Act II - Scene II

[Elsinore. A room in the Castle.]

[Flourish. Enter King, Queen, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and attendants.]

Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Moreover that we much did long to see you,
The need we have to use you did provoke
Our hasty sending. Something have you heard
Of Hamlet's transformation—so call it,(5)
Sith nor the exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was. What it should be,
More than his father's death, that thus hath put him
So much from the understanding of himself,
I cannot dream of. I entreat you both(10)
That, being of so young days brought up with him,
And sith so neighbour'd to his youth and haviour,
That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court
Some little time; so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather(15)
So much as from occasion you may glean,
Whether aught to us unknown afflicts him thus
That open'd lies within our remedy.
Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of you,
And sure I am two men there are not living(20)
To whom he more adheres. If it will please you
To show us so much gentry and good will
As to expend your time with us awhile
For the supply and profit of our hope,
Your visitation shall receive such thanks(25)
As fits a king's remembrance.
Both your Majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.(30)
But we both obey,
And here give up ourselves, in the full bent,
To lay our service freely at your feet,
To be commanded.
Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.(35)
Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.
And I beseech you instantly to visit
My too much changed son. Go, some of you,
And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.
Heavens make our presence and our practices(40)
Pleasant and helpful to him!
Ay, amen!

Exeunt Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Enter Polonius.

The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,
Are joyfully return'd.
Thou still hast been the father of good news.(45)
Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege,
I hold my duty as I hold my soul,
Both to my God and to my gracious King.
And I do think, or else this brain of mine
Hunts not the trail of policy so sure(50)
As it hath used to do, that I have found
The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.
O, speak of that! That do I long to hear.
Give first admittance to the ambassadors.
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.(55)
Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.

[Exit Polonius.]

He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found
The head and source of all your son's distemper.
I doubt it is no other but the main,
His father's death and our o'erhasty marriage.(60)
Well, we shall sift him.

Enter [Polonius, Voltimand, and Cornelius, Ambassadors.]

Welcome, my good friends.
Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?
Most fair return of greetings and desires.
Upon our first, he sent out to suppress(65)
His nephew's levies; which to him appear'd
To be a preparation 'gainst the Polack,
But better look'd into, he truly found
It was against your Highness; whereat griev'd,
That so his sickness, age, and impotence(70)
Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys,
Receives rebuke from Norway, and, in fine,
Makes vow before his uncle never more
To give the assay of arms against your Majesty.(75)
Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,
Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee
And his commission to employ those soldiers,
So levied as before, against the Polack;
With an entreaty, herein further shown,(80)
That it might please you to give quiet pass
Through your dominions for this enterprise,
On such regards of safety and allowance
As therein are set down.
It likes us well;(85)
And at our more consider'd time we'll read,
Answer, and think upon this business.
Meantime we thank you for your well-took labour.
Go to your rest; at night we'll feast together.
Most welcome home!(90)

Exeunt Ambassadors.

This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time.
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.(95)
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief. Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?(100)
But let that go.
More matter, with less art.
Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true—a foolish figure!(105)
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant him then. And now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause.(110)
Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.
I have a daughter—have while she is mine—
Who in her duty and obedience, mark,
Hath given me this. Now gather, and surmise.(115)

[The Letter.]

To the celestial, and my soul's idol, the most beautified Ophelia—
That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase; ‘beautified’ is a vile
But you shall hear.


Thus in her excellent white bosom, these, &c.(120)
Came this from Hamlet to her?
Good madam, stay awhile. I will be faithful.

