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ACT III SCENE IV The Queen's closet. 
LORD POLONIUSHe will come straight. Look you lay home to him:
Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with,
And that your grace hath screen'd and stood between
Much heat and him. I'll sconce me even here.
Pray you, be round with him.
HAMLET[Within] Mother, mother, mother!
QUEEN GERTRUDEI'll warrant you,
Fear me not: withdraw, I hear him coming.
[POLONIUS hides behind the arras]
[Enter HAMLET]
HAMLETNow, mother, what's the matter?
QUEEN GERTRUDEHamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.
HAMLETMother, you have my father much offended.10
QUEEN GERTRUDECome, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
HAMLETGo, go, you question with a wicked tongue.
QUEEN GERTRUDEWhy, how now, Hamlet!
HAMLETWhat's the matter now?
QUEEN GERTRUDEHave you forgot me?
HAMLETNo, by the rood, not so:
You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife;
And--would it were not so!--you are my mother.
QUEEN GERTRUDENay, then, I'll set those to you that can speak.
HAMLETCome, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge;
You go not till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.20
QUEEN GERTRUDEWhat wilt thou do? thou wilt not murder me?
Help, help, ho!
LORD POLONIUS[Behind] What, ho! help, help, help!
HAMLET[Drawing] How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!
[Makes a pass through the arras]
LORD POLONIUS[Behind] O, I am slain!
[Falls and dies]
QUEEN GERTRUDEO me, what hast thou done?
HAMLETNay, I know not:
Is it the king?
QUEEN GERTRUDEO, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
HAMLETA bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
QUEEN GERTRUDEAs kill a king!
HAMLETAy, lady, 'twas my word.30
[Lifts up the arras and discovers POLONIUS]
Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune;
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.
Leave wringing of your hands: peace! sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom have not brass'd it so
That it is proof and bulwark against sense.
QUEEN GERTRUDEWhat have I done, that thou darest wag thy tongue
In noise so rude against me?
HAMLETSuch an act40
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows
As false as dicers' oaths: O, such a deed
As from the body of contraction plucks
The very soul, and sweet religion makes
A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow:
Yea, this solidity and compound mass,
With tristful visage, as against the doom,50
Is thought-sick at the act.
QUEEN GERTRUDEAy me, what act,
That roars so loud, and thunders in the index?
HAMLETLook here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;

Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,60
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgement: and what judgement70
Would step from this to this? Sense, sure, you have,
Else could you not have motion; but sure, that sense
Is apoplex'd; for madness would not err,
Nor sense to ecstasy was ne'er so thrall'd
But it reserved some quantity of choice,
To serve in such a difference. What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
Or but a sickly part of one true sense80
Could not so mope.
O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn
And reason panders will.
QUEEN GERTRUDEO Hamlet, speak no more:
Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul;
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.
HAMLETNay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty,--
QUEEN GERTRUDEO, speak to me no more;
These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears;
No more, sweet Hamlet!93
HAMLETA murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!
HAMLETA king of shreds and patches,--
[Enter Ghost]
Save me, and hover o'er me with your wings,100
You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?
QUEEN GERTRUDEAlas, he's mad!
HAMLETDo you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by
The important acting of your dread command? O, say!
GhostDo not forget: this visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:110
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.
HAMLETHow is it with you, lady?
QUEEN GERTRUDEAlas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper120
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?
HAMLETOn him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable. Do not look upon me;
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects: then what I have to do
Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.
QUEEN GERTRUDETo whom do you speak this?
HAMLETDo you see nothing there?
QUEEN GERTRUDENothing at all; yet all that is I see.129
HAMLETNor did you nothing hear?
QUEEN GERTRUDENo, nothing but ourselves.
HAMLETWhy, look you there! look, how it steals away!
My father, in his habit as he lived!
Look, where he goes, even now, out at the portal!
[Exit Ghost]
QUEEN GERTRUDEThis the very coinage of your brain:
This bodiless creation ecstasy
Is very cunning in.
My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music: it is not madness
That I have utter'd: bring me to the test,
And I the matter will re-word; which madness140
Would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that mattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass, but my madness speaks:
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times150
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.
QUEEN GERTRUDEO Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.
HAMLETO, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.
Good night: but go not to mine uncle's bed;
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good160
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either ... the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency. Once more, good night:
And when you are desirous to be bless'd,
I'll blessing beg of you. For this same lord,
[Pointing to POLONIUS]
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel, only to be kind:
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
One word more, good lady.
QUEEN GERTRUDEWhat shall I do?
HAMLETNot this, by no means, that I bid you do:
Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed;
Pinch wanton on your cheek; call you his mouse;
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses,
Or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers,
Make you to ravel all this matter out,
That I essentially am not in madness,180
But mad in craft. 'Twere good you let him know;
For who, that's but a queen, fair, sober, wise,
Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib,
Such dear concernings hide? who would do so?
No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house's top.
Let the birds fly, and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down.
QUEEN GERTRUDEBe thou assured, if words be made of breath,190
And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
What thou hast said to me.
HAMLETI must to England; you know that?
I had forgot: 'tis so concluded on.
HAMLETThere's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way,
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petar: and 't shall go hard200
But I will delve one yard below their mines,
And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet,
When in one line two crafts directly meet.
This man shall set me packing:
I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room.
Mother, good night. Indeed this counsellor
Is now most still, most secret and most grave,
Who was in life a foolish prating knave.
Come, sir, to draw toward an end with you.
Good night, mother.210
[Exeunt severally; HAMLET dragging in POLONIUS]

Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 4
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.


1. straight, straightway, immediately; Look ... him, be sure you drive your blows home, i.e. press him with your questions so that he cannot escape answering definitely.

2. pranks, freaks of madness; have been ... with, have gone to too great a length to be endured any longer.

3. 4. hath screen'd ... him, have interposed to shield him from much wrath which would otherwise have fallen upon him.

4. sconce me, hide myself; from O. F. enconser, to hide, cover; cp. M. W. iii. 3. 96, "I will ensconce me behind the arras."

5. be round with him, use the plainest language possible to him; for round, see note on ii. 2. 139.

6. I'll warrant you, I promise you that I will.

7. Fear me not, do not doubt my pressing him hard.

11. you answer ... tongue, your answer is mere frivolity.

14. rood, cross, i.e. of Christ; "it would appear that, at least in earlier times, the rood signified not merely the cross, but the image of Christ upon the cross" (Dyce).

16. would ... so! alas!

17. Nay, then, ... speak, if you are going to answer me in such a strain as this, I will set those to talk to you who will force you to use very different language.

18. budge, stir, move a step.

19, 20. You go not ... you, you will not be allowed to move from this spot till, as in a minor, I have shown you your real nature.

23. a rat, Collier points out that in Shirley's Traitor, 1635, Depazzi says of a secreted listener, "I smell a rat behind the hangings": Dead, for a ducat, I'll wager a ducat I have killed him.

Stage Direction. A pass, a thrust with his rapier.

32. thy better, i.e. in rank, sc. the king; take thy fortune, take the fate which has befallen you owing to your thrusting yourself in where you were not wanted.

33. is some danger, is a dangerous kind of business.

34. Leave ... hands, it is no good your making all this outward show of grief.

35. 6 And let me ... stuff, it is your heart that should be wrung, and that I mean to do, if it is not impenetrably callous.

37, 8. If damned ... sense, if accursed familiarity with crime has not so brazened it as to be proof against all feeling.

39. wag thy tongue, use your tongue so freely; cp. the literal use of the word in M. V. iv. 1. 76, "You may as well forbid the mountain pines To wag their high tops and to make no noise," i.e. without making any noise.

40, 1. Such an act ... modesty, you have committed a deed of a nature that dims the grace of all modest blushes; the modesty of all your sex is robbed of much of its grace by the fact of a woman having done such a deed.

42. calls virtue hypocrite, makes all real virtue seem mere hypocrisy; cp. Cymb. iii. 4. 63-6, H. V. ii. 2, 138-40.

42-4. takes off ... there, and in place of the tenderness that graces an innocent love, sets upon its brow a shameless flush.

46, 7. As from the body ... soul, as robs the outward form of the marriage tie of that which is its essential grace; contraction, for marriage contract, is not found elsewhere.

