Hamlet (1917) Yale/Notes
Dramatis Personæ. A list of characters was first given in the Quarto of 1676, although it is commonly stated that Rowe's edition of 1709 contained the first list.
I. i. 3. Long . . . king! The pass-word or reply to the sentry's challenge.
I. i. 15. Friends . . . Dane. Probably the officers' pass-word.
I. i. 19. piece. A humorous expression equivalent to 'something like him,' or possibly Horatio means to imply that, because of his skepticism, he is with them in bodily form but not in intellectual sympathy. (Chambers.)
I. i. 37. his. Regularly used for 'its.' The latter form had not yet come into common use.
I. i. 42. scholar. Exorcisms of evil spirits were performed in Latin and hence by scholars.
I. i. 45. It . . . to. It was believed that a ghost could not speak until spoken to.
I. i. 63. sledded Polacks. Various suggestions have been made concerning the meaning of these words for the reason that the second Quarto and first Folio have 'sleaded (F1 sledded) pollax' which conceivably could mean a poleaxe weighted with a sledge or hammer at the back. When, however, later references in the play to Polacks are taken into consideration, the meaning given in the gloss seems the more probable.
I. i. 70. Good now. Interjectional expression denoting entreaty.
I. i. 87. law and heraldry. The forms of both the common law and the law of arms having been duly observed. The latter would give the compact binding force in honor. Nobles who signed binding agreements were wont to have their coats of arms added to their signatures.
I. i. 96. unimproved. Other conjectures are: 'not turned to account', 'untutored', 'undisciplined.'
I. i. 98. list. Literally, a special catalogue of the soldiers of a force; here used in the sense of an indiscriminately chosen crowd.
I. i. 99. For . . . diet. For no pay but their keep. (Moberly.) Perhaps, however, the meaning is 'as food and diet to keep the enterprise going.'
I. i. 100. stomach. I.e., gives an opportunity for courage. With a quibble on the literal meaning.
I. i. 117. As . . . blood. The abruptness of the transition in the sense has led some commentators to believe either (1) that there is a line missing, or (2) that II. 121–125 should be inserted between II. 116 and 117. Attempts have also been made to emend the text by adding a conjectural line.
I. i. 118. Disasters. In North's Plutarch, Julius Cæsar, whence Shakespeare drew his account of the strange omens preceding Caesar's assassination, the sun was said to be darkened.
I. i. 120. sick . . . doomsday. A reference to the Biblical account of the events to occur at the second coming of the Son of Man. Cf. Matthew 24. 29 and Revelation 6. 12.
I. i. 125. climatures. Possibly used for those who live under the same climate. (Clarendon.)
I. i. 127. cross. The usual interpretation has been to accept this as meaning crossing the spot where an apparition had appeared, and thus subjecting Horatio, according to traditional ghost-lore, to the spectre's malignant influence. This explanation is rejected by Onions, who gives the reading of the gloss.
I. i. 136. uphoarded. If while alive a person had hidden gold and placed it under a charm, it was necessary, for his soul's quiet, to release it from the spell. (Illustrated by Steevens from Dekker's Knight's Conjuring.)
I. i. 140. partisan. A long-handled spear with a blade having one or more lateral cutting projections.
I. i. 150. cock. It was a tradition that at cockcrow spirits returned to their confines.
I. i. 162. planets strike. The malignant aspects of planets, according to the pseudo-science of astrology, were supposed to be able to injure incautious travellers by night.
I. ii. 65. kin . . . kind. I.e., more than his actual kinship and less than a natural relation. 'Kind' is here used equivocally for 'natural' and also for 'affectionate.' A proverbial expression occurring elsewhere in Elizabethan literature.
I. ii. 67. i' the sun. Probably Hamlet means he is too much in the unwelcome sunshine of the King's favor. The reply is purposely enigmatical. There is a quibble on 'sun' and 'son.'
I. ii. 113. Wittenberg. A famous German university, founded in 1502.
I. ii. 140. Hyperion. The Titanic sun god, but here used for Apollo.
I. ii. 149. Niobe. A daughter of Tantalus, who boasted that she had more sons and daughters than Leto. Consequently Apollo and Artemis slew her children with arrows, and she herself was turned by Zeus into a stone upon Mount Sipylus in Lydia, where she shed tears all the summer long.
