Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Hamlet

Vocabulary Examples in Hamlet:

Act I - Scene I

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"to illume that part of heaven..."   (Act I - Scene I)

The verb "illume" means to light something up. It is an uncommon variation on the more familiar verb "illuminate." Shakespeare wrote during a linguistic stage called Early Modern English, which lasted from around 1500 to 1700 CE and was characterized by the Great Vowel Shift, which saw the pronunciation of most English vowels changing. Middle English, which can bee seen in works like Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, is far less recognizable to modern readers. Shakespeare is one of the defining literary figures of the Early Modern English era and his works have had a lasting impact on the formation of Modern English conventions as well.

"in russet mantle clad..."   (Act I - Scene I)

The adjective "russet" refers to a reddish-brown color, which the dawn wears like a "mantle" or cloak. The dawn is personified in that it is capable of "wearing" a mantle. It then walks out over a hill, suggesting the slow rise of the sun as the light falls over the crest of the hill.

"that is the trumpet to the morn..."   (Act I - Scene I)

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 over the course of this scene.

"Neptune's empire..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Neptune was the Roman god of the seas who controlled the waters in and around the Roman Empire. Bernardo 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.

"With martial stalk..."   (Act I - Scene I)

To do something with "martial stalk" means to do something with a military bearing. "To stalk," in its original verb form, meant to walk stealthily or with cunning, particularly when hunting. In this line, "stalk" indicates that the Ghost carries himself like a soldier, moving both proudly and cautiously so as not to draw attention from the sitting king. This attempt at stealth is further emphasized by the fact that he appears at night.

"sledded Polacks..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Polacks" has been used since the 1590s as a derogative term for 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.

"the sensible and true avouch..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In this line, Horatio makes a pun on the word "sensible," which here means of or pertaining to the senses, as opposed to wisdom or prudence. It also provides the most conclusive evidence yet that this Ghost is, in fact, the dead king. The declaration "before my God" is very serious in Hamlet's setting, lending credence to everything Horatio says.

"good Marcellus..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Putting the adjective "good" in front of a man's name was a sign of respect. It was most often used between people who were already familiar with one another. Here, it signifies that the two men know each other and that they work together, giving them call to refer to each other as "good."

"Holla..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Holla" originated in the 1520s and began being used as a command to get a person's attention by the 1580s. It means to "stop" or "cease" and wasn't generally used as a greeting, though it may have transformed 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.

"liegemen..."   (Act I - Scene I)

The noun "liegemen" refers to the followers of a lord or nobleman. "Liege" means "lord" or "sovereign," and liegemen are those in service of that lord or sovereign. The more modern definition, where 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").

"ho..."   (Act I - Scene I)

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.

"Where now it burns..."   (Act I - Scene I)

The phrase "where now it burns" means that Ghost appeared at the same time last night. In the Middle Ages, when this play is set, time was often determined by the position of the sun and stars in the sky. Though there wouldn't have been any need for them to do so, the three men would've been able to identify and navigate by Polaris, the "pole" star, also known as the North Star. These lines reinforce the fact that it's night to create the illusion of darkness in the bright theater.

"In my mind's eye, Horatio...."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"Give it an understanding, but no tongue..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Hamlet says 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.

"A sable silvered..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"truncheon's length..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A truncheon is a heavy club that is 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 has come back to discuss the impending war.

"A truant disposition..."   (Act I - Scene II)

"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 is saying. Horatio may well be Hamlet's greatest friend in Elsinore, and the only one he thinks he can trust.

"impious stubbornness..."   (Act I - Scene II)

"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 convince Hamlet to stop mourning his father.

"obsequious..."   (Act I - Scene II)

"Obsequious" means to be obedient or attentive to an excessive degree. Claudius accuses Hamlet of being excessive in his mounting for his father and encourages him to move on, stating that everyone loses a parent eventually. He might also be engaging in some clever wordplay, as the noun "obsequies" is another word for funeral rites. 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 to refer to Hamlet's brooding presence.

"dejected havior of the visage..."   (Act I - Scene II)

The "dejected havior of his visage" refers to the dejected behavior or the dejected expression on Hamlet's 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.

"thy vailed lids..."   (Act I - Scene II)

"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.

"Dread..."   (Act I - Scene II)

In this situation, "dread" means to venerate or to regard with awe rather than 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 expressing his respect for the King and asking his advice.

"His further gait herein..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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 worried about a war with Norway, otherwise he wouldn't bother to send this message.

"With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage..."   (Act I - Scene II)

This line indicates that Claudius and Gertrude's marriage took place shortly after King Hamlet's death. Claudius adjectives are backwards, as "mirth" is typically associated with marriages and "dirges" (funeral songs) are played after a death. This diction is very telling of Claudius' true feelings and suggests that he is, in fact, happy about his brother's death. It is unclear whether or not Gertrude also feels this way, which causes tension between her and her son Hamlet.

"imperial jointress..."   (Act I - Scene II)

An "imperial jointress" is a woman who holds the right of inheritance. This jointure agreement in Denmark raises very real threats to King Hamlet's heirs. It also explains why Claudius is King despite Hamlet being old enough to take over. Though the use of the word "imperial" suggests that Gertrude has all the power over the estate, the reality is that her power is quite limited. The agreement simply ensures that her husband holds the throne.

"our sometime sister, now our queen..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"The memory be green..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Shakespeare used the word "green" to mean young, as he does in Act I Scene V of 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 the vacuum of power that the previous King's death left behind.

"Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,..."   (Act I - Scene II)

On the surface, this is Claudius' gentle rejection of Hamlet's intention to go back to Wittenberg, a contrast to the relative ease with which he allowed Laertes to depart. On a more subtextual level, this is Claudius' polite way of saying he wants to keep an eye on Hamlet, either because he's worried about him or because he's uncomfortable with their relationship. "Cheer and comfort" here refers both to the relative comfort Hamlet will experience as Prince in the castle and to the comfort Claudius will take in knowing where Hamlet is and what he's up to.

"O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,..."   (Act I - Scene II)

When something is "sullied," it is soiled, tarnished, or 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 Claudius' son instead.

"less than kind..."   (Act I - Scene II)

As is often the case with Hamlet, his words contain multiple meanings. Here, the word "kin" suggests that Claudius is related to Hamlet twice over as both his uncle and his stepfather, while the line "less than kind" refers to Claudius' audacity in marrying Gertrude so soon after King Hamlet's death. Hamlet sees this as an unnatural act, unbefitting of either a king or a member of the family, and is suspicious of this "o'er hasty marriage."

