she said Hamlet was "quiet down, quiet down," as in depressed. Claudius (rightly) thinks that by sitting on this brood Hamlet is also hatching a plot against Claudius, and realizing this has spurred Claudius to take action against the prince.
Here, Hamlet uses the plural "you" to refer to all women, who make men into "monsters" or cuckolds (men whose wives have cheated on them) in the end. Hamlet may also be speaking metaphorically, saying that women make men into monsters or terrible people with their dishonest ways and their deceptive beauty. Given the time period, it's likely that all the other male characters in the play share the same beliefs.
A dowry was a gift of money, livestock, goods, etc. that a father put up for his daughter to take to her husband's house upon their wedding. Hamlet wouldn't have any reason or right to give Ophelia a dowry, but promises a terrible one in the form of an icy chastity that will ruin her marriage. This is especially cruel, and will effectively end their relationship.
"Our old stock" should be here understood as sin, which we all carry with us as if it's our heritage. Hamlet believes that virtue can't erase this weight or stock of sin, and that regardless of whether or not he intended to love Ophelia, all he really wanted was to "relish" his sins, or in other words to have sex with her.
A "bawd" is someone who trades in the sex industry, as for instance a pimp or a madam of a whorehouse. Hamlet thinks that beauty will sooner make such a bawd honest than make beauty itself honest. In other words, he doesn't think beautiful people are necessarily good or honest people and is questioning whether Ophelia is really worth his love.
Shakespeare never established how much time passed between Act I and Act II and here implies that it's been a number of days, perhaps even weeks. Ophelia hasn't been talking to Hamlet, per her father's instruction, and wants to know how he (his "honour" because he's the prince) has been. She may also be wondering if he's been honorable or faithful to her since they last spoke.
In her prayers. Remember that Ophelia has been ordered to read a religious book (if not the Bible than likely a devotional) and that she's pretending to be praying, or perhaps praying that this encounter with Hamlet goes well. Hamlet wants Ophelia to remember him in her prayers (presumably so that God will hear them and forgive him).
This is all to say: Hamlet's conscience has made him hesitate, and his great enterprise or plan has lost its momentum ("pitch and moment"). He's afraid, and that has made him look paler (and therefore sicklier) than he already is, being a Dane. His self-esteem has fallen to the point that he can't see how brilliant his plan is.
Bear a burden, where "fardels" means bundles, parcels, or baggage (of the literal and emotional kind). Hamlet answers his question with another question, asking if anyone would bother to work so hard or grunt and sweat if they weren't afraid of what would happen to them after they die.
A bare bodkin is an unsheathed dagger or blade. Hamlet wonders why anyone would suffer the injustices of the world or the reproach ("contumely," scorn, derision) of a proud man when he could simply take his own life ("might his quietus make"). Of course, Hamlet has been doing just that, so one answer to that question is revenge.
In bowling, "rub" is a term and refers to anything that gets in the way or slows down the ball (by rubbing its surface the wrong way). In this context, "rub" means the most problematic thing or the problem with his otherwise perfect theories about death. If death isn't really what he wants, then his revenge plan could end horribly for him.
"Perchance" means perhaps or possibly, whereas "dream" has been defined in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "ambition." Thus, this line reads that sleep (or death) might just be a dream (or an ambition), and that it might not be as peaceful or as easy as he hopes.
In Christian theology, humans are born with original sin, that is, the residual guilt of Eve eating the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Thus, we become her "heirs," and our flesh is subject to that sin and to the thousand "natural shocks" or painful experiences that we all experience in our lifetimes.
That is, nothing more. In this context, Hamlet isn't saying "to exist no more" but rather that death is just another kind of sleep, and nothing more than that. He's trying to minimize the horror of death by turning it into something restful and common and thinking of it as a relief from the sea of troubles.
One of Shakespeare's more famous lines, and the one that most eloquently encapsulates Hamlet's predicament: "to be, or not to be" is the question whether to live or die and whether or not to commit suicide even though it's a mortal sin. In this play, suicide could also be seen as the act of challenging Claudius even though Hamlet knows it could result in his death.
Prostitues were often pockmarked by general diseases and forced to wear heavy layers of makeup ("plastering art") to hide the scars. With these lines, Claudius implies that the harlot's makeup is just as ugly as her face because we know what's underneath, just as we know Claudius' true intentions.
Polonius admits that they're sugarcoating "the Devil himself" or rather their devilish actions. This suggests that Polonius knows that spying on Hamlet is wrong, but that he does it anyway because he wants to and because this sugaring over is second nature to him.
In this context, a devotional exercise, as from a religious book which Ophelia has here been instructed to read. Notice that Polonius uses the word "show" to reinforce that this is a performance. Her loneliness, then, is twofold: she's technically alone and also spiritually lonely, because she's faking her connection with God and has ruined her relationship with Hamlet.
In other words, Rosencrantz says that they were interrupted by the group of players (actors) that arrived in the middle of the scene. If not for them, he suggests, they would've made plans with Hamlet, but as it stands, he seemed happy enough to make plans for himself, without his "friends."
In general, "assay" means to challenge or to test, but in this context means to ask or to challenge him to a game or a bit of friendly sport. Gertrude wants to know whether or not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern treated him like their friend, not because this would be a more effective technique, but because she's worried about her son being too much alone.
"Sound" in this case refers to the process of "sounding," or measuring the depths of a body of water or an abyss, literal or metaphorical, by means of dropping a weighted rope into the water. Guildenstern says that Hamlet refused to be "sounded" because he wouldn't reveal the true nature of his intentions or the depths of his disdain for Claudius.
Without any evidence Claudius already suspects that Hamlet's madness is a performance or a "put on" which he's using to confuse everyone around him, but he can't be entirely sure why and can't act until he's certain. If Hamlet were to die so soon after his father, it would call both of their deaths into question, so Claudius must be careful.
In Shakespeare's time, a "nunnery" could be either a convent for nuns or a brothel for prostitutes. Either way, Hamlet tells Ophelia she shouldn't have children (she couldn't be a mother if she's in a nunnery) because she would only breed sinners. The double-meaning of "nunnery" suggests that Hamlet's anger centers upon seemingly virtuous people (nuns) who ultimately become sinful and debased (prostitutes).
"Trippingly" here means to speak liltingly or nimbly, with the tongue instead of the throat. Hamlet directs his actors to speak "trippingly" because it will be more like real speech.
Note that Hamlet earlier claimed that his soul had "sealed" itself off from other people. Here, he asks his soul, which knows so well how to seal itself, not to restrict his words, while at the same time making sure that his words don't become actions. It's a delicate balance, and he wants to make sure he gets it right.
"Shent" meaning to be disgraced or ruined, in this case perhaps also to be stupefied. Hamlet doesn't intend to speak kindly to his mother, but also won't hurt her, despite his desire to, and these conflicting passions make both his tongue and soul hypocrites (because their thoughts and actions are inverted).
Hamlet doesn't want to hurt his mother. Shakespeare can't stress this enough. In Act I, Scene V, the Ghost explicitly told Hamlet not to hurt his mother, telling her that she's not his real enemy. Here, Hamlet keeps his word to the Ghost, but can't promise that his mother won't think, because his words are so sharp ("daggers"), that he wants to hurt her.
Hamlet puns on the word "fret," referring both its verb form (to "fret" or worry) and to one of its noun forms (as a ridge or bar built into the fingerboard to help regulate the musician's playing, as with the "fret" of a guitar). Hamlet says Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can worry or bother him, but can't play him.
"Ventages" are holes or "stops" in the recorder that correspond with notes that the musician can play (or "govern") by covering them with his fingers as he breathes into the mouthpiece. Of all the wind instruments, the recorder is perhaps the simplest, and it would be very easy for Guildenstern to pick it up if he tried to.
A "toil" in this case refers to a net or a snare and not to a struggle or a bit of hard work. "Recover the wind," then, is another hunting term, meaning to recover or catch the scent of the hunter. Hamlet figures his former friends as hunters and himself as prey to indicate that he thinks of them as his enemies now because of their spying.
"While the grass grows, the horse starves." Hamlet likens himself to a horse who, in waiting for the grass to grow (waiting to become king), starves or dies because he wasn't able to eat (or, in this case, take his rightful position on the throne). Hamlet might think the proverb's a bit musty, but he nevertheless feels that it's an accurate description of his situation.
Hamlet feels stifled in his position as prince, uncertain that he will in fact ascend to the crown. Claudius has assured him that he's next in the line of succession, but that can change. For instance, if Gertrude has a son with Claudius, or if Gertrude dies and Claudius remarries and has a son with his new wife, that son would be the heir. There are many scenarios in which Hamlet doesn't become king, and few in which he does.
Hamlet would obey Gertrude "were she ten times" the person she is, that is, if she were worth obeying. Hamlet makes clear that he thinks very little of his mother now and that he wishes she were someone else and better. To be clear: he still intends to go; he's just not happy about it.
In modern parlance, Hamlet is saying that he can feel a "but" coming. Hamlet knows very well that he has surprised Gertrude, and that her "admiration" here means wonder or amazement, not respect or love. He feels a kind of bitter glee at having provoked such a response in his mother, which just goes to show how far their relationship has deteriorated.
Hamlet has shown Guildenstern only the minimal amount of courtesy required for the situation. Were they still in Wittenberg, Hamlet would treat him like a friend and not like the butt of a joke. In that sense, for Hamlet's courtesy to be "not of the right breed" means both that it isn't based on friendship and that it doesn't suit someone of Hamlet's breeding.
Recall that in Act II, Scene II Gertrude told Polonius "More matter, with less art." Both that line and this one mean to get to the point. Hamlet unwittingly echoes his mother, revealing how much closer they are in intelligence and temperament than either will ever know.