I. ii. 161. forget myself. I.e., or I have lost the knowledge even of myself.
I. ii. 180. bak'd meats. It was an old custom to have a feast as part of the funeral ceremonies.
I. ii. 198. vast. It here means emptiness, the time when no living thing was seen.
I. iii. 7. violet. Early violets were proverbial examples of transitory things.
I. iii. 26. place. The reading of the first Folio is 'peculiar Sect and force.'
I. iii. 53. double. I.e., because Laertes had already taken leave of his father.
I. iii. 56. wind . . . of. Wind blowing from a stern quarter, hence 'behind,' 'favorable.'
I. iii. 58. precepts. Many parallels for several of these precepts have been discovered.
I. iii. 74. Are . . . that. Various conjectures have been suggested: 'are most select and generous in that(White); 'select and generous, are most choice in that' (Steevens); 'are most select and generous, chiefly in that.' The emendation of the text here followed is that commonly accepted.
I. iii. 99. tenders. Polonius, in 1. 106, uses 'tenders' in the sense of promises to pay, which, as he says, are not 'legal currency.'
I. iii. 115. woodcocks. The woodcock was supposed to be a witless bird easily snared.
I. iv. 36. dram of eale. Possibly 'eale' is a corruption of 'e'il,' the contracted form of 'evil.' The rest of the passage is equally uncertain. The Cambridge Shakespeare records about forty conjectures. Dowden's conjecture seems to come nearest to the sense of the passage; 'out of a mere doubt or suspicion the dram of evil degrades in reputation all the noble substance to its own [substance].'
I. iv. 83. Nemean lion's. One of the powerful monsters slain by Hercules.
I. V. 21. blazon. Literally, to portray armorial bearings in their proper colors.
I. V. 32. fat weed. It has been suggested that Shakespeare meant by this the asphodel referred to by Lucian in connection with Lethe. However, there is a reference in Seneca's Hercules Furens to the Taxus tree overleaning the quiet lake of Lethe. This is the Latin name for the yew tree, which exudes a resinous substance from its leaves. It could, therefore, be described as a 'fat weed.'
I. V. 33. Lethe. A river (sometimes called a lake) of the Greek underworld, whose waters gave forgetfulness of the past to those who drank of them.
I. V. 67. gates and alleys. Shakespeare here implies as much as was then known touching the circulation of the blood. (Hudson.)
I. V. 80. horrible. The tradition of the stage assigns this line to Hamlet. It was so spoken by, among others, Garrick, Kemble, and Irving. Betterton probably omitted it, for it is marked for omission in the Quarto of 1676.
I. V. 136. Saint Patrick. He. was the keeper of purgatory; the patron saint of all blunders and confusion (Moberly); he banished serpents from Ireland, hence he was the proper saint to take cognizance of the report that a serpent stung Hamlet's father. (Dowden.) If Hamlet's oath requires any explanation, the first surmise appears the more probable.
I. V. 138. honest ghost. I.e., an actual ghost, and not the devil or an evil spirit in disguise. Cf . Hamlet's doubt upon this point later.
I. V. 154. sword. It was customary to swear upon the sword, because the hilt made the form of the cross. Such an oath was binding both in military honor and in religion.
I. V. 167. your. Does not mean Horatio's philosophy, but refers to philosophy in general.
II. i. 35. Of general assault. Chambers plausibly suggests that the meaning may be 'a passionate desire to assail all kinds of experience.'
II. i. 119. More . . . love. The line is obscure, but Hudson paraphrases it as follows: 'By keeping Hamlet's love secret we may cause more of grief to others than of hatred on his part by disclosing it.'
II. ii. 79. regards . . . allowance. I.e., terms securing the safety of the country and regulating the passage of troops through it. (Clarendon.)
II. ii. 123. machine. Such endings were not uncommon in Euphuistic letters.
II. ii. 174. fishmonger. The word is probably used here in some cant coarse sense, such as 'wencher' or 'seller of women's chastity.'
II. ii. 184. good hissing. I.e., carrion fit for kissing by the sun. Warburton suggested the emendation 'God kissing carrion' but there appears no necessity for accepting this.
