Act IV - Scene VII

[Elsinore.]

Enter King and Laertes.

KING:
Now must your conscience my acquittance seal,
And you must put me in your heart for friend,
Sith you have heard, and with a knowing ear,
That he which hath your noble father slain
Pursued my life.(5)
LAERTES:
It well appears. But tell me
Why you proceeded not against these feats
So crimeful and so capital in nature,
As by your safety, wisdom, all things else,
You mainly were stirr'd up.(10)
KING:
O, for two special reasons,
Which may to you, perhaps, seem much unsinew'd,
But yet to me they are strong. The Queen his mother
Lives almost by his looks; and for myself—
My virtue or my plague, be it either which—(15)
She's so conjunctive to my life and soul
That, as the star moves not but in his sphere,
I could not but by her. The other motive
Why to a public count I might not go
Is the great love the general gender bear him,(20)
Who, dipping all his faults in their affection,
Would, like the spring that turneth wood to stone,
Convert his gyves to graces; so that my arrows,
Too slightly timber'd for so loud a wind,
Would have reverted to my bow again,(25)
And not where I had aim'd them.
LAERTES:
And so have I a noble father lost;
A sister driven into desperate terms,
Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
Stood challenger on mount of all the age(30)
For her perfections. But my revenge will come.
KING:
Break not your sleeps for that. You must not think
That we are made of stuff so flat and dull
That we can let our beard be shook with danger,
And think it pastime. You shortly shall hear more.(35)
I loved your father, and we love ourself,
And that, I hope, will teach you to imagine—

Enter a Messenger with letters.

How now? What news?
MESSENGER:
Letters, my lord, from Hamlet.
This to your Majesty; this to the Queen.(40)
KING:
From Hamlet? Who brought them?
MESSENGER:
Sailors, my lord, they say; I saw them not.
They were given me by Claudio; he receiv'd them
Of him that brought them.
KING:
Laertes, you shall hear them.(45)
Leave us.

[Exit Messenger.]

[Reads]

High and mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your
kingdom. Tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I
shall, first asking your pardon, thereunto recount the occasion of my
sudden and more strange return.(50)

HAMLET.

What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?
Or is it some abuse, and no such thing?
LAERTES:
Know you the hand?
KING:
'tis Hamlet's character. 'Naked'—
And in a postscript here, he says 'Alone.'(55)
Can you advise me?
LAERTES:
I'm lost in it, my lord. But let him come.
It warms the very sickness in my heart
That I shall live and tell him to his teeth,
'Thus diddest thou.'(60)
KING:
If it be so, Laertes
As how should it be so? how otherwise?—
Will you be ruled by me?
LAERTES:
Ay my lord,
So you will not o'errule me to a peace.
KING:
To thine own peace. If he be now return'd(65)
As checking at his voyage, and that he means
No more to undertake it, I will work him
To an exploit, now ripe in my device,
Under the which he shall not choose but fall;
And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,(70)
But even his mother shall uncharge the practice,
And call it accident.
LAERTES:
My lord, I will be ruled;
The rather, if you could devise it so
That I might be the organ.(75)
KING:
It falls right.
You have been talk'd of since your travel much,
And that in Hamlet's hearing, for a quality
Wherein they say you shine. Your sum of parts
Did not together pluck such envy from him(80)
As did that one; and that, in my regard,
Of the unworthiest siege.
LAERTES:
What part is that, my lord?
KING:
A very ribbon in the cap of youth,
Yet needful too; for youth no less becomes(85)
The light and careless livery that it wears
Than settled age his sables and his weeds,
Importing health and graveness. Two months since
Here was a gentleman of Normandy—
I have seen myself, and served against, the French,(90)
And they can well on horseback; but this gallant
Had witchcraft in't. He grew unto his seat,
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse
As had he been incorpsed and demi-natured
With the brave beast. So far he topp'd my thought(95)
That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.
LAERTES:
A Norman was't?
KING:
A Norman.
LAERTES:
Upon my life, Lamord.(100)
KING:
The very same.
LAERTES:
I know him well. He is the brooch indeed
And gem of all the nation.
KING:
He made confession of you;
And gave you such a masterly report,(105)
For art and exercise in your defence,
And for your rapier most especial,
That he cried out 'twould be a sight indeed
If one could match you. The scrimers of their nation
He swore had neither motion, guard, nor eye,(110)
If you opposed them. Sir, this report of his
Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy
That he could nothing do but wish and beg
Your sudden coming o'er to play with you.
Now, out of this—(115)
LAERTES:
What out of this, my lord?
KING:
Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart,
LAERTES:
Why ask you this?(120)
KING:
Not that I think you did not love your father,
But that I know love is begun by time,
And that I see, in passages of proof,
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
There lives within the very flame of love(125)
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it;
And nothing is at a like goodness still;
For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,
Dies in his own too much. That we would do,
We should do when we would; for this 'would' changes,(130)
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents;
And then this 'should' is like a spendthrift sigh,
That hurts by easing. But to the quick o' the ulcer!
Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake(135)
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
LAERTES:
To cut his throat i' the church.
KING:
No place indeed should murder sanctuarize;
Revenge should have no bounds. But, good Laertes,(140)
Will you do this? Keep close within your chamber.
Hamlet return'd shall know you are come home.
We'll put on those shall praise your excellence
And set a double varnish on the fame
The Frenchman gave you, bring you in fine together(145)
And wager on your heads. He, being remiss,
Most generous and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils; so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and in a pass of practice,(150)
Requite him for your father.
LAERTES:
I will do't!
And for that purpose I'll anoint my sword.
I bought an unction of a mountebank,
So mortal that but dip a knife in it,(155)
Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,
Collected from all simples that have virtue
Under the moon, can save the thing from death
This is but scratch'd withal. I'll touch my point
With this contagion, that, if I gall him slightly,(160)
It may be death.
KING:
Let's further think of this,
Weigh what convenience both of time and means
May fit us to our shape. If this should fail,
And that our drift look through our bad performance.(165)
'Twere better not assay'd. Therefore this project
Should have a back or second, that might hold
If this did blast in proof. Soft! let me see.
We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings—
I ha't!(170)
When in your motion you are hot and dry—
As make your bouts more violent to that end—
And that he calls for drink, I'll have prepared him
A chalice for the nonce; whereon but sipping,
If he by chance escape your venom'd stuck,(175)
Our purpose may hold there. But stay, what noise?

