Print Friendly, PDF & Email


ACT V SCENE IIA hall in the castle.
HAMLETSo much for this, sir: now shall you see the other;
You do remember all the circumstance?
HORATIORemember it, my lord?
HAMLETSir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly,
And praised be rashness for it, let us know,
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do pall: and that should teach us
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, 10
Rough-hew them how we will,–
HORATIOThat is most certain.
HAMLETUp from my cabin,
My sea-gown scarf’d about me, in the dark
Groped I to find out them; had my desire.
Finger’d 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,
Larded with many several sorts of reasons 20
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,
My head should be struck off.
HORATIOIs’t possible?
HAMLETHere’s the commission: read it at more leisure.
But wilt thou hear me how I did proceed?
HORATIOI beseech you.
HAMLETBeing thus be-netted round with villanies,–
Ere I could make a prologue to my brains, 30
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,
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?
HORATIOAy, good my lord.
HAMLETAn earnest conjuration from the king,
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish, 40
As peace should stiff her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma ‘tween their amities,
And many such-like ‘As’es 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.
HORATIOHow was this seal’d?
HAMLETWhy, even in that was heaven ordinant.
I had my father’s signet in my purse,
Which was the model of that Danish seal; 50
Folded the writ up in form of the other,
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.
HORATIOSo Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to’t.
HAMLETWhy, 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 60
Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of mighty opposites.
HORATIOWhy, what a king is this!
HAMLETDoes it not, think’st 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,
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? 70
HORATIOIt must be shortly known to him from England
What is the issue of the business there.
HAMLETIt will be short: the interim is mine;
And a man’s life’s no more than to say ‘One.’
But I am very sorry, good Horatio,
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.
HORATIOPeace! who comes here? 80
OSRICYour lordship is right welcome back to Denmark.
HAMLETI humbly thank you, sir. Dost know this water-fly?
HORATIONo, my good lord.
HAMLETThy 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 possession of dirt.
OSRICSweet lord, if your lordship were at leisure, I
should impart a thing to you from his majesty.
HAMLETI will receive it, sir, with all diligence of
spirit. Put your bonnet to his right use; ’tis for the head. 91
OSRICI thank your lordship, it is very hot.
HAMLETNo, believe me, ’tis very cold; the wind is
OSRICIt is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
HAMLETBut yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my
OSRICExceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry,–as
’twere,–I cannot 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,– 100
HAMLETI beseech you, remember–
HAMLET moves him to put on his hat.
OSRICNay, good my lord; for mine ease, in good faith.
Sir, 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 gentleman would see.
HAMLETSir, 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, 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.
OSRICYour lordship speaks most infallibly of him.
HAMLETThe concernancy, sir? why do we wrap the gentleman
in our more rawer breath?
OSRICSir? 119
HORATIOIs’t not possible to understand in another tongue?
You will do’t, sir, really.
HAMLETWhat imports the nomination of this gentleman?
OSRICOf Laertes?
HORATIOHis purse is empty already; all’s golden words are spent.
HAMLETOf him, sir.
OSRICI know you are not ignorant–
HAMLETI would you did, sir; yet, in faith, if you did,
it would not much approve me. Well, sir? 129
OSRICYou are not ignorant of what excellence Laertes is–
HAMLETI dare not confess that, lest I should compare with
him in excellence; but, to know a man well, were to
know himself.
OSRICI mean, sir, for his weapon; but in the imputation
laid on him by them, in his meed he’s unfellowed.
HAMLETWhat’s his weapon?
OSRICRapier and dagger.
HAMLETThat’s two of his weapons: but, well.
OSRICThe king, sir, hath wagered with him six Barbary
horses: against the which he has imponed, as I take
it, six French rapiers and poniards, with their
assigns, as girdle, hangers, 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.
HAMLETWhat call you the carriages?
HORATIOI knew you must be edified by the margent ere you had done.
OSRICThe carriages, sir, are the hangers. 148
HAMLETThe phrase would be more german to the matter, if we
could carry cannon by our sides: I would it might
be hangers till then. But, on: six Barbary horses
against six French swords, their assigns, and three
liberal-conceited carriages; that’s the French bet
against the Danish. Why is this ‘imponed,’ as you call it?
OSRICThe king, sir, hath laid, that in a dozen passes
between yourself and him, he shall not exceed you
three hits: he hath laid on twelve for nine; and it
would come to immediate trial, if your lordship
would vouchsafe the answer.
HAMLETHow if I answer ‘no’? 159
OSRICI mean, my lord, the opposition of your person in trial.
HAMLETSir, I will walk here in the hall: if it please his
majesty, ’tis the breathing time of day with me; let
the foils be brought, the gentleman willing, and the
king hold his purpose, I will win for him an I can;
if not, I will gain nothing but my shame and the odd hits.
OSRICShall I re-deliver you e’en so?
HAMLETTo this effect, sir; after what flourish your nature will.
OSRICI commend my duty to your lordship. 170
HAMLETYours, yours.
He does well to commend it himself; there are no
tongues else for’s turn.
HORATIOThis lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.
HAMLETHe did comply with his dug, before he sucked it.
Thus has he–and many more of the same bevy that I