[Reads.] Letter.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;(125)
But never doubt I love.
O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers; I have not art to reckon
my groans. But that I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
Thine evermore, most dear lady, whilst this machine is to him, Hamlet.
This, in obedience, hath my daughter shown me;(130)
And more above, hath his solicitings,
As they fell out by time, by means, and place,
All given to mine ear.
But how hath she
Receiv'd his love?(135)
What do you think of me?
As of a man faithful and honourable.
I would fain prove so. But what might you think,
When I had seen this hot love on the wing—
As I perceiv'd it, I must tell you that,(140)
Before my daughter told me—what might you,
Or my dear Majesty your queen here, think,
If I had play'd the desk or table-book,
Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb,
Or look'd upon this love with idle sight?(145)
What might you think? No, I went round to work
And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
‘Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star.
This must not be.’ And then I prescripts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,(150)
Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
Which done, she took the fruits of my advice,
And he, repellèd—a short tale to make—
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,(155)
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for.
Do you think 'tis this?
It may be, very like.(160)
Hath there been such a time—I would fain know
That I have positively said ‘'tis so,’
When it proved otherwise?
Not that I know.(165)
Take this from this, if this be otherwise.
If circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the centre.
How may we try it further?(170)
You know, sometimes he walks four hours together
Here in the lobby.
So he does indeed.
At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him.
Be you and I behind an arras then;(175)
Mark the encounter. If he love her not,
And he not from his reason fall'n thereon
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters.
We will try it.(180)

Enter Hamlet [reading on a book.]

But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.
Away, I do beseech you both, away.

Exeunt King and Queen.

I'll board him presently. O, give me leave.
How does my good Lord Hamlet?
Well, God-a-mercy.(185)
Do you know me, my lord?
Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.
Not I, my lord.
Then I would you were so honest a man.
Honest, my lord?(190)
Ay, sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one
man picked out of ten thousand.
That's very true, my lord.
For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
good kissing carrion—Have you a daughter?(195)
I have, my lord.
Let her not walk i' th' sun. Conception is a blessing,
but not as your daughter may conceive. Friend, look to't.
How say you by that? Still harping on my daughter.
Yet he knew me not at first. He said I was a fishmonger.(200)
He is far gone. And truly in my youth I suffered much
extremity for love, very near this. I'll speak to him again.—
What do you read, my lord?
Words, words, words.
What is the matter, my lord?(205)
Between who?
I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old
men have grey beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their
eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum; and that they(210)
have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams.
All which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently
believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down;
for you yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am if, if like a crab,
you could go backward.(215)
Though this be madness, yet there is a method
Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Into my grave?
Indeed, that is out of the air. [Aside.] How pregnant(220)
sometimes his replies are! a happiness that often madness
hits on, which reason and sanity could not so prosperously
be delivered of. I will leave him and suddenly contrive the
means of meeting between him and my daughter.— My hon-
ourable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.(225)
You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will
more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life,
except my life.

Enter Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

Fare you well, my lord.
These tedious old fools!(230)
You go to seek the Lord Hamlet. There he is.
God save you, sir!

[Exit Polonius.]