[Enter Queen.]


How now, sweet Queen?
QUEEN:
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they follow. Your sister's drown'd, Laertes.
LAERTES:
Drown'd! O, where?(180)
QUEEN:
There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,(185)
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendant boughs her crownet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide(190)
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;
Which time she chaunted snatches of old lauds,
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element; but long it could not be(195)
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
LAERTES:
Alas, then she is drown'd?
QUEEN:
Drown'd, drown'd.(200)
LAERTES:
Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick; nature her custom holds,
Let shame say what it will. When these are gone,
The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord.(205)
I have a speech of fire, that fain would blaze
But that this folly drowns it.

Exit.

KING:
Let's follow, Gertrude.
How much I had to do to calm his rage.
Now fear I this will give it start again;(210)
Therefore let's follow.

Exeunt.


Footnotes

  1. "These" are Laertes' tears, which he's tried and failed not to shed. He's ashamed of crying, because he thinks that makes him weak or feminine, like Ophelia, who had too much water (or cried too much). When he's finished crying, he says, he won't be "feminine" anymore, and then the fire in his words will be put into action. Note that this is the weakest we'll ever see Laertes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  2. To "chaunt" or chant means to sing, and "lauds" are hymns of praise, often religious in nature but not necessarily so. Ophelia sings these hymns instead of pulling herself out of the water, which is what leads some readers to the conclusion that she commits suicide rather than merely drowns.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  3. Notice the contrast with Hamlet here: Ophelia is incapable of feeling distress as she drowns, whereas Hamlet revels in his distress, making eloquent speeches to that effect in almost every other scene. Ophelia's deranged singing, then, feels especially chilling, a product of a mind so broken that it can't properly recognize its own despair. Ophelia drowns because she's incapable of understanding that she's drowning.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. 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).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. "Pendant boughs" are hanging or pendulous branches that sway as Ophelia clambers or scrambles to place her "crownet" (or crown of) weeds on the branches, as if they were a lovely maiden. Ophelia in her madness ignored the danger inherent to climbing such pendant boughs and fell because of it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Here, "liberal" shepherds are men who are free in their speech, or in other words foul-mouthed. They've given a grosser (and likely sexual) name to the "long purples" Ophelia collected, which are likely some form of orchid or lilac. This grosser name was likely well-known to Shakespeare's audience, but has become obscure now.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. The now antiquated phrase "for the nonce" means for the purpose of (in this case, poisoning Hamlet). Claudius intends to poison Hamlet's chalice, or cup, so that even if Laertes fails to cut Hamlet, he'll still die. It's unclear how Claudius intends to explain how a young man like Hamlet could drop dead like that.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. In other words, they should have a back-up plan in case this one fails or someone finds out about it. Likely, Claudius already has a back-up plan in mind, and indeed that would seem prudent given that Hamlet isn't likely to be "free from all contriving," as he said. Claudius will need a plan to get rid of both Hamlet and Laertes in order to cover his tracks.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. A "mountebank" is a charlatan or peddler who sold medicines, spells, potions, and poisons, often using these to entertain an audience at performances, such as at a circus. An "unction" is a kind of ointment or oil used to anoint people, but in this case refers to a poison in which Laertes will dip his sword so he can kill Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. This is a lie, or at the very least an exaggeration. Hamlet's letter was, on the surface, very humble, but Claudius has reason to suspect that Hamlet has been plotting against him, so this line, though expedient for Claudius in his manipulation of Laertes, appears disingenuous to the audience, who knows better.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. In fencing, swords are "tipped" or capped so they can't inflict any real damage. Thus, when someone makes contact in a sparring match, it's only by touching or tapping the sword on another's clothing. An "unbated" sword, however, would have no such cap, and Laertes would be able to kill Hamlet and pretend that he didn't know. (These kinds of accidents were fairly common.)

