Print Friendly, PDF & Email


ACT III SCENE IIA hall in the castle.
[Enter HAMLET and Players]
HAMLETSpeak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;5
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to10
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.15
First PlayerI warrant your honour.
HAMLETBe not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special observance o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is20
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,25
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o’erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others30
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature’s journeymen had made men and not made them35
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.
First PlayerI hope we have reformed that indifferently with us,
HAMLETO, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;40
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that’s villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition45
in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.
[Exeunt Players]
How now, my lord! I will the king hear this piece of work?
LORD POLONIUSAnd the queen too, and that presently.
HAMLETBid the players make haste.
Will you two help to hasten them?50
GUILDENSTERNWe will, my lord.
HAMLETWhat ho! Horatio!
HORATIOHere, sweet lord, at your service.
HAMLETHoratio, thou art e’en as just a man
As e’er my conversation coped withal.55
HORATIOO, my dear lord,–
HAMLETNay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?60
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election65
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,70
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,

As I do thee.–Something too much of this.–

There is a play to-night before the king;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul80
Observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him heedful note;85
For I mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgments join
In censure of his seeming.
HORATIOWell, my lord:
If he steal aught the whilst this play is playing,90
And ‘scape detecting, I will pay the theft.
HAMLETThey are coming to the play; I must be idle:
Get you a place.
KING CLAUDIUSHow fares our cousin Hamlet?
HAMLETExcellent, i’ faith; of the chameleon’s dish: I eat95
the air, promise-crammed: you cannot feed capons so.
KING CLAUDIUSI have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words
are not mine.
HAMLETNo, nor mine now.
My lord, you played once i’ the university, you say?100
LORD POLONIUSThat did I, my lord; and was accounted a good actor.
HAMLETWhat did you enact?
LORD POLONIUSI did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i’ the
Capitol; Brutus killed me.
HAMLETIt was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf105
there. Be the players ready?
ROSENCRANTZAy, my lord; they stay upon your patience.
QUEEN GERTRUDECome hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
HAMLETNo, good mother, here’s metal more attractive.
LORD POLONIUS[To KING CLAUDIUS] O, ho! do you mark that?110
HAMLETLady, shall I lie in your lap?
[Lying down at OPHELIA’s feet]
OPHELIANo, my lord.
HAMLETI mean, my head upon your lap?
OPHELIAAy, my lord.
HAMLETDo you think I meant country matters?115
OPHELIAI think nothing, my lord.
HAMLETThat’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.
OPHELIAWhat is, my lord?
OPHELIAYou are merry, my lord.120
OPHELIAAy, my lord.
HAMLETO God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do
but be merry? for, look you, how cheerfully my
mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.125
OPHELIANay, ’tis twice two months, my lord.
HAMLETSo long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for
I’ll have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two
months ago, and not forgotten yet? Then there’s
hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half130
a year: but, by’r lady, he must build churches,
then; or else shall he suffer not thinking on, with
the hobby-horse, whose epitaph is ‘For, O, for, O,
the hobby-horse is forgot.’
[Hautboys play. The dumb-show enters]
[ Enter a King and a Queen very lovingly; the Queen embracing him, and he her. She kneels, and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck: lays him down upon a bank of flowers: she, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison in the King’s ears, and exit. The Queen returns; finds the King dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner, with some two or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The dead body is carried away. The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts: she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love ]
OPHELIAWhat means this, my lord?135
HAMLETMarry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.
OPHELIABelike this show imports the argument of the play.
[Enter Prologue]
HAMLETWe shall know by this fellow: the players cannot
keep counsel; they’ll tell all.
OPHELIAWill he tell us what this show meant?140
HAMLETAy, or any show that you’ll show him: be not you
ashamed to show, he’ll not shame to tell you what it means.
OPHELIAYou are naught, you are naught: I’ll mark the play.
PrologueFor us, and for our tragedy,
Here stooping to your clemency,145
We beg your hearing patiently.
HAMLETIs this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
OPHELIA‘Tis brief, my lord.
HAMLETAs woman’s love.
[Enter two Players, King and Queen]
Player KingFull thirty times hath Phoebus’ cart gone round150
Neptune’s salt wash and Tellus’ orbed ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrow’d sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been,
Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands.155
Player QueenSo many journeys may the sun and moon
Make us again count o’er ere love be done!
But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,160
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must:
For women’s fear and love holds quantity;
In neither aught, or in extremity.
Now, what my love is, proof hath made you know;
And as my love is sized, my fear is so:165
Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
Player King‘Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too;
My operant powers their functions leave to do:
And thou shalt live in this fair world behind,170
Honour’d, beloved; and haply one as kind
For husband shalt thou–
Player QueenO, confound the rest!
Such love must needs be treason in my breast:
In second husband let me be accurst!175
None wed the second but who kill’d the first.
HAMLET[Aside] Wormwood, wormwood.
Player QueenThe instances that second marriage move
Are base respects of thrift, but none of love:
A second time I kill my husband dead,180
When second husband kisses me in bed.
Player KingI do believe you think what now you speak;
But what we do determine oft we break.
Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;185
Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree;
But fall, unshaken, when they mellow be.
Most necessary ’tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt:
What to ourselves in passion we propose,190
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy:
Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;
Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.195
This world is not for aye, nor ’tis not strange
That even our loves should with our fortunes change;
For ’tis a question left us yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.
The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;200