"Thrift, thrift, Horatio..."   (Act I - Scene II)

A subtle and bitter joke, Hamlet comments that the funeral and wedding were so close together that the baked meats from the funeral were served cold at the wedding. The bitterness becomes even more apparent in that thriftiness is the last thing Claudius is concerned about. He's a conspicuously extravagant man trying to arouse good cheer in his new role as king and has just recently thrown both a lavish wedding and a gigantic funeral for the departed King Hamlet. By saying "thrift, thrift," Hamlet remarks upon his stepfather's extravagance and reminds Horatio that they're supposed to still be in mourning for the king.

"i' the sun..."   (Act I - Scene II)

This pun on the word "sun" has multiple meanings, revealing Hamlet's penchant for wordplay while at the same time suggesting that he doesn't like being in the spotlight ("i' the sun," under scrutiny from Claudius and his spies). His words also suggests that he dislikes even being thought of as Claudius' stepson, as this places him in a subordinate role with little power and few people he can turn to that he trusts.

"with a larger tether may he walk..."   (Act I - Scene III)

This line has two significant meanings. The first is meant to remind Ophelia that even though she might expect Hamlet to be "tethered" to her if they are intimate, he has no formal obligation to marry her. The second meaning speaks to the different levels of freedom afforded to men, who could walk freer (on a larger tether) than women could. Hamlet's chastity is not a concern, but Ophelia's is, meaning that they face different consequences for the same actions.

"mere implorators of unholy suits..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Essentially, Polonius has accused Hamlet of being a liar who makes grand gestures and holy vows in order to trick Ophelia into sleeping with him. The word "implorators" is a portmanteau of "implore" and "orator," suggesting that Hamlet's great gift is his capacity for making persuasive speeches, which he can use to his advantage against Ophelia. Though not as highly valued as sons, daughters were valuable assets since their eventual marriages could advance their families. If Ophelia continues to be courted by Hamlet, her chastity will be called into question, scaring off other suitors closer to her station. So, while Polonius is looking out for his daughter, he is also looking out for himself and his reputation.

"a command to parley..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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 to suggest that a meeting be held to "parley," or discuss the possibility of coming to agreement on a topic. Polonius is telling Ophelia to be more reserved about meeting Hamlet. Rather than going to see Hamlet whenever asked, he suggests that she reserve her affections and ask a higher price for her time.

"Set your entreatments at a higher rate..."   (Act I - Scene III)

"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.

"extinct in both..."   (Act I - Scene III)

In Polonius' eyes, Hamlet's love for Ophelia will undoubtedly fade, rendering it 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 suggests that if Ophelia gets too close to it, she will discover that it is more flashy than substantial.

"springes to catch woodcocks..."   (Act I - Scene III)

A "springe" is a snare to catch small-game, such as the woodcock, a small wading bird. Polonius characterizes Hamlet as false and, through the use of the hunting metaphor, predatory. He compares Ophelia to a game-bird and suggests that Hamlet is attempting to lure her in with his vows and tenders, only to snare her. Both Laertes and Polonius characterize Ophelia as unsuspecting and passive, emphasizing the lack of agency, especially sexual agency, that women had.

"Which are not sterling..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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. Polonius implies that Hamlet's gestures of affection are not "sterling," meaning that they are not indicative of true love. It is anachronistic for Shakespeare to speak of money as sterling here, because it is a particularly British term that wouldn't have been used in Denmark in Hamlet's time, as they used the Danish krone, or "crown."

"Marry..."   (Act I - Scene III)

An expression drawn from the phrase "by the Virgin Mary," a mild oath used in the Middle Ages. This exclamation indicates that Polonius knows about Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship and, much like Laertes, doesn't approve of it. The male members of a family were viewed as the guardians of the female members' chastity, so both Laertes and Polonius view Hamlet as a potential threat to Ophelia's future since her marriage prospects are dependent on the perception of her virtue.

"to thine own self be true..."   (Act I - Scene III)

This line can be read in different ways. Using a straightforward interpretation, Polonius encourages Laertes to be true to his own thoughts and desires. However, since this precept is included at the end of a long list of other suggestions, the advice seems to conflict with itself. Is Polonius giving his son leave to disregard all of this advice and be genuinely true to himself, or is he expecting Laertes to "be true" to his advice since a son's will was considered to be the extension of his father's will?

"Take each man's censure..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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." This line is encouraging Laertes to listen to what other people have to say, remain courteous, and always stay true to his 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).

"A double blessing is a double grace..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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).

"steep and thorny way to heaven..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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 path to heaven look more dangerous than it does in the Bible while maintaining the essence of the danger implied by the subsequent line: "broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction."

"Virtue itself 'scapes not calumnious strokes..."   (Act I - Scene III)

"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. Even rumors could ruin her ability to marry in the future.

"The chariest maid is prodigal enough..."   (Act I - Scene III)

To be "chary" means to be reluctant or suspicious of doing something, in this case engaging in physical intimacy before wedlock. To be "prodigal" means to be extravagant and reckless, the exact opposite of "chary." Laertes encourages Ophelia to be "chary" and reminds her that Hamlet has no formal obligation to marry her. She has significantly more to lose than Hamlet does.

"your chaste treasure open..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Laertes is referring to Ophelia's virginity. In Hamlet's time, a woman's marriage prospects depended largely on her ability to maintain (or appear to maintain) her chastity. By extension, a man's honor was tied to the chastity of his wife and daughters, 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.

"no soil nor cautel doth besmirch..."   (Act I - Scene III)

"Soil" refers to something dirty or impure and "cautel" refers to a trick or act of deceit. "Besmirch" means to sully or dirty something. This line indicates that Hamlet's love for Ophelia is still "pure," playing on the different connotations of "soil" to reference both emotional purity and physical chastity. Despite Laertes' assumptions regarding his sister's chastity, contemporary readings of Hamlet suggest that Ophelia and Hamlet may have already consummated their relationship prior to Laertes offering this advice, which explains Ophelia's behavior going forward.

"In thews and bulk..."   (Act I - Scene III)

"Thews and bulk" refers to the size and power of a man, as measured in his physical strength. In an attempt to console his sister, Laertes tells her that Hamlet might actually love her in the present. However, he states that humans do not only grow physically, but mentally and spiritually. While Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia are real in the moment, Laertes insists that those emotions will not last.

"My necessaries are embark'd...."   (Act I - Scene III)

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.

"tenders..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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).

"the primrose path of dalliance..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Since the 15th Century, "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. Ophelia is calling out the double standard that allows Laertes to lecture her about virtue while he misbehaves in France.