48. A rhapsody of words, a mere extravagant utterance of words without meaning; rhapsody, Greek...the reciting of epic poetry, who strings odes or songs together.

49-51. Yea, ... act, yea, even this solid earth, with gloom-struck face, its though expectant of the day of judgement, is sick at heart in beholding such a deed. Wordsworth refers, among other passages in the New Testament, to ii. Peter, iii. 7-11, Revelations, xx. 11. For doom, cp. Macb. ii. 3. 83, "up, up, and see The great dooms image!"

51, 2. what act, ... index? what act of mine is it that has so stormy a prelude? Dyce gives "Index, a prelude, anything preparatory to another, — the index (i.e. table of contents) being generally in Shakespeare's day prefixed to the book."

53. this picture ... this, there is much discussion here as to whether any pictures are really shown, if so, whether they are pictures hanging on the wall, or miniatures produced for the occasion - one, of his father, possibly hanging round Hamlet's neck, the other, of the king, round that of the queen.

54. counterfeit presentment, exact resemblance; counterfeit, here an adjective, is frequently used by Shakespeare, as a substantive, for a portrait, e.g. M. V. iii. 2. 115, "Fair Portia's counterfeit!"

56. Hyperion's curls, see note on i. 2. 140; on some ancient coins the sun-god is represented with an abundance of curls in imitation of the lambent rays on the circumference of the sun's disc: front, brow.

57. to threaten, expressive of threatening; awe-striking.

58. station, posture; herald, Mercury being the messenger of the gods.

59. heaven-kissing, reaching almost to heaven.

60. combination, sc. of excellences.

61. 2. Where every ... seal, which bore the impression of the hand of all the gods, set there in attestation of his nobility.

64, 5. like ... brother, infecting and so destroying his brother as a mildewed ear of corn by its neighbourhood to a healthy ear infects and blights it; "mildew, from A.S. meledeaw, honey-dew ... The sense is probably 'honey-dew,' from the sticky, honey-like appearance of some kinds of bight, as, e.g. on lime-trees" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

66. leave to feed, cease to draw your nourishment from; desert his support.

67. batten, grow fat; properly intransitive, as here, but used transitively by Milton, Lycidas, 29, "battening our flocks."

68. You ... love, you cannot say that you were led astray by ardent love.

69. The hey-day ... humble, passion no longer overleaps its bounds, but has become dulled and well under control properly an interjection of surprise or exultation.

70. waits upon, waits for the direction of.

71. step, transfer itself, pass; with the idea of passing from what is good to what is bad; sure, certainly.

72. motion, "impulse of desire" (Staunton), who compares M. M. i. 4. 59, "The wanton stings and motions of the sense"; Oth. i. 3. 95. "Of spirit so still and quiet, that her motion Blush'd at herself;" i. 3. 334, "our raging motions, our carnal stings."

73. apoplex'd, suddenly deprived of its functions; as the body is by a stroke of apoplexy...

73-6. for madness ... difference, for even madness would never make such a mistake, nor sense ever allow itself to become so entirely the slave of passionate feeling as to leave itself no power of choice by which to help itself in deciding between two objects so different from each other (and one so inferior to the other).

77. cozen'd, cheated; from "F. cousiner, 'to claime kindred for advantage, or particular ends; as he, who to save charges in travelling, goes from house to house, as cosin to the honour of every one'; Cotgrave. So in modern F. cousiner is 'to call cousin, to sponge, to live upon other people'; Hamilton and Legros. The change of meaning from 'sponge' to 'beguile' or 'cheat' was easy" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.): hoodman blind, what we now call 'blind-man's-buff', a game among children in which one of them has his eyes 'hooded' or blinded, with a handkerchief, and is set to catch and name one of his companions, a forfeit being paid if he names the wrong one.

78-81. Eyes ... mope, eyes without the help of touch to guide them, touch without the help of sight, etc., or even a small portion, and that a diseased portion, of a single healthy sense, would not show itself so dull and stupid; mope, "the same word as mop, to grimace ... — Du. moppen, to pout; whence to grimace, or to sulk" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

82-5. Rebellious ... fire, if hellish passion can burst out into such uncontrolled mutiny in a woman of her age, virtue in the case of ardent youth may well show itself as soft as wax and melt in the fire which she (in flaming youth) feels; mutine, the older form of 'mutiny,' as the substantive in v. 2. 6, and K. J. ii. i. 378. Hanmer plausibly conjectures heat for hell.