The poor advanced makes friends of enemies.
And hitherto doth love on fortune tend;
For who not needs shall never lack a friend,
And who in want a hollow friend doth try,
Directly seasons him his enemy.205
But, orderly to end where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own:
So think thou wilt no second husband wed;210
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.
Player QueenNor earth to me give food, nor heaven light!
Sport and repose lock from me day and night!
To desperation turn my trust and hope!
An anchor’s cheer in prison be my scope!215
Each opposite that blanks the face of joy
Meet what I would have well and it destroy!
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife,
If, once a widow, ever I be wife!
HAMLETIf she should break it now!220
Player King‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here awhile;
My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile
The tedious day with sleep.
Player QueenSleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain!225
HAMLETMadam, how like you this play?
QUEEN GERTRUDEThe lady doth protest too much, methinks.
HAMLETO, but she’ll keep her word.
KING CLAUDIUSHave you heard the argument? Is there no offence in ‘t?
HAMLETNo, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence230
i’ the world.
KING CLAUDIUSWhat do you call the play?
HAMLETThe Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play
is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is
the duke’s name; his wife, Baptista: you shall see235
anon; ’tis a knavish piece of work: but what o’
that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it
touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our
withers are unwrung.
This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king.240
OPHELIAYou are as good as a chorus, my lord.
HAMLETI could interpret between you and your love, if I
could see the puppets dallying.
OPHELIAYou are keen, my lord, you are keen.
HAMLETIt would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.245
OPHELIAStill better, and worse.
HAMLETSo you must take your husbands. Begin, murderer;
pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin. Come:
‘the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.’
LUCIANUSThoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;250
Confederate season, else no creature seeing;
Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate’s ban thrice blasted, thrice infected,
Thy natural magic and dire property,
On wholesome life usurp immediately.255
[Pours the poison into the sleeper’s ears]
HAMLETHe poisons him i’ the garden for’s estate. His
name’s Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in
choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer
gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.
OPHELIAThe king rises.260
HAMLETWhat, frighted with false fire!
QUEEN GERTRUDEHow fares my lord?
LORD POLONIUSGive o’er the play.
KING CLAUDIUSGive me some light: away!
AllLights, lights, lights!265
[Exeunt all but HAMLET and HORATIO]
HAMLETWhy, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play;
For some must watch, while some must sleep:
So runs the world away.
Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers– if270
the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me–with two
Provincial roses on my razed shoes, get me a
fellowship in a cry of players, sir?
HORATIOHalf a share.
HAMLETA whole one, I.275
For thou dost know, O Damon dear,
This realm dismantled was
Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
A very, very–pajock.
HORATIOYou might have rhymed.280
HAMLETO good Horatio, I’ll take the ghost’s word for a
thousand pound. Didst perceive?
HORATIOVery well, my lord.
HAMLETUpon the talk of the poisoning?
HORATIOI did very well note him.285
HAMLETAh, ha! Come, some music! come, the recorders!
For if the king like not the comedy,
Why then, belike, he likes it not, perdy.
Come, some music!
GUILDENSTERNGood my lord, vouchsafe me a word with you.290
HAMLETSir, a whole history.
GUILDENSTERNThe king, sir,–
HAMLETAy, sir, what of him?
GUILDENSTERNIs in his retirement marvellous distempered.
HAMLETWith drink, sir?295
GUILDENSTERNNo, my lord, rather with choler.
HAMLETYour wisdom should show itself more richer to
signify this to his doctor; for, for me to put him
to his purgation would perhaps plunge him into far
more choler.300
GUILDENSTERNGood my lord, put your discourse into some frame and
start not so wildly from my affair.
HAMLETI am tame, sir: pronounce.
GUILDENSTERNThe queen, your mother, in most great affliction of
spirit, hath sent me to you.305
HAMLETYou are welcome.
GUILDENSTERNNay, good my lord, this courtesy is not of the right
breed. If it shall please you to make me a
wholesome answer, I will do your mother’s
commandment: if not, your pardon and my return310
shall be the end of my business.
HAMLETSir, I cannot.
GUILDENSTERNWhat, my lord?
HAMLETMake you a wholesome answer; my wit’s diseased: but,
sir, such answer as I can make, you shall command;315
or, rather, as you say, my mother: therefore no
more, but to the matter: my mother, you say,–
ROSENCRANTZThen thus she says; your behavior hath struck her
into amazement and admiration.
HAMLETO wonderful son, that can so astonish a mother! But320
is there no sequel at the heels of this mother’s
admiration? Impart.
ROSENCRANTZShe desires to speak with you in her closet, ere you
go to bed.
HAMLETWe shall obey, were she ten times our mother. Have325
you any further trade with us?
ROSENCRANTZMy lord, you once did love me.
HAMLETSo I do still, by these pickers and stealers.
ROSENCRANTZGood my lord, what is your cause of distemper? you
do, surely, bar the door upon your own liberty, if330
you deny your griefs to your friend.
HAMLETSir, I lack advancement.
ROSENCRANTZHow can that be, when you have the voice of the king
himself for your succession in Denmark?
HAMLETAy, but sir, ‘While the grass grows,’–the proverb335
is something musty.
[Re-enter Players with recorders]
O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with
you:–why do you go about to recover the wind of me,
as if you would drive me into a toil?
GUILDENSTERNO, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too340
HAMLETI do not well understand that. Will you play upon
this pipe?
GUILDENSTERNMy lord, I cannot.
HAMLETI pray you.345
GUILDENSTERNBelieve me, I cannot.
HAMLETI do beseech you.
GUILDENSTERNI know no touch of it, my lord.
HAMLET‘Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with
your lingers and thumb, give it breath with your350
mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.
Look you, these are the stops.
GUILDENSTERNBut these cannot I command to any utterance of
harmony; I have not the skill.
HAMLETWhy, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of355
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot360
you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.
God bless you, sir!365
LORD POLONIUSMy lord, the queen would speak with you, and
HAMLETDo you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
LORD POLONIUSBy the mass, and ’tis like a camel, indeed.
HAMLETMethinks it is like a weasel.370
LORD POLONIUSIt is backed like a weasel.
HAMLETOr like a whale?
LORD POLONIUSVery like a whale.
HAMLETThen I will come to my mother by and by. They fool
me to the top of my bent. I will come by and by.375
LORD POLONIUSI will say so.
HAMLETBy and by is easily said.
Leave me, friends.
[Exeunt all but HAMLET]
Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out380
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:385
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!390