know the dressy age dotes on–only got the tune of

the time and outward habit of encounter; a kind of
yesty collection, which carries them through and
through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do
but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.
Enter a Lord.
LordMy lord, his majesty commended him to you by young
Osric, who brings back to him that you attend him in
the hall: he sends to know if your pleasure hold to
play with Laertes, or that you will take longer time.
HAMLETI am constant to my purpose; they follow the king’s
pleasure: if his fitness speaks, mine is ready; now
or whensoever, provided I be so able as now.
LordThe king and queen and all are coming down. 190
HAMLETIn happy time.
LordThe queen desires you to use some gentle
entertainment to Laertes before you fall to play.
HAMLETShe well instructs me.
Exit Lord.
HORATIOYou will lose this wager, my lord.
HAMLETI do not think so: since he went into France, I
have been in continual practise: I shall win at the
odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here
about my heart: but it is no matter.
HORATIONay, good my lord,– 200
HAMLETIt is but foolery; but it is such a kind of
gain-giving, as would perhaps trouble a woman.
HORATIOIf your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will
forestall their repair hither, and say you are not
HAMLETNot 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?
A table prepared; trumpets, drums and Officers. Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, LAERTES, Lords, OSRIC, and Attendants with foils, &c.
KING CLAUDIUSCome, Hamlet, come, and take this hand from me.
HAMLETGive me your pardon, sir: I’ve done you wrong;
But pardon’t, as you are a gentleman. 212
This presence knows,
And you must needs have heard, how I am punish’d
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 ta’en away,
And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, 220
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.
Sir, in this audience,
Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts,
That I have shot mine arrow o’er the house,
And hurt my brother.
LAERTESI am satisfied in nature, 229
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,
I have a voice and precedent of peace,
To keep my name ungored. But till that time,
I do receive your offer’d love like love,
And will not wrong it.
HAMLETI embrace it freely;
And will this brother’s wager frankly play.
Give us the foils. Come on.
LAERTESCome, one for me.
HAMLETI’ll be your foil, Laertes: in mine ignorance 240
Your skill shall, like a star i’ the darkest night,
Stick fiery off indeed.
LAERTESYou mock me, sir.
HAMLETNo, by this hand.
KING CLAUDIUSGive them the foils, young Osric. Cousin Hamlet,
You know the wager?
HAMLETVery well, my lord
Your grace hath laid the odds o’ the weaker side.
KING CLAUDIUSI do not fear it; I have seen you both:
But since he is better’d, we have therefore odds.
LAERTESThis is too heavy, let me see another.
HAMLETThis likes me well. These foils have all a length?
They prepare to play.
OSRICAy, my good lord. 251
KING CLAUDIUSSet me the stoops of wine upon that table.
If Hamlet give the first or second hit,
Or quit in answer of the third exchange,
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;
And let the kettle to the trumpet speak, 260
The trumpet to the cannoneer without,
The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,
‘Now the king dunks to Hamlet.’ Come, begin:
And you, the judges, bear a wary eye.
HAMLETCome on, sir.
LAERTESCome, my lord.
They play.
OSRICA hit, a very palpable hit.
LAERTESWell; again.
KING CLAUDIUSStay; give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine;
Here’s to thy health.
Trumpets sound, and cannon shot off within.
Give him the cup.
HAMLETI’ll play this bout first; set it by awhile. Come.
They play.
Another hit; what say you? 270
LAERTESA touch, a touch, I do confess.
KING CLAUDIUSOur son shall win.
QUEEN GERTRUDEHe’s fat, and scant of breath.
Here, Hamlet, take my napkin, rub thy brows;
The queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.
HAMLETGood madam!
KING CLAUDIUSGertrude, do not drink.
QUEEN GERTRUDEI will, my lord; I pray you, pardon me.
KING CLAUDIUSAside. It is the poison’d cup; it is too late.
HAMLETI dare not drink yet, madam; by and by.
QUEEN GERTRUDECome, let me wipe thy face.
LAERTESMy lord, I’ll hit him now.
KING CLAUDIUSI do not think’t. 280
LAERTESAside. And yet ’tis almost ‘gainst my conscience.
HAMLETCome, for the third, Laertes: you but dally;
I pray you, pass with your best violence;
I am afeard you make a wanton of me.
LAERTESSay you so? come on.
They play.
OSRICNothing, neither way.
LAERTESHave at you now!
LAERTES wounds HAMLET; then in scuffling, they change rapiers, and HAMLET wounds LAERTES.
KING CLAUDIUSPart them; they are incensed.
HAMLETNay, come, again.
OSRICLook to the queen there, ho!
HORATIOThey bleed on both sides. How is it, my lord?
OSRICHow is’t, Laertes? 290
LAERTESWhy, as a woodcock to mine own springe, Osric;
I am justly kill’d with mine own treachery.
HAMLETHow does the queen?
KING CLAUDIUSShe swounds to see them bleed.
QUEEN GERTRUDENo, no, the drink, the drink,–O my dear Hamlet,–
The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.
HAMLETO villany! Ho! let the door be lock’d:
Treachery! Seek it out.
LAERTESIt 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; 300
The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,
Unbated and envenom’d: the foul practise
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.
HAMLETThe point!–envenom’d too!
Then, venom, to thy work.
AllTreason! treason!
KING CLAUDIUSO, yet defend me, friends; I am but hurt.
HAMLETHere, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,
Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? 311
Follow my mother.
LAERTESHe is justly served;
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.
HAMLETHeaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.
I am dead, Horatio. Wretched queen, adieu!
You that look pale and tremble at this chance, 320
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–
But let it be. Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest; report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.
HORATIONever believe it:
I am more an antique Roman than a Dane:
Here’s yet some liquor left.
HAMLETAs thou’rt a man,
Give me the cup: let go; by heaven, I’ll have’t.
O good Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me! 330
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 afar off, and shot within
What warlike noise is this?
OSRICYoung Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland,
To the ambassadors of England gives
This warlike volley.
HAMLETO, I die, Horatio;
The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit:
I cannot live to hear the news from England;
But I do prophesy the election lights 340
On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice;
So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited. The rest is silence.
HORATIONow cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Why does the drum come hither?
March within.
Enter FORTINBRAS, the English Ambassadors, and others.
PRINCE FORTINBRASWhere is this sight?
HORATIOWhat is it ye would see?
If aught of woe or wonder, cease your search.
PRINCE FORTINBRASThis quarry cries on havoc. O proud death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell, 350
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?
First AmbassadorThe 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:
Where should we have our thanks?
HORATIONot 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, 360
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
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’ reads: all this can I 370
Truly deliver.
PRINCE FORTINBRASLet 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,
Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me.
HORATIOOf 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
On plots and errors, happen.
PRINCE FORTINBRASLet four captains 380
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
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.
A dead march. Exeunt, bearing off the dead bodies; after which a peal of ordnance is shot off.

