Act V - Scene II

[Elsinore. A hall in the Castle.]

Enter Hamlet and Horatio.

So much for this, sir; now shall you see the other.
You do remember all the circumstance?
Remember it, my lord!
Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay(5)
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—
And praised be rashness, for it let us know,
Our indiscretion sometime serves us well
When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,(10)
Rough-hew them how we will—
That is most certain.
Up from my cabin,
My sea-gown scarf'd about me, in the dark
Groped I to find out them; had my desire,(15)
Fingered their packet, and in fine withdrew
To mine own room again, making so bold
My fears forgetting manners, to unseal
Their grand commission; where I found, Horatio—
O royal knavery!—an exact command,(20)
Larded with many several sorts of reasons,
Importing Denmark's health, and England's too,
With, ho! such bugs and goblins in my life,
That on the supervise, no leisure bated,
No, not to stay the grinding of the axe,(25)
My head should be struck off.
Is't possible?
Here's the commission; read it at more leisure.
But wilt thou hear me how I did proceed?
I beseech you.(30)
Being thus benetted round with villainies—
Or I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play—I sat me down,
Devised a new commission, wrote it fair.
I once did hold it, as our statists do,(35)
A baseness to write fair, and labour'd much
How to forget that learning; but, sir, now
It did me yeoman's service. Wilt thou know
The effect of what I wrote?
Ay, good my lord.(40)
An earnest conjuration from the King,
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish,
As peace should still her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma 'tween their amities,(45)
And many such like as's of great charge,
That on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further, more or less,
He should the bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving-time allow'd.(50)
How was this seal'd?
Why, even in that was heaven ordinant.
I had my father's signet in my purse,
Which was the model of that Danish seal;
Folded the writ up in the form of the other,(55)
Subscribed it, gave't the impression, placed it safely,
The changeling never known. Now, the next day
Was our sea-fight; and what to this was sequent
Thou know'st already.
So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't.(60)
Why, man, they did make love to this employment!
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow.
'tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensed points(65)
Of mighty opposites.
Why, what a king is this!
Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon—
He that hath kill'd my king, and whored my mother;
Popp'd in between the election and my hopes;(70)
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage—is't not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is't not to be damn'd
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil?(75)
It must be shortly known to him from England
What is the issue of the business there.
It will be short; the interim is mine,
And a man's life's is no more than to say 'One.'
But I am very sorry, good Horatio,(80)
That to Laertes I forgot myself,
For by the image of my cause I see
The portraiture of his. I'll court his favours.
But, sure, the bravery of his grief did put me
Into a towering passion.(85)
Peace, who comes here?

Enter [young Osric,] a courtier.

Your lordship is right welcome back to Denmark.
I humbly thank you, sir. [Aside to Horatio.] Dost know
this water-fly?

[Aside to Hamlet.]

No, my good lord.(90)

[Aside to Horatio.]

Thy state is the more gracious; for
'tis a vice to know him. He hath much land, and fertile. Let a
beast be lord of beasts, and his crib shall stand at the king's
mess. 'tis a chough; but, as I say, spacious in the pos-
session of dirt.(95)
Sweet lord, if your lordship were at leisure, I should
impart a thing to you from his Majesty.
I will receive it, sir, with all diligence of spirit. Put your
bonnet to his right use. 'tis for the head.
I thank your lordship, it is very hot.(100)
No, believe me, 'tis very cold; the wind is northerly.
It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my
Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry, as 'twere—I can-(105)
not tell how. But, my lord, his Majesty bade me signify to
you that he has laid a great wager on your head. Sir, this is
the matter—
I beseech you remember—

[Hamlet moves him to put on his hat.]

Nay, good my lord; for mine ease, in good faith. Sir,(110)
here is newly come to court Laertes; believe me, an
absolute gentleman, full of most excellent differences, of
very soft society and great showing. Indeed, to speak
feelingly of him, he is the card or calendar of gentry;
for you shall find in him the continent of what part a gen-(115)
tleman would see.
Sir, his definement suffers no perdition in you;
though, I know, to divide him inventorially would dizzy
the arithmetic of memory, and yet but yaw neither, in
respect of his quick sail. But, in the verity of extolment,(120)
I take him to be a soul of great article, and his
infusion of such dearth and rareness as, to make true
diction of him, his semblable is his mirror, and who
else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more.
Your lordship speaks most infallibly of him.(125)
The concernancy, sir? Why do we wrap the gen-
tleman in our more rawer breath?
Is't not possible to understand in another tongue?
You will to't, sir, really.(130)
What imports the nomination of this gentleman?
Of Laertes?