My honoured lord!
My most dear lord!
My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye
As the indifferent children of the earth.(235)
Happy, in that we are not over-happy.
On Fortune's cap we are not the very button.
Nor the soles of her shoe?
Neither, my lord.
Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her(240)
Faith, her privates we.
In the secret parts of Fortune? O! most true! she is a
strumpet. What news?
None, my lord, but that the world's grown(245)
Then is doomsday near. But your news is not true. Let
me question more in particular. What have you, my good
friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune that she sends you
to prison hither?(250)
Prison, my lord?
Denmark's a prison.
Then is the world one.
A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.(255)
We think not so, my lord.
Why, then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either
good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
Why, then your ambition makes it one. 'tis too
narrow for your mind.(260)
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad
Which dreams indeed are ambition; for the
very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a(265)
A dream itself is but a shadow.
Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light
a quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and(270)
outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we to the
court? For, by my fay, I cannot reason.
We'll wait upon you.
No such matter! I will not sort you with the rest of
my servants; for, to speak to you like an honest man, I am(275)
most dreadfully attended. But in the beaten way of friend-
ship, what make you at Elsinore?
To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.
Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I
thank you; And sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear(280)
a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclin-
ing? Is it a free visitation? Come, deal justly with me.
Come, come! Nay, speak.
What should we say, my lord?
Why, anything, but to the purpose. You were sent(285)
for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks, which
your modesties have not craft enough to colour. I know the
good King and Queen have sent for you.
To what end, my lord?
That you must teach me. But let me conjure you by the(290)
rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by
the obligation of our ever-preserved love, and by what more
dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and
direct with me, whether you were sent for or no.
What say you?(295)
Nay then, I have an eye of you.—If you love me, hold
not off.
My lord, we were sent for.
I will tell you why. So shall my anticipation prevent
your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and Queen(300)
moult no feather. I have of late—but wherefore I know not—
lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed,
it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame,
the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging(305)
firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,
why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent
congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how
noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in(310)
apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the
paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence
of dust? Man delights not me—no, nor woman nei-
ther, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.(315)
Why did you laugh then, when I said man delights not
To think, my lord, if you delight not in man,
what lenten entertainment the players shall receive from
you. We coted them on the way, and hither are they com-(320)
ing to offer you service.
He that plays the king shall be welcome; his Majesty
shall have tribute of me. The adventurous knight shall use
his foil and target; the lover shall not sigh gratis; the
humorous man shall end his part in peace; the clown shall(325)
make those laugh whose lungs are tickle o' the sere; and the
lady shall say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt
for't. What players are they?
Even those you were wont to take such delight
in, the tragedians of the city.(330)
How chances it they travel? Their residence, both in
reputation and profit, was better both ways.
I think their inhibition comes by the means of
the late innovation.
Do they hold the same estimation they did when I(335)
was in the city? Are they so followed?
No, indeed, are they not.
How comes it? Do they grow rusty?
Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace;
but there is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases, that(340)
cry out on the top of question and are most tyrannically
clapped for't. These are now the fashion, and so berattle the
common stages—so they call them—that many wearing
rapiers are afraid of goose-quills and dare scarce come
What, are they children? Who maintains 'em? How
are they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no longer
than they can sing? Will they not say afterwards, if they
should grow themselves to common players—as it is most
like, if their means are no better—their writers do them(350)
wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession?
Faith, there has been much to do on both sides;
and the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to controver-
sy. There was, for a while, no money bid for argument
unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question.(355)
Is't possible?
O, there has been much throwing about of
Do the boys carry it away?
Ay, that they do, my lord, Hercules and his load(360)
It is not very strange; for my uncle is King of
Denmark, and those that would make mows at him while
my father lived give twenty, forty, fifty, a hundred ducats
apiece for his picture in little. 'Sblood, there is something(365)
in this more than natural, if philosophy could find it out.

Flourish [for the Players.]

There are the players.
Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your
hands, come! Then appurtenance of welcome is fashion
and ceremony. Let me comply with you in this garb, lest my(370)
extent to the players—which, I tell you, must show fairly
outwards—should more appear like entertainment than
yours. You are welcome. But my uncle-father and aunt-
mother are deceived.
In what, my dear lord?(375)
I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.

Enter Polonius.

Well be with you, gentlemen!
Hark you, Guildenstern, and you too—at each ear a
That great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling
Happily he's the second time come to them; for
they say an old man is twice a child.
I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players.(385)
Mark it. You say right, sir; o' Monday morning; 'twas so
My lord, I have news to tell you.
My lord, I have news to tell you. When Roscius was
an actor in Rome—(390)
The actors are come hither, my lord.
Buzz, buzz!
Upon my honour—
Then came each actor on his ass—
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy,(395)
history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral,
tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral; scene
individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too
heavy, nor Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the liberty,
these are the only men.(400)
O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst
What treasure had he, my lord?
‘One fair daughter, and no more,(405)
The which he loved passing well.’
Still on my daughter.
Am I not i' the right, old Jephthah?
If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter
that I love passing well.
Nay, that follows not.(410)
What follows then, my lord?
As by lot, God wot,
and then, you know,
It came to pass, as most like it was.—(415)
The first row of the pious chanson will show you more;
for look where my abridgment comes.

Enter [four or five] Players.