"beetles o'er his base..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Shakespeare makes use of the obscure verb form of the word "beetle" to imply that the cliff overhangs the sea. He also draws on imagery from the Bible (the flood, the cliff) to recall Matthew 4:1-11, 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.

"shake our disposition..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

To "shake" someone's "disposition" means to frighten or startle them. 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 the 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.

"burst their cerements..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"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.

"thy canonized bones..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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. In this scene he becomes a near saintly figure, incapable of wrongdoing.

"a questionable shape..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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.

"dram of evil..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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.

"the o'ergrowth of some complexion..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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 bile, 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.

"The pith and marrow of our attribute..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"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.

"Makes us traduced..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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.

"to the manner born..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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 doesn't approve of it. He seems to wish he had been born in a different time and place.

"Keeps wassail..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"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.

"I do commend me to you..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Figuratively speaking, Hamlet is giving himself up (or placing his trust) in these men, but an alternate 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.

"With arms encumber'd thus..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hamlet has effectively tied their hands behind their backs, 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 the desire to gossip and cuts it off by making them swear not to do it.

"old mole..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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 by forcing him to lose himself in revenge.

"Hic et ubique..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hit et ubique is a latin phrase 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.

"truepenny..."   (Act I - Scene V)

The noun "truepenny" refers to 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."

"But he's an arrant knave..."   (Act I - Scene V)

The noun "knave" describes a young man, often a page or a servant to a nobleman, capable of being "arrant" (errant, that is, traveling) or moving between social stations, in this case 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.

"this distracted globe..."   (Act I - Scene V)

"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-like..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Lazar, meaning a poor or diseased person, is derived from the name Lazarus, taken from the parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus was a poor man, covered in sores, who begged outside of the home of a wealthy man. The wealthy man ignored Lazarus' suffering and, after he died, was sentenced to eternal torment for his greed, while Lazarus was sent to heaven. For King Hamlet to refer to himself as "lazar-like" is ironic, considering his wealth and the "fires" he indicates are waiting for him, and suggests, once again, that he may not have been the saintly figure Hamlet likes to portray him as.

"a most instant tetter..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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 And curd..."   (Act I - Scene V)

The verb "posset" means 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.

"swift as quicksilver..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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 and lack of coordination, both of which coincide with the symptoms of a traditional poisoning.

"With juice of cursed hebenon..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hebenon is 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 up thy soul..."   (Act I - Scene V)

The verb "harrow" means 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,..."   (Act II - Scene I)

"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.

"speak of horrors,..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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).

"Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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)

"encompassment and drift of question..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"Having ever seen in the prenominate crimes The youth you breathe of guilty..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

" season it in the charge..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"forgeries..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"By indirections find directions out..."   (Act II - Scene I)

That is, by deceit, we find out the truth. Polonius expects that the people 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"

"As if he had been..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"The play's the thing..."   (Act II - Scene II)

One of the more famous lines from the play, it literally means that the play will reveal Claudius' guilt. More generally, it means that plays (and other dramatic works) are capable of revealing their characters, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses by throwing them into uncomfortable situations and forcing them to reveal their true selves.

"I'll tent him to the quick..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Tent" in this case being a shortened version of attend, meaning 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.

"With most miraculous organ..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"With this slave's offal..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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. Hamlet is scolding himself for being too "pigeon-liver'd" to act, implying that his lack of decisive action has made it so that he might as well be feeding his enemies his own organs.

"A dull and muddy-mettled rascal..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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, suggesting that his self-esteem has dipped considerably since he learned of his father's murder and found himself unable to act.

"Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Make mad the guilty and appal the free..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"A broken voice..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"in a dream of passion..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"better have a bad epitaph..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"according to their desert..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Would have made milch..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Milch" typically refers to milk, the act of milking, or the ability 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.

"would treason have pronounced..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 and had good reason to suffer.

"bisson rheum..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Bisson" means blind or blinding. Rheum refers to mucus and secretions, particularly of the eyes but also of the nose or mouth. In this case, "bisson rheum" means "blinding tears." For Hecuba to be threatening the flames with her tears means that she's cried so much that she has blinded herself and may even be able to put out a fire with her tears.

"The mobled queen..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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 "ignoble." Stocqueler, J. H. The Shakespearian Referee. Washington: W.H. Lowdermilk & co., 1886.

"the spokes and fellies..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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.

"with your beard..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"On Mars's armour..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Mars was the Roman god of War, known to the Greeks as Ares. His armor was forged by Vulcan, the Roman equivalent of Hephaestus, the Greek god of smithing. The play within the play refers to the Roman versions instead of the Greek versions because it draws its source material from The Aeneid instead of The Iliad.

"the Cyclops..."   (Act II - Scene II)

The Cyclopses were popular figures in Greek mythology and there are many stories of their violence and power. In The Odyssey, Homer wrote of Odysseus' encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus 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.

"senseless Ilium..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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" Priam's hurt.

"Striking too short at Greeks..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"eyes like carbuncles..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"total gules..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 aligns with the stories of Pyrrhus, who was known to be a particularly cruel and brutal fighter.

"With heraldry more dismal..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"whose sable arms..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 dark hair on Pyrrhus' arms.

"The rugged Pyrrhus..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"like th' Hyrcanian beast..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"but wherefore I know not..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"More than his father's death..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Claudius wonders what, ‘apart from his father’s death,’ is causing Hamlet to behave in this morose fashion. The audience knows 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 over his father’s death.

"where he speaks of Priam's slaughter..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"'twas Æneas' tale to Dido..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Æneas and Dido are legendary figures described in Virgil'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.

"an honest method..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"indict the author of affecta- tion..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 to be geared towards all types of audiences rather than solely the wealthy and educated.

"there were no sal- lets in the lines..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"'twas caviary to the general..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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, implying that the players are too good for the "general" public to appreciate. Shakespeare appears to have been the first to use the word "caviary" in this sense.

"cracked within the ring..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"by the altitude of a chopine..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"thy face is valanced..."   (Act II - Scene II)

That is, he's grown some facial hair. "Beard me" suggests that Hamlet has also grow facial hair, possibly referring to his unkempt state as a byproduct of mourning.

"the pious chanson..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"O Jephthah, judge of Israel..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"nor Plautus too light..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Polonius 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.

"poem unlimited..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"on his ass..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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."

"Roscius..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"When the wind is southerly..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"I know a hawk from a handsaw..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 of welcome is fashion..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Appurtenance" generally means 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.

"'Sblood..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"ducats..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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. The ducat 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.

"make mows at him..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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).

"unless the poet and the player went to cuffs..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"holds it no sin to tarre them..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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") about creating this problem between actors and playwrights. In all likelihood, the audience is amused by it, and that only makes things worse.