Back to Hamlet Scenes


Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 2

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


1. So much … other, enough of this matter; now I will show you how the other turned out.

2. the circumstance, all the details.

4. fighting, struggle as to whether I should let matters take their course or should actively oppose it.

6. Worse … bilboes, in a more miserable plight than that of the mutineers in chains; for mutines, see note on iii. 4. 83. Of the bilboes, Steevens says, “This is a bar of iron with fetters annexed to it, by which mutinous or disorderly sailors anciently were linked together. The word is derived from Bilboa, a place in Spain … The bilboes are still shown in the Tower of London among the other spoils of the Spanish Armada.” Rashly, — The sentence is continued in 11. 12, etc.

7-9. And praised … fail, and I thank rashness for the impulse, — for it is well we should recognize that our sudden and apparently unwise impulses often serve us well, when our deep plots come to nothing. Malone defends pall, the reading of the second quarto and later folios, by quoting A. C. ii. 7. 88, “I’ll never follow thy pall’d fortunes more,” but there is a great difference between fortunes palling and plots palling. Ingleby would read fall; the reading in the text is Pope’s. In 1.7 Tyrwhitt conjectured, “And praised be rashness, for it makes us know,” — a conjecture made indepedently by myself, which I hesitate to adopt only because it is so easy a way out of a difficulty.

11. Rough-hew … will, however clumsily we may begin to fashion them.

13. My sea-gown … me, having hurriedly wrapped myself in my sea-gown. Singer quotes Cotgrave, “Esclavine … a sea-gowne, or a coarse, high-collered, and short-sleeved gowne. reaching down to the mid-leg, and used most by sea-men and Saylors.”

14. find out them, for the transposition of the pronoun, see Abb. § 240.

15. Finger’d, got hold of; put my hand upon by lucky accident.

16. room, cabin.

17. My fears … manners, I in my fear thinking nothing as to whether I was acting honourably: to unseal, as to, etc., see Abb. § 281.

18. Their grand commission, the commission they were so proud of having entrusted to them.

20. Larded, garnished, tricked out; cp. M. W. iv. 6. 14, “The mirth whereof so larded with my matter.”

21. Importing, … too, those reasons having to do with the well-being of both the king of Denmark and the king of England; the former because Hamlet’s death was so necessary to him, the latter because of the vengeance the king of England would provoke by disobeying the commands sent him; see above, iv. 3. 57-64.

22. With, ho! … life, mentioning the terrible dangers which threatened so long as I was allowed to live; ho! seems to me an exclamation of ridicule, not of horror, as Delius takes it; bugs, bugbears, terrors; as frequently in Shakespeare.

23. on the supervise, immediately upon his reading it: no leisure bated, without any abatement of haste in the way of leisurely proceeding; cp. below, 1. 45.

24. not to stay … axe, without so much as waiting till the axe could be sharpened.

27. hear me how, for the redundant object, see Abb. § 414.

30, 1. Ere … play, before I could think the scheme out in all its completeness, my brains were already at work upon its execution; the prologue of a play necessarily involved a knowledge of its scheme, and sometimes declared what that scheme was. Some editors take They as referring to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

32. wrote it fair, wrote it out in a clerkly hand.

33. hold, consider: statists, statesmen; Blackstone says that most of the great men of Shakespeare’s time whose autographs have been preserved, wrote very bad hands; their secretaries very neat ones.

34. A baseness, a mark of low birth.

36. yeoman’s service, right trusty service; the yeomen of old days were among the most serviceable of troops.

37. effect, purport. 38. conjuration, adjuration.

