167. try it: test it. King Claudius is agreeing to Polonius' plan to hide behind an arras and observe an encounter between Hamlet and Ophelia
170. board: accost. presently: at once.
172. God-a-mercy: i.e., thank you.
174. fishmonger: seller of fish. Editors often explain this as slang for pimp, but there is no evidence for that meaning in Shakespeare's day.
182. good kissing carrion: flesh good enough for the sun to kiss.
184. Conception: (1) understanding; (2) conceiving a child. Hamlet is mocking both Polonius' lack of understanding and his over-protective attitude towards Ophelia.
193. What is the matter, my lord?: Polonius asks about the subject matter of Hamlet's book, but Hamlet deliberately takes the word "matter" to mean "cause for a quarrel."
198. purging: discharging.
202. honesty: decency, a fitting thing.
205. method: sense; a connection among the ideas; sequence of ideas.
206. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?: Polonius is inviting Hamlet to come inside, because fresh air was thought to be bad for an invalid, such as Hamlet, who is (in Polonius' opinion) mad. Shakespeare has apparently forgotten that the scene started inside, in the "lobby."
209. pregnant: full of meaning. happiness: a lucky expressiveness.
211. prosperously be delivered of: successfully express.
212. suddenly: at once.
227. indifferent: average, ordinary.
234. privates: (1) intimate friends; (2) private parts.
236. strumpet: slut. Fortune (i.e., chance, luck) was often called a strumpet, because she grants favors to all men, without regard to their worthiness. What news?: i.e., what's up?; what's happening?
245. confines: places of confinement.
246. wards: cells.
263-264. Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows: The beggars are "bodies," solid substances, in contrast to "shadows," because the beggars have no ambition, no dreams of being something more. On the other hand, the "monarchs and outstretched heroes" are only what they are because the beggars think so. A person who is "outstretched," who has far-reaching ambitions and who wants to throw a shadow over the whole world, is nothing unless the beggars think he is indeed a hero. To Hamlet, this is another example of the idea that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
265. by my fay: This is a casual way of saying "by my faith." I cannot reason: i.e., I can't keep up this exchange of witty remarks.
266. We'll wait upon you: we'll accompany you and be your attendants.
267. sort you with: consider you to be in the same class as.
269. dreadfully attended: execrably waited upon.
270. beaten way: familiar path. what make you at Elsinore?: what are you doing at Elsinore?
273-274. are too dear a halfpenny: too expensive at the price of a halfpenny; i.e., not worth much.
276. justly: honestly.
278. Why, anything, but to th' purpose: Hamlet may be saying, "Say anything, but make sure it's to the purpose," or he may be sarcastically saying, "Say anything, so long as it's not to the purpose." In either case, he's pointing out that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been dodging the question of what they are doing at Elsinore.
280. your modesties have not craft enough to color: i.e., your sense of shame prevents you from covering up.
283. conjure: entreat. In this speech Hamlet uses high-flown language to mock the hypocrisy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
284-285. consonancy of our youth: similarity of our ages.
286. by what more dear a better proposer: i.e., by whatever more precious a more eloquent person could propose.
287. charge you withal: urge upon you. even: frank, honest.
290. an eye of you: an eye on you.
293-294. so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery: i.e., by telling you what you want to know before you ask, I will make it unnecessary for you to be revealed as spies.
295. moult no feather: i.e., not be impaired in the least.
296-297. custom of exercises: usual athletic exercises.
300. brave: splendid.
ornamented as with fretwork. Here is a portion of the Wikipedia explanation of "fretwork":
Fretwork is an interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background, or cut out with a fretsaw, jigsaw or scroll saw. Most fretwork patterns are geometric in design. . . . The term is also used for tracery on glazed windows and doors.
303. piece of work: masterpiece.
304. faculties: abilities.
305. express: exact.
308. quintessence: purest essence. In ancient philosophy, the "quintessence" (fifth essence) is superior to the four essences (air, fire, earth, water) of this world; it the essence of all essences. Hamlet's phrase, "quintessence of dust" is very ironic.
316. lenten entertainment: meager reception. Lent is a period of fasting lasting from Ash Wednesday (the day after Mardi Gras) to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter).
317. coted: overtook and passed.
321. foil and target: light fencing sword and small shield.
322. gratis: without reward. humorous man: eccentric character, expressing only one trait ("humor").
324. tickle o' th' sere: i.e., easily made to laugh. A "sere" is a catch in a gunlock; something that is "tickle" goes off at the slightest pressure.
325. halt: limp. Maybe the idea is that if the lady has to omit certain offensive words, the blank verse won't sound right.
