Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 3
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. him, Hamlet.
2. goes loose, is allowed his freedom.
3. Yet must ... him, yet it will not do for me to employ the full
force of the law against him...
4. of, by; distracted, weak-brained.
5. Who like ... eyes, whose liking depends not upon the use of
their judgement, but, etc.
6. the offender's scourge, the provocation the offender has
received; that by which he has been lashed into furious deeds.
7-9. To hear ... pause, in order that things may go smoothly,
not excite opposition, this sending him away so suddenly must
be made to seem the result of deliberate calculation.
14. without, outside: guarded ... pleasure, under a guard till
it be known what it is your pleasure should be done.
20, 1. a certain ... him, a certain assemblage of discriminating
worms, worms that know what they like, are even now engaged
upon him; an allusion to the Diet of Worms.
21, 2. Your worm ... diet, the worm you and I know so well is
the only real emperor as regards diet; for your, used in this
colloquial sense, see Abb. § 220: fat, fatten.
24, 5. but ... table, two dishes served in a different way, but
placed before the same company; cp. Westward Ho! i. 2, "an
excellent pickled goose, a new service," i.e. dressed in a new way:
for variable, cp. iii. 1. 172: the end, what it all comes to.
30. go a progress, an allusion to the royal 'progresses,'
journeys of state, so common in England in former days.
33. send thither to see, Delius points out that the king would
not be able himself to get to heaven to make the inquiry.
34. the other place, hell.
35. nose, smell; cp. Cor. v. 1. 28, "to nose the offence."
38. He will ... come, you need not be afraid of his running
away, he 's fast enough there.
40. tender, hold precious; see note on i. 3. 107.
41. must ... hence, will render it necessary for you to leave
Denmark. The king pretends that it is no wish of his, but a
necessary consequence of the deed, as though Hamlet would be
seized by the very multitude who he had just before said loved
him too much to allow any harm to be done to him.
42. with fiery quickness, "with hot haste" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).
43. the wind at help, the wind favourable; for at, in place of
the prefix a-, as in asleep, afoot, etc., see Abb. § 143.
44. The associates tend, the companions I have chosen for
your voyage are in readiness for you: bent, directed, in trim.
45. For England! in order that he may not be suspected of
having made any plans of his own to baffle the king's design,
Hamlet pretends to be surprised at the information.
46. So it is ... purposes, it is well, as you would allow if you
53. at foot, at his heels, closely; tempt ... aboard, persuade
him to go on board as quickly as you can.
54. I'll have him hence, I am determined that he shall sail.
55, 6. for every ... affair, for everything else that depends upon
the management of this business is thoroughly complete.
57. if my love ... aught, if you in the least value my love.
58. As my .. sense, and the greatness of my power may well
teach you to do so.
59, 60. Since yet ... sword, since the chastisement you received
at our hands is still fresh in your memory; cicatrice, scar.
60. free awe, "awe still felt, though no longer enforced by the
presence of Danish armies" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).
61. homage, i.e. the homage of being ready to carry out our
61, 2. thou mayst ... process, you may not treat with indifference our royal mandate; for process, cp. A. C. i. 1. 28, "Where's Fulvia's process?" The Cl. Pr. Edd. point out that set "would
not have been thus used had it not been familiar in the phrases
'set at nought,' 'set at a pin's fee,' etc."
62-4. which imports ... Hamlet, the full tenour of which as
explained by letters sent with it, and enforcing it with adjurations of the same purport, is that Hamlet should at once be put to death; conjuring is the reading of the folios, the quartos
giving congruing, the objection to which is its tautology.
65. For like ... rages, for the effect which his existence has
upon me is like that of a hectic fever on the blood, i.e. causing it
to burn violently; hectic, properly an adjective = continual,
habitual, and especially applied of old to fevers; now used only
in the sense of consumptive...
66. And thou ... me, and to you I must look for a cure for this
disease of mine.
67. However ... begun, whatever may happen to me, I can never
feel that the happiness I long for has begun.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet_4_3.html >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet_4_3.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Claudius is well aware of how the people of Denmark feel about Hamlet. Why is Hamlet beloved? What qualities does he have that would appeal to the public?
2. In Q2 line 46 reads, "For England." In the Folio it reads, "For England?" Which would you include?
3. In line 47 Claudius hints at his sinister intentions and Hamlet replies, "I see a cherub that sees them." Does this contribute to the idea of Divine Providence elaborated on elsewhere in the play?
For more on the topic of providence, please click here.
4. Why is Claudius' last speech in this scene a soliloquy? How does it compare to his last soliloquy in 3.3?
5. Why does Claudius think England will help him carry out his plan?
6. Nearly half of all the lines spoken by Hamlet to Claudius occur in this short scene, which frequently is omitted in stage productions due to the length of the play. What do you think of the dramatic significance of this scene?
Polonius at supper ... Hamlet is trying to be perceived as insane so it is not terribly important to deconstruct his passage on Polonius being eaten, but it is confusing and in need of a paraphrase:
Not where he eats but where he is eaten - a certain convocation (gathering as in Parliament) of worms are eating at him (the kind of worm that would breed in the body of a politician like Polonius). The worm dines the best of us all (as an emperor).
Hamlet's comment has to be a play on Martin Luther's appearance at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Worms is the city in which the Catholic Church held a meeting -- called a diet -- resulting in the Church's decision to excommunicate Luther, who also happened to be Professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. How could Shakespeare resist?
Hugo on Hamlet ... "Hamlet, that awful being complete in incompleteness; all, in order to be nothing! He is prince and demagogue, sagacious and extravagant,
profound and frivolous, man and neuter. He has little faith in the sceptre, rails at the throne, has a student for his comrade, converses with any one
passing by, argues with the first comer, understands the people, despises the mob, hates violence, distrusts success, questions obscurity, and is on
speaking terms with mystery. He communicates to others maladies that he has not himself; his feigned madness inoculates his mistress with real
madness. He is familiar with spectres and with actors. He jests, with the axe of Orestes in his hand. He talks literature, recites verses, composes
a theatrical criticism, plays with bones in a church-yard, dumfounds his mother, avenges his father, and closes the dread drama of life and death with
a gigantic point of interrogation. He terrifies, and then disconcerts. Never has anything more over-whelming been dreamed." (Victor Hugo. Wiliam Shakespeare. Trans. Melville B. Anderson.)