Next: Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3


Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 2

From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
* Line numbers have been altered slightly from the original text.


1. Coleridge remarks, “This dialogue of Hamlet with the Players is one of the happiest instances of Shakespeare’s power of diversifying the scene while he is carrying on the plot.”

2. trippingly on the tongue, with an easy delivery; but if you, before these words we must supply some such clause as ‘and then all will go well’; mouth it, deliver it in a bombastic manner.

3. your players, many players that you and I know well; see Abb. § 221; had as lief, should be as willing; lief, literally dear, beloved, pleasing; from A.S. leofliof, dear; the town-crier, who shouts out proclamations, notices, etc., in the streets.

4. saw the air, move your arms up and down in emphatic gesture.

5. use all gently, in everything act with a quiet dignity.

5-7. for in … smoothness, for even when your passion is at its highest pitch, you must learn to employ a restraint which shall make it go smoothly off.

9. to the soul, to the very depths of my nature.

8-11. to hear … noise, to hear a big blustering bully in a wig utterly ruin the expression of strong emotion merely in order that the thunder of his tones may win the applause of the pit, fellows for the most part incapable of appreciating anything but unintelligible dumb shows and noise; robustious, used again in H. V, iii. 7. 159. Walker cites parallel old forms, prolixiousstupendious, superbious, and even splendidiousperiwig, “The i after the r is corruptly inserted; Minsheu gives the spellings perwigge and perwicke. Of these forms, perwigge. is a weakened form of perwicke, or perwick; and perwick is an E. rendering of the 0. Du. form [peruyk] as distinct fromperuke, which is the F. form” … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.). Steevens points out that in Shakespeare’s time players most generally wore periwigs; groundlings, the frequenters of the pit, who stood on its floor, no benches being provided in that part of the theatre; the suffix -lings gives a contemptuous flavour to the word; dumb-shows, such as that which follows 1. 120 of this scene.

13. I would, i.e. if I had my way; o’erdoing, exceeding in violence; Termagant, “was one of the idols … the Saracens are supposed to worship … The name is a corruption of O. F. Tervagant, Tervagan, or Tarvagan. — Ital.Trivigante … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.). This personage was frequently introduced into the old Moralities, and represented as of a violent character; the word is now used only of a boisterous, scolding woman.

15. out-herods Herod, outdoes Herod in fury; Herod in the old Mystery plays being always represented as violent, in reference to his slaughter of the innocents in the hopes of killing Christ, whose advent had been prophesied.

16. I warrant your honour, I promise you I will avoid all such extravagances; your honour, a title of respect.

17.Be not … neither, at the same time take care to act with sufficient spirit; for neither, where we should say either, see Abb. § 128.

19. with … observance, specially observing, taking note of, this.

20. the modesty of nature, the limits of natural moderation: such moderation as nature dictates; from, away from, and so opposed to; see Abb. § 158.

19. end, object, purpose; at the first and now, from the earliest times of the theatre to the present.

23. feature, shape, form; see note on iii. 1. 159; scorn, apparently objects of contempt; cp. C. E. iv. 4. 106.

24. the very … pressure, give the period of time represented its exact form and image in every particular; time being regarded as something living is endowed with age and bodypressure, impression taken as it were in wax; cp. i. 5. 100.

25, 6. Now … off, now if you overdo this on the one hand, or fall short of it on the other; unskilful, e.g. the “groundlings.”

28-9. the censure … others, the opinion of one of whom (sc. good judges) you must admit would far outweigh a whole theatreful of ignorant persons; that censure of the which one = the opinion of one of which class (though it he a licentious expression) is, I think, clearly proved by a whole theatre of others.

31. not to … profanely, of whom I hope I may without profanity say. Cp. M. V. i. 2. 60, 1, “God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.”

32, 3. that neither … man, who not being able to speak like Christians, and in the matter of carriage resembling neither Christian, pagan, or man at all.

35. journeymen, apprentices; from F. journee, a day, properly one who is hired by the day; cp. Burns, Green grow the rushes, 0, “On man she tried her prentice han’, And then she made the lasses, Oh!”, said of Nature.

35. had made men, had been making men; not all mankind, but these actors.

37. indifferently, pretty thoroughly.

37. with us, in our company.

39, 40. And let … them, do not let them follow the example of those actors who are always ready to insert something of their own into the speeches they have to deliver; to ‘gag,’ as it is now called in theatrical parlance, — a practice common in Shakespeare’s day, and carried to great lengths. Stowe, quoted by Steevens, speaks of two men especially who were famed for their “extemporal witt,” viz. Thomas Wilson and Richard Tarleton; of them, among them (sc. the players).

41-3. to set on … too, to incite some of the more barren-witted of their audience to join in the laugh.