II. ii. 187. conception. There is a quibble here on conception as 'understanding' and as 'the state of being pregnant.'
II. ii. 198. Between who? Hamlet deliberately misunderstands 'matter' to mean a cause of dispute.
II. ii. 204. amber . . . gum. I.e., in reference to the exudings from the weak eyes of old men.
II. ii. 237. on . . . button. I.e., we have not reached the summit of good fortune.
II. ii. 244. strumpet. I.e., because of Fortune's fickleness.
II. ii. 274. beggars bodies. I.e., if ambition is but a shadow, then monarchs and heroes, who have attained ambition, are in possession only of a shadow; whereas beggars, who have not attained ambition, at least possess something material—i.e., their bodies. But every beggar may long for ambition—a shadow—and hence the monarchs and heroes who are in possession of their ambitions, are but the beggars' shadows—i.e., have this shadow for which the beggar longs in vain.
II. ii. 288. dear a halfpenny. Too dear at a halfpenny, of insignificant value.
II. ii. 328. quintessence. A term in alchemy. The fifth essence of ancient and mediaeval philosophy, supposed to be the substance of which the heavenly bodies were composed, and to be actually latent in all things: hence, pure essence or extract, essential part of a thing. (Murray.)
II. ii. 346. tickle o' the sere. Literally, the 'sere' is the catch of a gunlock that holds the hammer. Hence a trigger that goes off at a light touch. (Nicholson.)
II. ii. 356. innovation. This speech does not appear in the Quarto of 1603 but does in the Quarto of 1604. There are two conjectures as to the meaning: (1) On January 30, 1603–4, a license was granted to the children of the Revels to play at the Blackfriars Theatre and elsewhere; (2) or, it refers to the custom of introducing personal abuse into plays. Either might be described as an 'innovation.'
II. ii. 362. aery. This refers to the young choristers of the Chapel Royal [and of St. Paul's] who acted plays.
II. ii. 363. cry . . . question. This is also interpreted as meaning 'exclaim against (lampoon) those who are at the top of their profession, (or, the best productions of the dramatic pen).'
II. ii. 386. Hercules and his load. The reference may be to the sign of the Globe Theatre which represented Hercules carrying the globe. The sign itself was an allusion to the story of Hercules relieving Atlas.
II. ii. 407. handsaw. The phrase is proverbial. It has been conjectured that handsaw is a corruption of 'her(o)nsew,' 'her(o)nshaw'—a heron or hern. It is probable, however, that Hamlet uses the corrupted form in its derived sense of being able to recognize two dissimilar objects.
II. ii. 419. Roscius. A famous Roman actor whose intellectual capacities lifted him above the stigma usually attached to his profession.
II. ii. 427. scene individable. Probably a play which follows the classical rules relating to the three unities of time, place, and action—hence usually a tragedy. Cf. note on Seneca below.
II. ii. 428. poem unlimited. Probably a play which disregarded the unities; or, a comedy in which unlimited license was used in treating the material. Cf. note on Plautus below.
II. ii. 428. Seneca. A Roman rhetorical writer of tragedies whose plays were during the Renaissance considered models of classic technique. See Appendix A for notes on Senecan influence in Hamlet.
II. ii. 429. Plautus. A Roman comic dramatist who was the model for comedy technique during the Renaissance. Cf. The Comedy of Errors.
II. ii. 429. law of writ and the liberty. There are two conjectures as to the meaning: (1) 'law of writ,' plays written according to the classical rules; and 'liberty,' plays which do not follow these rules; (2) adhering to the text, hence, 'law of writ'; 'liberty,' plays in which the dialogue was extemporized by the actors, as in the Italian commedia dell' arte. This editor believes 'law of writ' to refer to 'tragedy,' (cf. scene individable); 'liberty' to refer to 'comedy,' (cf. poem unlimited).
II. ii. 431. Jephthah. There were several old ballads on this subject. Cf. Percy's Reliques, 2d. ed., 1757, for a copy of one of the ballads.
II. ii. 457. Cracked . . . ring. Having the circle broken that surrounds the sovereign's head on a coin. Here used quibblingly for a voice that has changed and hence is 'cracked' in its 'ring' or purity of tone. It is, of course, a boy actor of women's parts that Hamlet is addressing.
II. ii. 466. Caviare . . . general. I.e., a delicacy for which the general public has no relish.
II. ii. 469. digested. Cf. the Prologue to Troilus and Cressida, 23–29.
II. ii. 471. no sallets . . . savoury. No ribaldry to spice the lines.
II. ii. 475. handsome. I.e., its beauty was not that of elaborate diction or polish, but that of structure and proportion.