Guildenstern asks Hamlet to put some things into perspective and to reconsider his responses to Guildenstern. In doing this, Guildenstern cautions Hamlet to behave more like a prince should in this situation while also revealing how hurt he is by Hamlet's behavior.
In other words, to exonerate him of any crime, or to put him through a kind of purgatory where he will answer for his sins. Hamlet suggests that telling Claudius he's being choleric (or even suggesting this to a doctor) would only anger him further and that Guildenstern should be careful (rely on "[his] wisdom") when he tells anyone about this.
Short for "choleric," meaning in this case angry or easily angered. The term "choleric" stems from a theory of medicine known as Humorism, which states that the body is governed by four humours: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Being choleric means having too much yellow bile, which makes one ambition, restless, and angry, just like Claudius.
Jove, the Roman epithet for Zeus, the king of the gods, likened here to King Hamlet, who used to reign over this realm until a peacock (a "pajock") dismantled it. Claudius then becomes the peacock, a term that criticizes him for his ostentatious lifestyle and his fashion choices.
"Turning Turk" was a derogatory phrase used to man that someone had either converted to Islam or become extremely obstinate. In this case, it means that Hamlet's fortunes could turn against him, but if they do, his performance that night could get him a "fellowship" or a position in an acting troupe.
Hecate is the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, the moon, and certain poisonous plants, like the one that Lucianus (a character in the play within the play) has used to extract his poison. Hecate's "ban" in this context means a curse or spell that's given the poison its potency.
Hamlet puns on Ophelia's words, taking them to mean "for better or worse" or "in sickness and in health," as in a marriage vow. He uses the plural of "husbands" to imply that Ophelia, like Gertrude, will have multiple husbands. This may also imply that he's disappointed in her response and has decided that he doesn't care if she takes husbands or if she's the kind of woman who would.
Notice that Hamlet excluded Claudius from the category of people who have free souls. Instead, he says that Claudius isn't touched (or affected) by the content of the play because he doesn't have any reason to feel guilty. Hamlet of course knows the reverse to be true, but says this to mollify Claudius so that the king doesn't suspect that Hamlet was the one who set up this play.
In other words, when you try to make friends for the sake of making a friend (or with some secret purpose), it's obvious that you don't really want to be friends with that person, and that's more than likely to turn that "friend" into an enemy with good reason not to like you. Hence, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern became Hamlet's enemies, though he still uses them to his advantage.
To "mark" in those context means to note the dead man's favorite "flies," or people who seems most to hover around his dead body (presumably with the purpose of stealing away some of his wealth). This speaks uncomfortably to the funeral proceedings and marriage that followed King Hamlet's death, wherein Claudius and the nobles alike took advantage of the king's death.
When we forget the decisions we've made or change our minds, it's important that we don't regret this forgetting or think that we owe it to ourselves (or "pay ourselves" that debt) to follow through with our original plans. Instead, we should let sleeping dogs lie.
In this context, "what we do determine" refers to our personal beliefs, which we might break or lose confidence in as we start to question or second-guess ourselves, as Hamlet does. It also reminds us of Hamlet's situation and the vow to kill Claudius that he's "breaking" by being indecisive instead of taking action.
Wormwood is a colloquial name for a kind of plant known for its bitter taste and medicinal properties. Hamlet thinks the previous line (about women who remarry) is very bitter, but may also be suggesting that it has certain healing properties, in that it reveals a truth about Gertrude's situation that they all need to hear.
In other words, the Player King's bodily functions ("operant powers") have started shutting down, and he's going to die soon. He wants to tell his wife before he dies that she should be happy and remarry so that she won't be sad and afraid anymore. It's clear that the Player King and the Player Queen are still deeply in love after thirty years.
Hymen in this context refers to the ancient Greek god of marriages, who would've blessed their union and joined or united their hands at the ceremony (figuratively speaking). There's a subset of Greek poetry called hymenaios that's sung during the procession of the bride to the groom's house.
Neptune is the Roman god of the sea (the "salt wash," or ocean), and Tellus (or Terra) is the Roman god of the earth, where "orbed ground" refers to the shape of the planet. Phoebus' cart has gone around the entire globe, flying over all the seas, for thirty years (and presumably also for all eternity).
Phoebus was the Roman epithet for the Greek god Apollo, the god of the sun, music, truth, healing, and poetry, among other things. He's said to have driven a chariot ("cart") that pulled the sun behind him across the sky, creating the dawn and the sunset. If Phoebus' cart has gone around thirty times, thirty years have passed.
"Miching" derives from the Middle English "michen," meaning to hide or skulk. "Mallecho" was borrowed from the Spanish "mal hecho," meaning a bad or wrongful act. Together, these words mean "hiding a wrongful act" (in this case, King Hamlet's murder). Hamlet pretends not to know who added this to the play by calling it "mischief," or the work of someone who wants to stir up trouble.
Hamlet suggests that Ophelia's religious devotions makes God the only man who can incite her passion or cause her to dance (do a jig). This is yet another sexual innuendo. He's decrying her chastity, saying that it's unnatural and pointing out that his mother seems perfectly happy not to be chaste.
A castrated cock, or rooster; in some cases also a eunuch. Hamlet says that you can't feed castrated roosters or eunuchs air, implying that because he can eat air, he's neither one of those things. In other words, he's saying that he's not powerless (castrated) and should be feared.
Hamlet puns on Claudius' use of the word "fare," responding to both its verb form, meaning "to feel," and one of its noun forms, meaning "food." That he's "of the chameleon's dish" means that he hasn't been eating much (that "food" might mean literal food or food for thought) and that his feelings are constantly changing, like a chameleon's skin.
If Claudius manages to hide (or "steal" away) his guilt, Horatio will pay for it ("the theft"). In other words, watching the King during the play is very dangerous, and if they aren't right, then Horatio's going to be in trouble. He's willing to do so for Hamlet, but isn't so foolish as to think it's without risk.
"Unkennel" means to unleash (as if from a kennel) and derives from a hunting term for driving a fox out of its hole. Hamlet suspects that if Claudius truly is guilty, then whatever he's hiding will be evident on his face, and he'll know for sure whether the Ghost was really his father or was just a demon trying to lead him astray.
"Commeddled" means "commingled" or mixed. Hamlet says Horatio's life has been pretty even-keeled, blessed with neither great hardship nor great wealth, in part because his breeding ("blood") and manners ("judgment") have made him into a wise, honest man whom Fortune has decided to overlook or not make an example of for others.
Hamlet has made the choice not to trust anyone and to "seal" himself off or make himself emotionally unavailable to everyone. He decided to engage (or "elect" to interact) with only the most righteous of men, but, finding none, withdrew into himself. He's telling Horatio this because he's one of the few honest men that Hamlet's met.
"Thrift" means prosperity or good fortune, whereas "fawning" means to lavish with praise or adoration. This line then means, "Where (or in a condition where) fawning over something will lead to good fortune." In the previous line, Hamlet spoke of someone crooking or bending their knees to kneel before someone, so what he's really talking about here is a display of respect.
In other words, let a pompous or pretentious person sugarcoat whatever they want. Recall that Polonius expressed much the same sentiment in Act III, Scene I, when he said that words could "sugar o'er" the Devil himself. This repetition draws an uncomfortable parallel between Hamlet and Polonius, who are each, after all, trying to maneuver against the other.
In this context, "revenue" refers to wealth or income. Hamlet implies that Horatio, despite being an officer, has no money, and as a poor man has nothing to his name but his good spirits. In an earlier scene, Hamlet equated poor men with honest men, so even though Hamlet seems critical, he's actually praising Horatio.
Notice that Hamlet forgoes referring to ambitions as "dreams" here in favor of speaking plainly about the actor's intentions (to laugh or fill a silence where a character like Hamlet would otherwise be contemplating something serious). This is one of the only times that Hamlet equates people who don't act like him as villains and tells us a lot about how he views the other characters, particularly Claudius.
In general, a journeyman is someone who learns a trade and is now qualified to earn wages from it. In this context, it refers to someone who works for someone else (in this case, Nature) and doesn't do a very good job of it, having not made these men (the bad actors) very good at their jobs.
Think of these words as an aside: that he really thinks (and isn't trying to be profane about it) that some actors don't deserve the praise they get and that they don't "act" so much as strut around the stage, making themselves look ridiculous. Hamlet's not only showing his preference for a restrained style of acting but judging those who act this way.
This line doubles as Shakespeare's own thoughts about acting and playwriting: that the words are more important, and that the actions should be suited to them, not the other way around. This gives precedence to what the writer intended rather than to the actor's interpretation, which suggests that everything you need to understand the play is right here on the page.
Termagant was a god that people in medieval Europe confused with Allah, the god in Islam. Similarly, Herod is a character from the Bible, a king in Judea who plotted to kill Jesus Christ when he was born, because Christ was supposed to become king of the Jews (and thus dethrone Herod). Both were violent rulers, and as characters on the stage would've been wildly overdone.
A "periwig" is a stylized wig of the king worn by British nobility in the Renaissance, as well as by lawyers and judges. The use of this word is anachronistic, as Danish nobility weren't known to where periwigs and Hamlet wasn't likely to have seen many British actors either at the castle or at school.
Perhaps even more telling than the actual content of the play is this title, The Mousetrap, which perfectly describes Hamlet's plan: he's going to catch Claudius, the mouse, with this play, the trap he set to make the king feel guilty. However, like a mousetrap, it can backfire, and Hamlet must be careful that it doesn't catch the wrong person.
Hamlet puns on Ophelia's accusation that he's being "keen" (sharp), suggesting that his "edge" is a result of his pent-up sexual frustration and that to relieve it would require that they have sex. He turns the verb "groaning" into a noun that refers to the act of intercourse itself, but doesn't guarantee that it's pleasurable ("groaning" certainly suggests otherwise).