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. Claudius thinks revenge should have "no bounds," meaning no limits on where it can be exacted, regardless of whether or not that place is a sanctuary. Thus, Laertes can slit Hamlet's throat in a church without reproach (from Claudius, at least). This kind of revenge further highlights the differences between Laertes and Hamlet, who refrained from killing Claudius in a church because it's inappropriate.

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

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

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. A "pleurisy" is an excess of something which grows to be harmful or problematic, as in this case where goodness, in becoming too large, becomes impossible for a person to sustain, until finally it withers and dies. Claudius may also be playing on an alternate definition of "pleurisy," meaning an abscess on the chest, which would make goodness a kind of disease (and thereby justify him in being evil).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. In general, to "qualify" something means to describe it or to attribute a certain quality to it. In this case, that quality is brevity or, in other words, the capacity to fade like a flame over time. Claudius uses the metaphor of a candle with a wick to mark an exact beginning and end to love, thus making it possible for Laertes to stop loving his father in a natural way and through no fault of his own.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. Notice that a painting is a form of art, and that Laertes' swordsmanship was previously referred to as in some ways artful. After buttering Laertes up, Claudius questions whether Laertes is really the man everyone says he is, forcing Laertes to defend his sorrow, which isn't just a performance or mask ("painting") but is instead a very real grief.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. A "scrimer" is a "fencer" or swordsman, in this case one who doesn't have the defensive skills ("guard") or the accuracy ("eye") of Laertes, who has been described as an artful fighter, particularly with a rapier (a kind of sword). Lamond purportedly said Laertes had no equal, and Claudius repeats this to stroke Laertes' ego and manipulate him into killing Hamlet (who likely isn't jealous of his youth or swordsmanship, after all).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. A "brooch" is an ornamental piece of jewelry fasted by a pin, with the brooch itself usually taking the shape or a ring, a shield, or whatever the artist desires. Brooches are typically jewel encrusted and appear to be large clusters of gems, making Lamond the jeweled brooch fastened to the lapel of his country's jacket.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. In other words, Claudius was so stunned by the bravery and grace of this centaur-like creature and so misled by his own dramatic ideas of it (his "shapes and tricks") that he failed to see exactly how great the Frenchman's actions were (he came "short" of or missed "the truth"). One could argue that Claudius did the same with Hamlet, thinking he was more especially devious, yet failing to see his true plan.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. "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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. As an adjective, "gallant" describes someone who's brave, courteous, and often showy. In its noun form, it stands in for that person, who in this case would be considered a gentleman or a noble. Here, Claudius uses the word "gallant" to indicate that the gentleman and his horse are as one, and that the creature they form is brave (preternaturally so, given that it has "witchcraft" in it).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. Claudius says that Laertes' greatest strength is his youth. Or, rather, his kind of youth, which doesn't sacrifice ambition (being "needful") to the light and careless livery (garb or disguise) that youth so often wears. Hamlet would be jealous of this because his youth has been spent studying, being dull and serious and lacking in any ambition (that others know of, at least).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Claudius picks up on the metaphor of being an instrument and says that Hamlet was "plucked" or played into being envious of Laertes by a quality that Claudius hasn't yet stated, but which has been spoken of very highly in court. Hamlet wasn't envious of any other "part" or characteristic of Laertes, but is envious of this.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. Here "organ" means "instrument," in the sense that Laertes wants to be the instrument in Claudius' plan to kill Hamlet. Though he's asking for the opportunity, it should be noted that Claudius has manipulated him into doing so, and that in reality Laertes has already been "played" like an instrument in a way that Hamlet can't be.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. Modern readers would rephrase this as "tell him to his face." Laertes wants to tell Hamlet, "You did this. It's your fault my father's dead and my sister's crazy," and then, presumably, kill him. Laertes is glad he'll get to see the day when Hamlet pays for his crimes. It remains to be seen whether this will work out as he planned.