44, 5. though … considered, though at the time some important point in the play has to be dealt with; pitiful, contemptible.

46. uses it, is guilty of the practice.

48. and that presently, not only hear it, but hear it at once.

53. sweet lord, a common form of address in Shakespeare’s day; at your service, ready to attend your wishes.

54. e’en as just a man, as thoroughly upright a man.

55. As e’er … withal, as ever I have met with in my intercourse with men; conversation, in the older and more literal sense of mixing with, associating with men; cp. Cymb. i. 4. 113, “With five times so much conversation, I should get ground of your fair mistress”; frequent in the Bible, eg. Psalms, xxxvii. 14, ii. Peter, iii. 11; to cope is used both transitively and intransitively by Shakespeare, e.g. M. V. iv. 1. 412, “in lieu whereof, Three thousand ducats … We freely cope your courteous pains withal”; W. T. iv. 4. 435, “who of force must know The royal fool thou copest with.”

58. advancement, preferment.

59. revenue, with the accent on the second syllable.

60. Why should … flatter’d? what good could there be in flattering?

51-3. No, let … fawning, no, let the man of sugared words spend them upon foolish pomp (i.e. those who absurdly boast themselves of their grandeur), and how their supple knees in those cases in which their adulation is likely to be rewarded by gain; for pregnant, cp. T. C. iv. 4. 90, “fair virtues all, To which the Grecians are most prompt and pregnant” ; Lear, iv. 6. 227, “Who, by the art of known and feeling sorrow, Are pregnant to good pity”; for thrift, = gain. W. T. i. 2. 311, “To see alike mine honour as their profits, Their own particular thrifts.”

64-66. Since my … herself, since my soul, so precious a possession, was capable of making choice, and could distinguish among men, her choice has been irrevocably fixed upon you; distinguish, in this sense, used by Shakespeare, with betwixt, except in ii. H. VI. ii. 1. 129, “Sight may distinguish of colours”; for seal’d, cp M. M. v. 1. 245, “That’s seal’d in approbation”; Cymb. iii. 6. 85, “had the virtue Which their own conscience seal’dthem.”

67. As one, … nothing, like one who, though enduring every misfortune, seems unconscious that he is enduring any.

69. with equal thanks, with the same imperturbability.

70. Whose blood … commingled, in whom passionate feeling and judgement are mingled in such due proportion.

71, 2. That they … please, that fortune is not able to do what she will with them; the ‘stops’ in a wind instrument are the holes upon which the fingers are placed to regulate the passage of sound.

73. passion’s slave, the slave of uncontrolled emotion.

74. my heart’s core, the centre of my heart, or, as he goes on to say, the heart of his heart; core being nothing more than the Lat. cor, heart; most frequently used of the heart of fruits.

75. Something too much of this, Clarke remarks, “The genuine manliness of this little sentence, where Hamlet checks himself when conscious that he has been carried away by fervour of affectionate friendship into stronger protestation than mayhap becomes the truth and simplicity of sentiment between man and man, is precisely one of Shakespeare’s touches of innate propriety in questions of feeling”…

76. before the king, i.e. to be acted before the king.

77, 8. comes … death, closely resembles in detail the manner of my father’s death, of which I have already told you.

79. that act, that part of the drama; afoot, in process of being represented.

80. Even with … “soul, with the most intense direction of every faculty” (Caldecott).

81. occulted, hidden; here only in Shakespeare.

82. unkennel, discover; literally to loose from the kennel.

83. damned, apparently used in a double sense, condemned to hell, and accursed in having deceived us.

85. stithy, forge; formerly used for both the forge and the anvil; here what we now call the ‘smithy,’ i.e. place where the smith works; Give … note, mark him most carefully.

87. rivet, fix immoveably; for the figurative sense, cp. Cymb. ii. 2. 43, “Why should I write this down, that’s riveted, Screw’d to my memory?”

88, 9. And after … seeming, and when the play is over, we will compare our impressions as to his behaviour during it, and see what conclusions we come to.

90, 1. If he steal … theft, if during the play any guilty look or movement of his escapes my notice, you may punish me as you like for having allowed myself to be duped by him; for pay, = pay for, the Cl. Pr. Edd. compare R. J. i. 1. 244, “I’ll pay that doctrine, or else die in debt”; and for theft, = the thing stolen, Exodus, xxii. 4, “If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive,” etc.

92. I must be idle, I must appear to be utterly unconcerned with the whole business, not seem in the least interested in watching how things go. Some editors understand idle to mean ‘mad,’ ‘crazy’: but the point is that while Horatio is free to give his whole attention to the king’s behaviour, without being noticed, Hamlet for fear of being suspected of having planned the scheme, must appear to take no interest in the proceedings; and therefore in the next line he tells Horatio to secure a seat for himself where he may see clearly what effect the play produces, and to leave him to stroll about alone, lest being together they might seem to have some secret understanding between them.

94. How fares … Hamlet? how are you, cousin?

95. Excellent, … so, Hamlet pretends to take the king’s words to mean what fare (food) is set before you? and therefore answers, capital fare, from the chameleon’s dish; I, like that animal, feeding upon air, for my diet is promises, which are not more substantial than air; you can feed animals like the chameleon and myself upon such food, but you will not find it fattening for fowls; Excellent, the adjective for the adverb; the chameleon, literally the carth-lion, from feeding on insects so small as hardly to be visible, was popularly supposed to live upon air.

97, 8. I have … mine, this answer has no connection with my question.