39. As England … tributary, calling upon the king of England as being a faithful, etc.

40. As love … flourish, according as he desired that their mutual love should flourish, etc.; the palm being an evergreen and a hardy tree is used as a type of enduring freshness.

41. As peace … wear, according as he wished that peace should abound between them; wheaten garland, wheat being symbolical of peace and plenty.

42. And stand … amities, and continue to be a connecting link of friendship between the two countries. Johnson remarks, “The comma is the note of connection and continuity of sentences; the period is the note ofabruption and disjunction.” Comma was also used in Shakespeare’s day for a clause in a sentence.

43. As’es … charge, weighty provisos; “a quibble is intended between as the conditional particle and ass, the beast of burthen” (Johnson). He also quotes Chapman’s The Widow’s Tears, 1612, “Thou must be an asscharg’d with crowns to make way,” to show that charge was used for load. I do not believe that any quibble was intended, nor does charge seem to mean more than ‘injunction.’

44. on the view … contents, as soon as he should have made himself master of the contents.

45. Without … less, without any hesitation, consideration, however slight.

47. Not … allow’d, without even allowing them to confess their sins to the priest and obtain absolution; to shrive is from A.S. scrifan, to impose a penance or compensation.

48. even … ordinant, even in that particular heaven had ordained matters to the same end; the fact that I had my father’s signet-ring in my purse shows it was heaven’s will that things should go as they have gone.

50. model, counterpart, copy; that Danish seal, with which their commission was sealed.

51. the writ, the mandate.

52. Subscribed it, affixed an imitation of the king’s signature: impression, sc. of the seal.

53. changeling, usually meaning a child that had been substituted by fairies or witches for one carried off by them.

56. go to ‘t, i.e. their destined death.

57. they did … employment, their employment (which involved my death) was one eagerly sought by them, and therefore I need not feel any scruples in sending them to their death.

58. They are … conscience, their fate does not trouble my conscience.

58, 9. their defeat … grow, their destruction is due to their having insinuated themselves into the project for killing me.

60. the baser nature, those of inferior courage and address.

61, 2. Between … opposites, between the weapons of two mighty opponents (such as the king and myself) when they are thrusting at each other with most deadly purpose; for opposites, cp. T. N. iii. 2. 68, “And hisopposite, the youth, bears in his visage no great presage of cruelty.”

63. Does it … upon, is it not imperative upon me; see Abb. § 204.

65. Popp’d in … hopes, suddenly thrust himself in between me and my election to the throne, of which I had good hopes.

66, 7. Thrown out … cozenage, so cunningly fished for my death: angle, properly the fishing-rod and line, then used figuratively, as in W. T. iv. 2. 52, “The angle that plucks our son thither”; proper, own, my very life; forcozenage, see note on iii. 4. 77.

67, 8. is ‘t not … arm? am I not perfectly justified in paying him out with my own hand?

68-70. and is ‘t not … evil? and would it not be a sin worthy of damnation to let this plague-spot upon human nature have further opportunities for evil? for canker, see note on i. 3. 39; In, into; for other instances, see Abb. § 159.

71, 2. It must … there, the king is certain to know very soon what is the result of his commission (and therefore there is no time to be lost in doing whatever you have determined to do).

73. It will … mine, the time that will elapse before he knows the result will be short; but that short interval is wholly mine, there is nothing to baulk my vengeance.

74. And a man’s … ‘One.’ and the taking of a man’s life is as easy as to count one; short as the interval is, his death is but the affair of a moment.

76. forgot myself, allowed myself to behave with want of courtesy.

77. image, reflection, semblance: cp. K. J. iv. 2. 71, “The image of a wicked, heinous fault.”

78. court his favours, endeavour to win him to forgiveness and friendship.

79. Bravery, extravagant display.

82. this water fly, this contemptible insect; “a water-fly skips up and down upon the surface of the water without any apparent purpose or reason, and is thence the proper emblem of a busy trifler” (Johnson).

84. Thy state … gracious, you are all the better for not knowing him; ‘state of grace’ was used in theological language for that state of a man’s soul which had obtained divine favour; cp. M. N. D. ii. 2. 89. “The more my prayer, the lesser is my grace“; W. T. ii. 1. 122, “this action I now go on Is for my better grace.”

85, 6. let a beast … mess, if a beast (like this fellow) only has plenty of property, he shall eat at the king’s table; crib, manger, that from which stalled beasts feed; mess, from O. F. mes, a dish of meat … that which is set or placed, viz., on the table; pp. of mettre, to place. — Low Lat. mittere, to place; Lat. mittere, to send … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

87. chough, it is doubtful whether here a bird of the jackdaw genus is meant, Osric being compared to it on account of his chattering, or whether chough is only another spelling of chuff, used in i. H. IV. ii. 2. 94. for a wealthy but ill-mannered fellow: spacious … dirt, possessed of many a broad acre.

88. Sweet, “a common mode of address in the Elizabethan court language” (Mommsen).

90. with all … spirit, with the greatest readiness; in imitation of Osric’s jargon.

90, 1. Put … head, put your hat on your head, for which it is intended; bonnet, now used only for the headgear of women and Highlander’s.

92. it is very hot, i.e. it is on account of the heat that I carry it in my hand.

94. indifferent cold, fairly, moderately, cold.