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. Note that Laertes doesn't say that Hamlet's return warms his heart, but rather that it warm the sickness in his heart, which we can here assume to be his hatred and thirst for revenge. The knowledge that Hamlet will return has spurred him on and "warmed" (or heightened) his desire to kill Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. Claudius thinks he understands what Hamlet is saying: that he comes humble and unarmed and, as he writes, alone, which he added to put Claudius at ease. He asks Laertes to "advise" him to bring Laertes in closer and subtly position them both against Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. Hamlet wants Claudius to think he's humble and vulnerable ("naked") and is returning to Denmark not to seek revenge but to find a sort of absolution. He preys on Claudius' vanity by referring to Denmark as Claudius' kingdom and promises that he's unarmed ("naked") so that the king's suspicions will be allayed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. Keep in mind that Claudius has sent Hamlet away to England to kill him and that he doesn't think he'll ever hear from the prince again. A letter to the opposite effect would make him vulnerable, so naturally his first response is to question its veracity (and then, quickly, to find out who's helping Hamlet, because that person would be an enemy).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  38. This messenger has been misinformed. We know from the last scene that Horatio was the one who received the letters, but evidently he didn't want anyone to know that they were sent to him and realize that he's colluding with Hamlet. Instead, Horatio handed the letters off to another guard, most likely, who passed them on to Claudio.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  39. Claudius gets interrupted by the messenger here, but based on his profession of his love for Polonius, we can assume that Claudius is trying to teach Laertes a lesson about assuming that a king's actions could be anything other than just. He doesn't get to make his point, however, so any interpretation of the line is necessarily speculative.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  40. In modern parlance, Claudius would tell Laertes not to lose any sleep over this whole revenge thing. It must be noted that the antecedent for Claudius "that" is revenge and not Ophelia's madness or Polonius' death. These are perfectly legitimate things to lose sleep over, but Claudius doesn't seem to think much of them.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  41. This line seems especially sinister when you remember that Laertes originally intended to exact his revenge on Claudius. Now that he knows the "truth" about Polonius' murder, he's just as likely to kill Claudius as he is Hamlet, making this line dark and foreboding.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  42. Laertes wishes that his praises of Ophelia, whose "worth" and sanity (and no doubt her virtue) were incontestable and could stand above anyone else's, could go back in time, where they're still accurate. In doing so, he emphasizes not only Ophelia's madness but how far she has fallen thanks to Claudius and Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  43. Taken in a literal sense, this line simply means that in this way Laertes has lost his father. However, given the use of the conjunction "and" at the beginning of the sentence, we can assume that Laertes is really saying, "Because of you, my father is dead," with as much contempt and derision as he can possibly show the king.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  44. A "gyve" is a shackle or chain which has been used to restrain a prisoner. Converting gyves to graces means exchanging the shackles for a "grace" or pardon, born of the public's favor and goodwill, which would set Hamlet free against Claudius' wishes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  45. In this case, "gender" doesn't refer to the performative ideas of male and female but is rather an abbreviation of "engendered," which means to bear, conceive, or produce. Thus, this line reads, the love that the general public feels (or has produced) for Hamlet, which keeps Claudius from putting him in jail.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  46. This is an allusion to Ptolemaic astronomy, which postulated that each planet (or "star") was carried around Earth in its fixed orbit in a crystalline sphere. Claudius implies with this figurative language that he could no more go against Gertrude's desire than a "star" could go out of its fixed, predetermined orbit.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  47. Today, to "live by your looks" means to making a living on your looks, but Claudius means that Gertrude's emotional state (or life) is highly affected by Hamlet's emotional state (as visible in the look on his face). That she lives "almost" by his looks suggests that, while she's affected by her son's madness, she isn't entirely moved by it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  48. Claudius feels confident that when Laertes hears his side of the story, the young man will acquit him of Polonius' murder and turn his attention instead on the real culprit. Of course, the audience knows that Polonius' murder was really brought about by their spying on Hamlet, but Claudius conveniently leaves out his culpability.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  49. 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.

    — William Delaney
  50. "Hand" meaning "handwriting." Laertes attempts to sort out the debate by asking whether or not Claudius recognizes Hamlet's handwriting. Since handwriting analysis was not yet a science, this wouldn't be considered conclusive now, but would've passed back then for confirmation of the letter's authenticity.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  51. 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).

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  52. To be "sinewy" means to be strong or to have a lot of sinews, which connects our muscles. To be "unsinew'd" then means to be weak or to not have a lot of sinews, making Claudius seem cowardly and feeble because he doesn't pursue Hamlet. Claudius says that Laertes might think him weak because of this, but he actually had very good reasons.

    — Karen P.L. Hardison