99. No, nor mine now, a reference, says Johnson, to the proverb, “A man’s words are his own no longer than he keeps them unspoken.”

100. university, Shakespeare had in his mind the plays acted at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge by the under-graduates, and sometimes by professional actors.

103. Julius Caesar … Capitol, here, as in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare mistakenly places the murder of Caesar in the Capitol, though in reality it took place in or near Pompey’s theatre.

105. a brute part, a brutal act on his part.

107. stay … patience, are waiting till you shall give them permission to begin; for patience, in this sense, cp. Temp. iii. 3. 3, “By your patience, I needs must rest me”; 0th. i. 3. 89.

109. here’s metal more attractive, Ophelia being the magnet.

111. in your lap, at her feet, with his head resting against her lap, as he goes on to explain. Steevens says that to lie at the feet of a mistress, during any dramatic representation, seems to have been a common act of gallantry.

123. your only jig-maker, only your composer of jigs; see note on ii. 2. 470, and for the transposition of only, Abb. § 420.

125. within’s two hours, within this period of two hours; less than two hours ago.

126-8. Nay then, … sables, Warburton reads ‘fore, i.e. before, a conjecture which Staunton thinks is possibly right, Hamlet, to emphasize his meaning, here flinging off his mourning cloak. Others take sables to mean a dress of much magnificence; while others again suppose the word should be sabell, i.e. of flame colour, or fawn-colour a good deal heightened with red. Possibly the meaning is, if my father has been remembered so long a time as two months, the devil may well wear his usual mourning, for I too will show my regard for his memory by wearing a dress of much the same colour as his, “my inky cloak,” as he calls it, i. 2. 77. Still more possibly Hamlet did not intend himself to be understood; his words being purposely the “matter and indifferency mixed” of the distracted king in Lear, iv. 2. 178.

131. by’r lady, see note on ii. 2. 402.

131, 2. he must … then, if he wishes to keep his memory green, he must leave behind him some visible remembrance of himself; not thinking on, oblivion; as though one word.

133. the hobby-horse, “a personage belonging to the ancient morris-dance … made … by the figure of a horse fastened round the waist of a man, his own legs going through the body of the horse … but concealed by a long foot-cloth; while false legs appeared where those of the man should be, at the side of the horse … Latterly the hobby-horse was frequently omitted, which appears to have occasioned a popular ballad, in which was this line or burden, ‘For O, for O, the hobby-horse is forgot'” (Nares).

Stage DirectionHautboys from “O. F. hault … high, and F. bois … a bush. Thus the literal sense is ‘high wood’; the hautboy being a wooden instrument of a high tone” (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

takes … neck, raises her from her kneeling position, and lets his head fall upon her neck; lays him down, lies down.

kisses it, to show how precious it is in his sight, how dearly he would like to wear it.

makes passionate action, makes demonstration of deepest sorrow.

136. miching mallecho, secret mischief; to ‘mich’ was to lurk, and in i. H. IV. ii. 4. 450, we have micher for a truant; “Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher and eat black-berries?” for mallecho Dyce quotes Connelly’s Span. and Eng. Dict., “Mallecho … An evil action, an indecent and indecorous behaviour; malefaction.”

137. Belike … play, probably this dumb-show indicates the plot of the play; Belike, i.e. by like, likelihood.

138. We shall … fellow, we shall soon find out from this fellow.

139. keep counsel, keep a secret.

145. Here … clemency, which here humbly submits itself to you, hoping for merciful judgement.

147. posy, motto, frequently in verse, engraved upon a ring.

150. Phoebus’ cart, the chariot of the sun-god.

151. salt wash, the sea; like Phoebus’ cartorbed ground, etc., intentional bombast.

155. commutual, mutually, each in each.

158. you are … late, you have lately been so sick.

159. So far … state, so different from your usual cheerful self.

160. distrust you, am anxious about you; so, “do not fear our person,” iv. 5. 103, below.

161. nothing, in no way.

162, 3. For women’s … extremity, for women’s fear and love are equally disproportionate to the object, being in either case much less or much greater than they should be; cp. M. N. D. i. 1. 232, “Things base and vile,holding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity”; for instances of the inflection in -s with two singular nouns, see Abb. § 336.

164. proof … know, you have learnt by experience.

166. the littlest … fear, even the smallest doubt as to the well- being of the loved one becomes fear; littlest, here only in Shakespeare.

167. Where little … there, where small fears exaggerate themselves into great ones, you may be sure that great love is present there; the figure in the latter clause is that of knowing a tree from its fruit.

169. My operant … do, my active faculties cease to perform their functions; cp. Appius and Virginia, p. 179/2, ed. Dyce, “This sight hath stiffen’d all my operant powers.” For the infinitive verb used as a noun, see Abb. § 355.

170. live … behind, survive me.

172. O, confound the rest! shame on what you were about to add! i.e. pause before uttering such shameful words as are in your thought.

174. Such … breast, such love if entering my heart would be treason.

175. In second … accurst, if I marry a second husband, may I find him everything that is hateful.

176. but who, except those who.

177. Wormwood, wormwood, i.e. that stings him bitterly; as we say ‘that’s gall and wormwood to him’; wormwood, a very bitter plant still used in France in the manufacture of ‘absinthe,’ and ‘vermuth.’ The word has really nothing to do with either worm or wood, but is from the A.S. wermod, which, according to Skeat, is equivalent to ‘mind-preserver,’ from A.S. werian, to protect, and A.S. mod, mind, thus pointing back “to some primitive belief as to the curative properties of the plant in mental afflictions.”