"to make them exclaim against their own succession..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Hamlet points out that youth is temporary and that it seems foolish to train children to become actors if, by the time they're fully trained, they're too old to be fashionable. In this way, Shakespeare comments on our unhealthy obsession with youth and its negative effect on the entertainment industry, even in Elizabethan England.

"an eyrie of children, little eyases..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"was better both ways..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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. It is likely that they only agreed to play at the castle because they want the favor of the new king.

"the late innovation..."   (Act II - Scene II)

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the practice of replacing accomplished adult actors with troupes of talented young boys had recently gained popularity. Thus, these characters are probably expressing the views of Shakespeare's own company.

"whose lungs are tickle o' the sere..."   (Act II - Scene II)

the noun "sere" refers to 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.

"He that plays the king..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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).

"coted..."   (Act II - Scene II)

The verb "cote" means 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.

"by your smiling you seem to say so..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"firmament..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"a sterile promontory..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Promontory" often refers to highlands 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.

"moult no feather..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"by the consonancy of our youth..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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.

"sort you with the rest..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 so outright, he treats them very politely, appealing to their sense of social station and decorum.

"by my fay, I cannot reason..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 of his supposed friends.

"Then are our beggars bodies..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"so airy and light a quality..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Which dreams indeed are ambition..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"your ambition makes it one..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"she is a strumpet..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Hamlet and Guildenstern have been joking rather bawdily about Fortune, who is typically personified as female. The joke began 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.

"On Fortune's cap we are not the very button..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 often happens in Shakespeare's plays, 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.

"you could go backward..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"God-a-mercy..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 Hamlet isn't actually surprised and may well have heard part of their conversation (this may be why he walks the halls four hours a day).

"an arras..."   (Act II - Scene II)

An "arras" is a rich tapestry or screen made of fabric, 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.

"out of thy star..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 noblewoman for greater political benefits.

"play'd the desk or table-book..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Perpend..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Perpend" means 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.

"the cause of this defect..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"And pity 'tis 'tis true..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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's command, makes him seem all the more foolish.

"More matter, with less art..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"brevity is the soul of wit..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"levies..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 were levied against the Polish king, but now sees that they were meant to fight Denmark.

"Upon our first..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

" our brother Norway..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 and his son, young Fortinbras, has threatened war on Denmark.

"we shall sift him..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 rather than a trusted confidant.

"the fruit to that great feast..."   (Act II - Scene II)

In the Middle Ages, fruit was often served as dessert, no doubt due 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.

"as I hold my soul..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"in the full bent..."   (Act II - Scene II)

The expression "in the full bent" means 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 inappropriate.

"Put your dread pleasures more into command..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"As fits a king's remembrance..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Gertrude hints that there will be a reward involved if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do as they ask. Typically, this type of reward would take the form of money, but this last line suggests that it may come in the form of favor or prestige in the court, since Claudius is the king.

"gentry..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 to his youth and haviour..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"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.

"his commission..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Commissions," in this case, refers not just to 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 of the soldiers he's already conscripted to attack Poland, not unlike a patron who "commissions" a work of art.

"in annual fee..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"sends out arrests..."   (Act II - Scene II)

In this case, an order to stop the progress or actions of something or someone (in this case Fortinbras), not an arrest warrant. The king of 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.

"bounded in a nutshell..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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 originated in ancient Greece, where Cicero purportedly said that Homer's Iliad had been written on a sheet of parchment that fit into the shell of a walnut.

"What a piece of work is a man..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Like many of Shakespeare's heroes, Hamlet feels tortured not just by his thoughts but his ability to think, which demands that he examine his uncle's intentions in a way that no one else does. If he weren't so wrapped up in his own thoughts, Elisinore would seem like a nice place, except that his uncle would still be plotting against him.

"As therein are set down..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"falsely borne in hand..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"the Polack..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Though this term is considered derogatory, in the Renaissance, it was an example of metonymy, or a word that substitutes for another word (in this case, the Polish nation), just as Norway is a metonym for the King of Norway.

"Buzz, buzz..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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. Blackmore, Simon Augustine. The Riddles of Hamlet And the Newest Answers. Boston: Stratford Company, 1917.

"Hercules and his load..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"fishmonger..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Hamlet puns on the fact that Polonius 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.

"I'll loose my daughter to him..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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).

"Within the centre..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Take this from this..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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).

"If she find him not..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Both Polonius and Claudius feel that Hamlet is "lost" to himself, forgetting his manners and not behaving as a prince should. Polonius hopes that Gertrude will "find" Hamlet and set him straight, but realizes that Claudius should have a back-up plan in case she doesn't.

"With variable objects shall expel This something-settled matter in his heart..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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. However, what he ultimately 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.

"O'er which his melancholy sits on brood..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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 "quite, quite down," as in depressed. Claudius thinks that by sitting on this brood, Hamlet is also hatching a plot against Claudius. Realizing this, Claudius decides to take action against the prince.

"what monsters you make of them..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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). Hamlet may also be speaking metaphorically, saying that women make men into monsters or terrible people with their dishonest ways and their deceptive beauty.

"for thy dowry..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"Our old stock" should here be 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" in his sins, or have sex with her.

"from what it is to a bawd..."   (Act III - Scene I)

A "bawd" is someone who trades in the sex industry, such as a pimp or a madam of a whorehouse. Hamlet thinks that beauty can more easily transform an honest person into a dishonest one than honesty can transform a beautiful person into a good one. 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.

"How does your honour for this many a day..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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 thy orisons..."   (Act III - Scene I)

In her prayers. Remember that Ophelia has been ordered to read a religious book 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).

"And lose the name of action..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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). His self-esteem has fallen to the point that he can't see how brilliant his plan is.

"fardels bear..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"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 "bear" the "fardels" of life if they weren't afraid of what would happen to them after they die.

"With a bare bodkin..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"Ay, there's the rub..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"To sleep—perchance to dream..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"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.

"That flesh is heir to..."   (Act III - Scene I)

In Christian theology, humans are born with original sin: 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 all humans experience in their lifetimes.

"No more..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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, framing it as a relief from the sea of troubles.

"To be, or not to be, that is the question..."   (Act III - Scene I)

One of Shakespeare's more famous lines, and the one that most eloquently encapsulates Hamlet's predicament: "to be, or not to be" asks whether it is better 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 despite knowing it could result in death.

"beautied with plastering art..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"we do sugar o'er..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"That show of such an exercise..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"it so fell out..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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."

"Did you assay him..."   (Act III - Scene I)

In general, "assay" means to challenge or test, but in this context it means to challenge to a game or a bit of friendly sport. Gertrude wants to know whether or not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern treated Hamlet like their friend. She asks this not because it would be a more effective spying technique, but because she's worried about her son being too much alone.