85-8. proclaim ... will, virtue (in the case of young men) need not protest any indignation when the strength of passion gives the signal for action, since here we have proof that aged blood, which should be cold as ice, burns as fiercely as that which runs in the veins of youth, and that reason which should restrain impulse only acts as a go-between to it and its object; for gives the charge, cp. Lucr. 434, "Anon his beating heart, alarum striking, Gives the hot charge and bids them do their liking." 89. Into ... soul, so that I am forced to look into the very depths of my soul.

90. grained, dyed so deeply and permanently; "granum, in Latin, signifies a seed or kernel, and it was early applied to all small objects resembling seeds, and finally to all minute particles. Hence it was applied to the round, seed-like form of the dried body, or rather ovarium, of an insect of the genus coccus, which furnished a variety of red dyes ... The colour obtained from kermes or grain was peculiarly durable ... See C. E. iii. 2. 108, 'Ant. S. That's a fault that water will mend. Dro. S. No, sir, 'tis in grain; Noah's flood could not do it'; T. N. i. 5. 256, ''Tis in grain, sir; 'twill endure wind and weather.'" ... (Marsh, Lectures on the Eng. Lang.).

91. As will ... tinct, that nothing can wash them out; leave, "part with, give up, resign. Cp. T. G. iv. 4. 79, 'It seems you loved not her to leave her token'" (Steevens).

94. that is ... tithe, literally who is not the twentieth part of the tenth part, i.e. who weighs nothing as against, etc.

95. a vice of kings, who is to a real king nothing more than the buffoon in the old Moralities was to the serious characters. Douce shows that the 'Vice' in those old plays was so named from the vicious qualities attributed to him, and from the mischievous nature of his general conduct.

96. A cutpurse ... rule, one who has filched the empire and its sway as a common pick-pocket filches his stolen goods. Purses were in Shakespeare's day worn hanging at the girdle, and so were easily cut off by thieves.

99. A king ... patches, a king with nothing kingly about him, made up of nothing but the cast-off remnants of kingly dignity. Cp. Antony's contemptuous description of Lepidus, J. C. iv. 2. 36-9.

101. What would ... figure? what would you desire appearing thus?

103. Do you ... chide, you surely must have come to chide, etc.

104,5. That, lapsed ... command? who, having allowed the time to pass in inactivity and passionate regrets, has failed to carry out your dread command, a matter of such pressing importance; for important, cp. C. E. v. 1. 138, "At your important letters."

109. amazement ... sits, utter bewilderment has settled down upon your mother; has taken entire possession of her.

110. step ... soul, interpose to save her from being overpowered by the emotions now struggling in her heart.

111. Conceit ... works, imagination works most powerfully in those who, like women, are physically weakest.

113, 4. Alas ... vacancy, alas, it is not you who should ask how I am, but I who should ask how you are, what has come over you, that you look so fixedly upon mere empty space.

115. incorporal, incorporeal, immaterial.

116. Forth ... peep, from your eyes your soul looks out in wild amazement.

117-9. And ... end, and, like soldiers awakened by the signal of the enemy being at hand, your hair, a moment ago lying still upon your head, starts up and stands erect, like inanimate matter suddenly endowed with life; the ... soldiers, here the defines the situation of soldiers in particular circumstances; alarm, a cry to arms, from Ital. all 'arme, to arms! excrements, anything that grows out from the body, such as hair, nails; from Lat. excrescere, to grow out.

122. how pale he glares, how pale he looks as he glares upon us.

123, 4. His form ... capable, his appearance, coupled with the reason of that appearance, if appealing to the very stones, would stir them to feeling. For capable, = susceptible, receptive, cp. A. Y. L. iii. 5. 23, "The cicatrice and capable impressure."

125, 6. convert ... effects, turn my action from its proper sternness to pity. Singer would read affects, i.e. dispositions, affection of the mind, as in Oth. i. 3. 264, "Not to comply with heat — the young affect, In me defunct."