In ancient Greek plays, a chorus was a group of characters who told the audience what was going to happen in the play. By likening him to a chorus, Ophelia isn't praising him so much as politely telling him that he's talking too much and spoiling the show.
A "physic" refers not to a physician but to a medicine. The "medicine" Hamlet speaks of is Claudius' continued existence, which prolongs his mother's sickness (incestuousness in marrying her brother-in-law). In other words, Hamlet is giving his mother her medicine, and he isn't going to feel bad about it. He's waiting for the perfect moment to kill Claudius.
A reference to Ezekial 16:49: "Pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness." Hamlet thinks Claudius struck King Hamlet down out of pride and a kind of arrogance born out of privilege and well-being. Only someone in as secure a position as Claudius was would think of murdering his own brother and marrying his sister-in-law.
In one sense, this line means Claudius should be held accountable for his crimes, because as a villain he hasn't yet been repaid in kind for his sins. In another sense, Hamlet has been hired by the Ghost to avenge his death, and thus this revenge isn't so much for Hamlet as it is for his father. Thus, Hamlet becomes a mercenary, hired to do a job and paid a salary for his services (in the form of becoming king).
Recall that in Act III, Scene II, Hamlet likened himself to an instrument with strings and notes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were incapable of playing. Shakespeare repeats the image to show that Claudius can be played like an instrument, unlike Hamlet, and that he already has been, in responding so dramatically to the play within the play.
In Heaven, we can't shuffle or try to hide our crimes, but are instead required to give evidence or testify against ourselves before God. To pretend that he's been absolved would give Claudius a false sense of security and make him think that he'd gotten away with his crime.
"Gilded" meaning golden. Claudius speaks both generally (in saying that the world's corrupt and people often get away with their crimes) and personally (referring to his own hand as gilded because now he's the king and presumably wears rings and carries a golden scepter). It makes Claudius' sins seem at once common and singularly offensive.
"Fetters" are chains or shackles meant to hold or imprison someone. It's unclear whether "this fear" refers to Hamlet or his madness, which can in itself be figured as a "fear" or a "fright" in the sense of it being a kind of monstrous enemy. More likely, Claudius think of the fear as Hamlet, whom Claudius thinks has been allowed to walk too freely.
In other words, when a king sighs, the general populations sighs, too. Thus, Hamlet, who isn't a threat to the general public, becomes an enemy of the state because of his personal problem with Claudius. Rosencrantz may only be saying this to stay in Claudius' good graces, but then again, he may still be angry with Hamlet for treating him so unkindly in the last scene.
A "mortise" is the architectural term for a hole that's created to accept a "tenon" or part that joins two pieces of a structure together. In this case, the mortises are the holes into which the spokes of the wheel are fit, and there are thousands of them to represent the number of citizens over whom the crown presides.
"Weal" being short for "wealth." Rosencrantz essentially says that, as king, Claudius has to act against Hamlet in order to protect himself and the country, and that his ability to govern depends on his treating Hamlet's madness like an annoyance that keeps him from doing his job (regardless of what his real intentions are).
Rosencrantz inverts a sentiment expressed by Hamlet in his "To be, or not to be?" soliloquy in Act III, Scene I: that it's nobler in the mind to suffer in silence. Rosencrantz instead says that we shouldn't suffer and that we're bound to rid ourselves of any annoyances ("noyance") like Hamlet and his madness.
Shakespeare wasn't the first writer to use the phrase "send someone packing," but he certainly popularized it and brought it into our modern lexicon. Hamlet knows that killing Polonius has escalated the drama and that once he's discovered he'll be "sent packing" (which in this case likely means killed or imprisoned).
Hamlet means that it's particularly gratifying when two plans at cross-purposes meet and only one is successful. On a metafictional level, Shakespeare uses this line to speak to the joys of verse dramas, in which two major "crafts" or plot lines can meet in a single line of poetry.
A "petar" or petard is a bomb made of a small box filled with powder, which is then used to blow a hole in a door or a wall. To be "hoisted" by a petard would mean to be lifted up by the force of the blast, or in other words to have the explosion backfire on you. Hamlet wants this to happen to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and, eventually, to Claudius.
A "knave" is a particularly disagreeable and dishonest person, often contrasted with the fool, who has no knowledge of how they come across to other people, unlike the knave, who knows all too well. That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern will "marshal" Hamlet to knavery means that they intend to make him look bad in front of the English nobility and give Claudius reason to act against his madness.
An "adder" is a snake or a serpent-like creature and is often used to describe a deceitful or untrustworthy person, like Claudius. Hamlet compares his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to adders so Gertrude will know that he's already figured out Claudius' plan and is making moves against it.
This line would seem especially sinister to Gertrude, who knows that he's telling her what not to do and warning her that if she breaks his confidence there will be consequences. When he says, "It's good that you tell him," he's daring her to try it, pretending momentarily that it would be fine when in reality they both know she mustn't say a word.
Hamlet wants Gertrude to refrain from sleeping in her martial bed and instead invoke her right as a woman to sleep in her own room (a practice fairly common amongst the nobility). He assures her that abstaining one night will make it easier a second night, but doesn't, notably, care to speculate on how Claudius will respond to her sudden coolness.
In other words, don't think that I'm mad when really it's your fault that this happened. It would be a lie (or "flattering unction") to believe that Gertrude's marriage to Claudius (her "trespass") hasn't had any effect on what's happening. What follows is an extended metaphor about wounds, unctions (anointing oils or medicines), and infections.
A "gambol" in general means a leap made by a horse but in this context refers to a caper or bit of spirited movement, particularly from an actor or player on the stage. Hamlet doesn't directly tell Gertrude that he's been feigning madness here, but it's clear from this line that he intends to prove his sanity (if not tell her his whole plan).
Hamlet puns on the idea of a heartbeat as music, suggesting that a healthy or normal heart "keeps time" like an instrument maintaining a rhythm. He insists that he isn't mad at all and that his pulse is completely normal (which is unlikely considering how angry he's been with Gertrude throughout this scene).
Meaning, everything that's there or corporeal. Gertrude subtly asserts that there's nothing else to see and that Hamlet shouldn't be able to see or speak to anything or anyone but her. She's convinced now that Hamlet is mad, but, like a good mother, she wants to understand the nature of her son's madness, presumably so that she can help.
"Incorporeal" means immaterial or having no bodily structure. Ghosts, for instance, are incorporeal because they're floating and "vacant," as Gertrude says. Gertrude knows that Hamlet's having a conversation and not just ranting because he pauses where the Ghost's dialogue is. If she weren't so sad and frightened, she might ask him who he's talking to.
In Hamlet's time, women were considered the weaker sex, and thus susceptible to persuasion and outside influence. The word "conceit" here means an idea or thought that the Ghost wants Hamlet to feed to Gertrude, because if it comes from him (a well-educated man) it's supposed to work well on her (a "weak" woman).
A "diadem" is a crown typically worn by royalty, and a "cutpurse" is a thief. Hamlet calls Claudius a thief who stole from the kingdom to rule the kingdom, making him perhaps the worst kind of villain. Note that someone who plotted against the king like this would be considered an enemy of the state and that Claudius was very lucky to have gotten away with it thus far.
A "tithe" is a 10% portion of one's income which is paid to the church or a government as an expression of piety. Hamlet calls Claudius one twentieth of one tenth (or, in other words, one half of one percent) of the man King Hamlet was. Now that he's finally put a number on Claudius' worth, we can see how much Hamlet really hates his uncle.
"Enseam" means to make greasy, and "rank" means smelly. Hamlet's trying to make Gertrude and Claudius' marriage bed as disgusting as possible, likening the ugliness of their "incestuous" marriage to the foulness of their passion. Its degree of foulness, however, suggests that Gertrude and Claudius have been making heavy use of it.
To "cozen" means to deceive or beguile, whereas "hoodman-blind" refers to the game of blind man's buff, wherein a blindfolded player tries to the touch the others. Hamlet sexualizes the game by implying that Gertrude has been tricked into touching (or having sex with) her brother-in-law. Unfortunately, Gertrude agreed to the game in the first place, which still makes her culpable for her choice to marry him.
Meaning, suffering from apoplexy, a debilitating illness that arrests or halts sense and motion. Hamlet has punned on the word "sense," first saying that Gertrude must have her senses in tact, otherwise she wouldn't be able to move, then saying that her senses have been apoplex'd, meaning that she doesn't have good sense or faculties of reasoning.
"Moor" in this context most likely refers to a piece of marshland, but its capitalization in the middle of a line implies that Hamlet may also be using the words in its derogatory sense to suggest that Claudius has darker skin than his brother, like a Moor (Shakespeare's Othello was called a Moor because his skin was black). In either case, Hamlet intends this word to denigrate Claudius, who's nothing compared to King Hamlet.
A Titan from ancient Greek mythology. Hyperion was known as "the High One" and was said to have fathered the sun, Helios. Hyperion is here suggested to have been very beautiful and powerful, like Jove, king of the Roman pantheon; Mars, the Roman war god; and Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Equating King Hamlet to all of these gods elevates him and suggests that he was a much better king than Claudius will ever be.
A "visage" or face appears "tristful" when it's sad or feeling dreary. In this case, the visage belongs to Hamlet, whose entire body ("solidity and compound mass") feels the effects of the terrible act of murder. Hamlet in this case refers to the murder of his father, King Hamlet, but may also be speaking more generally about murder itself, which leaves him upset ("thought-sick").
"Dicers" in this context are gamblers whose oaths mean nothing, because they're bluffs without any substance. Hamlet has essentially given a laundry list of ways that murder can destroy beautiful things: the modest become immodest, the virtuous lie, the innocent grow up and get sick, and sacred vows become worthless. One could argue that Hamlet's being overdramatic here.