95, 6. hot … complexion, hot, as it seems to a man of my temperament; complexion, was formerly used for both temperament and external appearance, as well as the colouring of the face, its only modern sense.

99. on your head, on you.

101. remember — Hamlet was probably about to add ‘your courtesy,’ a phrase used in bidding a man put on his hat, not put it off, as would be expected; cp. L. L. L., v. 1. 103, “I do beseech thee, remember thy courtesy; I beseech thee, apparel thy head.” How the phrase got that meaning has not been discovered; possibly it was originally used when a man had already been bidden to ‘apparel his head,’ but out of humility had hesitated to do so, being thus guilty of a want of the truest courtesy.

102. for mine ease, I assure you I do it because I find it more comfortable; the phrase was a common one in the ceremonious language of the period. Marston, The Malcontent, Ind. 37, again imitates Shakespeare; “Condell. I beseech you, sir, be covered. Sly. No, in good faith, for mine ease.”

103. absolute, perfect in all gentlemanly accomplishments.

l04. excellent differences, according to Delius, different excellences; the Cl. Pr. Edd. explain, “distinctions marking him out from the rest of men,” which seems to me more satisfactory.

104, 5. of very … showing, of most refined manners and high-bred courtesy: feelingly, with a due appreciation of his merits.

106. the card … gentry, the very guide-book of good-breeding; cp. ii. H. vi. iii. 1. 203, “in thy face I see The map of honour, truth and loyalty.”

106, 7. you shall … see, you shall find him to contain in himself every accomplishment that one could wish to see: in continent and part there is a reference to geographical terms, you shall find in him the whole continent of which a gentleman may wish to see a part; with an allusion to the grand tour which in Shakespeare’s day it was the custom for well-born young men to make on the continent.

108. his definement … you, his description suffers nothing at your hands; you describe him in full and adequate terms.

109, 10. to divide … memory, to specify one by one the innumerable particulars of his excellence would be an effort of arithmetic which would make memory giddy.

110, 1. and yet but … sail, the only explanation of this passage that seems at all satisfactory is given by Abbott § 128. Remarking that ‘neither’ for our ‘either’ is in Shakespeare’s manner, after a negative expressed or implied, and that the ellipsis of the negative explains neither here, he paraphrases but yaw neither by “do nothing but lag clumsily behind neither.” To yaw is properly to fall off or swerve from the course laid; and so from the vessel not being able to go straight to the point, we may get the sense of lagging behind. But it seems to me that in respect of his quick sail refers to memory (his = its), not to Laertes, and I would explain, ‘and yet as regards its quick sailing (i.e. however quick memory might sail), it would not be able to keep its course after him.’ It is the speed of memory which is primarily referred to, and though this infers the speed of that which it pursues, the idea is concerned more especially with the pursuer.

111. in the … extolment, to praise him only according to his deserts.

112. a soul … article, “one who, if virtues should be specified inventorially, would have many items in the list” (Schmidt).

112, 3. and his … rareness, and the qualities with which he has been endowed so scarce and rare; Hamlet speaks as though Laertes were a vial into which the finest essences had been poured.

113, 4. his semblance … mirror, his like could be seen only in a mirror of himself; cp. Tim. iv. 3. 22. “His semblable, yea, himself, Timon disdains”; and Theobald, The Double Falsehood, “None but himself could be his parallel.”

114, 5. and who … more, and anyone who should try to follow in his steps, imitate him, would be but as the shadow to the reality.

117, 8. The concernancy … breath, what is the object of all this talk? Why do we waste time in so ineffectually trying to describe him whom no words can describe? For the double comparative, see Abb. § 11.

120, 1. Is ‘t not … really, Horatio banters Osric about his evident inability to understand Hamlet by saying ‘is it possible to you to talk in a language other than your natural one, and yet impossible for you to understand in that other language? You will be able to do so, if you make the effort.’ This is nearly Moberly’s explanation, only that he takes in another tongue as = on another’s tongue. Johnson would read ‘in a mother tongue’; Staunton, ‘in’s mother tongue.’

122. What imports … gentleman, what was the object of mentioning that gentleman.

124, 5. His purse … spent, his verbal exchequer is already bankrupt; all his wealth of fine words is ehxhausted; cp. L. L. L. V. 1. 39, 40, “They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.”

129. it would … me, it would not be any great commendation.

131-3. I dare … himself, “I dare not pretend to know him, lest I should pretend to an equality; no man can completely know another but by knowing himself, which is the utmost extent of human wisdom” (Johnson).

134. for his weapon, as regards his skill in using his weapon.

134, 5. in the … unfellowed, in the opinion of people generally his merit has no fellow, equal; meed, for merit, as conversely merit is used for meed in R. II. i. 3. 156, “A dearer merit, not so deep a maim … Have I deserved at your highness’ hands.”

136. his weapon, the weapon he specially affects.

138. but, well, but never mind, go on.

140. imponed, staked; Dyce supposed this to be Osric’s affected pronunciation of ‘impawned’; more probably it is an affected coinage from Lat. imponere, to place upon.

141. assigns, belongings, accompaniments.

142. hangers, “under this term were comprehended four graduated straps by which the sword was attached to the girdle. See Chapman’s Iliad, xi. 27, “The scaberd was of silver-plate, with golden hangers grac’d” (Steevens): carriages, the hangers, as he afterwards explains.