"to be sounded..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"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.

"why he puts on this confusion..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Without any evidence, Claudius already suspects that Hamlet's madness is performative or "put on," a tactic that he's using to confuse everyone around him. However, Claudius 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.

"Niggard of question..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"Niggard" means stingy and, in this case, means that Hamlet didn't ask any questions but answered all of theirs. Of course, the audience knows the reverse to be true, and we can see in this lie that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trying to protect themselves, for fear that Claudius will plot against them, too.

"It shall be so. Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Shakespeare often closes scenes with rhyming couplets, as he does here in the King's closing words. Shakespeare's intention may have been to remind the audience that the actors have been speaking in poetic verse, though usually in lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. The effect here is to make Claudius' words seem like a nugget of real wisdom instead of a self-serving critique of Hamlet.

"lawful espials..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Claudius and Polonius will be spying on Hamlet from one end of the stage while he and Ophelia speak at the other. To the audience, this will be very conspicuous and the two spies' reactions will be plainly visible, but Hamlet's back will be to them, so he won't notice. Ophelia, meanwhile, will know the spies are there and will naturally feel very self-conscious.

"Get thee to a nunnery..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"To give them seals never..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"she be shent..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Shent" means to be disgraced or ruined, and 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. These conflicting passions make both his tongue and soul hypocrites (because their thoughts and actions are inverted).

"I will speak daggers to her, but use none..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Hamlet doesn't want to hurt his mother. 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 that he wants to hurt her, since his words are so sharp ("daggers").

"though you can fret me..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"Govern these ventages..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"drive me into a toil..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"Sir, I lack advancement..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Hamlet feels stifled in his position as prince, uncertain that he will ever 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.

"were she ten times our mother..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 more like her old self. To be clear: he still intends to go; he's just not happy about it.

"is there no sequel..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"not of the right breed..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"but to the matter..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Recall that in Act II, Scene II Gertrude told Polonius to speak with "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.

"put your discourse into some(295) frame..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"put him to his purgation..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"choler..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Short for "choleric," meaning 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 ambitious, restless, and angry, just like Claudius.

"Of Jove himself..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"my fortunes turn Turk with me..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Turning Turk" was a derogatory phrase used to mean 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.

"With Hecate's ban thrice blasted..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"So you must take your husbands..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"free souls..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 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.

"Directly seasons him his enemy..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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. Actions like this are more than likely going to turn that "friend" into an enemy. Hence, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern became Hamlet's enemies, though he still uses them to his advantage.

"you mark his favorite flies..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"But what we do determine oft we break..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"That's wormwood..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"My operant powers their functions leave..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 did our hands..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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' cart..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 mallecho..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"O God, your only jig-maker..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"capons..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"of the chameleon's dish..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"I will pay the theft..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"Do not itself unkennel..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"so well commeddled..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"Sh'hath seal'd thee for herself..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"Where thrift may follow fawning..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"That no revenue hast..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"a most pitiful ambition..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 to villains and tells us a lot about how he views the other characters, particularly Claudius.

"some of Nature's journeymen..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"not to speak it profanely..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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 is not only showing his preference for a restrained style of acting but is also judging those who act this way.

"Suit the action to the word..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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. It out-Herods Herod..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"periwig-pated fellow..."   (Act III - Scene II)

A "periwig" is a stylized wig 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 wear periwigs and Hamlet wasn't likely to have seen many British actors at the castle or at school.

"When churchyards yawn..."   (Act III - Scene II)

When graves open and the spirits of the dead are released into the night air. Notice the alliteration of "Y" sounds in "churchyards yawn." This emphasizes the "yawning" or opening of the churchyards so that they seem to yawn even wider.

"They fool me to the top of my bent..."   (Act III - Scene II)

This line is likely intended to be spoken as a kind of aside. Hamlet is telling himself that he's tired of people trying to manipulate him and that he's had enough of it (which doesn't bode well for Gertrude, as she's the next one he's going to speak to). Alternatively, he could be saying it right in front of Polonius, which would play into his performance of madness.

"The hart ungalled play..."   (Act III - Scene II)

The "hart," or male deer, here refers to Claudius, who "plays" when he abandons his wife, Gertrude, the deer who weeps at his departure. In this case, "galled" doesn't mean to be irritated or vexed but sore from chafing (presumably during intercourse). To be ungalled then means that the king and queen won't be chafing that night.

"and presently..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Using the words "and presently" here equates to ordering the prince to report to his mother immediately. Polonius acts like a servant or a gofer for Gertrude, but presents himself with an authority that Hamlet immediately dislikes. What follows is an uncomfortable exchange that puts Polonius in his place.

"The Mousetrap..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"to take off my edge..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"chorus..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"This physic but prolongs thy sickly days..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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. However, if he kills Claudius while he is praying, Hamlet worries that Claudius will go to heaven. So, rather than kill him now, Hamlet decides to wait for a time when Claudius has not had time to repent and is less "fit and seasoned" for a passage to heaven.

"He took my father grossly, full of bread..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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.

"this is hire and salary..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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).

"heart with strings of steel..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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.

"To give in evidence..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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.

"Offence's gilded hand..."   (Act III - Scene III)

"Gilded" meaning golden. Claudius speaks both generally (in saying that the world is 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.

"we will fetters put upon this fear..."   (Act III - Scene III)

"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, who Claudius thinks has been allowed to walk too freely.

"but with a general groan..."   (Act III - Scene III)

In other words, when a king sighs, the general population 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, or he may still be angry with Hamlet for treating him so unkindly in the last scene.

"mortised and adjoin'd..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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.

"upon whose weal depends..."   (Act III - Scene III)

"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).

"With all the strength and armour of the mind..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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"), such as Hamlet and his apparent madness.

"This man shall set me packing..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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).

"When in one line two crafts directly meet..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"Hoist with his own petar..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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 to have the explosion backfire on you. Hamlet wants this to happen to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and, eventually, to Claudius.

"And marshal me to knavery..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"as I will adders fang'd..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

An "adder" is a snake or a serpent-like creature that 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.

"'Twere good you let him know..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

This line would seem especially sinister to Gertrude, who knows that he's telling her what not to do and warning her that there will be consequences if she breaks Hamlet's confidence. 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.

"To the next abstinence..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"That not your trespass but my madness speaks..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

In other words, Hamlet urges his mother not to think him mad, especially when it is her actions that have made him behave the way he has. 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.

"Would gambol from..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A "gambol" generally refers to 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).

"And makes as healthful music..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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).

