home contact


Please see the bottom of the page for full explanatory notes and helpful resources.

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

Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.


1. stowed, put away.

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

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

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

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

15. countenance, favour.

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

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

18. mouthed, taken into his mouth.

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

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

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

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


How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. 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 does an excellent job of confusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- and critics -- with his paradox (line 25). It could mean: Claudius is in the vicinity of the body of Polonius, but the King (Hamlet's father) is not with his own body. More likely it means: Claudius is in the vicinity of the body of Polonius, but Claudius is not with the body (i.e., body politic). Earlier in the play Laertes says that when Hamlet becomes king he will certainly be on the side on the people, and his choices will "be circumscrib'd unto the voice and yielding of that body whereof he is the head" (1.3.19-24). There are many interpretations of this line. What do you think Hamlet means?

2. What is the purpose of this short scene? Do you feel an increase in the speed of action at this point?


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

 Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
 Introduction to Hamlet
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway (Fortinbras) Subplot
 Deception in Hamlet

 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
 Plot Summary of Hamlet
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost


Did You Know? ... According to Robert Neres (1753-1829), the phrase "a thing of nothing" or "of naught" was a common way to express anything very worthless. In his Glossary on the Works of English Authors he cites an example from a play by Shakespeare's contemporaries, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont:
Shall then that thing that honours thee,
How miserable a thing soever, yet a thing still,
And though a thing of nothing, thy thing ever. (The Humourous Lieutenant, iv, 6)
Shakespeare uses the phrase again in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "a paramour is, God bless us, a thing of naught" (4.2.12).


 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)


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.


 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

 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