His purse is empty already. All's golden
words are spent.
Of him, sir.(135)
I know you are not ignorant—
I would you did, sir; yet, in faith, if you did, it would
not much approve me. Well, sir?
You are not ignorant of what excellence Laertes is—
I dare not confess that, lest I should compare with(140)
him in excellence; but to know a man well were to know
I mean, sir, for his weapon; but in the imputation laid
on him by them, in his meed he's unfellowed.
What's his weapon?(145)
Rapier and dagger.
That's two of his weapons. But, well.
The King, sir, hath wager'd with him six Barbary horses;
against the which he has impawned, as I take it, six French
rapiers and poniards, with their assigns, as girdle,(150)
hanger, and so. Three of the carriages, in faith, are very
dear to fancy, very responsive to the hilts, most delicate
carriages, and of very liberal conceit.
What call you the carriages?

[Aside to Hamlet.]

I knew you must be edified by(155)
the margent ere you had done.
The carriages, sir, are the hangers.
The phrase would be more German to the matter if
we could carry a cannon by our sides. I would it might be
hangers till then. But on! Six Barbary horses against six(160)
French swords, their assigns, and three liberal-conceited car-
riages—that's the French bet against the Danish. Why is this
'impawned,' as you call it?
The King, sir, hath laid, sir, that, in a dozen passes
between yourself and him, he shall not exceed you three hits;(165)
he hath laid on twelve for nine, and it would come to imme-
diate trial, if your lordship would vouchsafe the answer.
How if I answer no?
I mean, my lord, the opposition of your person in trial.
Sir, I will walk here in the hall. If it please his Majesty,(170)
it is the breathing time of day with me. Let the foils be
brought, the gentleman willing, and the King hold his pur-
pose, I will win for him an I can; if not, I will gain nothing
but my shame and the odd hits.
Shall I redeliver you e'en so?(175)
To this effect, sir, after what flourish your nature
I commend my duty to your lordship.
Yours, yours. He does well to commend it himself;
there are no tongues else for's turn.(180)
This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.
He did comply with his dug before he sucked it.
Thus has he—and many more of the same bevy that I
know the drossy age dotes on—only got the tune of the
time and outward habit of encounter, a kind of yesty collection,(185)
which carries them through and through the most
fanned and winnowed opinions; and do but blow
them to their trial, the bubbles are out.

Enter a Lord.

My lord, his Majesty commended him to you by young
Osric, who brings back to him that you attend him in the(190)
hall. He sends to know if your pleasure hold to play with
Laertes, or that you will take longer time.
I am constant to my purposes; they follow the King's
pleasure. If his fitness speaks, mine is ready; now or when-
soever, provided I be so able as now.(195)
The King and Queen and all are coming down.
In happy time.
The Queen desires you to use some gentle entertainment
to Laertes before you fall to play.
She well instructs me.(200)
You will lose this wager, my lord.
I do not think so. Since he went into France I have
been in continual practice. I shall win at the odds. But thou
wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart. But it
is no matter.(205)
Nay, good my lord—
It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving
as would perhaps trouble a woman.
If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestall
their repair hither and say you are not fit.(210)
Not a whit, we defy augury; there's a special
Providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to
come, if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now,
yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man has
aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.(215)

[Enter King, Queen, Laertes, Osric, and Lords, with other Attendants with foils and gauntlets. A table prepared withflagons of wine on it.]

Come, Hamlet, come, and take this hand from me.

[The King puts Laertes' hand into Hamlet's.]

Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong;
But pardon't, as you are a gentleman.
This presence knows,
And you must needs have heard, how I am punish'd(220)
With sore distraction. What I have done
That might your nature, honour, and exception
Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
Was't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes? Never Hamlet.
If Hamlet from himself be taken away,(225)
And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it.
Who does it, then? His madness. If't be so,
Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd;
His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.(230)
Sir, in this audience,
Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts
That I have shot my arrow o'er the house
And hurt my brother.(235)
I am satisfied in nature,
Whose motive in this case should stir me most
To my revenge. But in my terms of honour
I stand aloof, and will no reconcilement
Till by some elder masters of known honour(240)
I have a voice and precedent of peace
To keep my name ungor'd. But till that time
I do receive your offer'd love like love,
And will not wrong it.
I embrace it freely,(245)
And will this brother's wager frankly play.—
Give us the foils. Come on.
Come, one for me.
I'll be your foil, Laertes. In mine ignorance
Your skill shall, like a star i' the darkest night,(250)
Stick fiery off indeed.
You mock me, sir.
No, by this hand.
Give them the foils, young Osric. Cousin Hamlet,
You know the wager?(255)
Very well, my lord.
Your Grace has laid the odds o' the weaker side.
I do not fear it, I have seen you both;
But since he is better'd, we have therefore odds.
This is too heavy; let me see another.(260)
This likes me well. These foils have all a length?
Ay, my good lord.

[They prepare to play.]

Set me the stoups of wine upon that table.
If Hamlet give the first or second hit,
Or quit in answer of the third exchange,(265)
Let all the battlements their ordnance fire;
The King shall drink to Hamlet's better breath,
And in the cup an union shall he throw
Richer than that which four successive kings
In Denmark's crown have worn. Give me the cups;(270)
And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,
The trumpet to the cannoneer without,
The cannons to the heavens, the heaven to earth,
‘Now the King drinks to Hamlet.’ Come, begin.
And you the judges, bear a wary eye.(275)
Come on, sir.
Come, my lord.
A hit, a very palpable hit.
Well, again!
Stay, give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine;
Here's to thy health.

Drum, trumpets, and shots. A piece goes off.

Give him the cup.(285)
I'll play this bout first; set it by awhile.
Come. Another hit. What say you?
A touch, a touch; I do confess.
Our son shall win.
He's fat, and scant of breath.(290)
Here, Hamlet, take my napkin, rub thy brows.
The Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.
Good madam!
Gertrude, do not drink.
I will, my lord; I pray you pardon me.(295)
It is the poison'd cup; it is too late.
I dare not drink yet, madam—by-and-by.
Come, let me wipe thy face.
My lord, I'll hit him now.
I do not think't.(300)
And yet it is almost against my conscience.
Come for the third, Laertes! You but dally.
I pray you, pass with your best violence;
I am afeard you make a wanton of me.
Say you so? Come on. Play.(305)
Nothing, neither way.
Have at you now!

[Laertes wounds Hamlet. Then in scuffling, they change rapiers, and Hamlet wounds Laertes.]

Part them! They are incensed.
Nay come! again!
Look to the Queen there, ho!(310)
They bleed on both sides. How is it, my lord?
How is't, Laertes?
Why, as a woodcock to mine own springe, Osric.
I am justly kill'd with mine own treachery.
How does the Queen?(315)
She swoons to see them bleed.
No, no! the drink, the drink!—O my dear Hamlet!—
The drink, the drink! I am poison'd.
O villainy! Ho! let the door be lock'd.
Treachery! Seek it out.(320)
It is here, Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain;
No medicine in the world can do thee good.
In thee there is not half an hour of life.
The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenom'd. The foul practice(325)
Hath turn'd itself on me. Lo, here I lie,
Never to rise again. Thy mother's poison'd.
I can no more. The King, the King's to blame.
The point envenom'd too! Then, venom, to thy work.

[Stabs the King.]

Treason! treason!(330)
O, yet defend me, friends! I am but hurt.
Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,
Drink off this potion! Is thy union here?
Follow my mother.

[King dies.]

He is justly served.(335)
It is a poison temper'd by himself.
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me!


Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.(340)
I am dead, Horatio. Wretched Queen, adieu!
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time—as this fell sergeant, Death,
Is strict in his arrest—O, I could tell you—(345)
But let it be. Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.
Never believe it.
I am more an antique Romanthan a Dane.(350)
Here's yet some liquor left.
As th'art a man,
Give me the cup. Let go! By heaven, I'll have't.
O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!(355)
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

[March far off, and shot within.]

What warlike noise is this?(360)
Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland,
To the ambassadors of England gives
This warlike volley.
O, I die, Horatio!
The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit.(365)
I cannot live to hear the news from England,
But I do prophesy the election lights
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice.
So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited—The rest is silence.(370)


Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

[March within.]

