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
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
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
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 of abruption 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 ass charg'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
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 his opposite, 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; for cozenage, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
172, 3. there are ... turn, there are no other tongues than his
own that would serve his turn in that matter, sc. in commending
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
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
178, 9. got the tune ... encounter, caught the note of the
times and learnt that veneer of courtesy which is now so much
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." [In keeping with Nicholson's vinewed "we have a change that restores the sense -- word not incongruous with, but suggested by -- the metaphorical yesty collection, and a repetition of that Shakespearean expression, a 'mouldy wit.' ... The 'yesty collection' is a frothiness of sour and stale beer, which passes with those of corrupted and vitiated taste; but when tried and blown upon by the more sober judgement flies off, and does not remain like the true head of sound liquor or wit." -- as quoted in Furness Variorum ed. -- Shk Online]
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
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
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
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
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
232. I stand aloof, I hold myself at a distance from you, am
not ready to accept your apology: will no reconcilement, refuse
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
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,
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
262. the heavens to earth, i.e. by re-echoing the sound to the
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
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 Direction. scuffling, 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
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. lxxii. 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
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
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
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
382. had he ... on, had circumstances occurred to prompt him
353. To have ... royally, to have shown himself worthy of his
384. rites of war, the firing of cannon, etc.
387. Becomes the field, is suitable to the field of battle.
Stage Direction. A 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
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_5_2.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_5_2.html >.
Brooke, Stopford Augustus. Ten More Plays of Shakespeare. New York: H. Holt and company, 1913.
Trench, Wilbraham Fitzjohn. Shakespeare's Hamlet. London: J. Murray, 1913.
Points for Discussion
It is said the murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern proved Hamlet's "intellectual sharpness, his clear brain; proved that he was a man not of impulsive but of calculating action. I only see in it the cunning almost of a madman. That action of his -- an
action of treachery and of mean treachery -- is so apart from the rest of his magnanimous character, that, if ever Hamlet passed the limit between feigned and real madness, he seems to me to have passed it then. The punishment he inflicted on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was far too heavy for their guilt -- the sort of punishment
which just reasoning would not have imposed. The event does not prove Hamlet's clearness of intellect, but on the contrary. At no other point of the play does he act in this unintelligent, unmoral way. It is said in excuse of Hamlet's conduct here, that the age in which he lived was savage, and human life of no importance. That is
true; but Hamlet, as Shakespeare made him, was not of that age. He is not naturally fond of blood or war, of drink or feasting, of such treachery, for ambition's sake,
as the King's. He does not belong to this crew" (Stopford A. Brooke). Read on...
Scene Questions for Review
1. Do you feel Hamlet was justified in forging the King's order? Did Hamlet need to substitute someone else's death warrant for his own in order to survive?
2. A writer uses satire to criticize social vices and absurdities. How does Shakespeare shape the character of Osric to satirize the ostentatious dress and obsequious nature of a typical courtier? How does Hamlet's metaphor based on the brewing process (lines 175-181) reinforce the image of courtiers as a frivolous group of sycophants that crumble under pressure? Note yesty means "foamy" or "frothy." Please see the notes at the bottom of this page for more on this metaphor and please click here for more on Osric.
3. In Hamlet's simple yet profound assertion that the readiness is all (line 208), we again see the influence of Montaigne on Shakespeare, particularly his essay, "That to philosophize is to learn how to die." Note the following quotation from Montaigne's essay and compare it to Hamlet's philosophy:
Let us learne to stand, and combat [Death] with a resolute minde. And being to take the greatest advantage she hath upon us from her, let us take a cleane contrary way from the common, let us remove her strangenesse from her, let us converse, frequent, and acquaint our selves with her, let us have nothing so much in minde as death, let us at all times and seasons, and in the ugliest manner that may be, yea with all faces shapen and represent the same unto our imagination. ... A man should ever, as much as in him lieth, be ready booted to take his journey, and above all things, looke he have then nothing to doe but with himselfe.
4. Hamlet does not seem to suspect any sinister purpose for the fencing match, arranged by the very man who has already tried to kill him. Is this an oversight on Shakespeare's part? Or is it possible that Hamlet's high opinion of Laertes' as a "very noble youth" (5.1.225) makes him confident that no foul play will occur? Remember Claudius' description of Hamlet as "Most generous and free from all contriving" (4.7.134).
5. We have discussed previously how Gertrude's actions are sometimes ambiguous. Some actors use these ambiguities to make Gertrude seem more shrewd than she appears on the surface. Although in most productions Gertrude is oblivious to the danger, occasionally we will see a Gertrude who fully understands the implication of Claudius' suggestion "Gertrude, do not drink" (line 277), and drinks anyway, therefore committing suicide. For an example please see Peggy Downie's performance as Gertrude in Hamlet (2009). You can view the clip on YouTube. How would you portray Gertrude?
On Shakespeare's Method ... "Laertes was penitent before he died. It is true
that at one petition in his last prayer Shakespeare must have laughed; for how could Hamlet be
responsible at the Judgment Day for the poison bought by Laertes of his Parisian mountebank?
The dying man did not quite clearly apprehend the situation! But the main point is that he did repent,
while Claudius of course did not, having had his chance and missed it in the central act. There
was some kindliness or benignity, some tinge of a charity like God's, intermingled with sarcasm
or grim irony, and some sort of pitilessness like Nature's, in the dramatist's great heart; for he was
glad to convert his villains if he could ere they should die." (Wilbraham Fitzjohn Trench)