"Rood" refers to the cross and to Jesus Christ's crucifixion. Saying "by the rood" is equivalent to swearing on the cross, which would've been an even more powerful oath then than it is today. Hamlet swears that he hasn't forgotten Gertrude, meaning that he hasn't forgotten her place in society. Of course, he doesn't think much of her place, and therein lies the problem.
In other words, Hamlet has been evading her unstated question (why has he been treating Claudius so badly?) and Gertrude wants him to stop dodging and get to the point. She said something similar to Polonius earlier, when she said, "More matter, with less art." Hamlet, of course, has all the art but no real matter (that he wants to reveal to his mother, anyway).
"Heat" here refers to danger that Gertrude has "screen'd" or protected Hamlet from by virtue of her being the queen and him being the prince. If Hamlet weren't a prince, Polonius implies, he'd never be able to get away with such terrible behavior. Polonius, of course, has no right to say this to a queen and should be more worried about the "heat" he's bringing on himself.
A knavish speech is a disagreeable or deliberately cruel one, which thankfully hasn't offended Rosencrantz too much because he didn't understand it. It's possible that Hamlet simply doesn't care what his former friends think, but more likely he feels guilty for being so mean to them.
Hamlet explains this metaphor more fully in his next passage, where he states that as servants to the king Rosencrantz and Guildenstern suck up his attention (and suck up to him). In the line, sponge seems like a sneering insult, and one can imagine Hamlet delivering it with such disdain.
Recall that in Act II, Scene II, Hamlet asked what this "quintessence of dust" means to him. It's an allusion to Genesis 3:19: "For dust thou art, and unto dust though shall return." Shakespeare repurposes this line to suggest that Polonius was never anything more than dust, and now that he's dead he's where he always belonged.
A "cicatrice" is the scar of a healed wound, which is in this case fairly new because it still looks raw. Claudius appears to have recently had a war or battle with English troops where the Danes won and left the English in awe. That's why he's sending Hamlet there: because he knows his orders will be carried out.
A "cherub" is a divine being typically represented as a winged baby with a round, rosy-cheeked face. Hamlet likens Claudius to a cherub because he's always smiling (and likely because his face is also red from drinking). He's subtly telling Claudius that he knows exactly what he's up to and is fairly amused by it.
A "bark" being a ship that's prepared to carry Hamlet to England in order to escape imprisonment for Polonius' murder. That the ship is already ready testifies to the desperation with which Claudius tries to get rid of Hamlet and the speed with which his plan has been set into motion.
Though it appears at first that Hamlet's referring to Hell here, he's most likely speaking of Purgatory, where one has the opportunity to pay for one's sin and handle any unfinished business before one can go to Heaven. Hamlet politely suggests that Claudius might go up to Heaven and "nose" or brush Polonius on the stairway, but probably thinks that Claudius will be going to Hell.
In general, Hamlet means someone can use the worm that eats a dead body to catch a fish, thus completing the circle of life. In this context, however, "fish" should also be taken to mean fishing for information, which implies that Hamlet is using Polonius' death to figure out more of Claudius' plan.
When we're dead and buried, maggots consume our bodies. Hamlet says that we "fat ourselves" in life both for and in spite of these maggots, knowing that they're coming but also wanting to enjoy the pleasures of life while we fat our livestock. It's a circle of life in which kings and beggars are both reduced to meals and in some ways feed off each other.
From these lines, we can assume that Hamlet is very popular with the general public and members of the nobility and that this popularity is in part due to his physical appearance. If Claudius were to throw him in jail, there would likely be a public uproar, which would reflect very poorly on the king.
This "eggshell" refers to the small piece of land which Fortinbras has decided to "conquer," even though the Poles have no real intention of defending it, because it's worthless. He sees a certain nobility in this futile march, which Fortinbras leads not out of anger but ambition. Hamlet respects this and wishes he too could be great.
"Craven" in this case meaning cowardly, defeated, or abject. A craven "scruple" or reason to worry is cowardly hesitation born of too much thinking. Hamlet contrasts his scruples with a "bestial oblivion" that likens ignorance to animals with no capacity to reason. Hamlet isn't sure which one's keeping him alive and, thus, which has been his experience.
To "fust" means to become moldy or smelly, in this case out of disuse. Hamlet says that God gave us our intelligence for a reason and that we shouldn't waste His gift and act like unintelligent beasts who do nothing but eat and sleep. Being human means being a thinking being to him, which is not so far from Descartes famous saying, "I think, therefore I am."
In general, an "imposthume" refers to a welt or sore, but in this case means a metaphorical sore or corrupted section of government. The Norwegians are fighting for a small piece of land that no one cares about because they're so bored during peace time that they feel they have to do something. It's a complete waste, and everyone knows it.
Fortinbras asks leave of Claudius to march across his kingdom to Poland, where he wants to wage war. This kind of "conveyance" was common during warfare and would need to have been formally requested of the king and queen. Here, there might be some suspicion that Fortinbras still holds a grudge, so Fortinbras is careful to say that he's willing to talk with Claudius and put their problems to rest.
Claudius speaks merely of himself and not of himself and Laertes, using the royal "we" to say that if he is touched (or has had a hand in Polonius' death, directly or otherwise), he will give his kingdom to Laertes. This would be a strange regime change, given that Hamlet's the next in line for the throne, but Laertes doesn't yet pick up on the strangeness of this or suspect that Hamlet is the murderer.
"Poll" refers to the part of the head where the hair grows. "Flaxen" refers to the color of flax or of wheat, in this case probably a sandy blond. This is all to say that he (Polonius) was quite old when he died, but not so old that the hair on his head had turned gray (even though his beard had).
Pelicans were then believed to feed their young with their own blood. Laertes thus figures himself as an altruistic person willing to "feed" or protect his father's friends by taking up their cause. In this way, he also presents himself as a wise and powerful man with the status to treat his father's friends like children. Given that he intends to kill the king, this arrogance isn't surprising.
If "rue" symbolizes pity, then it seems most likely that Ophelia gives the rue to her brother, who looks on her with more pity than any of the others, who already know about her madness. If we assume that Laertes, Claudius, and Ophelia are all standing together, then the next flower, daisy (false love) goes to either Claudius or Gertrude, as a symbol of her disillusionment with the crown.
Ophelia has begun throwing flowers, each of which have symbolic meanings: fennel means flattery, columbines mean cuckoldry, rue means pity, daisies mean false love, and violets mean faithfulness. From this, we can assume that Opehlia has been walking around with a bouquet of flowers, both like a woman in mourning and a bride to be.
Laertes thinks Ophelia's nonsense says more than actual speech, or "matter." Likely, Laertes thinks that the steward and the master's daughter refer to other characters in the play, and he's trying to determine exactly who and what she's talking about. Though the lyrics don't quite coincide with any situation in the play, it's possible that she's referring to herself and Hamlet.
Although there are no stage directions here, one can imagine Ophelia going from person to person, directing them on what to sing and what notes to hit, like a conductor standing before a stage. The "wheel" in this case refers to the succession of singers, whose lyrics cycle around the room, creating a wheel.
A "bier" is a frame or tool for carrying, such as a handbarrow, litter, or stretcher. That they carried him "barefac'd" on it implies that he wasn't covered with a sheet, as the dead traditionally were. Given how many tears were shed on his grave, this lack of decorum shouldn't be taken as indication of his social status but rather as an artistic choice to make him seem beloved.
An "instance of itself" means a sample of nature's refinement. Here, that "sample" is Ophelia's sanity, which has gone after her dead father Polonius and has, in some ways, honored him with its grace. Laertes thus characterizes Ophelia's beauty and goodness as a thing that can be lost under dire circumstances.
Another way of saying "payback" or revenge. Laertes intends to kill whoever murdered his father and drove his sister mad. In this case, that murder is figured as "weight" or as a dead body that can then be placed on one side of the scale to balance it or tip it downward ("turn the beam").
"Stake" and "draw" are both terms from the gambling world, where one bets or stakes money when one is willing to take their chances with the cards and, hopefully, draw a winner. "Swoopstakes," then, means that one bets indiscriminately, taking out anyone in his path, regardless of whether or not they're friend or foe. Claudius may also mean that Laertes will draw a sword against anyone.
In other words, Laertes doesn't care what happens to him in this world or the next; he just wants to avenge his father's death. Contrast this with Hamlet's soliloquies, which dwell heavily on heaven, hell, sin, and whether or not vengeance is worthwhile, and you can see how differently Laertes and Hamlet approach the same problem.
Laertes scoffs at the idea of being calm, stating that if he were calm, Polonius would have to be a cuckold and Laertes' mother a "harlot," making Laertes' someone else's son. Or else why wouldn't he grieve for his father? He points to his brows as proof that he isn't a bastard, because the brows were said to be proof of a person's good breeding.
In the wake of Polonius' death, the general population (or "rabble") has started to consider a coup led by Leartes that would overthrow Claudius. In doing so, they're breaking the laws of "antiquity" and "custom" wherein kings inherit the throne and demanding that their leader be accepted as the true king.
A word used as a substitution for "God" when swearing oaths. This particular "oath" doubles as a wedding vow that the young man refuses to take because he's already had sex with his girlfriend and therefore doesn't need to marry her.
A "cockle" is a bivalve like a mussel or a scallop whose shell is sewn onto the hats of pilgrims traveling to St. James of Compostella. This song compares the pilgrim to a man whose "true love" is so pure that it must be compared to the pilgrim's love of God in order to be put into perspective.
Polonius' death has driven Ophelia slightly mad, and she's becoming paranoid and unpredictable. Though "her speech is nothing," or mad and meaningless, there's something in the way she speaks that gives other people pause (or "moves" them to collection). In her ravings, people find their own suspicions confirmed and draw conclusions Ophelia herself hasn't.