329. residence: i.e., staying at home in the city.
hindrance [to playing in the city]. late innovation:
recent vogue. The word "inhibition" could also mean "official prohibition"; and "innovation" was sometimes used by Shakespeare to mean "political uprising or revolt," so it's possible that Shakespeare is alluding to an official prohibition issued against a theatrical company because of some disturbance associated with a performance. However, it's more likely that Shakespeare is alluding to the vogue for boy actors which arose in London about the time Hamlet
was first performed, and which is reflected in the speeches of Rosencrantz, beginning at line 339. This episode in English theatrical history is connected with the "War of the Theatres
335. the city: Although Hamlet is set in Elsinore, castle of the Danish king, Shakespeare seems to be thinking of England, where "the city" always referred to London, the center of all political and cultural activity. are they so followed? i.e., do people still talk about them and attend their performances as they used to?
338. their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: i.e., they perform as well as they ever did.
339. aery: nest. eyases: unfledged hawks.
340. cry out on the top of question: cry shrilly, dominating the controversy.
341. tyrannically clapp'd: domineeringly applauded.
342. berattle: berate, satirize. common stages: i.e., public theatres [such as Shakespeare's Globe]. The boys played at a private theatre.
344. goose-quills: pens [of satirical playwrights].
346. escoted: maintained, supported.
347-348. quality: profession [of acting]. no longer than they can sing?: i.e., only until their voices change.
348-349. grow themselves to common players: themselves become regular actors.
351. exclaim against their own succession: denounce their own future profession.
352. to do: ado.
353. tarre: incite, urge on. The verb "tarre" was usually used in connection with dog fights.
354-356. there was, for a while, no money bid for argument, unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the question: i.e., for a while it was not possible to sell a proposal for a play, unless the action contained a scene in which a poet and an actor ("player") had a fistfight. "argument"=plot outline. "in the question"=in the action.
360. carry it away: win the day.
361-362. Hercules and his load too:
One of Hercules' twelve labors was to hold up the world in the place of Atlas. Also, the sign of the Globe theater was probably the figure of Hercules holding up the world. These two allusions say that the boy players have taken the world by storm and have taken away customers from the adult actors.
364. mouths: derisive faces.
366. ducats: gold coins.
367. in little: in miniature. A miniature portrait could be put in a locket and carried about to show utter devotion. 'Sblood: by his [Christ's] blood. This was a common oath.
368. philosophy: The word "philosophy" covered a lot more territory in Shakespeare's time than it does now; what we call "science," would have been called "natural philosophy."
***. flourish: trumpet fanfare.
370. Your hands: i.e., shake hands.
371-375. come then: i.e., come on [shake hands]. Th' appurtenance of welcome is fashion and ceremony. Let me comply with you in this garb, lest my extent to the players, which, I tell you, must show fairly outward, should more appear like entertainment than yours: i.e., the paraphernalia of giving a welcome is a matter of the current fashion and ceremonies. So, let me observe the usual formalities, lest my more enthusiastic welcome to the playerswhich, I have to tell you, must appear very warmshould appear more sincere than my welcome to you.
Thus Hamlet bids Rosencrantz and Guildenstern welcome, while at the same time telling them that the actors will be more welcome.
378. I am but mad north-north-west: i.e., I am only a mad under rare conditions. "North-north-west" is the point of the compass halfway between NW and N.
379. I know a hawk from a handsaw: "Hawk" is the name of both a bird and a mattock. Also, it's possible that "handsaw" is a pun on "hernshaw," a heron. In any case, Hamlet is wittily warning Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (and via them, the King and Queen) that he is not easily deceived.
383. swaddling-clouts: swaddling clothes; cloths used to wrap a newborn.
384. Happily: haply, perhaps.
385. twice: i.e., for the second time.
387-388. You say right, sir: o' Monday morning; 'twas so indeed: Hamlet pretends to be deeply involved in a conversation. Hamlet expects that Polonius will interrupt, because he is so full of the importance of his news, and full of himself.
391. Roscius: Roscius (d. 62 B.C.E.) was a famous of Roman actor. Hamlet is mocking Polonius. Polonius' news is old news, and Hamlet offers to tell him even older news.
393. Buzz: "Buzz" is still (C.E. 2008) a word for the newest rumor, gossip, or fad. But Hamlet is being sarcastic; Polonius' "buzz" is not really new; it is more like the idle buzzing of a fly.
395. ass: donkey.
397. pastoral: a literary work which idealizes the simplicity and wisdom of shepherds and other rural types.
399. scene individable: play observing the unity of place.