178. instances, inducements; the word is used by Shakespeare in a variety of meanings; motive, inducement, cause, symptom, information, proof, etc.

179. base respects of thrift, mean considerations of gain.

180, 1. A second … bed, i.e. I will never allow a second husband to kiss me, never wed a second husband; kill … dead, a not uncommon redundancy, expressive of thoroughness.

184, 5. Purpose … validity, determination easily yields itself captive to memory (i.e. passes away when that which gave it birth is forgotten), it being robust enough when first formed, but soon losing its strength.

186. fruit, plural.

187. But fall … be, but which (sc. the fruits) fall, etc.; fall grammatically agrees with fruit, but logically refers to purpose; see Abb. § 415.

188, 9. Most necessary … debt, it is only right and proper that we should be allowed to forget the payment of a debt which is due only to ourselves, i.e. omit, if we think fit, to carry out a resolution which concerns ourselves and nobody else.

190, 1. What to ourselves … lose, that which under the influence of strong feeling we propose to ourselves as a course of action, when that strong feeling passes away, loses its motive.

192, 3. The violence … destroy, the violence of either grief or joy destroys those passions, and at the same time puts an end to the execution of their purposes; for the confusion of proximity due to the interveningenactures, cp. above i. 2. 37, 8, and see Abb. § 412.

194. Where joy … lament, excessive indulgence in joy is followed by excessive abandonment to grief: laughter and tears are divided by the thinnest partition.

195. Grief … accident, a very slight incident turns grief into joy, joy into grief.

196, 7. This world … change, nothing, not even the world itself, is everlasting, and therefore it is not strange that even our love should change with change of fortune.

198, 9. for ’tis … love, for it is a point still undetermined whether love or fortune proves itself the stronger influence when the two are opposed; Whether, metrically a monosyllable, as in ii. 2. 17; lead, subjunctive.

200. The great … flies, the great man having fallen from his high estate, you see his former favourites at once quit his side; favourites is the reading of the first folio, the quartos and other folios giving favourite, a reading which, as Abbott says, completely misses “the intention to describe the crowd of favourites scattering in flight, from the fallen patron”; for the inflection in -s with a plural subject, see Abb. § 333.

201. The poor … enemies, the man of humble rank raised to a high position finds his former enemies quickly turn into friends; not ‘makes friends with his enemies.’

202. And hitherto … tend, and up to this time love has been found to wait on fortune, to accommodate itself to fortune.

203. who not needs, he who does not need; for the omission of the auxiliary verb, see Abb. § 305.

204. hollow, insincere; cp. Lear; iii. 156, “Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound Reverbs no hollowness.”

205. Directly … enemy, by that very act causes him to show in full flavour that ill will which had before been hidden.

206. orderly … begun, to return in due order to the point from which I set out; begun, for began, for the sake of the rhyme.

207. contrary, in such opposite directions to each other; for instances of words in which the accent is nearer the end than with us, see Abb. § 490.

208. still are overthrown, are constantly being upset.

209. none of our own, not in the least in our power.

211. die thy thoughts, let such thoughts perish.

212. Nor earth … light! may the earth fail to, etc.

213. Sport … night! may the day shut me out of all enjoyment, the night fail to give me repose!

214. To desperation … hope! may my expectations and hope turn, etc.

215. An anchor’s … scope! may a hermit’s fare be the utmost I can hope to enjoy! anchor, a shortened form of anchoret, or anchorite, ultimately from Greek … a recluse, one who has retired from the world.

216, 7. Each opposite … destroy! may that which is most hostile to joy, and by its appearance causes joy’s radiant face to turn pale with fear, encounter everything to which I wish success, and ruin it!

220. If she … now, how terrible if after all her protestations she should now prove unfaithful to her first husband!

222. My spirits grow dull, weariness is creeping over me.

224. rock, as in a cradle.

227. doth … much, is too full of protestations of love and loyalty.

228. O, but … word, O, but you will see that she will, etc.; said ironically.

229. argument, plot; as in 1. 135.

228, 9. Is there … in’t? does it not seem to you an objectionable one? “The king means a moral ‘offence,’ and Hamlet means a physical ‘offence’ or crime, as in i. 5. 137″ (Delius).

233. Tropically, figuratively.

234. image, exact representation.

236. a knavish piece of work, sc. the murder; but what o’ that? but that matters nothing.

237. free, innocent of all crime.

238, 9. let … unwrung, let those shrink who from their consciousness of guilt feel themselves galled by such a representation, we who are innocent need not complain; withers, the ridge between the shoulder blades of a horse on which the strain of the collar falls; are unwrung, escape being galled.

241. chorus, such as those in The Winter’s Tale, Henry the Fifth, Romeo and Juliet.

242, 3. I could … dallying, if I could see you and your lover in amorous converse, I should be able to tell what was passing between you, just as I am able to explain who Lucianus is. Hamlet likens Ophelia and her lover (i.e. any one with whom she might be in love) to puppets. “An interpreter,” says Steevens, “formerly sat on the stage at all motions or puppet-shows, and interpreted to the audience.”

247. So you must … husbands, that’s how you must take your husbands, sc. for better, for worse; a reference to the ritual of the marriage ceremony in which the husband and wife each engage to take the other “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” etc.

248. leave … faces, have done with all the contortions of your face.

249, 50. ‘the croaking … revenge,’ Simpson says this is a satirical condensation of two lines of The true Trajedie of Richard the Third, “The screeking raven sits croking for revenge. Whole herds of beasts come bellowing for revenge.”