Notice how Shakespeare's use of meter breaks down in this passage and allows Hamlet to write in longer, less poetic lines. We know, from his love letter to Ophelia, that Hamlet is perfectly capable of writing in metrical feet, but he elects not to here for expediency's sake (and also, we assume, to maintain the lie that he's in a harried situation).
To "chaunt" or chant means to sing, and "lauds" are hymns of praise, often religious in nature but not necessarily so. Ophelia sings these hymns instead of pulling herself out of the water, which is what leads some readers to the conclusion that she commits suicide rather than merely drowns.
Most likely, this sliver or branch is envious of the higher branches, which receives garlands that the sliver itself doesn't. This sliver may also be envious of Ophelia herself, who, before she went mad, was extremely beautiful, innocent, and pure (enough so that even nature would be jealous of her beauty).
"Pendant boughs" are hanging or pendulous branches that sway as Ophelia clambers or scrambles to place her "crownet" (or crown of) weeds on the branches, as if they were a lovely maiden. Ophelia in her madness ignored the danger inherent to climbing such pendant boughs and fell because of it.
Here, "liberal" shepherds are men who are free in their speech, or in other words foul-mouthed. They've given a grosser (and likely sexual) name to the "long purples" Ophelia collected, which are likely some form of orchid or lilac. This grosser name was likely well-known to Shakespeare's audience, but has become obscure now.
The now antiquated phrase "for the nonce" means for the purpose of (in this case, poisoning Hamlet). Claudius intends to poison Hamlet's chalice, or cup, so that even if Laertes fails to cut Hamlet, he'll still die. It's unclear how Claudius intends to explain how a young man like Hamlet could drop dead like that.
According to the theory of Humorism, to be "hot and dry" means to have too much yellow bile, which makes one choleric (ambitious and easily angered). Remember that Claudius himself was described this way in Act III, Scene II, when Guildenstern said he was mad with "choler." Thus, Claudius unwittingly equates himself with Laertes, who might not be as easy to control as Claudius thinks.
Modern readers will likely recognize the term "drift" from the phrase, "Do you catch my drift?" In this case, "drift" means intent or meaning, and Claudius' intent is to kill Hamlet but make it look like an accident. To do that, both Claudius and Laertes must perform, like actors, the same way Hamlet has performed his madness. If not, they'll be found out and will need a back-up plan.
In other words, they should have a back-up plan in case this one fails or someone finds out about it. Likely, Claudius already has a back-up plan in mind, and indeed that would seem prudent given that Hamlet isn't likely to be "free from all contriving," as he said. Claudius will need a plan to get rid of both Hamlet and Laertes in order to cover his tracks.
A "cataplasm" is a poultice or healing ointment that's lain on a wound as it heals. Laertes's poison, however, is so potent that no cataplasm currently exists that would draw the poison out of Hamlet's blood and save his life. That Laertes already has such a poison in his possession suggests that he either bought it to kill Claudius or keeps it at the ready, for reasons he never explains.
A "mountebank" is a charlatan or peddler who sold medicines, spells, potions, and poisons, often using these to entertain an audience at performances, such as at a circus. An "unction" is a kind of ointment or oil used to anoint people, but in this case refers to a poison in which Laertes will dip his sword so he can kill Hamlet.
That is, Claudius will bring even more people to talk about Laertes and give a double "varnish" (or lay on another coat of praise) so that Hamlet will become jealous and agree to a sparring match. Claudius himself is already laying on this double varnish to ensure that Laertes follows this plan exactly, without deviating. Claudius wants to control the entire plot, both in the murder scene and the play in general.
In fencing, swords are "tipped" or capped so they can't inflict any real damage. Thus, when someone makes contact in a sparring match, it's only by touching or tapping the sword on another's clothing. An "unbated" sword, however, would have no such cap, and Laertes would be able to kill Hamlet and pretend that he didn't know. (These kinds of accidents were fairly common.)
Claudius thinks revenge should have "no bounds," meaning no limits on where it can be exacted, regardless of whether or not that place is a sanctuary. Thus, Laertes can slit Hamlet's throat in a church without reproach (from Claudius, at least). This kind of revenge further highlights the differences between Laertes and Hamlet, who refrained from killing Claudius in a church because it's inappropriate.
An "ulcer" is a hole in the stomach lining, which has been eaten away by an excess of acid, typically caused by worry and stress. He calls Hamlet "the quick" or cause of the ulcer, backhandedly denigrating him while also admitting that he has caused Claudius stress. The use of the conjunction "but" at the beginning of the sentence functions to change the subject from disease to Hamlet.
In Hamlet's time, sighs were thought to cause injury by drawing heart from the blood. Thus, a spendthrift (or wasteful) sigh needlessly hurts and makes the idea that we "should" have done something we didn't end up doing especially painful, because it's both physically and psychologically injurious.
A "pleurisy" is an excess of something which grows to be harmful or problematic, as in this case where goodness, in becoming too large, becomes impossible for a person to sustain, until finally it withers and dies. Claudius may also be playing on an alternate definition of "pleurisy," meaning an abscess on the chest, which would make goodness a kind of disease (and thereby justify him in being evil).
In general, to "qualify" something means to describe it or to attribute a certain quality to it. In this case, that quality is brevity or, in other words, the capacity to fade like a flame over time. Claudius uses the metaphor of a candle with a wick to mark an exact beginning and end to love, thus making it possible for Laertes to stop loving his father in a natural way and through no fault of his own.
Notice that a painting is a form of art, and that Laertes' swordsmanship was previously referred to as in some ways artful. After buttering Laertes up, Claudius questions whether Laertes is really the man everyone says he is, forcing Laertes to defend his sorrow, which isn't just a performance or mask ("painting") but is instead a very real grief.
Notice that Claudius doesn't say "fight" or "spar" with you, as would be the appropriate term for a scrimmage in fencing. He instead uses the word "play," which subverts the earlier musical metaphor into one that makes Hamlet and, by extension, Laertes into children playing at being warriors. Claudius says all this to make Laertes think Hamlet will be easy to kill in battle.
A "scrimer" is a "fencer" or swordsman, in this case one who doesn't have the defensive skills ("guard") or the accuracy ("eye") of Laertes, who has been described as an artful fighter, particularly with a rapier (a kind of sword). Lamond purportedly said Laertes had no equal, and Claudius repeats this to stroke Laertes' ego and manipulate him into killing Hamlet (who likely isn't jealous of his youth or swordsmanship, after all).
A "brooch" is an ornamental piece of jewelry fasted by a pin, with the brooch itself usually taking the shape or a ring, a shield, or whatever the artist desires. Brooches are typically jewel encrusted and appear to be large clusters of gems, making Lamond the jeweled brooch fastened to the lapel of his country's jacket.
In other words, Claudius was so stunned by the bravery and grace of this centaur-like creature and so misled by his own dramatic ideas of it (his "shapes and tricks") that he failed to see exactly how great the Frenchman's actions were (he came "short" of or missed "the truth"). One could argue that Claudius did the same with Hamlet, thinking he was more especially devious, yet failing to see his true plan.
"Incorpsed" means to have been made into a body, where "corpse" is a body, but in this case not a dead one. "Demi-natured" means to be double natured, where "demi" means half. In this case, the French gentleman has been made into a new creature, half man, half horse, not unlike a centaur.
As an adjective, "gallant" describes someone who's brave, courteous, and often showy. In its noun form, it stands in for that person, who in this case would be considered a gentleman or a noble. Here, Claudius uses the word "gallant" to indicate that the gentleman and his horse are as one, and that the creature they form is brave (preternaturally so, given that it has "witchcraft" in it).
Here "organ" means "instrument," in the sense that Laertes wants to be the instrument in Claudius' plan to kill Hamlet. Though he's asking for the opportunity, it should be noted that Claudius has manipulated him into doing so, and that in reality Laertes has already been "played" like an instrument in a way that Hamlet can't be.
In this context, "checking" means putting to a halt or stopping his diplomatic voyage to England. Claudius wasn't sure at first if Hamlet returned on purpose to plot against Claudius, but he seems sure of it now and intends to defend himself.
Modern readers would rephrase this as "tell him to his face." Laertes wants to tell Hamlet, "You did this. It's your fault my father's dead and my sister's crazy," and then, presumably, kill him. Laertes is glad he'll get to see the day when Hamlet pays for his crimes. It remains to be seen whether this will work out as he planned.
Note that Laertes doesn't say that Hamlet's return warms his heart, but rather that it warm the sickness in his heart, which we can here assume to be his hatred and thirst for revenge. The knowledge that Hamlet will return has spurred him on and "warmed" (or heightened) his desire to kill Hamlet.
The rest being the people on the boat to England, specifically, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Claudius wants to know if the ship had a problem at sea, causing it and everyone on it to turn back, or if Hamlet has convinced his former friends to come back and take revenge on Claudius for King Hamlet's murder.
Hamlet wants Claudius to think he's humble and vulnerable ("naked") and is returning to Denmark not to seek revenge but to find a sort of absolution. He preys on Claudius' vanity by referring to Denmark as Claudius' kingdom and promises that he's unarmed ("naked") so that the king's suspicions will be allayed.
In modern parlance, Claudius would tell Laertes not to lose any sleep over this whole revenge thing. It must be noted that the antecedent for Claudius "that" is revenge and not Ophelia's madness or Polonius' death. These are perfectly legitimate things to lose sleep over, but Claudius doesn't seem to think much of them.
Laertes wishes that his praises of Ophelia, whose "worth" and sanity (and no doubt her virtue) were incontestable and could stand above anyone else's, could go back in time, where they're still accurate. In doing so, he emphasizes not only Ophelia's madness but how far she has fallen thanks to Claudius and Hamlet.
Taken in a literal sense, this line simply means that in this way Laertes has lost his father. However, given the use of the conjunction "and" at the beginning of the sentence, we can assume that Laertes is really saying, "Because of you, my father is dead," with as much contempt and derision as he can possibly show the king.