II. ii. 477. Æneas' tale to Dido. The passage inserted here should be compared with Marlowe and Nash's Dido, Queen of Carthage (1594), II. 1. 214 ff. It is a matter of critical dispute whether Shakespeare intended this passage as burlesque or whether he selected deliberately the earlier turgid romantic style to contrast with his more realistic dramatic method in this scene. The latter seems the more probable.
II. ii. 481. Hyrcanian beast. The tiger. So described by Virgil. Cf. Æneid, IV. 366.
II. ii. 485. ominous horse. The wooden horse in which the Greeks lay hidden until the Trojans dragged it within the walls.
II. ii. 532. Hecuba. The wife of Priam.
II. ii. 533. mobled. The first Folio has 'inobled,' which is probably a misprint. 'Mobled' is a debased form of 'muffled.' It is clearly Shakespeare's intention to make use of an unusual word here, as may be seen by Hamlet's query and Polonius' approval.
II. ii. 561. God's bodikins. A corruption of an oath 'by God's body.'
II. ii. 573. dozen or sixteen lines. There has been much discussion concerning the possibility of identifying the passage written by Hamlet. Chambers (Warwick Shakespeare) suggests Lucianus' speech, III. ii. 270 ff., which is interrupted by the King's rising. Others point to the Player King's speech, III. ii. 198 ff., because its philosophy is characteristic of Hamlet. The question is not one to which an authoritative answer can be given.
II. ii. 595. cue. A technical stage term for the last words of an actor's line to which another actor replied.
II. ii. 603. John-a-dreams. Armin's Nest of Ninnies (1608) contains the following definition: "His ame is Iohne, indeede, saies the cinick; but neither Iohn-a-nods, nor Iohn-a-dreames, yet either as you take Itt."
II. ii. 605. property. His crown, his wife, everything, in short, which he might be said to be possessed of, except his life. (Furness.)
II. ii. 613. pigeon-liver'd. It was believed that pigeons were gentle because they had no gall.
III. i. 59. take . . . troubles. Many commentators have felt that this line contains a badly mixed metaphor and consequently have suggested various unnecessary emendations. The phrase 'sea of troubles,' in the sense of a 'mass of troubles,' however, occurs elsewhere in Elizabethan literature. Cf. Greene's Mamillia, ed. Grosart, vol. II., p. 18; "hauing himself escaped the seas of trouble and care," and Dekker's The Wonder of a Kingdome, ed. 1873, vol. IV., p. 230:
I never heard mongst all your Romane spirits,
That any held so bravely up his head.
In such a sea of troubles (that come rouling
One on anothers necke) as Lotti doth.
III. i. 153. nickname. I.e., by painting your face and by your fashionable affectations you turn human beings (God's creatures) into figures that bear the same resemblance to reality that a nickname does to a Christian name. Or possibly this is an allusion to the Elizabethan court fashion of giving animal names to the various courtiers.
III. ii. 12. groundlings. The inferior portion of the audience who paid a penny for standing room in the yard or pit.
III. ii. 14. inexplicable dumb-shows. Pantomimes illustrating the subsequent action of the play, often so crudely performed that they were 'inexplicable.'
III. ii. 16. Termagant. A noisy character representing a supposed god of the Saracens in some of the mystery plays.
III. ii. 16. out-herods. I.e., outdoes even the extravagant acting of the character of Herod in the mystery plays. Cf. the stage direction in the Coventry play of The Nativity, "Here Erode ragis in the pagond;, and in the strete also."
III. ii. 45. there he of them, etc. Examples of gags and stage business introduced by clowns are found in The Pilgrimage to Parnassus, V:
"if thou canst but drawe thy mouth awrye, laye thy legg over thy staffe, sawe a piece of cheese asunder with thy dagger, lape up drinke on the earth, I warrant thee theile laughe mightilie."
III. ii. 89. Vulcan. He was the armorer of the gods.
III. ii. 95. he idle. This may have its usual meanings of 'purposeless,' 'intent upon nothing in particular.' So in King Lear, I. iii. 17. However, in Hall's Chronicles, the phrase 'ydle and weak in his wit' occurs.
III. ii. 98. chameleon's dish. It was believed that chameleons fed on air.
III. ii. 109. Julius Cæsar. The universities gave many representations within their walls of plays in Latin and English. A Latin play on Cæsar's death was acted at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1582. Cf. also the title-page of the 1603 Quarto of Hamlet.