Why does the drum come hither?

Enter Fortinbras and the Ambassadors, [with Drum, Colours, and Attendants.]

Where is this sight?
What is it you will see?(375)
If aught of woe or wonder, cease your search.
This quarry cries on havoc. O proud Death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?(380)
The sight is dismal;
And our affairs from England come too late.
The ears are senseless that should give us hearing
To tell him his commandment is fulfill'd
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.(385)
Where should we have our thanks?
Not from his mouth,
Had it the ability of life to thank you.
He never gave commandment for their death.
But since, so jump upon this bloody question,(390)
You from the Polack wars, and you from England,
Are here arrived, give order that these bodies
High on a stage be placed to the view;
And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about. So shall you hear(395)
Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts;
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause;
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall'n on the inventors' heads. All this can I(400)
Truly deliver.
Let us haste to hear it,
And call the noblest to the audience.
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.
I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,(405)
Which now, to claim my vantage doth invite me.
Of that I shall have also cause to speak,
And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more.
But let this same be presently perform'd,
Even while men's minds are wild, lest more mischance(410)
On plots and errors happen.
Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal; and, for his passage,(415)
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies. Such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.(420)

Exeunt [marching; after the which a peal of ordnance is shot off.]



  1. Notice that Fortinbras immediately acts when confronted with death and tragedy. Fortinbras acts as a foil to Hamelt's character. Fortinbras is also the son of a murdered king and deceitful uncle. However, while Hamlet was stuck in indecision and melancholy, Fortinbras reclaimed his right to the throne. Fortinbras represents action, while Hamlet represents inaction. For this reason, Fortinbras is able to restore order to Hamlet's kingdom and bring about the redemptive ending to this tragedy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. While Horatio cautions Hamlet not to fight Laertes when the King so obviously wants him dead, Hamlet uses these lines to dismiss Horatio's worries and accept the challenge anyway. He declares that omens mean nothing to him and that God will decide his fate. This is the final change in Hamlet's character. Whereas at the beginning of the play Hamlet might have over thought this decision and weighed the options through a psychoanalytic soliloquy, here he recognizes his fate is out of his hands and accepts it for whatever it might be.