A "gyve" is a shackle or chain which has been used to restrain a prisoner. Converting gyves to graces means exchanging the shackles for a "grace" or pardon, born of the public's favor and goodwill, which would set Hamlet free against Claudius' wishes.
In this case, "gender" doesn't refer to the performative ideas of male and female but is rather an abbreviation of "engendered," which means to bear, conceive, or produce. Thus, this line reads, the love that the general public feels (or has produced) for Hamlet, which keeps Claudius from putting him in jail.
This is an allusion to Ptolemaic astronomy, which postulated that each planet (or "star") was carried around Earth in its fixed orbit in a crystalline sphere. Claudius implies with this figurative language that he could no more go against Gertrude's desire than a "star" could go out of its fixed, predetermined orbit.
Today, to "live by your looks" means to making a living on your looks, but Claudius means that Gertrude's emotional state (or life) is highly affected by Hamlet's emotional state (as visible in the look on his face). That she lives "almost" by his looks suggests that, while she's affected by her son's madness, she isn't entirely moved by it.
Claudius feels confident that when Laertes hears his side of the story, the young man will acquit him of Polonius' murder and turn his attention instead on the real culprit. Of course, the audience knows that Polonius' murder was really brought about by their spying on Hamlet, but Claudius conveniently leaves out his culpability.
"Hand" meaning "handwriting." Laertes attempts to sort out the debate by asking whether or not Claudius recognizes Hamlet's handwriting. Since handwriting analysis was not yet a science, this wouldn't be considered conclusive now, but would've passed back then for confirmation of the letter's authenticity.
Claudius uses an extended archery metaphor to refer to his intended punishment for Hamlet as arrows which are made of too weak a wood ("slightly timber'd") to stand up to such a "loud" wind as the public's love. He claims that their love for Hamlet would've turned the wind against him, reversing the arrow's course and sending it back to its bow (and, therefore, to Claudius himself).
To be "sinewy" means to be strong or to have a lot of sinews, which connects our muscles. To be "unsinew'd" then means to be weak or to not have a lot of sinews, making Claudius seem cowardly and feeble because he doesn't pursue Hamlet. Claudius says that Laertes might think him weak because of this, but he actually had very good reasons.
Readers will recall that this scene takes place in a graveyard and that the queen is scattering flowers on Ophelia's grave. The expression "sweets to the sweet" then, has much more somber meaning in its original context than the overly-sentimental meaning that the expression has taken on today.
Here Claudius speaks in a confidential tone to Laertes, asking him to be patient with Hamlet for now and reminding him of what they conspired to do in Act IV, Scene VII. By putting the matter to the "present push," Claudius means that he will immediately arrange a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes, in which Laertes will kill Hamlet with a foil dipped in poison.
In this context, we should read "disclosed" as "hatched" or opened, as when the dove's chicks hatch from the egg and reveal their fluffy yellow (golden) feathers. Gertrude asks to be as patient as the dove he waits for her children to be born, suggesting that she herself has to wait until her son Hamlet returns, or is born again. He has become such a different person in the course of the play that she hardly feels she knows him anymore.
Mount Ossa, another mountain in Greece. Hamlet picks up on Laertes' allusion to Pelion by referring to the myth in which the Aloadaes, twin sons of Poseidon, attempted to overthrow Mount Olympus by piling Mount Pelion on top of Mount Ossa. Hamlet calls for gravediggers to bury them both until they're even taller than these mountains, i.e. until they make the myth ridiculous.
"Splenitive" means spleenful or hot-tempered, the spleen being the source of the yellow bile that's said to make one choleric and easily angered in the theory of Humorism. Hamlet implies that, unlike both Laertes and Claudius, who has twice been described as choleric, he isn't a rash person, but that he should be feared because his anger is much colder and more deliberate.
Pelion and Olympus are both mountains in Greece. In ancient Greek mythology, Pelion was the birthplace of Chiron, the wise centaur and tutor of heroes like Jason and Achilles, while Olympus was the home of the gods. Laertes wants Ophelia's grave to be an even greater mountain than these, if not in size than in its place in his heart.
Laertes thinks that this cursed head is Hamlet, but he doesn't have all the information. Had Claudius and Polonius refrained from spying on Hamlet, and had Claudius not killed King Hamlet in the first place, Hamlet would've had no reason to kill Polonius. Hamlet may have been the sword, but Claudius and Polonius himself were the force behind it and are as guilty as Hamlet is.
In the same way that we "deck" the halls at Christmas, so bride-beds are decked out with flowers and garlands on the night of a maiden's wedding. As queen, Gertrude would've had the responsibility to do so for her son's wife, but now feels obligated to do so at Ophelia's grave out of guilt for what's happened to her. This inversion emphasizes the suddenness of Ophelia's death and its unusual circumstances.
"For" meaning "instead of" or "in place of" in this context. The priest tells Laertes that Ophelia has already had more funeral rites than she deserves, given the questionable nature of her death. She should've been buried in unhallowed ground with sticks and stones instead of flowers and bells, but the king and queen gave a "great command" or order that she should get a proper burial because they felt guilty for her death, which could've been avoided had they not been spying on Hamlet.
Though Ophelia will indeed receive a Christian burial, her funeral isn't as grand or as ostentatious as it would've been had she died in some other manner. The king and queen don't want to say outright that she killed herself, but can't in good conscience afford her the same funeral rites as other people. Hence, the "maimed" rites, which tell Hamlet everything he needs to know, except the corpse's identity.
Notice that Hamlet picks up an AABB rhyme scheme in these lines, making these lines seem sing-songy and immature by comparison. He appears to be doing this to make fun of Horatio, who criticized him for thinking too much about death. By speaking in such melodic, rhyming couplets, he attempts to appear logical and precise even as he speaks with a kind of manic intensity.
Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle and commander of a great empire stretching from the Ionian Sea all the way to the Himalayas. In his time, Alexander the Great was the most powerful man in the world and is still considered one of history's greatest commanders. So one can imagine Hamlet's dismay in thinking that Alexander the Great would end up being just another skull.
Recall that in Act III, Scene I, Hamlet chided Ophelia in particular and women in general for using "paint" or makeup to attract men. He says it in such a way that makeup becomes in itself a "face" that hides the real one underneath, making the "paint" a kind of performance. Thus, this line reads, "You can pretend all you want, but no matter how much makeup you wear, you're still going to die."
Recall that in Act III, Scene IV, Hamlet used the line, "Which madness/ would gambol from" to mean that madness would appear to gambol or make exaggerated leaps during his conversation with Gertrude. Here, Hamlet aligns his performance of madness and its gambols with the jester's gambols, unwittingly making himself a jester, like the First Clown.
In this context, "gorge" means the contents of one's stomach, which "rises" in revulsion and disgust when he looks at Yorick's skull. Taken literally, Hamlet is saying that he's going to throw up, but in general, he's expressing his disgust, rage, and resentment that Yorick died, even though Hamlet loved him well. He's channeling his anger over his father's death and Ophelia's death into this scene with Yorick's skull, expressing feelings he has never been able to express before.
The First Clown uses "your" here not to refer to Hamlet but to your typical dead body. A "whoreson," unsurprisingly, is the son of a whore or the bastard of a man who likely had another family and didn't want to claim an illegitimate son in order to preserve his estate. The body of such a whoreson would decay slower because it was particularly vile or abominable.
A "pocky" or pocked corpse was one afflicted with the pox, or, in this case, the Bubonic plague, which killed millions of people in Europe and decimated Denmark's population. This might explain Hamlet's line about the age being "picked," meaning that people had been picked off in droves by the plague.
Hamlet has noticed a trend in the last few years of noblemen losing their riches and becoming almost as poor in the peasants. It's unclear whether he means this in a literal sense (as in financial distress) or a spiritual sense (as in being morally and emotionally bankrupt). Either way, the age feels "picked" because all of the goodness and wealth seems to have been taken out of Denmark.
A "kibe" is a sore on the heel of the foot, where an unbroken-in shoe would rub the skin raw. For a peasant to "gall" or make this kibe worse by agitating the sore, he'd have to be right on the courtier's heels or, in other words, coming up behind him in terms of wealth and social class. This seems unacceptable to Hamlet, and he laments as such to Horatio to emphasize the First Clown's insolence.
The idiom "to speak by the card" means to speak with an authority based on facts and information, not just puns and innuendos. Hamlet has grown tired of kidding around with the First Clown and wants to know whose grave this is. Note that he's just returned from his aborted trip to England and doesn't yet know of Ophelia's death.
Hamlet puns on the word "lie," which means in this context both "to lie in" and to lie or tell lies in the grave. In the next lines, the First Clown either doesn't understand or deliberately misinterprets Hamlet's pun, which should regardless be taken as a threat, as in: "This will be your grave, because you just lied to me." Hamlet would normally just make fun of a man like this, but he's grown violent in his "madness" and isn't above killing this clown.
In this context, "indentures" doesn't refer to indents or notches but rather to contracts drawn up between two parties, which are now null and void, because of one party's death. In the wake of his death, his possessions would've been split up; his land, fought over; his estate, in crisis, until his heirs could draw up contracts or "vouchers" of their own to preserve what was left. Death thus undoes a man's work and makes his life seem meaningless.
Hamlet puns on the French "fin," meaning end, and the English "fine," meaning in this context either a fine he exacts on his tenants as a great landowner or his fine qualities as a man, which are no longer relevant now that he's dead. Hamlet has already made this point several times, and that he continues to do so implies that he's having a hard time wrapping his head around it (perhaps because he's afraid).