"yet all that is I see..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"with the incorporal air..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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 is 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.

"Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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).

"the precious diadem stole..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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. Claudius is very lucky to have gotten away with it thus far.

"not twentieth part the tithe..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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.

"cozen'd you at hoodman-blind..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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 touch the other players. 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 complicit.

"apoplex'd..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

To be "apoplex'd" means to suffer 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 intact, 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.

"And batten on this Moor..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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 word 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 is nothing compared to King Hamlet.

"Hyperion..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Hyperion is a Titan from Greek mythology and was known as "the High One." He 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. Comparing King Hamlet to all of these gods elevates him and suggests that he was a much better king than Claudius will ever be.

"With tristful visage..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A "visage" or face appears "tristful" when it is 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").

"As false as dicers' oaths..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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.

"No, by the rood, not so..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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.

"you answer with an idle tongue..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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).

"screen'd and stood between Much heat..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"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.

"How now, a rat? [Draws.] Dead for a ducat, dead..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A "rat" in this context has the same derogatory meaning it does today (where a rat is a traitor who spies or tells on someone). Hamlet isn't sure who's behind the curtain, but has suspected from the beginning that this is a trap and strikes out at the "rat," assuming it's his enemy. He's right, of course, and that makes this act seem less like madness and more like self-preservation.

"A knavish speech sleeps in a foolish ear..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

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.

"The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Hamlet probably means that Polonius is now with the true king, now that they'd both dead. The present king is not with Polonius because Claudius is still alive. He then describes Claudius as "a thing-- / Of nothing." In true Shakespearean word play, Hamlet expresses his bitter disdain of Claudius by denouncing his very humanity ("a thing") and expresses his contempt for his position as King ("Of nothing").

"Compounded it with dust, whereto 'tis kin..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Recall that in act II, scene II, Hamlet asked what this "quintessence of dust" means to him. It's an allusion to the biblical book of 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.

"cicatrice..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"I see a cherub that sees them..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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 red from drinking). He's subtly telling Claudius that he knows exactly what he's up to and is fairly amused by it.

"The bark is ready..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"seek him i' the other place yourself..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Though it appears at first that Hamlet is referring to Hell, he's most likely speaking of Purgatory, where one has the opportunity to pay for one's sins 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 past, Polonius on the stairway, but probably thinks that Claudius will be going to Hell.

"A man may fish with the worm that hath eat..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"and we fat ourselves for maggots...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

" not in their judgment, but their eye..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

From these lines, we can assume that Hamlet is very popular with the general public and members of the nobility. Claudius implies 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.

"Even for an eggshell..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

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 such a worthless piece of land. Hamlet sees a certain nobility in this futile march, which Fortinbras leads not out of anger but rather out of ambition. Hamlet respects this and wishes he too could be great.

"Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

"Craven" means 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," or an animal-like ignorance with no capacity to reason. Hamlet isn't sure which one's keeping him alive and, thus, which has been his experience.

"To fust in us unused..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

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. To Hamlet, being human means being a thinking being, which is not so far from Descartes famous saying, "I think, therefore I am."

"This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

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.

"Craves the conveyance of a promised march..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

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.

"They find us touch'd..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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 is 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.

"All flaxen was his poll..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

"Poll" refers to the part of the head where the hair grows. "Flaxen" refers to the color of flax or 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).

"like the kind life-rendering pelican..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"you must wear your rue with a difference..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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, a daisy (false love), goes to either Claudius or Gertrude as a symbol of Ophelia's disillusionment with the crown.

"There's fennel for you, and columbines..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"This nothing's more than matter..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"O, how the wheel becomes it..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"barefac'd on the bier..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"some precious instance of itself..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"paid with weight..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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").

"swoopstake, you will draw both friend and foe..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

"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.

"That both the worlds, I give to negligence..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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. The contrast between how Laertes and Hamlet approach the same problem cements Laertes as Hamlet's foil.

"between the chaste unsmirched brows..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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. If he is a true born son, which he is, he must naturally 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.

"The rabble call him lord..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

In the wake of Polonius' death, the general population (or "rabble") has started to consider a coup led by Laertes that would overthrow Claudius. In doing so, they're breaking the laws of "antiquity" and "custom" wherein kings inherit the throne. By demanding that their leader, who has no blood rights to the throne, be accepted as the true king, they are defying the concept that kings have a divine right to rule.

"By Cock..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"By his cockle hat and staff..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"Yet the unshaped use of it doth move(10) The hearers..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

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.

"Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

This is an appropriate analogy, given that Denmark, like Holland, has lowlands (flats) which are subject to flooding by the ocean and have to be protected by dikes. To pray that the ocean doesn't overtake the king's territory is akin to wishing him good health and great fortune.

"It spills itself in fearing to be spilt..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

Think of guilt as a cup or a bowl filled with water. When we try not to spill it, we become so shaky and afraid that the water spills anyway. This metaphor is easily overlooked, but neatly characterizes Gertrude as someone who tries very hard to be careful but can't, in the end, conceal the guilt that Hamlet has accused her of already.

"such divinity doth hedge a king..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

Recall that in Hamlet's time (and, indeed, in Shakespeare's) monarchs were said to have a divine right to rule. That is, they were anointed by God with the power to rule, thus making an overthrow like the one Laertes describes a very dangerous endeavor. This explains why Claudius feels so confident and why Hamlet has hedged so much on his decision to kill the king.

"Horatio, when thou shalt have overlook'd..."   (Act IV - Scene VI)

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 here he elects not to for expediency's sake (and also, we assume, to maintain the lie that he's in a harried situation).

"chaunted snatches of old lauds,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

To "chaunt" or chant means to sing. "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.

"an envious sliver broke,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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).

"on the pendant boughs her crownet weeds..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

"Pendant boughs" are hanging or pendulous branches that sway as Ophelia crawled along them to place her "crownet" (or crown of) weeds on the branches. Ophelia, in her madness, ignored the danger inherent to climbing such pendant boughs and fell because of it.

"That liberal shepherds give a grosser name..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Here, "liberal" shepherds are men who are free in their speech, or 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.

"A chalice for the nonce;..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

The now antiquated phrase "for the nonce" means for the purpose of doing something (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.

"hot and dry..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

"our drift look through our bad performance..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

"Should have a back or second..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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." Claudius will need a plan to get rid of both Hamlet and Laertes in order to cover his tracks.

"no cataplasm so rare,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

"an unction of a mountebank,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

A "mountebank" is a charlatan or peddler who sells medicines, spells, potions, and poisons, often using these to entertain an audience at a public performance or festival. An "unction" is a kind of ointment or oil used to anoint people, but in this case "unction" refers to a poison that Laertes will dip his sword into so he can kill Hamlet.