You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad to see
thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, my old friend, why,
thy face is valanced since I saw thee last. Com'st' thou to'(420)
beard me in Denmark? What, my young lady and mistress?
By'r lady, your ladyship is nearer to heaven than
when I saw you last by the altitude of a chopine. Pray
God, your voice, like a piece of uncurrent gold, be not
cracked within the ring. Masters, you are all welcome.(425)
We'll e'en to't like French falconers, fly at any thing we see.
We'll have a speech straight. Come, give us a taste of your
quality. Come, a passionate speech.
What speech, my good lord?
I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never(430)
acted; or if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember,
pleased not the million, 'twas caviary to the general; but
it was—as I received it, and others, whose judgments in
such matters cried in the top of mine—an excellent play,
well digested in the scenes, set down with as much mod-(435)
esty as cunning. I remember one said there were no sal-
lets in the lines to make the matter savoury, nor no mat-
ter in the phrase that might indict the author of affecta-
tion; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as
sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine. One(440)
speech in't I chiefly loved; 'twas Æneas' tale to Dido, and
thereabout of it especially where he speaks of Priam's
slaughter. If it live in your memory, begin at this line—let
me see, let me see—
The rugged Pyrrhus, like th' Hyrcanian beast—(445)
'tis not so; it begins with Pyrrhus—
The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear'd(450)
With heraldry more dismal. Head to foot
Now is he total gules, horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons.
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and a damned light(455)
To their lord's murder. Roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.
So, proceed you.(460)
'Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent
and good discretion.
'Anon he finds him,
Striking too short at Greeks. His antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,(465)
Repugnant to command. Unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top(470)
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear. For lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick.
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,(475)
And like a neutral to his will and matter,
Did nothing.
But as we often see, against some storm,
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold winds speechless, and the orb below(480)
As hush as death—anon the dreadful thunder
Doth rend the region; so, after Pyrrhus' pause,
Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour, forged for proof eterne,(485)
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.
Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,
In general synod take away her power;
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,(490)
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!
This is too long.
It shall to the barber's, with your beard. Prithee say
on. He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Say on;(495)
come to Hecuba.
But who, O who, had seen the mobled queen—
‘The mobled queen’?
That's good! ‘mobled queen’ is good.
Run barefoot up and down, threatening the flames(500)
With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head
Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,
About her lank and all o'erteemed loins,
A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up—
Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep'd(505)
'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have pronounced.
But if the gods themselves did see her then,
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport
In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs,
The instant burst of clamour that she made(510)
Unless things mortal move them not at all
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven
And passion in the gods.
Look, whether he has not turned his colour, and
has tears in's eyes. Prithee no more!(515)
'tis well. I'll have thee speak out the rest of this
soon. Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestow'd? Do you hear? Let them be well used; for they
are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After
your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their(520)
ill report while you live.
My lord, I will use them according to their
God's bodykins, man, much better! Use every
man after his desert, and who shall 'scape whipping? Use(525)
them after your own honour and dignity. The less they
deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.
Come, sirs.
Follow him, friends. We'll hear a play to-morrow.

Exeunt Polonius and all the Players.

Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play ‘The Murder of(530)
Ay, my lord.
We'll ha't tomorrow night. You could, for a need, study
a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which I would set
down and insert in't, could you not?(535)
Ay, my lord.
Very well. Follow that lord, and look you mock him
not. My good friends, I'll leave you till night. You are wel-
come to Elsinore.
Good my lord!(540)

Exeunt [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.]

Ay, so, God be wi' ye!
Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,(545)
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!(550)
For Hecuba!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears(555)
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech;
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.
Yet I,(560)
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing! No, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?(565)
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this? Ha!
Ha! 'Swounds, I should take it! for it cannot be(570)
But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal. Bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!(575)
O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words(580)
And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
A scullion! Fie upon't! Foh!
About, my brain! Hum, I have heard
That guilty creatures, sitting at a play,
Have by the very cunning of the scene(585)
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ, I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father(590)
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps(595)
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.(600)