"Quiddities" and "quilets" are both subtleties in a lawyer's argument, whereas his "tenures" would be his various positions and his "tricks" the ones he uses in court in order to win his cases. These five things encompass the whole of a lawyer's work and, by extension, his self, but have been stripped of him in death. Hamlet sees this loss of self as a great tragedy, and may be thinking specifically of his father and Ophelia in this passage.
"Loggets" was a game played in England where players threw pieces of wood at a stake driven into the ground. It's anachronistic of Hamlet to refer to this game, because he wasn't likely to have played it, but Shakespeare uses it to emphasize that the bones of nobility aren't treated any better than those with lesser breeding or social station. Hamlet's probably thinking of his own death and shuddering to think what will happen to his body when he dies.
Shakespeare's use of the conjunction "and" indicates that Hamlet has picked up another skull, which he assumes to be a woman's, and which appears to have a worm inside it. The skull itself is "chapless" (has lost its jaw) and has been knocked on the head ("mazard") by a spade or shovel belonging to an officer of the parish ("sexton"). This is all to say that the bones of a noblewoman lose some of their grace once they're buried.
In this context, "to beg it" doesn't mean to beg from or beg of or for but rather to beg pardon of, or to ask forgiveness from Lord Such-a-one's horse. That the Lord praises the horse instead of begging its pardon suggests that he rode it much too harshly, and that even though it performed well he shouldn't have done so in the first place.
Notice that Hamlet calls the First Clown an "ass" mere lines after the First Clown called the Second Clown the same thing. Thus, we can see the hierarchy inherent in the play: nobles, then goodmen, then the supposedly less intelligent rank of men who work for or with the goodmen without themselves being considered of that class. This makes Hamlet's opinion of the First Clown the final opinion.
In the Bible, Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous that God preferred Abel's offering over his. Cain thus became the first murderer, according to Christian mythology, and an often reviled figure. That the First Clown "jowls" or dashes the skull against the grounds underscores both the carelessness with which he works and the gruesome nature of the job.
Hamlet speaks both generally and personally: people who don't work approach jobs like grave digging very seriously, whereas people who actually have those jobs take it in stride and don't see any reason not to sing while they're working. Hamlet himself, we know, has this "daintier" sense, having spent so much time at Wittenberg. Whether he's happy about this, however, remains unclear.
Though its exact meaning has been lost over time, "Yaughan" likely refers to a nearby inn or innkeeper from whom the Second Clown can procure the First Clown a "stoup" (a bucket, or perhaps a large jar) of alcohol. We can see from this exchange that the First Clown isn't just the first to speak but also higher in rank, making the Second Clown a helper or lackey.
A stupid donkey ("dull ass") won't move any faster when you beat it in the way the Second Clown racks or beats (cudgels) his own brain to find the answer to the First Clown's question. The First Clown has, in effect, called the Second Clown a donkey. What's worse, this isn't the first time he's denigrated the Second Clown. It's clear that these men don't have a healthy working relationship.
To "unyoke" means to relieve one's self of one's yoke or burden. In the context of this scene, that burden means his shovels and digging tools, with which the Second Clown will help dig Ophelia's grave. Shakespeare uses this command like stage direction to inform the Second Clown and the audience alike of where Ophelia will be buried.
In this context, "mass" is an abbreviation of the phrase "by the mass," an oath that suggests the speaker's ignorance. The Second Clown thought he'd found the right answer to the question, but lost it at the last second, embarrassing himself in front of the First Clown. Throughout this conversation, he's proven himself to be the wittier and more gullible of the two clowns, which accounts for his inability to counter the First Clown's faulty logic.
In its first use, the phrase "does well" means "a good answer," which, though expectedly witty, isn't correct. In its second appearance, "does well" means "is successful," which for a gallows means to be often used. Finally, "does well" means to give someone who does ill what they deserve, or to bring them to justice. The First Clown alters the meaning like this to make the Second Clown feel bad about his joke, which reflects poorly on his character.
The right to "bear arms" means the right to carry a weapon. The First Clown uses this phrase to mean that Adam was the first man to have arms, but the Second Clown understandably interprets this to mean that Adam carried weapons, which of course he never did. Shakespeare uses this comedic understanding to lighten the mood after Ophelia's death.
The First Clown seems to be using the word "countenance" to mean bearing or manner rather than facial expression or look (as it's most commonly used). Thus, this line reads that it's a pity that great folk or nobles carry themselves like people who choose to commit suicide, or that they're more inclined to commit suicide than the working class. This is, of course, just a clown's theory, and not sociologically sound by modern standards.
Notice how the First Clown prevaricates here: in his mind, someone who's considering suicide will hesitate, thinking, "Will I? Won't I?" in much the same way that Hamlet asked, "To be, or not to be?" Thus we see the act of suicide aligned with Hamlet and not with Ophelia, who never asked the question of whether or not to commit suicide; she simply drowned, leaving us to decipher her intentions.
"Goodman" is a title or form of address for a man of the working class, such as a "delver" (traditionally a tiller of the ground, but in this case a gravedigger). The Second Clown uses this form of address to show respect for the First Clown before he contradicts him, pointing out the fallacies in his argument. Unfortunately, the Second Clown will soon allow himself to be taken in by the argument, proving that he's a big a clown as the First.
The First Clown butchers "ergo" by pronouncing it "argal." He's trying to examine Ophelia's death logically, stating that she drowned herself wittingly (or in her right mind). To him, an act such as suicide requires three things to have been done wittingly: to act, to do, and to perform. Note that these all essentially have the same meaning, and that the First Clown's argument isn't philosophically sound. Ergo, he's a clown.
A butchered version of the Spanish "se defendendo," meaning "in self-defense." The First Clown insists that Ophelia drowned herself, but that it had to have been in self-defense. It's unclear from whom she would've been defending herself, but the First Clown appears to know enough to suspect that Ophelia was in danger simply by virtue of staying in the castle.
Shakespeare appears to have been the first person to use the word "crowner" to mean "coroner," or someone who examines bodies for the cause of death. This exchange is especially important, because it establishes that (for the purposes of the burial) the "crowner" and, by extension, the royal court, have deemed Ophelia death an accident and not a suicide. Had it been suicide, a sin, she wouldn't have been allowed a Christian burial.
What does Hamlet mean when he says this to Horatio: "No, faith, not a jot"?
Some of the most iconic lines in the play. When we think of Hamlet, we tend to think of him holding up Yorick's skull, musing on life and death. It's grim to see Hamlet address his old playfellow this way, and Shakespeare may be using Yorick's skull to imply that the First Clown will meet the same fate. If the First Clown notice his similarity to poor Yorick, he doesn't say so.
"Palpable" here means obvious. Osric agrees that Hamlet scored the first touch by implying that anyone could have seen it—it was easily perceived.
Horatio wants everything to be cleared up quickly so that order will be restored quickly, before there's more bloodshed. In some ways, Horatio feels that this is a performance, or that they must go through the motions until Fortinbras has been installed as king and everyone is satisfied. Royal succession was a very formal process, so it's not surprising that he thinks of it as a performance.
In this context, the "sight" means the horror of the battle or the scene of the crime, not "sights" as in tourist attractions or forms of entertainment. Remember that Fortinbras had recently stopped in at the castle on his way to Poland and that there was no indication then of something going wrong. His question isn't born so much of disbelief over what's happened as surprise (and, perhaps, self-interest).
"Occurents" meaning occurrences or events. Hamlet wants Fortinbras in particular to know of what happened because it seems most likely, given the power vacuum, that Fortinbras will now make a play for the Danish throne and take over the castle. Hamlet wants the new king to think well of him, which suggests that, though he hated Claudius, he still has great respect for the throne.
"Felicity" meaning happiness or joy. Hamlet wants Horatio to give up on his own happiness for a while in order to tell Hamlet's story. This is the second time he has asked, and it's beginning to feel unlikely that anyone will truly understand what has happened. If Horatio doesn't explain it to the others, the truth of King Hamlet's murder will never be known, and Hamlet will forever be remembered as a mad prince.
A woodcock is a migratory bird known for its large eyes and long bill. In literature, writers often play on the fact that the woodcock can be easy to snare, as Shakespeare does when Laertes has been caught in his own "springe" or trap. In this scene, bird metaphors have been used to indicate that a character is foolish, and Laertes is no exception.
Typically, the word "wanton" refers to someone undisciplined, unruly, unscrupulous, and, at times, overly lustful and sexual. In this case, it means someone who had been pampered or treated with too much deference, so that they've become spoiled. One could argue that this is true not just of this fencing match but of Hamlet's upbringing in general, which has been especially coddling.
"Quit" should be understood here as "requite," or to pay Laertes back for making a hit. Claudius arranges it so that if Hamlet does well (making a hit early in the match, or winning outright), the soldiers on the "battlements" or parapets will fire a round to announce his victory. This would be expected of a king whose prince was involved in a duel, and Claudius wants everyone to think that he's nothing if not proper.
An augury is a prophecy, particularly one divined from reading the flight patterns of bears. Osric was compared to two different birds (the "chough" and the lapwing) and has thus become the "augur" from which Hamlet divines that they're danger. He now knows that he's not supposed to survive this fencing match, but intends to defy the prophecy anyway.
If we retrace our steps to find the antecedent of "it," we find that "it" refers to the ill around Hamlet's heart. He says here that it was just a joke or a bit of "foolery," but that even so it's serious enough that he has misgivings ("gain-giving"). He tries to be brave and say that the misgivings would only be a problem for a "woman" (in this context, a weak person), but he's beginning to realize that there's something wrong.
"Dug" meaning a pap or teat of an animal who feeds their newborns on milk. Hamlet quips that when Osric was a baby he must've bowed to his mother's breast before he sucked it. This is at one a cruel joke (that he's weak and submissive) and a backhanded compliment (that he's actually very simple and polite). In the end, Osric's character is nothing but comic relief, just as Shakespeare intended.