III. ii. 110. Capitol. The murder of Caesar actually took place in the Theatre of Pompey, which stood in the Campus Martins. Shakespeare transfers the scene to the Capitol both in Julius Cæsar and in Antony and Cleopatra.
III. ii. 144. hobby-horse. In the morris dance, a figure of a horse made of light material and fastened around the waist of a performer, who went through various antics. The quotation here may be from a ballad perhaps satirizing Puritan opposition to May-games.
III. ii. 146. S. d. The dumb-show enters. In Gorboduc and many early plays a 'dumb-show' was introduced to give a pantomimic representation or suggestion of the action that was to follow.
III. ii. 148. miching mallecho. Mallecho is from the Spanish malhecho, meaning 'mischief.'
III. ii. 168. Tellus'. The goddess of the earth, who received and nourished the sown seed.
III. ii. 229. sport and repose. Here the objects of the verb.
III. ii. 252. duke's name. In the first Quarto the leading characters are called Duke and Duchess. In the second Quarto and the First Folio, except for this line, they are always King and Queen. In revising his play, Shakespeare overlooked this instance.
III. ii. 260. interpret. At 'puppet shows' or 'motions' the dialogue was spoken by a person concealed behind the stage. This was called 'interpreting.'
III. ii. 268. The croaking . . . revenge. Cf. The True Tragedie of Richard the Third (p. 61, Shake. Soc. reprint) :
The screeking raven sits croking for revenge,
Whole herds of beasts come bellowing for revenge.
III. ii. 273. Hecate. Diana, in her aspect as infernal goddess, was regarded as the queen of witches.
III. ii. 282. false fire. A proverbial expression.
III. ii. 287. deer go weep. It was a popular belief that the deer, when badly wounded, retires from the herd and goes apart to weep and die.
III. ii. 293. Provincial roses. So called either from Provence, or from Provins, the latter a town forty miles from Paris.
III. ii. 294. cry. Literally, a pack of hounds—here, troop or company.
III. ii. 295. share. Theatrical companies were organized on a profit-sharing basis.
III. ii. 297. Damon. An allusion to the classical story of the friendship of Damon and Pythias (or Phintias).
III. ii. 300. pajock. Various conjectures, but in Scotland a peacock is often called a "peajock." Skeat, however, derives 'pajock' from 'patch,' a pied fool.' Spenser calls a ragamuffin a 'patchocke.'
III. ii. 317. distempered. This word was used both of mental and of bodily disorder. Hamlet pretends to understand it in the latter sense.
III. ii. 320. choler. The other meaning of 'choler' is bilious disorder, and so again Hamlet pretends to misunderstand it.
III. ii. 323. purgation. Another word of double meaning: (I) clearing from the accusation or suspicion of guilt; (2) purging in the medical sense.
III. ii. 355. pickers and stealers. An allusion to the phrase in the Catechism, "Keep my hands from picking and stealing."
III. ii. 365. 'While . . . grows.' A proverb of frequent occurrence. Cf. Heywood's Proverbs "while the grass groweth the horse sterveth," and Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra (1578), "Whylst grass doth growe, oft sterves the seely steede."
III. ii. 368. recover the wind of. A hunting term, meaning, keep watch upon (as upon the game, when following it down the wind).
III. ii. 395. fret. Frets are stops of instruments of the lute or guitar kind. Hamlet also uses it quibblingly to mean 'annoy.'
III. ii. 409. bent. An expression derived from archery; the bow has its 'bent' when it is drawn as far as it can be.
III. ii. 419. Nero. He murdered his mother, Agrippina.
III. iii. 37. primal. The curse of Cain. Cf. Genesis 4. 2.
III. iii. 61. lies. Is sustainable, as an action at law.
III. iii. 80. full of bread. Cf. Ezekiel 16. 49.
III. iv. 67. moor. With a quibble upon the meaning 'swarthy complexioned.'
III. iv. 98. vice. The Vice was a stock character in the Moralities. Although personifying the weaker side of human nature, he was represented as a buffoon and supplied much of the comic element in these plays.
III. iv. 102. shreds and patches. The usual interpretation is to assume that this refers to the motley dress of the Vice (cf. 'patch' = a 'pied fool'), but it may conceivably refer to the subjects the King rules, although no commentator gives authority for this assumption.
III. iv. 169. master. A word has dropped out of the earlier texts, and the present emendation 'master' is derived from the fourth Folio.