126, 7. then what ... colour, then the vengeance which I have to take will lack that justification which it would otherwise have, cp. J. C. ii. 1. 29, "And, since the quarrel Will bear no colour for the thing he is, Fashion it thus."

127. tears ... blood, and instead of shedding the blood of the murderer, I shall perhaps only shed tears of pity from my own eyes.

129. is, exists, is not "a false creation Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain," Macb. ii. 1. 38, 9.

131. steals away, gradually vanishes.

132. in his ... lived, in the very dress he wore when alive.

135, 6. This bodiless ... in, madness is very skilful in giving birth to such illusions of the sight.

137, 8. doth ... music, beats with as regular and healthy a rhythm as yours; its pulsations are as indicative of a sound frame of mind as yours.

140. re-word, repeat word for word.

140, 1. which madness ... from, whereas a madman would wander in fantastic fashion from the subject.

141. for love of grace, as you hope for pardon; grace, the grace of God; for the omission of the definite article before love, see Abb. § 89.

142, 3. Lay not ... speaks, do not try to soothe your soul by imagining to yourself that it is not your sin but my madness which calls aloud in this way.

144-6. It will ... unseen, to do so will, instead of healing the sore, only cover it as with a film while rank corruption, eating into the core of your soul, poisons it unnoticed; the open sore may be treated, the sore skinned over will prevent the progress of the disease from being seen, though it is going on all the time and can only end in death.

147. avoid ... come, avoid sin in the future.

148, 9. And do not ... ranker, and do not make what is already so foul still fouler by self-deception and hypocrisy; compost, mixture, composition, manure; cp. composture, Tim. iv. 3. 444, "The earth's a thief, That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen From general excrement."

149. Forgive ... virtue, forgive me for this virtuous indignation. Staunton puts a comma after this, and marks the passage down to 1. 152 as an Aside.

150. For in ... times, for in these times of gross and pampered indulgence; pursy, literally short-winded, here short-winded from over-indulgence. Cp. Tim. v. 4. 12, "pursy insolence shall break his wind With fear and horrid flight."

152. curb, "'bend and truckle,' From F. courber. So in the Vision of Piers Ploughman, "Thanne I courbed on my knees, And cried hire of grace" (Steevens).

154. worser, for the double comparative, see Abb. § 11.

155. the purer, all the purer; by so much the purer; the, ablative case of the demonstrative.

157. Assume ... not, act as though you were virtuous, even if you have not the feeling.

158, 9. That monster ... this, "that monster, Custom, who destroys all natural feeling and prevents it from being exerted, and is the malignant attendant on habits, is yet angel in this respect, etc. The double meaning of the word 'habits' suggested the 'frock or livery' in 1. 164 [161]" (Cl. Pr. Edd.). I believe we should read 'out' for 'eat,' and 'devilish' for 'devil.'

160-2. That ... put on, that, to accustom us to the practice of good actions, he, besides what else he does, furnishes us with the garb of virtue which we can easily put on, if we so desire.

164, 5. And either ... potency, and either completely overcome the devil, or at least expel him from our nature with irresistible force. The reading in the text is a conjecture of Jennings; various other conjectures have been made, e.g. curb, lay, lodge, quell, shame, overcome, the earlier quartos giving "And either the devil," the later, "And master the devil."

166, 7. And when ... you, and when you crave for a blessing from heaven, thus showing your contrition, I will ask of you a mother's blessing; For, as regards.

168-70. but heaven ... minister, but heaven has pleased that it should be so, viz., that I should be its instrument of vengeance in order that I might be punished by being guilty of this man's death, and this man be punished by my act; heaven as a plural occurs frequently in Shakespeare, e.g. R. II. i. 2. 6, Oth. iv. 2. 47, Per. i. 4. 16.'

171. bestow him, get rid of his dead body; answer well, justify myself; render a good account of my act in killing him; cp. Lear. i. 3. 10, "the fault of it I'll answer"; Cymb. i. 4. 170, "Only thus far you shall answer."

173. I must ... kind, I must be cruel in words only to be kind in reality, i.e. my reproaches are necessary to make you see your conflict in its right light, and so bring you to a better manner of life.

