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ACT IV SCENE IIAnother room in the castle.
[Enter HAMLET]
HAMLETSafely stowed.
GUILDENSTERN[Within] Hamlet! Lord Hamlet!
HAMLETBut soft, what noise? who calls on Hamlet?
O, here they come.
ROSENCRANTZWhat have you done, my lord, with the dead body?
HAMLETCompounded it with dust, whereto ’tis kin.
ROSENCRANTZTell us where ’tis, that we may take it thence
And bear it to the chapel.
HAMLETDo not believe it.
ROSENCRANTZBelieve what?10
HAMLETThat I can keep your counsel and not mine own.
Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! what
replication should be made by the son of a king?
ROSENCRANTZTake you me for a sponge, my lord?
HAMLETAy, sir, that soaks up the king’s countenance, his
rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the
king best service in the end: he keeps them, like
an ape, in the corner of his jaw; first mouthed, to
be last swallowed: when he needs what you have
gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you
shall be dry again.20
ROSENCRANTZI understand you not, my lord.
HAMLETI am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a
foolish ear.
ROSENCRANTZMy lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go
with us to the king.
HAMLETThe body is with the king, but the king is not with
the body. The king is a thing–
GUILDENSTERNA thing, my lord!
HAMLETOf nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after.

Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2

From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.


1. stowed, put away.

6. Compounded … kin, mixed with the earth of which it was originally formed; cp. the Burial Service, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Cp. ii. H. IV. iv. 5. 116, “Only compound me with forgotten dust.”

11. Keep your counsel, keep your secret; referring perhaps to his discovery, in ii. 2. 284, 5, that they had been sent to sound him.

12. Besides … sponge! besides, to think of my being questioned by a fellow like you, who would get everything out of me, suck me dry, with the same insidiousness that a sponge sucks up water! Some editors follow the quartos and folios in putting a connna, instead of a note of admiration, after sponge; with that punctuation the meaning will be, ‘in the case of one’s being questioned,’ etc.

12, 3. what … king? what sort of answer do you expect to receive from one, like me, of royal birth? do you expect that such a one would submit to be sucked dry by a fellow like you? Rushton says that replication is “an exception of the second degree made by the plaintiff upon the answer of a defendant.” In the jargon of Holofernes, L. L. L. iv. 2. 15, the word is used, as here, for ‘reply’; in J. C. i. 1. 51, for ‘echo.’

15. countenance, favour.

16. authorities, the several attributes of power; cp. Lear, i. 3. 17.

17. like an … nuts, as an ape does nuts; the later quartos read “like an apple,” for which Farmer conjectured ‘like an ape, an apple’; the reading in the text is that of the first quarto, and is adopted by Staunton and Furness.

18. mouthed, taken into his mouth.

19. gleaned, picked up in the way of information: it is but squeezing you, all he needs to do is to squeeze you like a sponge.

22. a knavish … ear, I am glad you should not understand it, as that shows you are only a fool, fools never seeing the point of knavish words.

25, 6. The body … thing, various subtle meanings have been read into these words, but they were probably used for no other purpose than that of mystifying Guildenstern — and commentators.

28, 9. Hide fox, and all after, an allusion to the game of hide and seek, in which one of the players, called the fox, hides, and all the rest have to go after him and find out his hiding-place. Here, of course, merely a continuation of Hamlet’s feigned madness.


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