III. iv. 207. go hard But. Introduces a statement of what will happen unless overwhelming difficulties prevent it.
IV. i. 40. so, haply, slander. Added by Capell.
IV. ii. 29. The . . . body. A passage about which there have been many conjectures. If Hamlet is not designedly talking mere nonsense, a possible interpretation is: "The King is still alive (i.e., with his body), but he is not with the dead body (i.e., of Polonius)."
IV. iii. 21. convocation. The commentators maintain that this is an allusion to the famous Diet or convocation of the dignitaries of the German Empire held at Worms in 1521. It was before this Diet that Martin Luther was summoned to appear. There is no necessity of putting this far-fetched interpretation upon this passage. In John Wyclif's The Ave Maria, ed. E. E. T. S., p. 206, occurs: "the rotten body [of man] that is worms' meat."
IV. v. S. d. Here the first Folio omits the Gentleman, no doubt, as Collier suggested, to avoid the employment of another actor.
IV. v. 20., S. d. The direction in the Quarto of 1603 is, "Enter Ofelia playing on a lute, and her haire downe, singing." This is the basis for the traditional stage-business.
IV. v. 25. cockle hat. The cockle hat, staff, and sandals were the guise of a pilgrim and often the disguise of a lover. Cf. Romeo's costume at the ball in Romeo and Juliet. The hat was so called from the custom of putting cockle-shells upon pilgrims' hats. The shell was used to denote that the pilgrim had been to the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Spain.
IV. v. 42. owl . . . daughter. There is an old mediæval legend that a baker's daughter was turned into an owl for refusing bread to our Lord.
IV. v. 97. Switzers. The kings of France employed Swiss mercenaries as guards, and the term 'Switzer' gradually became almost synonymous with 'guard.'
IV. v. 141. swoopstake. A gambling term used when the winner clears the board of all the stakes.
IV. v. 145. life-rendering pelican. It was a common belief that the pelican either fed its young or restored them to life when dead with its own blood. It was thus an emblem of self-sacrifice.
IV. v. 164. Hey non nonny. Such meaningless refrains are common in old songs. Cf. 169, 'a-down.'
IV. v. 171. wheel. Although this word is usually rendered 'burden,' 'refrain,' it is possible that Ophelia is referring to singing at the spinning wheel.
IV. v. 171. false steward. This ballad or story is unknown at the present day.
IV. v. 174. rosemary. Flower symbolism was an elaborate system in mediæval and Elizabethan England. Cf. The Handfull of Pleasant Delights (1684):
Rosemarie is for remembrance,
betweene vs dale and night:
Wishing that I might alwaies haue
you present in my sight.
Rosemary was also often strewn on biers. Cf. Romeo and Juliet, IV. v. 79; Winter's Tale, IV. iii. 74.
IV. v. 176. pansies. French, pensées; a country emblem of love and courtship.
IV. v. 180. rue. It was usually mingled with holy water and then known as 'herb of grace.' Hence "we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays." Wormwood, the emblem of remorse, was likewise called herb of grace.
IV. v. 182. difference. An heraldic bearing, distinguishing the arms of one branch of the same family from another. Ophelia implies that for the Queen rue signifies the remembrance of things to be repented, for herself—regret. Thus the "difference."
IV. v. 186. For . . . joy. The music for this song is contained in Anthony Holborne's Citharn Schoole (1597). It is probably a Robin Hood ballad now lost.
IV. v. 189. And . . . again. This song appears under the titles: The Merry Milkmaids and The Milkmaids' Dumps.
IV. vii. 20. spring. There are several springs in England whose water is so heavily charged with lime that they will petrify with a deposit of lime any object placed in them. There is one at King's Newnham in Warwickshire and another at Knaresborough in Yorkshire.
IV. vii. 21. gyves. I.e., would turn punishments inflicted upon Hamlet into proofs of his good qualities.
IV. vii. 23. reverted. I.e., the 'loud wind' of popular affection for Hamlet would have caused Claudius' shafts to recoil upon himself.
IV. vii. 27. praises . . . again. I.e., if praises may return to what is now no more—viz., Ophelia's natural charm.
IV. vii. 28. challenger on mount. I.e., her worth challenged all the age to deny her perfection. 'Of all the age' qualifies 'challenger,' not 'mount.'