143. dear to fancy, artistic in their character: very … hilts, thoroughly in keeping with the hilts.

144. liberal conceit, “elaborate design” (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

146, 7. I knew … done, I knew that a commentary would be necessary before the whole description could be understood: margent, the only form used by Shakespeare. Furness points out that in old books explanatory comments were printed in the margin. Cp. R. J. i. 3. 86, “And what obscured in this fair volume lies Find written in the margent of his eyes.”

149. german, akin, relative: Lat. germanus, fully akin, said of brothers and sisters having the same parents.

150, 1. I would … then, till we take to carrying cannon at our sides, I should prefer the word ‘hangers.’

156, 7. he shall … nine, A ‘pass,’ in fencing, is usually a single thrust; here the word seems equivalent to bout, rally, exchange of passes, however many, as in T. N. iii. 4. 102 (cp. below, 1. 254, “Or quit in answer of the third exchange“); and while Laertes wagers that in the twelve exchanges he will hit Hamlet twelve times to his nine, the king wagers that the ratio will not be more than twelve to ten, i.e. will not exceed Hamlet’s hits by three.

157, 8. and it … answer, and the matter might be settled at once if you would condescend to meet him in combat; cp. T. C. 1. 3. 332, “And wake him to the answer, think you?”

163. the breathing … me, the time at which I usually take my exercise.

164. the gentleman willing, if the gentleman be willing.

165. will gain, on the use of will when we should use shall, see Abb. § 319.

167. re-deliver you, return this as your answer.

168. after … will, so long as you give that as my answer in effect, I do not care in what affected language you give it.

170. I commend … lordship, I humbly offer my services, etc.; a complimentary form of taking leave.

171. Yours, yours, said impatiently, your humble servant to command.

172, 3. there are … turn, there are no other tongues than his own that would serve his turn in that matter, sc. in commending him.

174, 5. This lapwing … head, this fellow is off on his errand to tell the king of his success in as great a hurry as the lapwing, who when hatched is said to be in such a hurry to see the world that it runs off with part of its shell adhering to it. Steevens quotes Greene’s Never Too Late, 1616, “Are you no sooner hatched, with the lapwing, but you will run away with the shell on your head?”

176. He did … it, he is such a born courtier that we maybe sure that he excused himself to his mother’s breast before he sucked it for the liberty he was about to take. Caldecott compares Fulwel’s Arte of Flatterie, 1579, “Flatterie hath taken such habit in man’s affections, that it is in moste men altera natura; yea, the very sucking babes hath a kind of adulation towards their nurses for the dugge.” For comply, be ceremonious, formal, cp. ii. 2. 351, above.

177. bevy, brood, flock; the word was especially used of larks and quails; and, as Grant White observes, is a more characteristic classification of Osric, who has just been called a lapwing, than the quarto reading, breed.

178. the drossy age, this age which is the mere scum of better days.

178, 9. got the tune … encounter, caught the note of the times and learnt that veneer of courtesy which is now so much admired.

179-81. a kind … opinions, a kind of frothy talk, gathered here and there, which carries them safe through even the most carefully sifted opinions, i.e. which makes them look like good grain even to those who most carefully sift their opinions before adopting them; fanned is Warburton’s emendation for fond, which many editors retain with the sense of ‘alike through the most foolish and the wisest opinions,’ or ‘alike through the most fondly cherished and the most choice opinions.’ Nicholson conjectures vinewed, i.e. musty, mouldy. Cp. T. C. i. 3. 27,8, “Distinction, with a broad and powerful fan, Puffing at all, winnows the light away.”

181, 2. and do … out, and yet you have only to test them by blowing, and the bubbles burst in a moment; the figure of winnowing seems to be carried on in blow, while at the same time it is mixed up with that of blowing soap-bubbles.

183, 5. commended … hall, young Osric, by whom the king sent you his message, brings back word that you are awaiting him in the hall: to play with, to fence with; to play was a technical term in fencing, and to ‘play a prize’ (as in T. A. i. 1. 399) was to contend for prizes in a competition in which degrees of Master, Provost, and Scholar, were conferred for proficiency in the art.

186. will … time, wish to put off the meeting till you have had further time for practice.

187, 8. they follow … pleasure, my inclinations attend upon the king’s will in the matter.

188. if … ready, if the time seems to him a fitting one, I am ready.

189. so able, in as good condition for the contest.

191. In happy time, they come at the right moment, i.e. I am glad to see them; the French, a la bonne heure.

192. gentle entertainment, conciliatory manner and speech.

197. at the odds, with the odds that have been allowed me; see 11. 155-7.

198. thou … think, you can have no idea.

201. foolery, a mere silly feeling: gain-giving, misgiving; this gain– in composition, as in gainsay, is the A.S. gegn, against, and thus gain-giving is something that gives against (in the sense in which we speak of a road, door, etc., giving in some direction), goes against the heart.

203. obey it, sc. the prompting of your heart: forestal, anticipate, and so prevent; see note on iii. 3. 49.

204. repair, coming; see note on i. 1. 57.

205. we defy augury, I pay no heed to presentiments.