  1. Polonius is starting to suspect that Hamlet is being intentionally antagonistic—that there is a method to his madness. This is where the famous expression, "There is a method to my madness," comes from.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. With this famous quote, Hamlet moves the space, Denmark, into his mind; it metaphorically ceases to be a place and instead becomes a state of mind. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can only fathom that Hamlet is upset for tangible, shallow reasons, like his uncle's rise to power or a problem with the physical space he is in, Hamlet demonstrates one of the plays main themes by using the tangible to explore his psychological interior. The kingdom, Kingship, prison, and paradise are all merely ideas that are effected by changes within the mind.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. Hamlet thinks that the devil may be using ("abusing") his melancholy against him, sending him a demon in the shape of his father's ghost to drive him to commit a mortal sin like murder and damn himself to hell. Given his religious upbringing, this isn't just a stalling tactic, but rather a serious concern.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Hamlet feels that killing Claudius would be righteous, because the king has already committed the mortal sin of killing his own brother. At the same time, murdering Claudius would itself be a mortal sin, so Hamlet's torn between heaven and hell, that is, between doing something good and something that might also be evil. There is also the implication that Hamlet has been prompted by both heaven and hell to commit murder, adding a sense of unease regarding where the Ghost really came from and who is trying to get Hamlet to murder Claudius.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Despite taking specific measures against the king and developing a legitimate (if convoluted) plan, Hamlet feels like a coward because he hasn't taken swift, direct action to avenge his father's murder. Hamlet feels that thinking too much has prevented him from killing Claudius, even though it is, most likely, the only thing keeping him alive.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. Hamlet thinks the players he's just met (and actors in general) are too melodramatic, and that if he were really on the stage his madness would appear over the top; but since he's not, and because he knows that this isn't a performance in the sense that it should be seen, he (rather bitterly) restrains himself from weeping.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. In other words, that Hamlet, in playing this role of madness, could force himself to behave this way for the sake of his plan and at the detriment of his self or his soul. He's worried about the damage that this performance has already done to him and fears that faking madness may itself lead to madness.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. Notice that Hamlet has been surrounded since he first entered this scene, presumably standing in or near the center of the stage while friends, enemies, and actors maneuver around him. This line reads both literally and metaphorically: he's alone on the stage and alone in spirit, following a plan only he knows about.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. Hamlet thinks that treating everyone according to their worth would result in everyone (including himself) being whipped or punished. His view of humanity reveals itself to be very bleak in these lines, and if there was any doubt before of his disdain for Polonius, then there's no question of it now.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. Hecuba was the Queen of Troy and wife of Priam. Pyrrhus slaughtered Priam and many of his children to avenge the death of his father, Achilles. Hecuba famously grieved for the fallen Trojans of the war (a grief recounted in Euripides' play The Trojan Women). It's unclear what happened to Hecuba after the war, with some accounts saying she was taken as a slave by Odysseus and (presumably) died with his men when their boat sank, while others claims she was turned into a dog and allowed to escape.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Recall that Hamlet himself referred to Fortune as a strumpet earlier in this scene, while joking with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Given that he saw this play before that conversation, it is very possible that he stole the line from it, which suggests that many of his ideas aren't original and are instead taken from books he studied at Wittenberg.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. "As hush as death" refers to the calm before the storm, or to the eye of the storm, where the winds die down and all appears to be calm, at least for the moment. These lines liken Pyrrhus' fury to a storm and give readers the impression that it's uncontrollable and that there can be no defense against it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  38. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  39. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  40. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  41. 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.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  42. The King shows his preference for Guildenstern’s overt deference over Rosencrantz’s (very polite) rebuff. In the next line, the Queen corrects this by referring to Rosencrantz as "gentle." In doing this, Gertrude subtly and implicitly acknowledges that it is wrong to attempt to know Hamlet’s thoughts by deceiving him and turning his friends into spies. Still, she does not attempt to stop this.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  43. “to gather/So much as from occasion you may glean.” The King’s request here bears a great deal of similarity to the exchange we just observed in Act II Scene I between Polonius and Reynaldo. Just as Polonius asked Reynaldo to bring back information about Laertes, so does the King asks Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to bring back information about Hamlet.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  44. 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.