IV. vii. 40. Claudio. A character who does not appear in the play.
IV. vii. 76. siege. Literally 'seat,' thence 'rank,' because people sat at table in order of precedence.
IV. vii. 87. incorps'd and demi-natur'd. I.e., like a Centaur, half horse, half man; Literally, of one body with and half partaking of the nature of his horse.
IV. vii. 89. in . . . tricks. I.e., I could not contrive so many proofs of dexterity as he could perform.
IV. vii. 96. masterly report. I.e., a report describing Laertes as a master of fence.
IV. vii. 112. passages of proof. I.e., instances from practical experience of the world.
IV. vii. 117. plurisy. Often used where today one would say 'plethora.'
IV. vii. 122. spendthrift sigh. A satisfactory paraphrase has not as yet been suggested. The meaning is probably: "the recognition of a 'should' when it is too late is like a wasteful or supererogatory sigh, which pains even while giving relief." The difficulty lies in the adjectival use of 'spendthrift.'
IV. vii. 138. pass of practice. It may mean either (1) a treacherous thrust, or (2) a thrust in which you are practised. The former is more probable.
IV. vii. 141. mountebank. These men were quack-doctors who journeyed from town to town selling miraculous remedies and forbidden poisons.
IV. vii. 145. moon. It was believed that to gather herbs by moonlight added to their medicinal value. It is possible, however, that here the meaning is simply 'on earth.'
IV. vii. 155. cunnings. The first Folio reads commings, possibly fencing bouts. Cf. Cotgrave: Venuë—a comming; also, a vennie in fencing.
IV. vii. 170. crow-flowers. It is probable that Shakespeare is still carrying on his flower symbolism in the garlands worn by Ophelia. Thus the crow-flower was also called 'the fair maid of France' ; long purples were said to represent the cold hand of death; nettles meant 'stung to the quick'; and the daisy sometimes imported 'pure virginity' or 'spring of life.' (Parkinson.)
IV. vii. 190. woman. I.e., when these tears are shed the woman in me, what I have inherited from my mother, will have come out.
V. i. S. d. Clowns. The term applies both to peasants and to actors of low comedy roles. In stage directions it usually means the latter.
V. i. 9. se offendendo. The clown's mistake for se defendendo, which would itself be a mistake, since this was the verdict in the case of justifiable homicide.
V. i. 37. bore arms. A quibble on bearing a coat of arms and the literal meaning.
V. i. 44. confess thyself. Half of an old proverb. The rest was 'and be hanged.' Or possibly 'confess thyself a fool.'
V. i. 59. unyoke. Literally, 'you may then free your cattle from the yoke'; hence, 'your day's work is done.'
V. i. 68. Yaughan. Some ale-house is probably intended, perhaps the one attached to the Globe theatre. The name is Welsh and, therefore, is not necessarily a corruption of the German, 'Johann,' as has been suggested by some commentators.
V. i. 69. In . . . love. This song, by Lord Vaux, is found in Tottel's Miscellany (1557), p. 173, under the title The aged louer renounceth loue, although the Clown sings a confused and blundering version of it.
V. i. 75. property of easiness. I.e., custom has made it natural to him to take his task easily.
V. i. 101. log gats. A game in which thick sticks are thrown to lie as near as possible to a stake fixed in the ground or to a block of wood on a floor.
V. i. 108. tenures. The act, right, or manner of holding, as real estate, property of a superior ; manner in, or period for, which anything is had and enjoyed.
V. i. 111. action of battery. Right to sue for an unlawful attack by beating and wounding.
V. i. 113. recognizances. Bonds or obligations of record testifying the recognizor to owe to the recognizee a certain sum of money.
V. i. 113. statutes. Particular modes of recognizance or acknowledgement for securing debts, which thereby became a charge upon the party's land. (Ritson.)
V. i. 114. vouchers. Persons who are called upon to warrant a tenant's title.
V. i. 116. fines, recoveries. Processes by which entailed estates were commonly transferred from one party to another.
V. i. 120. conveyance. Document by which transference of property is effected.
V. i. 127. assurance. Also used with quibble on its legal meaning 'evidence of the conveyance or settlement of property.'
V. i. 150. by the card. There are two conjectures as to the original meaning: (1) that 'card' refers to the card on which the thirty-two points of the mariner's compass are marked, hence 'precision'; (2) that it alludes to the 'card' or 'calender' of etiquette. Cf. Osric's use of the word.