"set a double varnish on the fame..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

"A sword unbated..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 against someone else. 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.)

"Revenge should have no bounds..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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, the latter of who refrained from killing Claudius in a church because it was inappropriate.

"But to the quick o' the ulcer..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

An "ulcer" is a hole in the stomach lining that has been eaten away by an excess of acid. Ulcers are typically caused by worry and stress. He calls Hamlet "the quick," or cause, of the ulcer, backhandedly denigrating Hamlet while also admitting that he has caused Claudius stress. The use of the conjunction "but" at the beginning of the sentence serves to change the subject from disease to Hamlet.

"like a spendthrift sigh, That hurts by easing..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

In Hamlet's time, sighs were thought to cause injury by drawing heat from the blood. Thus, a spendthrift (or wasteful) sigh needlessly hurts someone, making the idea that we "should" have done something we didn't end up doing especially painful, because it is both physically and psychologically injurious.

"growing to a pleurisy,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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, eventually withering and dying. 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).

"Time qualifies the spark and fire of it...."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 that does not feel premature.

"the painting of a sorrow,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Notice that a painting is a form of art, and that Laertes' swordsmanship was previously referred to as artful. After flattering Laertes, 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.

" to play with you...."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

" The scrimers of their natio..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

A "scrimer" is a 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).

"the brooch indeed..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

A "brooch" is an ornamental piece of jewelry fasted by a pin, with the brooch itself usually taking the shape of 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.

"Come short of what he did...."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 especially devious, yet failing to see his true plan.

"incorpsed and demi-natured..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

"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.

"this gallant..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

As an adjective, "gallant" describes someone who is 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).

"That I might be the organ...."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 to be used, it should be noted that Claudius has manipulated him into doing so. In reality, Laertes has already been "played" like an instrument in a way that Hamlet can't be.

"As checking at his voyage..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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.

"tell him to his teeth,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 planned.

"It warms the very sickness in my heart..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Note that Laertes doesn't say that Hamlet's return warms his heart, but rather that it warms 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.

"Are all the rest come back..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

"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.

"am set naked on your kingdom..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Hamlet wants Claudius to think he's humble and vulnerable ("naked") in order to suggest that he 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.

"Break not your sleeps for that...."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Claudius encourages Laertes not to lose sleep over revenge and assures him that Polonius was a beloved friend of Claudius' as well. Note that the antecedent for Claudius "that" is revenge, not Ophelia's madness or Polonius' death. These are perfectly legitimate things to lose sleep over, but Claudius has a vested interest in defusing Laertes' desire for revenge, since it could pose a danger to Claudius himself.

"Whose worth, if praises may go back again,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Laertes wishes that his praises of Ophelia, whose "worth" and sanity (and possibly her virtue) were incontestable, could be sent back to a time where they were still accurate. In doing so, he emphasizes both Ophelia's madness and how far she has fallen thanks to Claudius and Hamlet.

"And so have I a noble father lost;..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 deriding Claudius' inaction. Laertes has lost both his father and sister, yet Claudius refuses to punish Hamlet because he fears the public backlash.

"Convert his gyves to graces;..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

A "gyve" is a shackle or chain which is 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.

"the general gender bear him,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

In this case, "gender" is being used as an abbreviation of "engendered," which means to bear, conceive, or produce. Thus, this line means that the love that the general public feels (or has produced) for Hamlet is keeping Claudius from putting him in jail.

"the star moves not but in his sphere,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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 uses this figurative language to imply that he could no more go against Gertrude's desire than a "star" could go out of its fixed, predetermined orbit.

"Lives almost by his looks;..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

By using the phrase "live by your looks," Claudius means that Gertrude's emotional state (or life) is highly impacted by Hamlet's emotional state (which is projected onto 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.

"your conscience my acquittance seal..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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. The audience knows that Polonius' murder was the result of his attempt to spy on Hamlet, but Claudius conveniently leaves out his own culpability in the matter.

"for this 'would' changes..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

Claudius has (perhaps unwittingly) described Hamlet's problem with making decisions. Here, "when we would" should be read as "when we can," meaning both when we are able and when we have the opportunity. Hamlet missed his opportunity to kill Claudius earlier, whereas Claudius himself has never missed an opportunity, and here justifies it as merely being wise and self-aware.

"Know you the hand?..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

"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 it would have passed for confirmation of the letter's authenticity in Hamlet's time.

"Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

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).

"seem much unsinew'd,..."   (Act IV - Scene VII)

To be "sinewy" means to be strong or to have a lot of sinews, which connect the 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 has very good reasons.

" Sweets to the sweet..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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" has a much more somber meaning in its original context than the more romantically sentimental meaning that the expression has taken on today.

"to the present push..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

" When that her golden couplets are disclose..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 that 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 over the course of the play that she feels like she barely knows him anymore.

" Make Ossa like a war..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

" though I am not splenitive and ras..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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 have been described as choleric, he isn't a rash person. However, he should still be feared because his anger is much colder and more deliberate.

"To o'ertop old Pelion or the skyish head(250) Of blue Olympus..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"on that cursed head..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"treble..."   (Act V - Scene I)

In this context, "treble" means triple. Laertes may refer to the triple woe of his father's murder, his sister's madness, and her subsequent death, or to the triple woe of Ophelia's madness, death, and "maimed" funeral rites. Recall that it was established in Act I, Scene III, that they were a very close family, and that these losses have affected him as much or possibly even more so than King Hamlet's murder affected Hamlet.

"thy bride-bed to have deck'd..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 charitable prayer..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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" that she should get a proper burial. This was likely done because they felt guilty for her death, which could've been avoided had they not been spying on Hamlet.

"And with such maimed rites?..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"Alexander looked o' this fashion..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"let her paint an inch thick..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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."

"your gambols..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"! My gorge rises at ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 into this scene with Yorick's skull, expressing feelings he has never been able to express openly before.

"your whoreson dead body..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"many pocky corses nowadays..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

" the age is(135) grown so picke..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Hamlet has noticed a trend in the last few years of peasants becoming so witty that they can hold their own while bantering with nobles. Hamlet, as a Prince, would likely not have had a lot of contact with the common people. For the gravedigger to be "absolute" means that he is relying purely on the literal. Hamlet, in a show of both frustration and respect, indicates to Horatio that they too must "speak by the card" or else the gravedigger will continue to talk circles around them.

" he galls his kib..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 wit.

"We must speak by the card..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"for thou liest in't..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

" of a pair of indenture..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 would have been fought over and his estate would have been 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.