    — Georgia, Owl Eyes Staff
  45. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  46. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  47. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  48. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  49. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  50. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  51. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  52. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  53. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  54. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  55. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  56. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  57. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  58. 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."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  59. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  60. The old man here is Polonius. He's "twice a child" because old age makes men into babies in need of care, coddling, and (in some cases) changing. This doesn't mean, however, that an old man becomes innocent again or that his mind necessarily goes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  61. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  62. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  63. In other words, Hamlet doesn't want to make a scene by not seeing to his princely duties (as a host) or being rude to his guests. His use of the word "garb" suggests that this politeness is in fact a costume and that Hamlet feels that his role as the prince is a performance that he puts on for other people's benefit, not unlike an actor.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  64. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  65. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  66. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  67. 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).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  68. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  69. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  70. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  71. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  72. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  73. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  74. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  75. 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).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  76. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  77. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  78. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  79. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  80. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  81. That is, he can see right through them. Rosencrantz has been prevaricating, asking, "What say you?" to avoid having to admit his wrongdoing, but this hesitation in itself tells Hamlet most of what he needs to know: they've been sent for, and they're uncomfortable with it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  82. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  83. Hamlet realizes that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spying on him because they look guilty (imagine Guildenstern's dismay as he says, "What should we say, my lord?" knowing he's been found out), but he also admits that they're both essentially guileless people, without the malice or the skill to hide their intentions. That makes them some of the most innocent characters in the play.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  84. Recall that Hamlet has just likened beggars to "bodies," or to people whose ambitions consume them. Remember also that he's said that fishmongers and poor men, like beggars, are the most honest of men, in that their desires are so pure. By equating himself with this class of people, Hamlet implies that his plan to kill Claudius is righteous and not self-serving.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  85. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  86. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  87. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  88. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  89. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  90. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  91. One can imagine Rosencrantz exchanging a nervous glance with Guildenstern here, wondering how to approach this statement. The two have to get along with Hamlet in order to spy on him, but they're worried about his behavior and his intelligence. Hamlet, for example, might be tricking them into saying something treasonous, so they have to be careful.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  92. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  93. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  94. Hamlet essentially says that there's nothing he would like better than for Polonius to leave (except, perhaps, to die). As it stands, the sentence is constructed so that Hamlet would happily allow Polonius ("you") to take his life, or to kill him. He's lying and is likely doing it to goad Polonius and fish for information.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  95. Polonius refers to Hamlet's often manic behavior, here typified by his outburst "God-a-mercy" and his spirited jibes at Polonius' character. The reader can imagine Hamlet delivering these lines with a kind of gleeful melodrama, taking care to always seem more serious than he is amused.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  96. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  97. This line, so clearly critical of Hamlet, was likely not said directly to him, suggesting that with Hamlet's line, "Friend, look to't," the prince began to move away, returning to his reading. This interpretation is further enforced by Polonius' switch to the singular third-person pronoun "he" in the next lines, indicating that he is no longer talking directly to Hamlet and is instead thinking out-loud for the benefit of the audience.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  98. This sudden outburst, here indicated by the use of the dash, indicates that Hamlet's madness (or the appearance thereof) is worsening, and that he can no longer keep track of his own thoughts. His question doesn't seem to follow the previous lines, but does suggest that he was trying to compare Polonius to a dog's carcass.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  99. 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).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  100. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  101. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  102. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  103. In Hamlet's time, a woman's virtue reflected back onto her parents, particularly her father, who was supposed to guide her and protect her in the world of men. For Claudius to ask how Ophelia "receiv'd" Hamlet's love (whether or not they've had sex) is to question Polonius' abilities as a man and a father.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  104. Hamlet tells Ophelia that she can doubt everything she's ever thought to be true, as she has, but to never doubt his love. As in modern relationships, the fact that he needs to say this suggests that there's been some reason for her doubt, and that either Ophelia has noticed his strange behavior or Hamlet has begun to doubt his love himself.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  105. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  106. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  107. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  108. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  109. Notice Polonius' ham-fisted tautology: he defines madness simply as the quality of being mad, which uses a thing to define itself and thus becomes an ineffective description. Polonius has been attempting throughout this speech to be witty and intelligent but instead comes across as a buffoon.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  110. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  111. Note that this "business" with Norway and Fortinbras has been over for the audience since Act I, Scene V, when the Ghost revealed that he wasn't here to talk about an upcoming war. Shakespeare used the threat of war to pique the audience's interest but then resolved the conflict once they were emotionally invested in the true subject of the play: Hamlet's madness and revenge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  112. Meaning, in conclusion, in short, in brief. In other words, Voltimand is saying, "Let me get straight to the point." This suggests that there is, in fact, more to the story, but that the details are inconsequential enough that they need not be elaborated upon, even though they might represent a complex interaction between Voltimand and the King of Norway.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  113. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  114. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  115. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  116. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  117. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  118. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  119. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  120. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  121. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  122. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  123. It's unclear whether Gertrude is merely being nice to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or if Hamlet has really spoken highly of them in the past. Given Hamlet's taciturn nature, it's unlikely that he's been very forthcoming with his mother about any of his friends, but it's possible that he was more trusting before his father's death.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  124. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  125. In other words, what's troubling Hamlet. Upon close reading, we see that this "understanding" of himself is really his identity, and that the prince is having an identity crisis that's made him forget how he should behave, given his station. Another way to put this would be that Hamlet has forgotten his manners.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  126. Claudius pretends that he and the queen wanted to see Rosencratz and Guildenstern as a courtesy, so as not to offend them, but this line makes clear that the only reason the two have been summoned is so that they can be "used" by the throne to spy on the prince. Claudius' niceties are empty but very proper.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  127. For Shakespeare to have identified Rosencratz and Guildenstern on the stage, the attendants who enter with them would have to move away from the group and position themselves as servants. Thus, the two unknown characters becomes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, though which one is which isn't clear until much later.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  128. "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.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  129. 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.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  130. 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.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  131. 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.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  132. In some productions, this question has been directed toward the audience, as if one of its members had shouted out that Hamlet was a villain. In others, it's meant to suggest that Hamlet has been hearing voices and is descending into madness. These lines could also be delivered introspectively, with Hamlet sardonically wondering if he has, in some ways, become a villain.