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

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Hamlet has declared that he scored a touch, but Laertes denies it. Hamlet appeals to Osric, the usually sycophantic judge, who confirms Hamlet's "very palpable hit." Laertes concedes.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Horatio wants everything to be cleared up quickly so that order can be restored before there's more bloodshed. In some ways, Horatio feels that this is a performance where they must go through the motions until Fortinbras has been installed as king and everyone is satisfied. Royal succession was a very formal process, so it's not surprising that he thinks of it as a performance.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. In this context, the "sight" means the horror of the battle or the scene of the crime, not "sights" as in tourist attractions or forms of entertainment. Remember that Fortinbras had recently stopped in at the castle on his way to Poland and that there was no indication then of something going wrong. His question isn't born so much of disbelief as surprise (and, perhaps, self-interest).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Notice that of all the characters in the play, only Gertrude and Horatio think of Hamlet as lovable or sweet. All of his so-called "friends" have abandoned him, and everyone in the castle thinks of him as mad, and yet, both Gertrude and Horatio are willing to forgive him. This is a testament both to the strength of those bonds and to Hamlet's essential goodness: he didn't want to be a killer; it was just the situation.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. "Occurents" meaning occurrences or events. Hamlet wants Fortinbras in particular to know of what happened because it seems most likely, given the power vacuum, that Fortinbras will now make a play for the Danish throne and take over the castle. Hamlet wants the new king to think well of him, which suggests that, though he hated Claudius, he still has great respect for the throne.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. "Felicity" meaning happiness or joy. Hamlet wants Horatio to give up on his own happiness for a while in order to tell Hamlet's story. This is the second time he has asked, and it's beginning to feel unlikely that anyone will truly understand what has happened. If Horatio doesn't explain it to the others, the truth of King Hamlet's murder will never be known, and Hamlet will forever be remembered as a mad prince.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Hamlet and Horatio struggle over the poisoned cup, from which the latter has attempted to drink in order to avoid the aftermath of this scene. Hamlet appeals to Horatio's sense of honor and masculinity, saying, "As thou art a man," as if to say a real man would give him the cup. Hamlet's adherence to gender norms should be understood as a product of the times and as a kind of sexism that every single male character almost certainly espoused.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. A woodcock is a migratory bird known for its large eyes and long bill. In literature, writers often play on the fact that the woodcock can be easy to snare, as Shakespeare does when Laertes has been caught in his own "springe" or trap. In this scene, bird metaphors have been used to indicate that a character is foolish, and Laertes is no exception.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. Typically, the word "wanton" refers to someone undisciplined, unruly, unscrupulous, and, at times, overly lustful and sexual. In this case, it means someone who has been pampered or treated with too much deference, so much so that they've become spoiled. One could argue that this is true not just of this fencing match but of Hamlet's upbringing in general, which has been especially coddling.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. Claudius uses the promise of a strong drink as cover to take Hamlet's cup and poison it like the tip of Laertes' foil. If Hamlet weren't busy preparing for the match, he would likely be able to see through Claudius' pompous ostentation, but because he's distracted, he doesn't think to watch his cup or fear for a second danger in addition to Laertes' sword.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. "Quit" should be understood here as "requite," or to pay Laertes back for making a hit. Claudius arranges it so that if Hamlet does well (making a hit early in the match, or winning outright), the soldiers on the "battlements" or parapets will fire a round to announce his victory. This would be expected of a king whose prince was involved in a duel, and Claudius wants everyone to think that he's nothing if not proper.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. Recall that in Act IV, Scene VII, Claudius told Laertes that if he had attempted to punish Hamlet for Polonius' murder, that arrow would have "reverted to [his] bow." Shakespeare uses a similar image here to underscore the similarities between Claudius and Hamlet, who have become more and more alike as the play has progressed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. Hamlet cleverly begins to speak of himself in the third person, suggesting a literal divide between his actions and his true self. This alone would make him seem mad in an otherwise proper and officious environment. It would also be reason enough for Laertes to forgive him (if not because they're reconciled, then because Laertes can't bring himself to blame someone who seems out of his mind).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. Hamlet has never before and will never again say that he's mad as if he truly believes it. From the start, Hamlet intended to use his false "madness" as a failsafe should his plan backfire, and for the past five acts he has merely been laying the groundwork. Now, he finally puts that failsafe to use, manipulating Laertes into forgiving him for things that shouldn't be forgiven.