Recall that Hamlet earlier referred to the age as "picked" and that he thinks there aren't any worthwhile men left. Here, Shakespeare uses the word "drossy" to mean impure, implying that this age has seen too much mixing between the upper and lower classes. This could be seen as an essentially classist remark, and if not for Hamlet's earlier claim that fishmongers are the only honest men one could argue that Hamlet is, in fact, an elitist.
A lapwing is a kind of bird in the plover family well-known for its way of drawing visitors and predators away from its next. Here, Horatio refers to a myth that used to circulate about lapwing chicks, who were believed to run around with their eggshells on their heads, like helmets. Horatio has picked up on Hamlet's animal imagery and extended the metaphor of Osric as a little annoying bird.
Hamlet still doesn't know about Claudius' plot and is convinced that he has time to carry out his own plan before news about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern comes from England. "The breathing time" means the time when he's free to be alive, which Hamlet intends to enjoy. In fact, he thinks the fencing match will be fun, regardless of whether or not he wins. The audience, of course, knows better.
More germaine, or pertinent. Hamlet bristles a little at Horatio's joke and sneers at Osric's phrase, saying that it (and, thus, not knowing it) isn't in the least bit important. If Hamlet weren't quite so arrogant, this little misunderstanding could've been avoided, but he enjoys playing with Osric, and that audience needs some comic relief after the previous scene.
To "edify" means to teach or instruct, whereas "margent" means "in the margin" of a page or marginal. Horatio jokes that he knew Hamlet would get tripped up someday if he kept teasing people like this, and now it's finally happened. The irony is that it happened over something so small and worthless.
"Assigns" in this context means "accessories," such as a girdle or a "hanger," a loop or strap from a belt used to hang a sword. Often, a hanger will be richly ornamented, and the sword will come encrusted with jewels. Osric refers to three of these "hangers" as "carriages" (or sheaths for a sword). This is very unusual phrasing and will momentarily trip Hamlet up.
Hamlet doesn't think Osric is intelligent to understand or determine whether or not Hamlet is indeed ignorant. He would like the courtier to be smarter because then this conversation would be worthwhile, but then again, if Osric were able to tell if Hamlet was ignorant, that wouldn't reflect very well on Hamlet (or "approve" him). Once again, he's talking circles around Osric, showing off because he can.
Horatio expresses disappointment in this aside that Osric wasn't able to stand up longer to Hamlet's word play. He started out showering Laertes with all those "golden words" (praise), but now he's worn out and just says things like, "Sir?" that could be translated as, "Huh?" Horatio knows that Hamlet's going to embarrass Osric.
Shakespeare appears to have been the first writer to use "concernancy" in place of "concern" or "interest." Hamlet appears to be asking what the point of all this talk of Laertes is, but his use of an invented word (understandably) confuses Osric. Hamlet seems to have done so deliberately, knowing that Osric wouldn't be able to keep up.
Laertes' description (or "definement") isn't misrepresented here and isn't ruined ("suffers no perdition") by lies or mischaracterizations. Hamlet has a high opinion of Laertes, given everything, but finds Osric's high praise amusing, because it's spoken in such an earnest and simplistic way. In the next lines, Hamlet will mock Osric's manner of speech, exaggerating Laertes' good qualities to great effect.
Without the context of the fencing match, Claudius' wager seems like reason for alarm. It could be read as Claudius putting a bounty on his head, but Hamlet doesn't seem to think much of it, instead leaning in to put Osric's hat on his head. In this line, he doesn't beseech him to remember the bet so much as ask him to remember Hamlet's request that the wear his hat. Hamlet appears to do this to amuse himself.
A species of bird in the crow family, also sometimes applied to a loud bird like a Jackdaw, whose chattering annoys Hamlet. Shakespeare mixes metaphors here, describing Osric as both a water-fly (a small insect) and a bird (with an irritating voice). He does this to diminish Osric and succeeds without the audience much caring about the mixed metaphor.
A water-fly is a bright, iridescent insect that seems to walk on water. This metaphor implies that Osric is a slight and insignificant man, and that Hamlet doesn't really understand why someone so lowly dares to speak to him. Shakespeare uses this aside to give the audience information about Osric character, social status, and importance, and prepares us for brief, amusing exchange that will lull Hamlet into a sense of security.
"Cozenage" means to cheat or deceive. Hamlet feels that Claudius has stolen his rightful life, curtailing the usual process of inheriting the throne from one's father by cutting Hamlet off right before he was ready to become king. "And with such cozenage" should be read with incredulity, as if he can't believe that the fiend has gotten away with it thus far.
In other words, it's dangerous to come between two parties that have stopped being kind (or letting things pass) but haven't yet started an outright war (or come to the point of no return). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's deaths are just collateral damage in the fight between Hamlet and Claudius. What's worse, they were on the wrong side, so naturally Hamlet feels no remorse for them. They weren't really his friends.
In this context, "changeling" means the exchanged letter. In general, however, changelings are mythological creatures that are substituted for human children by faeries making mischief. Such a changeling is usually demonic in nature and not well received by its parents. If Claudius had known that his letter (here figured as a child) had been changed, he would've disowned it.
If heaven is "ordinant," then it's giving order or commanding Hamlet's actions. Hamlet has already stated that he thinks his plan has been helped by divine providence and here expresses both his gratitude and surprise that heaven helped him in this regard. One would expect to run out of such luck.
A "signet" is a small seal used for signing official documents (typically by pressing the signet into hot wax and leaving its impression). King Hamlet's seal would be identical or near identical to Claudius', and would've served to make Hamlet's letter an official order. Hamlet in all likelihood kept his father's signet for sentimental purposes, not intending to use it, and then happily having it on his person when he needed it most.
"Shriving-time" would be time for confession or pleas for mercy. That Hamlet doesn't allow the bearers of this letter (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) this courtesy might seem cruel, considering their former friendship, but remember that Claudius was going to do the same to him, and that Hamlet has no reason want to keep Claudius' spies alive.
Hamlet has been taught to write (and speak) in these poetic lines, but had to stop doing so to fake the letter from Claudius to the English and write it "fair" (or without flourishes and meter) like a statesman. In some ways, this entire play has been a process of unlearning for Hamlet, as he's had to strip away his scholarly ambitions and beliefs in order to devote himself to his revenge and avoid being killed.
"Benetted" means to be caught in a net or snared, in this case by the villains in his life (those "bugs and goblins," Claudius and his friends) and their villainous acts. Hamlet has found himself caught in their web, shackled as if by bilboes, but able to maneuver all the same. It would be interesting to see what Hamlet's capable of when he's not constantly in danger.
Hamlet appears to revel in having bested Claudius' plan and saved himself. Shakespeare repeats the word "leisure" to indicate that his protagonist has bought himself more time by averting his own death. Hamlet not only enjoys being alive now, but enjoys living in spite of Claudius. He tells Horatio, "Take all the time you need," because he feels no particular rush.
"On the supervise" should here be read as "on the first reading" of the letter, with no time wasted (or "leisure bated"). Claudius needed the English court to kill Hamlet immediately, before he had any time to defend himself or convince them that he wasn't crazy. The speed at which he was to be killed appears to offend Hamlet as much as the fact that his death was ordered, suggesting that even in death he expected to be treated like a prince.
"Bilboes" are long metal bars with shackles on them that lock around a prisoner's ankles and fix them to the ground. To sleep with bilboes would be very uncomfortable, resulting in mutinies ("mutines") or the body as it struggles to get to sleep. Thus, Hamlet implies that he was tossing and turning in his sleep, thinking about his plan. It's unclear whether this is an indication of fear or a symptom of mania.
"Aught" meaning to possess or to own. Having struggled with Hamlet, Horatio may be kneeling beside him or even holding his dead body, so that he would have to look up to answer Fortinbras' question. In the line, "What is it you will see?" the audience sees that Horatio is completely devastated by Hamlet's death and can hardly believe it himself (hence, the "woe or wonder" he feels for what's happened).
The ambassador from England think that Claudius was the one who ordered the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and have come to tell him his order has been carried out. He finds Claudius's ears "senseless" in death, but may also be suggesting that the deaths were senseless in and of themselves.
In ancient Rome, a group of philosophers known as the Stoics believed that it was nobler to face death and commit suicide than to compromise himself in the way Hamlet asks. These Stoics accepted their lack of control over external circumstances and made up for it with a strong sense of morality and bravery. Thus, though Horatio is Hamlet's friend, he refuses to help in order to save his own skin.
Recall that a "foil" or "rapier" is a thin blunted fencing sword, unlike a real sword with a broad blade. Hamlet says that he's such a terrible swordsman that Laertes will be able to use him like a foil, or in other words beat him easily. He may also be suggesting that Laertes can use him like a weapon to get at their real enemy, Claudius.
"Ungor'd" here means unblemished or untouched by defamation or dishonor. Hamlet's apparent madness makes Laertes want to forgive him, but Laertes can't possibly do so until some council of his elders decides that there's a way to do so without ruining his name or his honor. Thus, Laertes would appear very reasonable in an uncomfortable situation, while at the same time plotting Hamlet's death.
In fencing, rapiers lead a charge and daggers fended off an attack. That Laertes is skilled with both the rapier and the dagger means that he's good at both attack and defense, which makes him a hard opponent to beat. Hamlet's only hope is to outthink Laertes, who, in spite of his skill, isn't the greatest strategic thinker and has allowed himself to be taken in by Claudius.
An "umbrage" is a shadow (in this case, Laertes' shadow). Hamlet is being sarcastic, saying that Laertes can only be matched by his own reflection in a mirror and that anyone who tried to be like him ("trace him") would be nothing but a shadow of Laertes, or that they would pale in comparison to the great nobleman. Osric doesn't understand that Hamlet's being sarcastic, however, which makes it all the funnier.