" Is this the fine of his fine..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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. The fact that he continues to discuss it implies that he's having a hard time wrapping his head around it (perhaps because he's afraid).

"his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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.

"but to play at loggets with 'em..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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.

" and now my Lady Worm's, chapless, and knock'd about the mazard with a sexton's spad..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Shakespeare's use of the conjunction "and" indicates that Hamlet has picked up another skull, presumably a woman's, that 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.

"he meant to beg it..."   (Act V - Scene I)

In this context, "to beg it" doesn't mean to beg 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.

"which this ass now o'erreaches..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if 'were Cain's..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 ground underscores both the carelessness with which he works and the gruesome nature of the job.

"hath the daintier sense...."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"get thee in Yaughan..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"will not mend his pace with beating..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 stupid.

"Ay, tell me that, and unyoke. ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"Mass, I cannot tell. ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 more gullible of the two clowns, which accounts for his inability to counter the First Clown's logic.

"The gallows does well. But how does it well? It does well..."   (Act V - Scene I)

In its first use, the phrase "does well" means "a good answer," which, though unexpectedly 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 praises the Second Clown for his answer while also illustrating how crass of an answer it was on the part of the Second Clown.

"bore arms...."   (Act V - Scene I)

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. This comedic misunderstanding serves to lighten the mood after Ophelia's death.

"great folk should have countenance..."   (Act V - Scene I)

The First Clown seems to be using the word "countenance" to mean acceptable or permissible rather than to refer to facial expression or look (as it is most commonly used). The Second Clown noted that Ophelia likely would not have been given a Christian burial if she were not a "gentlewoman." The First Clown replies that it is pity that nobles are more easily able to commit suicide than commoner Christians, since nobles can pay for a proper burial but commoner families cannot afford to do so.

"it is, will he, nill he, he goes...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Notice how the First Clown prevaricates here: in his mind, someone who goes to the water and drowns has ended their own life. In order for it to be considered an accident, the water would have to come to the person or the person would have had to make an effort to stop their death. The phrase "will he, nill he, he goes" means that whether the person drowning likes it or not, they are "guilty" of their own death since either way they allowed it to happen.

"goodman delver..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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.

"perform; argal,..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"se offendendo..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"The crowner hath sat on her..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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's death an accident and not a suicide. Had it been suicide, a mortal sin, she wouldn't have been allowed a Christian burial.

" Woo't weep, woo't fight, woo't fast, woo't tear thysel..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Hamlet deliberately antagonizes Laertes by addressing him as if he were a small, petulant child. He asks, "Would it weep? would it fight?" the way a bully might taunt a crying victim. Recall that he has seen Laertes by Ophelia's grave, clutching his sister's body, and has likely seen him crying. These questions then become especially insulting because they're spoken over Ophelia's grave.

" Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite je..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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 it cements the idea that Hamlet has not only lost his father over the course of his life, but also every other meaningful relationship he has ever had except Horatio.

"palpable..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"Palpable" here means obvious. Osric agrees that Hamlet scored the first touch by implying that anyone could have seen it—it was easily perceived.

"But let this same be presently perform'd..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Horatio wants everything to be cleared up quickly so that order can be restored before there's more bloodshed. In some ways, Horatio feels that this is a performance where 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.

"Where is this sight?..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 as surprise (and, perhaps, self-interest).

"with the occurrents..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"Absent thee from felicity awhile..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"as a woodcock to mine own springe..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"I am afeard you make a wanton of me..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Typically, the word "wanton" refers to someone undisciplined, unruly, unscrupulous, and, at times, overly lustful and sexual. In this case, it means someone who has been pampered or treated with too much deference, so much 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.

"Or quit in answer of the third exchange..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"we defy augury..."   (Act V - Scene II)

An augury is a prophecy, particularly one divined from reading the flight patterns of birds. Osric was compared to two different birds (the "chough" and the lapwing) and has thus become the "augur" from which Hamlet divines that he is in danger. He now knows that he's not supposed to survive this fencing match, but intends to defy the prophecy anyway.

"as would perhaps trouble a woman..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"He did comply with his dug before he sucked it..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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 once 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.

"the drossy age dotes on..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 an elitist.

"This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head..."   (Act V - Scene II)

A lapwing is a kind of bird in the plover family. 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.

"it is the breathing time of day with me..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 German to the matter..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 the audience needs some comic relief after the previous scene.

"I knew you must be edified by(155) the margent ere you had done..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"with their assigns, as girdle,(150) hanger, and so..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"it would not much approve me..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Hamlet doesn't think Osric is intelligent enough 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. 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.

"His purse is empty already..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 is going to embarrass Osric.

"The concernancy..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"his definement suffers no perdition in you..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"I beseech you remember—..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 he wear his hat. Hamlet appears to do this to amuse himself.

"chough..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"water-fly..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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's character, social status, and importance, and prepares us for brief, amusing exchange that will lull Hamlet into a sense of security.

"And with such cozenage..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"Between the pass and fell incensed points..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"The changeling never known..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"even in that was heaven ordinant..."   (Act V - Scene II)

If heaven is "ordinant," then it's giving orders 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.

"I had my father's signet in my purse..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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. He chooses to view having it on his person when he needed it most as a sign that his intentions are ordained by heaven.

"Not shriving-time allow'd..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"How to forget that learning..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 round with villainies..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"Benetted" means to be caught in a net or snared, in this case by the villains in his life (those "bugs and goblins"). Hamlet has found himself caught in their web, shackled as if by bilboes, but able to maneuver all the same. It is a credit to Hamlet's intelligence that he has survived this long and the audience is offered a glimpse of why the Prince is so respected by his people.

"read it at more leisure..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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, no leisure bated..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"Worse than the mutines in the bilboes..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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") of 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.

"If aught of woe or wonder..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"Aught" meaning to possess or to own. Having struggled with Hamlet, Horatio may be kneeling beside him or even holding his dead body, meaning 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 ears are senseless..."   (Act V - Scene II)

The ambassador from England thinks that Claudius was the one who ordered the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and has come to tell him his orders have been carried out. He finds Claudius's ears "senseless" in death, but he may also be suggesting that the deaths were senseless in and of themselves.

"I am more an antique Romanthan a Dane..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 oneself in the way Hamlet asks Horatio to. These Stoics accepted their lack of control over external circumstances and made up for it with a strong sense of morality and bravery. Horatio intends to commit suicide by drinking the poison so that he can preserve his honor as Hamlet's friend.

"I'll be your foil, Laertes..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"To keep my name ungor'd..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"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.

"Rapier and dagger..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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 is being sarcastic, however, which makes it all the funnier.

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