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

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. If we retrace our steps to find the antecedent of "it," we find that "it" refers to the ill around Hamlet's heart. He says here that it was just a joke or a bit of "foolery," but that even so it's serious enough that he has misgivings ("gain-giving"). He tries to be brave and say that the misgivings would only be a problem for a "woman" (in this context, a weak person), but he's beginning to realize that there's something wrong.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. It's unclear how much time has passed in the play, but one can safely assume that it has been a mere matter of weeks. In all that time, Hamlet has been plotting against Claudius, trying to save his own life, and hasn't appeared to have had any time to spar. Shakespeare knew that Hamlet wouldn't be a match for Laertes otherwise and included this line so the audience wouldn't think his defeat was a foregone conclusion.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. Hamlet made it very clear to Osric that they should start preparing for the fencing match immediately, but this appears to have been lost in translation to this Lord. Hamlet says he's "constant to [his] purposes" (his mind hasn't changed) out of both pride and irritation: Claudius' messengers are hounding him needlessly, and Hamlet wants them to stop so he can start the match.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. "Dug" meaning a pap or teat of an animal who feeds their newborns on milk. Hamlet quips that when Osric was a baby he must've bowed to his mother's breast before he sucked it. This is at once a cruel joke (that he's weak and submissive) and a backhanded compliment (that he's actually very simple and polite). In the end, Osric's character is nothing but comic relief.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. Recall that Hamlet earlier referred to the age as "picked" and that he thinks there aren't any worthwhile men left. Here, Shakespeare uses the word "drossy" to mean impure, implying that this age has seen too much mixing between the upper and lower classes. This could be seen as an essentially classist remark, and if not for Hamlet's earlier claim that fishmongers are the only honest men one could argue that Hamlet is an elitist.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. A lapwing is a kind of bird in the plover family. Here, Horatio refers to a myth that used to circulate about lapwing chicks, who were believed to run around with their eggshells on their heads, like helmets. Horatio has picked up on Hamlet's animal imagery and extended the metaphor of Osric as a little annoying bird.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. Hamlet still doesn't know about Claudius' plot and is convinced that he has time to carry out his own plan before news about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern comes from England. "The breathing time" means the time when he's free to be alive, which Hamlet intends to enjoy. In fact, he thinks the fencing match will be fun, regardless of whether or not he wins. The audience, of course, knows better.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. More germaine, or pertinent. Hamlet bristles a little at Horatio's joke and sneers at Osric's phrase, saying that it (and, thus, not knowing it) isn't in the least bit important. If Hamlet weren't quite so arrogant, this little misunderstanding could've been avoided, but he enjoys playing with Osric, and the audience needs some comic relief after the previous scene.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. To "edify" means to teach or instruct, whereas "margent" means "in the margin" of a page or marginal. Horatio jokes that he knew Hamlet would get tripped up someday if he kept teasing people like this, and now it's finally happened. The irony is that it happened over something so small and worthless.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. "Assigns" in this context means "accessories," such as a girdle or a "hanger," a loop or strap from a belt used to hang a sword. Often, a hanger will be richly ornamented, and the sword will come encrusted with jewels. Osric refers to three of these "hangers" as "carriages" (or sheaths for a sword). This is very unusual phrasing and will momentarily trip Hamlet up.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Hamlet doesn't think Osric is intelligent enough to understand or determine whether or not Hamlet is indeed ignorant. He would like the courtier to be smarter because then this conversation would be worthwhile. Then again, if Osric were able to tell if Hamlet was ignorant, that wouldn't reflect very well on Hamlet (or "approve" him). Once again, he's talking circles around Osric, showing off because he can.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. Horatio expresses disappointment in this aside that Osric wasn't able to stand up longer to Hamlet's word play. He started out showering Laertes with all those "golden words" (praise), but now he's worn out and just says things like, "Sir?" that could be translated as, "Huh?" Horatio knows that Hamlet is going to embarrass Osric.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. Shakespeare appears to have been the first writer to use "concernancy" in place of "concern" or "interest." Hamlet appears to be asking what the point of all this talk of Laertes is, but his use of an invented word (understandably) confuses Osric. Hamlet seems to have done so deliberately, knowing that Osric wouldn't be able to keep up.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. To list or take inventory of all his fine qualities would be too taxing on one's memory, because there's just so much to say about Laertes. In these lines, Hamlet makes use of hyperbole to both humiliate Osric and subtly undercut Laertes, who can't possibly be as good as Osric says he is.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. Laertes' description (or "definement") isn't misrepresented here and isn't ruined ("suffers no perdition") by lies or mischaracterizations. Hamlet has a high opinion of Laertes, given everything, but finds Osric's high praise amusing, because it's spoken in such an earnest and simplistic way. In the next lines, Hamlet will mock Osric's manner of speech, exaggerating Laertes' good qualities to great effect.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. Hamlet has made Osric uncomfortable by reaching out and trying to force him to put on his hat. It's unusual for a prince to ever touch or be touched by a member of the lower classes, and reaching out to one was extremely rare. Osric practically begs Hamlet not to when he says, "For mine ease." One can imagine him getting very flustered and having to get his bearing afterward. Of course, he's still holding his hat.