V. i. 256. crants. Garlands appear to have been borne before the bodies of unmarried women to the grave, and were hung up in church.
V. i. 277. Pelion. Pelion, Olympus, and Ossa (l. 305) are three mountains in the north of Thessaly. The Titans, warring with the gods, are said to have attempted to pile Ossa on Pelion in an effort to scale Olympus.
V. i. 300. eisel. Some commentators have taken this word for the name of a river, but there seems no plausible basis for such an interpretation. Cf. The Salisbury Primer (1555): "I beseech thee for the bitterness of the aysell and gall that thou tasted."
V. i. 308. This . . . drooping. The first Folio assigns this speech to the King.
V. i. 311. golden couplets. The dove lays but two eggs and the young, when first disclosed, are covered with a yellow down. Cf. III. i. 174.
V. ii. 13. sea-gown. "A coarse, high-collared and short-sleeved gown, reaching down to the mid leg, and used most by seamen and sailors." (Onions.)
V. ii. 22. bugs . . . life. I.e., with such enumeration of bugbears and imaginary terrors if Hamlet were allowed his life.
V. ii. 30. prologue . . . play. I.e., before I had formed my real plan, my brains had done their work.
V. ii. 42. comma. There have been many conjectures, but the meaning of the text appears obvious as it stands.
V. ii. 43. 'As'es. A quibble on 'as,' the conditional particle, and 'ass,' the beast of burden.
V. ii. 65. election. The Danish throne was elective.
V. ii. 84. water-fly. Used for a vain or idly busy person, but probably also with reference to the gaudy attire of the foolish courtier.
V. ii. 90. mess. "One of the groups of persons, normally four, into which the company at a banquet was divided." (Onions.)
V. ii. 90. chough. This word also meant, sometimes, a provincial boor—but it is hardly likely that a "water-fly" whose crib stood at the King's mess was a mere provincial boor, nor does Osric's affected courtier speech correspond to this description. Cf. also 193, 'lapwing.' Nevertheless, many commentators so interpret it.
V. ii. 109. remember. The phrase 'remember thy courtesy' was a conventional one for 'be covered.' Cf. Love's Labour's Lost, V. i. 106.
V. ii. 110. mine ease. This again was the conventional apologetic reply for declining the invitation of 'remember thy courtesy.'
V. ii. 121. yaw. Nautical figure; the literal meaning is difficult to define precisely, but the sense of the line appears to be 'and yet but stagger in the attempt to overtake his perfections.' Osric is himself puzzled as Hamlet intended he should be.
V. ii. 132. another tongue. I.e., in plain language, instead of in this affected courtier speech.
V. ii. 174. twelve for nine. The exact details of this wager are a matter of doubt. The meaning probably is that in every dozen passes Laertes will not score more than twelve hits to Hamlet's nine. It might, therefore, take twenty-one passes to decide this.
V. ii. 193. lapwing. It was said when newly hatched to run about with the shell on its head.
V. ii. 201. fond and winnowed. This phrase has not been satisfactorily explained. The metaphor is a mixed one. "Fond" means "foolish," and "winnowed," according to Craig, "sensible." That is, this "yesty collection" gives the appearance of being able to range through all shades of opinions from foolish to wise, but subject them to a real test and "the bubbles are out."
V. ii. 258. satisfied in nature. Though his natural tendency is to be satisfied with Hamlet's explanation, yet his artificial honor as a courtier requires that the matter shall be adjudicated.
V. ii. 269. foil. That which sets something off to advantage, with a quibble on the meaning 'fencing foil.'
V. ii. 277. bettered. Some commentators take this to mean 'stands higher in reputation.'
V. ii. 283. quit. I.e., requite Laertes' winning of the first two bouts by gaining the third.
V. ii. 316. S. d. The usual method of representing upon the stage this exchange of rapiers is as follows: With a quick thrust Hamlet disarms Laertes. As the foil drops, Hamlet places his foot upon it, and, with a bow, offers Laertes his own in exchange. Courtesy compels Laertes to accept this, after which Hamlet stoops, picks up Laertes' foil from the ground, and resumes the bout.
V. ii. 355. Roman. It was a Roman custom to follow masters in death.
V. ii. 372. solicited. The sentence is left unfinished.
V. ii. 378. cries on havoc. Originally, to give an army the order 'havoc!' as the signal for pillaging.