251. Confederate season, “the opportunity conspiring to assist the murderer” (Cl. Pr. Edd.); else … seeing, no one but myself being here to see what I do.

252. rank, noisome, foul; of … collected, extracted from herbs gathered at midnight; cp. Macb. iv. 1. 25.

253. with Hecate’s … infected, blasted by a triple curse of Hecate’s, and so trebly poisonous; Hecate’s, a dissyllable, as always in Shakespeare.

254, 5. Thy natural … immediately, appears to be generally taken to mean ‘let your natural magic, etc., usurp on,’ etc. But it seems doubtful whether usurp does not govern natural magic and dire property in the sense of exercise your innate magic and baneful qualities with wrongful force on healthy life.

257. for’s estate, in order to get possession of his kingly dignities; cp. Macb. i. 4. 37, “We will establish our estate upon Our eldest, Malcolm.”

258. writ, for the curtailed form of the participle, see Abb. § 343.

261. What, … fire? what, alarmed by a mere fiction!

266, 7. Why, let … play, i.e. some must suffer while others meet with no harm; and so almost an equivalent to the next line.

268. watch, keep awake; see above, ii. 2. 148.

269. Thus runs … away, such is the course of the world. Evidently a snatch from some old ballad, chanted by Hamlet not necessarily as applying to what has happened, but in exultation at the success of his scheme.

270. a forest of feathers, i.e. with appropriate costume. Malone says it appears from Decker’s Gul’s Hornbooke that feathers were much worn on the stage in Shakespeare’s time.

270, 1. if the rest … me, if I fail in every other way to get my livelihood; turn Turk, a proverbial phrase for any change of condition for the worse, used specially of changing one’s religion; cp. M. A. iii. 4. 57, “Well, an you be not turned Turk, there’s no more sailing by the star”; Provincial roses, rosettes as large as the roses of Provence, at the mouth of the Rhone, in France.

272. razed shoes, slashed shoes, shoes with ornamental cuts in the fore part, a fashion revived of late in the case of ladies’ shoes; get me … players, procure me a partnership in a company of actors; cry, more usually of a pack of hounds, from their giving tongue, hence a troop generally.

274. a share, “the actors in Shakespeare’s time had not annual salaries as at present. The whole receipts of each theatre were divided into shares of which the proprietors of the theatre … had some; and each actor had one or more shares, or part of a share, according to his merit” (Malone).

275. A whole one I, I should expect a whole one.

276. O Damon dear, my dearest friend; an allusion to the friendship of Damon and Phintias, which was proverbial for its sincerity, the former having offered to suffer death in place of the latter.

277. dismantled, robbed; properly used of stripping a house of its hangings, etc

279. pajock, peacock; Dyce observes “I have often heard the lower classes in the north of Scotland call the peacock — the ‘pea-jock,’ and their almost invariable name for the turkey-cock is ‘bubbly-jock’; and a writer in the Ed. Rev. for Oct. 1872 says that in the natural history of Shakespeare’s time the bird was the accredited representative of inordinate pride and envy, as well as of unnatural cruelty and lust, and that the word here expresses in a concentrated form the odious qualities of the guilty king.”

280. You … rhymed, sc. by substituting “ass” for pajock.

281, 2. I’ll take … pound, I’ll wager a thousand pounds that the ghost spoke the truth about my father’s death; pound, for the concrete sum, as frequently in Shakespeare.

284. Upon … poisoning, i.e. the king’s behaviour as soon as the poisoning was mentioned.

286. recorders, Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time, says, “Recorders and (English) Flutes are to outward appearance the same … The number of holes for the fingers is the same, and the scale, the compass, and the manner of playing, the same,” etc.

288. perdy, F. par dieu, by God; probably another quotation in which Hamlet alters the latter part of the second verse.

291. a whole history, not merely a word, but a whole history, if you wish it.

294. Is in … distempered, has become, since he retired from witnessing the play, terribly distracted; see note on ii. 2. 55.

295. With drink, cp. Oth. i. 1. 99, “Being full of supper and distempering draughts”; the word distemper is in this sense a euphemism, but Graccho, in Massinger’s Duke of Milan, i. I. 18, considers the term too harsh to be applied to so exalted a person as the duke, “And the Duke himself, I dare not say distemper’d, But kind, and in his tottering chair carousing. ”

296. choler, wrath; literally bile, in which sense Hamlet pretends to take the word.

297, 8. Your wisdom … doctor, you would act more wisely to report this to his doctor.

298-300. for me … choler, if I were to administer his purge (purges being given for bilious disorders), I should only increase his choler; of course Hamlet’s purgative would be a moral one, that of calling upon him to repent his crime.

301, 2. put your … affair, be pleased to answer me in some coherent form; some orderly shape.

303. tame, ready to hear anything you have to say; used with reference to Guildenstern’s wildly.

307, 8. Nay, … breed, nay, my good lord, the courtesy shown in the word ‘welcome’ is not of the kind proper to the occasion; wholesome, proper, reasonable,

309, 10. I will … commandment, I will give you the message sent by your mother.

310, 11. if not … business, if not, I will finish my business by asking your permission to leave you, and returning to my mistress; for pardon, cp. above, 1. 2. 56.

314. Make you … answer, give you a healthy answer; Hamlet pretends to take Guildenstern’s wholesome in a literal sense, and gives as his reason for not being able to return such an answer that his intellect is unsound.

315. you shall command, shall be at your service; shall be rendered to you.

316, 7. therefore … matter, therefore without further preface let us come to the business.