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. Without the context of the fencing match, Claudius' wager seems like reason for alarm. It could be read as Claudius putting a bounty on his head, but Hamlet doesn't seem to think much of it, instead leaning in to put Osric's hat on his head. In this line, he doesn't beseech him to remember the bet so much as ask him to remember Hamlet's request that he wear his hat. Hamlet appears to do this to amuse himself.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. A species of bird in the crow family, also sometimes applied to a loud bird like a Jackdaw, whose chattering annoys Hamlet. Shakespeare mixes metaphors here, describing Osric as both a water-fly (a small insect) and a bird (with an irritating voice). He does this to diminish Osric and succeeds without the audience much caring about the mixed metaphor.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. Hamlet tells Horatio that anyone with land and some money can buy his way into the king's court and sit as his table. Hamlet finds this contemptible and associates Osric with a class of courtiers that isn't worth his time or consideration. Of course, as prince, Hamlet would be obliged to know of Osric, which seems to have made him especially bitter.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  38. A water-fly is a bright, iridescent insect that seems to walk on water. This metaphor implies that Osric is a slight and insignificant man, and that Hamlet doesn't really understand why someone so lowly dares to speak to him. Shakespeare uses this aside to give the audience information about Osric's character, social status, and importance, and prepares us for brief, amusing exchange that will lull Hamlet into a sense of security.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  39. Hamlet has a very small window in which to act before news comes from England that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been killed. More than anyone else, he's counting the days and minutes he has left; but this, as he says, is the nature of life. It's so short that it feels like we only count to "one" before it ends. This line serves as a painful reminder that this is the last scene.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  40. Hamlet sees himself in Laertes. Their fathers have both been killed, their hearts are set on revenge, and it's only because Claudius got to Laertes first that the two aren't currently united against the king. Unfortunately for Hamlet, he doesn't know that part yet and thinks that Laertes lunged at him because of his relationship with Ophelia, not the murder of Polonius.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  41. Hamlet feels that it's righteous to kill Claudius. He's said this before, with various supporting arguments, and here likens Claudius to a canker or sore to make it seem like he's obligated to get rid of this disease. That he feels the need to justify his actions underscores the fact that he's had to think his way out of feeling guilty about the murder he intends to commit.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  42. "Cozenage" means to cheat or deceive. Hamlet feels that Claudius has stolen his rightful life, curtailing the usual process of inheriting the throne from one's father by cutting Hamlet off right before he was ready to become king. "And with such cozenage" should be read with incredulity, as if he can't believe that the fiend has gotten away with it thus far.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  43. In other words, it's dangerous to come between two parties that have stopped being kind (or letting things pass) but haven't yet started an outright war (or come to the point of no return). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's deaths are just collateral damage in the fight between Hamlet and Claudius. What's worse, they were on the wrong side, so naturally Hamlet feels no remorse for them. They weren't really his friends.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  44. In this context, "changeling" means the exchanged letter. In general, however, changelings are mythological creatures that are substituted for human children by faeries making mischief. Such a changeling is usually demonic in nature and not well received by its parents. If Claudius had known that his letter (here figured as a child) had been changed, he would've disowned it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  45. If heaven is "ordinant," then it's giving orders or commanding Hamlet's actions. Hamlet has already stated that he thinks his plan has been helped by divine providence and here expresses both his gratitude and surprise that heaven helped him in this regard.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  46. A "signet" is a small seal used for signing official documents (typically by pressing the signet into hot wax and leaving its impression). King Hamlet's seal would be identical or near identical to Claudius', and would've served to make Hamlet's letter an official order. Hamlet in all likelihood kept his father's signet for sentimental purposes, not intending to use it. He chooses to view having it on his person when he needed it most as a sign that his intentions are ordained by heaven.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  47. "Shriving-time" would be time for confession or pleas for mercy. That Hamlet doesn't allow the bearers of this letter (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) this courtesy might seem cruel, considering their former friendship, but remember that Claudius was going to do the same to him, and that Hamlet has no reason want to keep Claudius' spies alive.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  48. Hamlet has been taught to write (and speak) in these poetic lines, but had to stop doing so to fake the letter from Claudius to the English and write it "fair" (or without flourishes and meter) like a statesman. In some ways, this entire play has been a process of unlearning for Hamlet, as he's had to strip away his scholarly ambitions and beliefs in order to devote himself to his revenge and avoid being killed.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  49. Hamlet notes that he wasn't the one who started this. Picking up on the theme of acting and performance, he says that they (the villains) started the "play" of murderous deceit and revenge by plotting to kill King Hamlet, and that they've all just been playing their roles so far. Another way to put this would be that they started it, but Hamlet intends to finish it.