206-8. If it be … will come, if one’s fate is to come now, there will be nothing to fear in the future; if it be not awaiting one in the future, it will come now; if it does not come now, it will come sooner or later: the readiness is all, everything depends upon being ready to go when death summons; cp. Lear, v. 2. 11.

208, 9. since no man … betimes, since no man can carry with him to the grave anything that is his, why should we grieve at leaving it when young? Cp. i. Timothy, vi. 7, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out,” which is part of the Burial Service in the Church of England.

210. take … me, let me make friends between you by placing his hand in yours.

212. as you are a gentleman, as a gentleman like you should do.

213. This presence, all this noble company; used in this phrase of persons of high rank.

214. punish d, afflicted.

216, 7. That might … awake, that was calculated to exasperate your natural feelings, your instincts of honour, and your resentment of discourtesy; for exception, cp. A. W. i. 2. 40, “his honour … knew the true minute when Exception bid him speak.”

219. If Hamlet … away, if the real Hamlet, the genuine nature of the man, be absent from himself.

221. denies it, abjures it as his own action.

223. is of the faction, is among those who are, etc.

226-9. Let my … brother, let my disavowal of having intentionally done you wrong so far obtain pardon of your natural nobility of heart as to make it understand that in shooting my arrow over the house, I have by my carelessness wounded one as dear to me as a brother; o’er the house, as a boy might do, though nothing was farther from his thoughts than that of wounding any one about it.

229. in nature, so far as my natural feelings are concerned.

230, 1. Whose motive … revenge, though in this case those natural feelings would strongly incite me to demand revenge.

231. in my … honour, in the matter of my honour; cp. M. V. ii. 1. 13, “In terms of choice I am not solely led By nice direction of a maiden’s eye,” in both cases little more than a periphrasis.

232. I stand aloof, I hold myself at a distance from you, am not ready to accept your apology: will no reconcilement, refuse all reconciliation.

233. some elder masters, some ‘past masters’ in the etiquette of such matters.

234. I have … peace, I receive an authoritative opinion based upon precedents in such matters, that I may make peace with you.

235. ungored, unwounded by the sarcasms of those who would otherwise twit me with having been glad to shirk the combat; cp. T. C. iii. 3. 228, “My fame is shrewdly gored.”

235, 6. But … love, but for the meantime I accept your proffer of love as being what it professes to be.

237. wrong it, sc. by doubting it: I embrace it freely, I readily take you at your word.

238. And will … play, and will with all the openness of friendship engage with you in this brotherly combat.

240-2. I’ll be … indeed, I’ll act as your foil, my ignorance setting off your skill, as the darkness of night sets off the brilliancy of a star; Hamlet takes up the word foil and uses it in the sense of the tinsel placed under gems in rings, etc., to add to their brilliancy; in this sense from Lat. folium, a leaf; Stick fiery off, stand out with additional brilliancy from the contrast.

246. Your grace … side, your grace by wagering on the weaker side has laid the odds. As the odds are laid on the better horse, etc., the king in backing the less skilful combatant may be said to have laid the odds, instead of taking them (notwithstanding that Laertes was, in order to win, to hit Hamlet twelve times to his nine), if Hamlet, who knew the terms of the wager, means that the points to be conceded by Laertes were not sufficient to put them on an equality. But ‘laid the odds’ may mean nothing more than ‘wagered.’ It is very improbable in view of the meaning in which the word is used in 1. 248, and throughout, that odds should here refer to the greater value of the king’s stake; and Ritson’s calculation that the value of the six Barbary horses as compared with the rapiers, etc., was as twenty to one, must be an imaginary one.

248. But since … odds, but since he is your superior in fencing we have received odds as to the number of hits in order to make the wager an equal one.

250. have all a length, are all of one length; sec Abb. § 81.

254. or quit, … exchange, or, at the third exchange of passes, should requite him by delivering a hit.

255. ordnance, cannon; “the same word as ordinance, which is the old spelling. … It originally meant the bore or size of the cannon, and was thence transferred to the cannon itself” (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

256. drink … breath, drink to him as wishing him breath to last out the combat; cp. 1. 272, below.

257. an union, “Mr. King, Natural Hist. of Precious Stones, says; ‘As no two pearls were ever found exactly alike, this circumstance gave origin to the name “unio” (unique). But in Low Lat. “Margarita (um),” and “perla” became a generic name, “unio” being restricted to fine spherical specimens'” (Cl. Pr. Edd.).

260. kettle, kettledrum; see note on i. 4. 11: speak, give the signal.

262. the heavens to earth, i.e. by re-echoing the sound to the earth.

264. wary, watchful, so as to make no mistake about the hits.

265. Judgement, i.e. I call upon the umpire to decide.

267. this pearl is thine, “under the pretence of throwing a ‘pearl’ into the cup, the king may be supposed to drop some poisonous drug into the wine” … (Steevens).

271. A touch, a touch, but so slight as not to count for a hit.

272. shall, is certain to.

273. napkin, handkerchief; the ordinary sense of the word in those days.

278. by and by, presently: dare not, i.e. because it would excite him too much.

281. And yet … conscience, sc. to do so with my poisoned rapier.

282. dally, are but playing with me; are not in earnest in your attempts to hit me.