319. admiration, wonder.

320. wonderful … mother! what a wonderful son I must be if I can cause wonder in my mother.

320-22. But … admiration? but is this all you have to tell me? is there nothing else to follow after this expression of her wonder? Impart, do not keep to yourself anything you have to tell.

325. We shall … mother, further to bewilder Guildenstern. Hamlet in we affects the royal style, and speaks as though obedience to a mother was about the last thing that could be expected of a son, instead of its being an ordinary duty.

326. trade, business; another intentional affectation.

327. So I do … stealers, so I do still, I swear by these hands; said with grim irony; pickers and stealers, a reference to the Church Catechism, one of the promises made in it by the catechumen being to keep his “hands from picking and stealing.”

329. distemper, see note on 1. 288, above.

330, 1. you do … friend, by refusing to communicate your griefs to your friend, you do but decline to avail yourself of the means of escaping from them; cp. Bacon, Essay of Friendship, “A principal fruit of friendship is the ease and discharge of the fulness and swellings of the heart … You may take Sarza to open the liver; steel to open the spleen … But no receipt openeth the heart, but a true friend; to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart, to oppress it, in a kind of civil shrift or confession.”

332. advancement, though Hamlet is not here speaking of his promotion to the crown, when Guildenstern takes him to be doing so, he keeps up the delusion.

333. voice, recommendation; cp. i.2. 109,

334. for in favour of, in behalf of.

335. While … grows, Malone gives the remainder of the proverb from Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra, 1598, “oft sterves the silly steede,” and adds, “Hamlet means that whilst he is waiting for the succession to the throne of Denmark, he may himself be taken off by death.”

336. musty, stale.

337. recorders, see note on 1. 280, above; To withdraw with you, to step aside with you for a moment where we can be alone; a parenthetic expression explanatory of his movement.

338, 9. why do you … toil? why do you endeavour to entrap me into some indiscreet avowal? A figure from stalking game, the object with the hunter being to get the animal to run with the wind so that it may not scent him or the snare set for it. Cp. T. N. iii. 4. 81, “Still you keep o’ the windy side of the law.”

340, 1. if my duty … unmannerly, if in the execution of my duty I seem to go further than I ought, it is my love to you that makes me seem so rude; or, perhaps, when the duty laid upon me is one that needs more audacity than I can boast, the love which bids me discharge it makes me clumsy in my eagerness.

342. I do not … that, probably Hamlet, taking advantage of Guildenstern’s enigmatical sentence, means that he is not so sure that he is speaking the truth.

348. I know … it, I am quite ignorant how to handle the instrument so as to produce any harmony out of it; touch, used in a technical sense, as in R. II. i. 3. 105, “Or like a cunning instrument … put into his hands That knows no touch to tune the harmony.”

349. ‘Tis as easy as lying, with the innuendo that Guildenstern found no difficulty in that act.

349, 50. govern … thumb, apply your fingers and thumb to the stops to regulate the emission of sound.

351. discourse, utter, give expression to.

354. But these … harmony, but these stops I cannot so regulate as to make them give forth any harmonious sound; the skill, the necessary knowledge.

355. how unworthy … me! how mean an opinion you must have of me!

357. you would … stops, you assume, as it seems to me, to know how to extract utterance from me at your will.

359. you would … compass, you fancy you can interpret my every thought; a play upon the word sound in the sense (1) to bring forth a sound, (2) to try the depth of water, cp. i. H. IV. ii. 4. 6; compass, the range of a musical instrument from its highest to its lowest note.

363. fret me, annoy me; with a play upon the substantive ‘frets,’ i.e. stops of such instruments as lutes, guitars; “small lengths of wire [across the neck of the instrument] on which the fingers press the strings in playing the guitar” (Busby’s Dict. of Musical Terms, quoted by Dyce).

366, 7. and presently, and that too at once.

369. mass, see note on ii. 1. 50; and, as you say; for and, in this confirmatory sense, see Abb. § 97.

371. backed like a Weasel, shaped like the back of a weasel.

374. Then … by, an intentionally inconsequent answer; by and by, at once.

375. They fool … bent, they are ready to assent to anything I say, however foolish, in order to gain their purpose; for bent, see note on ii. 2. 30.

377. By and by … said, that’s not a very difficult undertaking.

379. the very … night, the very time of night when witchery abounds, when as Macbeth says (Macb. ii. 1. 51,2) “witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings.”

380. yawn, open wide, to allow the dead to walk.

381. Contagion, infectious vapours.

382. such bitter business, such deeds of bitter cruelty.

383. Soft! let me pause!

384. lose not thy nature, do not forget your natural affection for your mother.

385. Nero, who murdered his mother in the most brutal manner; cp. K. J. v. 2. 102, “Your bloody Neroes, ripping up the womb Of your dear mother, England”; this firm bosom, this bosom of mine, fully determined though it is to punish the guilty.

387. speak daggers, i.e. words that will stab to the heart as keenly as daggers would pierce the flesh; cp. M. A. ii. 1. 255, “She speaks poniards, and every word stabs,” though there used in no very serious sense.

388. My tongue … hypocrites, in this matter let my soul be a hypocrite to my tongue, i.e. though appearing to approve of my words not assent to my carrying them into action.

390. How in … consent! however roughly I may take her to task, let me never yield to the impulse to ratify my words by deeds, i.e. the deed of murder; seals, because the affixing of the seal was necessary to give validity to a document; shent, from shend, to reprove, castigate with words…


How to cite the explanatory notes:Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919.