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

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  51. Hamlet appears to revel in having bested Claudius' plan and saved himself. Shakespeare repeats the word "leisure" to indicate that his protagonist has bought himself more time by averting his own death. Hamlet not only enjoys being alive now, but enjoys living in spite of Claudius. He tells Horatio, "Take all the time you need," because he feels no particular rush.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  52. "On the supervise" should here be read as "on the first reading" of the letter, with no time wasted (or "leisure bated"). Claudius needed the English court to kill Hamlet immediately, before he had any time to defend himself or convince them that he wasn't crazy. The speed at which he was to be killed appears to offend Hamlet as much as the fact that his death was ordered, suggesting that even in death he expected to be treated like a prince.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  53. Hamlet snuck into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's cabin in the dark to find them out and discovered their true mission. Remember that at that point in the narrative Hamlet wasn't sure how and if he would ever get back to Denmark, and that this plan to return only formed after he found his former friends out. Thus, we can see that his "rashness" in sneaking into their cabin paid off, just as he described.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  54. Notice the irony in this swift aside: Hamlet very rashly got out of bed, but we don't learn about this until after Horatio's line of dialogue, because Hamlet gets caught up in a semantic analysis of what it means to be rash and how this either affects or doesn't affect his plan. Thus, we see that even when he does behave impulsively, his intellect keeps him from being entirely spontaneous.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  55. "Bilboes" are long metal bars with shackles on them that lock around a prisoner's ankles and fix them to the ground. To sleep with bilboes would be very uncomfortable, resulting in mutinies ("mutines") of the body as it struggles to get to sleep. Thus, Hamlet implies that he was tossing and turning in his sleep, thinking about his plan. It's unclear whether this is an indication of fear or a symptom of mania.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  56. "Aught" meaning to possess or to own. Having struggled with Hamlet, Horatio may be kneeling beside him or even holding his dead body, meaning that he would have to look up to answer Fortinbras' question. In the line, "What is it you will see?" the audience sees that Horatio is completely devastated by Hamlet's death and can hardly believe it himself (hence, the "woe or wonder" he feels for what's happened).

    — Karen P.L. Hardison
  57. Hamlet doesn't feel remorse for sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. He accuses them of complying with King Claudius's plot against him. We do not know, however, whether Rosencrantz or Guildenstern were ever aware of the plot. They may not have realized that they were taking Hamlet to England for execution.

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

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  59. In ancient Rome, a group of philosophers known as the Stoics believed that it was nobler to face death and commit suicide than to compromise oneself in the way Hamlet asks Horatio to. These Stoics accepted their lack of control over external circumstances and made up for it with a strong sense of morality and bravery. Horatio intends to commit suicide by drinking the poison so that he can preserve his honor as Hamlet's friend.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  60. Claudius has bet on Hamlet to win and staked much more on him than Laertes has staked. Since Laertes is known to be the better swordsman, odds have been placed so that he has to make three times as many "hits" (or points of contact) in order to win the match. Claudius has done this so that the match will appear even and so that no one will suspect him if something goes wrong.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  61. Recall that a "foil" or "rapier" is a thin blunted fencing sword, unlike a real sword with a broad blade. Hamlet says that he's such a terrible swordsman that Laertes will be able to use him like a foil, or in other words beat him easily. He may also be suggesting that Laertes can use him like a weapon to get at their real enemy, Claudius.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  62. "Ungor'd" here means unblemished or untouched by defamation or dishonor. Hamlet's apparent madness makes Laertes want to forgive him, but Laertes can't possibly do so until some council of his elders decides that there's a way to do so without ruining his name or his honor. Thus, Laertes would appear very reasonable in an uncomfortable situation, while at the same time plotting Hamlet's death.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  63. In fencing, rapiers lead a charge and daggers fended off an attack. That Laertes is skilled with both the rapier and the dagger means that he's good at both attack and defense, which makes him a hard opponent to beat. Hamlet's only hope is to outthink Laertes, who, in spite of his skill, isn't the greatest strategic thinker and has allowed himself to be taken in by Claudius.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  64. An "umbrage" is a shadow (in this case, Laertes' shadow). Hamlet is being sarcastic, saying that Laertes can only be matched by his own reflection in a mirror and that anyone who tried to be like him ("trace him") would be nothing but a shadow of Laertes, or that they would pale in comparison to the great nobleman. Osric doesn't understand that Hamlet is being sarcastic, however, which makes it all the funnier.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  65. In Hamlet's time, hats were often worn indoors but were removed in the presence of the higher classes and royalty. Osric has therefore removed his hat and will continue to hold it even though Hamlet tells him to put it back on his head. Hamlet may be testing him and his manners, just as he tested Polonius in Act III, Scene II when asking him about the clouds.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi
  66. Hamlet says that no matter how badly we "hew" or destroy our plans by being too clever for our own good, there is someone looking out for us. Otherwise, how could his plan still be in motion, even after he rashly killed Polonius? "Indiscretions" or mistakes sometimes work in his favor, which is both a testament to his tactical skill and the failure of his enemies to properly anticipate it.

    — Tyler Yamaguchi