284. afeard … me, treat me as something too delicate, tender, to be made the mark of your skill.

286. neither, we should now say ‘either.’

287. Have at you now! Laertes, now really irritated at being foiled, is determined to use all his skill.

Stage Directionscuffling, how the exchange of rapiers takes place is much disputed.

287. they are incensed, their blood is up, and they will now if not stopped fight in real earnest.

288. come again, return to the struggle.

291. as a … springe, “This bird [the woodcock] is trained to decoy other birds, and sometimes, while strutting incautiously too near the springe, it becomes itself entangled” (F. J. V., Notes and Queries, 8 Aug. 1874); cp. Marston, The Malcontent, ii. 1.1, “He’s caught, The woodcock’s head is i’ the noose.

292. with, by, as a result of.

293. She swounds … bleed, she swoons, faints, at the sight of their blood.

302. the foul practice, my treacherous plot.

303. Hath … me, cp. iii. 4. 199, 200.

311. thy union, the pearl you spoke of; perhaps with a play upon the word in its ordinary sense in reference to his union in death with the queen.

312. He … served, the retribution that has fallen upon him is a just one.

313. temper’d, compounded; cp. Cymb. v. 5. 250.

315. Mine … thee, may not the guilt of my death and my father’s rest upon you!

319. chance, mischance.

320. That are … act, who have had no part in this catastrophe, but are only as dumb spectators at a play.

321, 2. as this … arrest, which I have not, for this cruel serjeant, death, allows neither escape nor delay when he has once laid his hand upon your shoulder; cp. H. V. iv. 1. 178. “war is his beadle“: K. J. ii. 1. I88, “Her injury the beadle to her sin”; and Sonn. Ixxii. 1. 2.

324, 5. report … unsatisfied, explain to those who shall blame my action what good cause I had for it: it, sc. that I will outlive you.

326. an antique Roman, one who, like the Romans of old, would choose death rather than a life which would be a disgrace, i.e. in surviving so noble a friend.

330. Things … me, unless the real facts are made known, my name will live behind me stained with guilt. Staunton compares M. A. iii. 110, “No glory lives behind the back of such.”

332. Absent … awhile, forgo for a time the joys of heaven.

336, 7. gives … volley, fires this salute.

338. o’ercrows, triumphs over; as a cock crows over a beaten antagonist.

340. the election lights, the choice of king will fall.

342, 3. with the … solicited, together with the events, great and small, which have incited me to what I have done; cp. R. II. i. 2. 2, “Alas, the part I had in Woodstock’s blood Doth more solicit me than your exclaims.”

345. And flights … rest, and may angels accompany your soul in its flight to heaven, and, etc.

348. cease your search, i.e. you need not go further, for woe and subject of wonder are present here in abundance.

349. This … havoc, “this pile of corpses urges to merciless slaughter where no quarter is given”… (Cl. Pr. Edd.). For cries on, cp. Oth. v. 1. 48, “whose noise is this that cries on murder?” R. III. v. 3. 231, ‘Came to my tent and cried on victory.”

350. is toward, is in preparation; cp. A. C. ii. 6. 75, “four feasts are toward.”

351. at a shot, with one shot.

353. our affairs, the narration of what occurred in England in our embassy.

355. To tell, in telling.

357. Where … thanks? by whom may we expect to be thanked for our trouble? his, sc. the king’s.

360. jump, so exactly at the moment; see i. 1. 65: bloody question, bloody occurrences.

362. give order, said to one of the attendants.

363. stage, raised platform.

366. carnal, referring to the marriage of the king and queen.

367. Of accidental … slaughters, sc. Polonius’s death.

368. Of deaths … cause, of deaths instigated by, and so resulting from cunning and the force of circumstances: the cunning was that which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern employed at the king’s bidding to bring about Hamlet’s death; the forced cause, the circumstances in which Hamlet was thus placed, and which forced him to send Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their death.

369. upshot, conclusion: purposes mistook, plots clumsily executed, as in the murder of Hamlet.

370. Fall’n … heads, recoiling upon their inventors.

371. deliver, narrate.

373. embrace my fortune, i.e. accession to the throne.

374. 5. I have … me, I have some rights in this kingdom which still live in the remembrance of men…

377. And from … more, and the words I shall have to speak will come from him (sc. Hamlet) whose wish thus signified will find an echo in the voices of others.

378. this same, i.e. the placing of the bodies on the raised platform: presently, without delay.

379, 80. Even … happen, without waiting for men’s minds to grow calm, lest in the interval, while they are still excited, other calamities, due to intention or mistake, be added to the present ones.

382. had he … on, had circumstances occurred to prompt him to action.

353. To have … royally, to have shown himself worthy of his royal descent.

384. rites of war, the firing of cannon, etc.

387. Becomes the field, is suitable to the field of battle.

Stage DirectionA dead march, music such as accompanies the funeral of a soldier.

Additional Note to I. 5. 21, 2.

“To blazon,” says Guillin, “is to express what the shapes, kinds, and colours of things born in Armes are, together with their apt significations.” To portray armorial hearings in colour is to ‘display’…to draw them without colour is to ‘trick’ them (Sir H. Maxwell in Ed. Rev., July, 1905).” So Addison, ‘to explain in proper terms the figures on ensigns armorial.’

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