174. Thus bad ... behind, thus my harsh words must be followed by even harsher measures, sc. the punishment of the king.

176. Not this, ... do, do anything in the world except this that I bid you do.

177. bloat, bloated by excess, especially in drinking.

178. Pinch ... check, make you wanton with his caresses: mouse, a term of endearment common in Shakespeare's day; cp. T. N. i. 5. 69, "good my mouse of virtue."

179-81. Make you ... craft, make you confess that I am not mad in reality, but only pretend to be so in order to effect my objects; ravel ... out, unravel; used of the gradual process of extracting Hamlet's secret, disentangling, as it were, the knotted skein.

182-4. For who ... hide? for who but one that has everything that can ennoble a woman — rank, beauty, virtue, wisdom — would think of hiding a secret of such vital importance from a filthy creature like your husband; concernings, cp. M. M. i. i. 57, "As time and our concernings shall importune"; paddock, toad; cp. Macb. i. 1. 9; gib, more commonly gib-cat, a male cat.

185. No, in despite ... secrecy, no, in spite of the secrecy which common sense would bid you maintain.

188. To try conclusions, to make experiment.

189. break ... down, break your neck by falling headlong in your effort to fly like a bird. The anecdote in question has never been discovered, but "the reference," as the Cl. Pr. Edd. point out, "must be to some fable in which an ape opened a basket containing live birds, then crept into it himself, and 'to try conclusions,' whether he could fly like them, jumped out and broke his neck."

190-2. Be thou ... me, rest assured that, if words are made of breath, and breath is made of life, it is not in me to breathe your secret to any one; for a similar play upon life in two different senses, cp. H. V. iv. 2. 53-5, "Description cannot suit itself in words To demonstrate the life of such a battle In life so lifeless as it shows itself."

193. I must to England, we are not informed how Hamlet became aware of this, unless he overheard the king's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

194. concluded, determined.

195. There's letters, for the singular verb preceding a plural subject, see Abb. § 335.

196. as, just as much, i.e. no more; fang'd, with their fangs still in them; of course the poison is not in the fang itself, but in the poison-bag at the back of it.

197. 8. They must ... knavery, it is for them to make the path smooth for me, and to lead me where the villanous scheme of the king may be put into execution; the original sense of the substantive marshall is 'horse-servant,' thence an attendant generally, and later on a title of honour: Let it work, let the scheme go on.

199, 200. For 'tis ... petar, for it is the finest sport in the world to see the engineer blown into the air by his own engine of destruction; the sport, for the emphatic definite article, see Abb. § 92, and for the form enginer, § 443; Hoist, probably the past participle of the old verb to hoise, or perhaps an instance of the omission of the participial termination; petar, a war engine filled with explosive materials.

200-2. and 't shall ... moon, and it will be strange if I do not manage to drive my mine beneath theirs and blow them high into the air; 't shall go hard, i.e. the difficulty must be a great one if I do not manage to overcome it; for at, = up to, see Abb. § 143. Mines in besieging a fortress, etc., are made useless by running a counter mine at a short depth below or directly opposite them, and breaking down the intervening space by the explosion of gunpowder, when those working in them will be blown into the air.

203. when ... meet, when two skilful designs come into direct opposition; the figure of the counter mine is still kept up.

204. set me packing, hurry me off about my business; in packing there is perhaps the idea of contriving which is often found in Shakespeare, though here it does not seem to be the primary one.

205. lug ... guts, both words used in a contemptuous way, though guts had not the vulgar sense which it has since acquired; neighbour, used as an adjective.

208. prating, chattering, fond of idle talk.

209. to draw ... you, that I may have done with you; that I may put the finishing touch to this business.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < >.

Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Hamlet believed Claudius was behind the arras (see line 32). Why do you think in this pivotal moment he acts quickly, without the hesitation that has otherwise plagued him? It is because the thought of Claudius in Gertrude's chamber -- the same chamber which was the scene of "incest" in the King's "celestial bed" (1.5) -- drives Hamlet to blind rage? Does Hamlet confirm this in his admission to Laertes? (See 5.2.215-224.)