400-401. poem unlimited: i.e., play which does not limit itself to the neo-classical rules which say that a serious drama should be limited to a single time and place. Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light: Seneca (4 B.C.E - 65 C.E.) was a famous Roman author of tragedies. Plautus (c. 254 – 184 B.C.E.) was a famous Roman author of comedies.
401-402. For the law of writ and the liberty: i.e., for drama which follows the neo-classical rules, and for drama which is free.
403. Jephthah, judge of Israel: This is the title of a ballad of Shakespeare's time, from which Hamlet goes on to quote.
I believe that the point of Hamlet's allusion is that Polonius, like Jephthah, sacrifices his daughter to his own ambitions.
The story of Jephthah appears in Judges 11:
Jephthah, "a mighty man of valour," was made "head and captain" of the Israelites in return for defending the Israelites from the Ammonites. On the eve of his battle with the Ammonites, Jephthah "vowed a vow unto the LORD," that if he were granted victory, "whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me . . . shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." Jephthah was victorious, and when he returned to his house, "behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child." Jephthah, full of woe, tells his daughter of his vow, and she answers, "do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth." Jephthah's daughter only asks that for two months she may "go up and down the mountains, and bewail my virginity." Jephthah sends her away to fulfill her wish, and then she returns to him, "who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed." [All quotations are from the authorized King James Version.]
Here is the text of the ballad, from
408. passing: surpassingly
413. Nay, that follows not: Literally, Hamlet means, "That's not the next verse"; figuratively, he means, "you do not understand the implications of what follows."
416. lot: chance. wot: knows.
418. It came to pass, as most like it was: it happened to happen, as was most likely.
419. row: stanza. chanson: song, ballad.
420. abridgment: (1) interruption; something that cuts short something else. (2) diversion, entertainment.
423. valanc'd: i.e., fringed with a beard. Both here and in the next two sentences, it appears that Hamlet is talking to young men who he has seen play women's parts. But now, one of them has a beard, so that he might challenge ("beard") a man, and the other is quite a bit taller than when Hamlet last saw him.
424-425. beard: confront boldly (with obvious pun). young lady and mistress: Hamlet is speaking to an actor who plays, or used to play, women's parts.
425. by'lady: by Our Lady (i.e., the Virgin Mary). This phrase was very common, and had no significant religious meaning.
427. chopine: Chopines were extreme platform shoes (sometimes more than a foot high), typically worn by women to make an impression.
428-429. a piece of uncurrent gold: a gold coin that is not lawful currency. cracked within the ring: Coins were typically stamped with a sovereign's head inside a circle; if a coin had a crack from the edge into the circle (was "cracked within the ring") it was "uncurrent," not lawful currency.
Hamlet is punning on the word "cracked"; when a boy's voice crackschanges from boyish treble to adult baritonethat boy can no longer play women's parts.
430. like French falconers: i.e., freely, without being too choosy.
431. straight: straightway, at once.
432. quality: professional skill.
436-437. caviary to the general: caviare to the multitude, i.e., a dish too elegant for ordinary people.
438-439. whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine: i.e., whose judgments in such matters carried more authority than mine did.
439. well digested in the scenes: i.e., well arranged, so that one scene leads naturally to the next.
440. set down with as much modesty as cunning: written with as much discretion as skill.
441. sallets: salads, i.e., spicy jokes
442. savory: zesty. phrase: mode of expression.
443. indict: convict.
445. fine: showily ornamented.
446. 'twas Aeneas' tale to Dido: it was the story that Aeneas told to Dido. Aeneas is a character in Homer's Iliad, and the hero of Virgil's Aeneid. Dido, Queen of Carthage, fell in love with Aeneas, and committed suicide when he abandoned her. All of this information would have been familiar to any educated person in Shakespeare's time.
447. and thereabout of it especially: and specially that part of it.
448. Priam's slaughter: the slaying of Priam, King of Troy. This was a famous story, told both in Virgil's Aeneid and Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage.
452. sable: black. The Greeks within the Trojan horse blackened their skin to camouflage themselves.
454. lay couched: i.e., hidden, waiting in ambush. the ominous horse: i.e., the Trojan horse.
456. heraldry: Heraldry is the practice of displaying coats of arms, symbolic of the person and family; the "heraldry" of Pyrrhus is now blood, indicating that he is a cruel killer. dismal: ill-boding.
457. gules: This is heraldic term for "red." trick'd: adorned.
459. Bak'd: caked. impasted: crusted, as with a thick paste. with the parching streets: i.e., by the heat from the burning streets.
461. their lord's murder: The lord of the burning streets is Priam, who is murdered by Pyrrhus.
462. o'er-sized: covered over as with a coat of sizing or glue. coagulate gore: i.e., clotted blood.
463. carbuncles: deep-red jewels believed to shine in the dark.
465. So, proceed you: i.e., pick up where I left off.
466-467. with good accent and good discretion: i.e., intelligently, meaningfully.
468. Anon: quickly.
471. Repugnant to command: disobedient to [Priam's attempt to] control [it]. Unequal match'd: i.e., facing a foe not equal to him.
472. strikes wide: misses.
473. fell: cruel, deadly.
474. unnerved: drained of strength. senseless: insensible. Ilium: the central tower of Troy.
476. Stoops to his base: falls to its foundation.
478. declining on: coming down on.
480. painted: i.e., painted in a picture.
481. like a neutral to his will and matter: i.e., poised midway between intention and action.
483. against: just before.
484. rack: mass of clouds.
487. region: sky.
489. Cyclops: giants who worked in Vulcan's smithy, where armor was made for the gods.
490. proof eterne: eternal invincibility.
491. remorse: pity. bleeding: dripping blood.
493. strumpet: slut. Fortune (i.e., chance, luck) was often called a strumpet, because she grants favors to all men, without regard to their worthiness.
494. In general synod: in a general assembly; i.e., by unanimous consent.
495. fellies: rims. her wheel: Fortune was often depicted as a lady turning a wheel, upon which some are rising, some falling.
496. nave: hub.
500. jig: comic song and dance performed after a play. tale of bawdry: raunchy story.
502. mobled: muffled, hastily wrapped up.
505-506. threatening the flames / With bisson rheum: i.e., weeping so much that it seemed she would extinguish the flames with her blinding tears.
506. clout: cloth.
508. o'er-teemed: worn out by childbearing. Hecuba bore most of Priam's 50 sons.
511. state: rule, government.
514. mincing with his sword her husband's limbs: Marlowe, in Dido, Queen of Carthage, writes that Pyrrhus cut off Priam's hands before killing him.
517. made milch the burning eyes of heaven: i.e., made the blazing stars weep milky tears.
518. passion: grief.
519. Look, whether he has not turned his color: i.e., note how he has gone pale.
523. bestow'd: lodged. us'd: treated.
524. abstract: summary account.
529. God's bodkin: by God's (Christ's) little body. This is a humorous oath.
531. after: according to.
540. ha't: have it; see it.
541. for need: if necessary. study: memorize.
549. God buy to you: God be with you; goodbye.
553. conceit: imaginative conception.
554. from her working all his visage wann'd: i.e., as a result of the soul's efforts his whole face grew pale.
556-557. his whole function suiting / With forms to his conceit: i.e., his whole being responding with actions and expressions corresponding to his imaginative conception.
563. cleave the general ear: split the ears of all who heard him.
564. free: innocent.
565. amaze: confound.
566. The very faculties of eyes and ears: i.e., sight and hearing.
567. muddy-mettled: dull-spirited. peak: mope.
568. John-a-dreams: a sleepy, dreaming slacker. unpregnant of my cause: not brought to life by my mission.
570. property: i.e., the crown of Denmark.
571. defeat: destruction.
574-575. gives me the lie i' the throat, / As deep as to the lungs: calls me a liar in the extremest degree.
576. 'swounds: by God's (Christ's) wounds. I should take it: i.e., I should accept all these insults, because I deserve them.
577. I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall / To make oppression bitter: i.e., I have a nature that is not capable of resenting wrongs. The pigeon (dove) was believed to be mild because it secreted no gall.
578-580. or ere this / I should have fatted all the region kites / With this slave's offal: if it weren't so [that I am a coward], before now I would have fattened all the kites in the air with the entrails of this slave [King Claudius]. A kite is a swallow-tailed hawk, known to feed on the bodies of the dead. Part of the punishment of traitors was evisceration while the traitor was still alive.
581. kindless: unnatural.
583. most brave: i.e., ridiculous and cowardly. "Brave" meant both brave and handsome, but Hamlet is being sarcastic.
587. drab: female whore.
588. stallion: male whore. Many editors adopt the F1 reading "scullion," meaning "kitchen menial."
589. About, my brain!: i.e., turn about, my brain, and get to work.
591. cunning of the scene: skillful performance of a scene.
592. presently: at once; then and there.
593. proclaim'd their malefactions: openly confessed their misdeeds.
595. organ: means of communication.
598. tent him to the quick: probe him to his vital core. blench: flinch.
603. As he is very potent with such spirits: i.e., because he has great influence on those who have a temperament such as mine, full of weakness melancholy.
604. Abuses: deludes. If the Ghost is deceiving Hamlet about King Claudius' guilt, and Hamlet kills him, Hamlet would be a murderer, and therefore damned.
605. relative: pertinent