    — William Delaney
  133. Hamlet can get away with mocking Polonius so outrageously to his face because he knows the man thinks he's mad and therefore won't really be listening to what he says. Polonius assumes from the outset that Hamlet is mad and thus destroys any chance he had of really understanding the prince.

    — William Delaney
  134. 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.

    — Noelle Thompson
  135. 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.

    — William Delaney
  136. Gertrude innocently believes that Hamlet is just being a teenager. On the one hand, this suggests that she's a realistic and level-headed parent with no reason to fear Hamlet's retribution. On the other, it makes her less observant and, ultimately, an ineffective mother.

    — William Delaney
  137. Ophelia is a sweet, innocent, and beautiful girl, but perhaps not the most cautious, and shouldn't have given her father Hamlet's love letter. He reads it here in order to humiliate Hamlet, commenting on the word choices to embarrass his mother and make himself seem like a brilliant orator.

    — William Delaney
  138. Polonius thinks his command that Ophelia spurn Hamlet's affections has directly caused his madness. This is, of course, just his ego talking, and should indicate to the reader that he wants Hamlet to be madly in love with his daughter, if only because it will increase his social station if they marry.

    — William Delaney
  139. 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.

    — Scott Locklear, Owl Eyes Contributor
  140. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  141. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  142. Polonius describes what was then thought to be a real ailment: "love-sickness." What we might now call depression, this state was thought to be a result of too much of one of the "four humors," namely, sanguinity, which supposedly carried in the blood one's passion and lust.

    — Katie Rounds
  143. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  144. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  145. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  146. 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).

    — Katie Rounds
  147. 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.

    — Katie Rounds
  148. 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).

    — Katie Rounds