2. What do you make of Hamlet's reaction to killing Polonius by mistake? How remorseful does Hamlet appear? For more on this topic please see A Note on Killing Polonius.

3. F. J. Furnivall argues that "before any revelation of his father's murder is made to Hamlet, before any burden of revenging that murder is laid upon him, he thinks of suicide as a welcome means of escape from the fair world of God's, made abominable to his diseased and weak imagination by his mother's lust and the dishonor done by her to his father's memory" (Leopold Shakespeare, p. 72). Is there textual evidence to support the theory that Queen Gertrude desired Claudius while she was still married to Hamlet's father? (See 1.5)

4. Representing the pictures in line 53 is left up to our imaginations. In some productions of the play the pictures are full portraits of the two brothers hanging in Gertrude's closet. In others they are miniature portraits in lockets around the necks of Hamlet and Gertrude. Sometimes the actor playing Hamlet merely draws silhouettes in the air. How would you stage line 53?

5. Do your feelings toward Gertrude change after the Ghost has to intervene on her behalf?

6. The Ghost has appeared to others in the play. Why do you think Queen Gertrude cannot see the Ghost?

7. Which lines reveal that Gertrude will keep Hamlet's secret?

8. What advantage, if any, is there now that Gertrude understands Hamlet?

9. Both Gertrude and Hamlet know he is to be sent to England, yet Shakespeare never reveals how they came to know. What are some possible ways in which they found out?

10. Do you agree that Polonius' murder is the turning-point of the drama? Or do you agree with A. C. Bradley that the true turning-point is Hamlet's refusal to kill Claudius while he is praying (3.3)? Bradley argues Hamlet's failure there "is the cause of all the disasters that follow. In sparing the King, he sacrifices Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Laertes, and the Queen and himself" (Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 108).


More to Explore

 Hamlet: The Complete Play with Explanatory Notes
 Analysis of Uncle Claudius
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

 O Jephthah - Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Introduction to Hamlet
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway (Fortinbras) Subplot
 Deception in Hamlet

 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
 Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost


Did You Know? ... An English translation of Belleforest's mid sixteenth-century Histories Tragiques appeared in quarto form in 1608. It is The Hystorie of Hamblet. The translation was possibly in circulation before this, but whether it or Shakespeare's work came first in unknown. The focus of Chapter Three of the The Hystorie of Hamblet is the closet scene and it is fascinating to compare it to Shakespeare's version. To say that Hamblet is more vengeful than our hero is an understatement:
"drawing his sworde thrust it into the hangings, which done, pulled the counsellor (half dead) out by the heeles, made an end of killing him, and beeing slaine, cut his bodie in pieces, which he caused to be boyled, and then cast it into a vaulte or privie, that so it mighte serve for foode to the hogges."
Please see A Note on the Hystorie of Hamblet for a discussion on its connection to Shakespeare.


 Philological Examination Questions on Hamlet
 Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
 Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Analysis of I am sick at heart (1.1)
 Hamlet: Q & A

 Soliloquy Analysis: O this too too... (1.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3)
 Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4)


Thoughts on Polonius ... "Old servants, like Polonius, are always in possession of the secrets of the family. Even though they are not the most intimate friends of the prince and his household, it is nevertheless impossible that things, which do not reach the ear of the world, should be concealed from them. Claudius and the Queen, as the Ghost intimates, have long lived in criminal intercourse. This could have been no impenetrable secret to Polonius, and Claudius was unquestionably too cunning to flatter himself that it was unknown to Polonius. Has Polonius, perhaps, at earlier periods, in order to find out some secret, made use of the very means which he recommends to the King, or has he before now crept behind the very tapestry where he finally meets his death? (Hermann Von Friesen, Briefe Über Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1864)


 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Hamlet as National Hero

 Claudius and the Dumb-Show: Why Does he Stay?
 Claudius and the Mousetrap
 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King

 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet


Essential Resources ... Explore our Shakespeare Glossary and find the meanings of old and unusual words used in Elizabethan England and, of course, in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Just what is a rabbit-sucker anyway? The Shakespeare Glossary.


 Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
 All About Yorick
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius
 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 Shakespeare's View of the Child Actors Through Hamlet

 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers