Index of passages about

Indirections (Appearance and Reality)

Polonius behind the curtain by Jehan Georges Vibert

"What art thou that usurp'st this time of night, / Together with that fair and warlike form / In which the majesty of buried Denmark / Did sometimes march?" (1.1.46-49) In Horatio's speech the word "usurp'st" emphasizes the ghostly quality of the Ghost. To "usurp" is to take a place that rightfully belongs to another. Horatio's general feeling is that the dead should stay in the grave. Instead the Ghost has brought horror to the peaceful night in which there was "not a mouse stirring," and the Ghost has wrongfully usurped the "form" of an admired king. [Scene Summary]
"Foul deeds will rise, / Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes" (1.2.256-257) In this scene-ending couplet, Hamlet, who has just heard the news of the Ghost's appearance, already suspects "foul play," and he believes that the truth will come out. [Scene Summary]
Hamlet asks the Ghost to tell him "Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death, / Have burst their cerements" (1.4.47-48). As Horatio was, Hamlet is horrified by his first sight of the Ghost. The Ghost appears in armor, but in Hamlet's imagination there is a Halloween scene: the "ponderous and marble jaws" of the sepulchre (a stone coffin) rise, and out comes the dead one, trailing strips of white cloth (the cerements). We often depict Frankenstein's monster this way, but this spirit looks like Hamlet's father. [Scene Summary]
"And thus do we of wisdom and of reach, / With windlasses and with assays of bias, / By indirections find directions out" (2.1.61-63), says Polonius, boasting of his ability to discover the real truth about his son's behavior in France. [Scene Summary]
Speaking of Hamlet, the King tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern "To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather, / So much as from occasion you may glean, / Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him thus" (2.2.14-17). The King is being crafty. He needs to know if Hamlet suspects the truth about King Hamlet's death, but he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that whatever it is that's wrong with Hamlet, it must be something other than his father's death, something "to us unknown." Also, the King wants Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to conceal their real intentions. They are not supposed to just ask Hamlet what's wrong, but hang out with him, and "draw him on to pleasures," and see what they can pick up without Hamlet actually knowing that they're trying to pick up anything. [Scene Summary]
"Were you not sent for?" (2.2.274). Hamlet asks this of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to their surprise and consternation. They were supposed to probe his mind, but he has turned the tables on them, and somehow understands that they are spies for the king. [Scene Summary]
"'The rugged Pyrrhus . . . / When he lay couched in the ominous horse'" (2.2.452-454). Thus begins Hamlet's recitation of "Aeneas' tale to Dido, . . . especially when he speaks of Priam's slaughter." Pyrrhus comes out of the horse and kills "old grandsire Priam." [Scene Summary]
"For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak / With most miraculous organ," (2.2. 593-594) says Hamlet, as he makes his plans to probe the King's soul. He will "have these players / Play something like the murder of my father /Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks . . . ." [Scene Summary]
Polonius says, "with devotion's visage / And pious action we do sugar o'er / The devil himself" (3.1. 46-48), as he gives Ophelia a book, so that she can pretend to be at her devotions when Hamlet finds her. The King hears what Polonius says and has an attack of conscience, in which he reflects on the difference between his "deed" and his "word." Then the King and Polonius hide behind a curtain so they can discover what's really wrong with Hamlet, but Hamlet turns the tables on them and intuits that they are behind the curtain. In short, the whole scene is full of "indirections." [Scene Summary]
"Observe mine uncle, Hamlet asks Horatio, just before the performance of The Murder of Gonzago. They are going to look for the moment when the King's "occulted guilt . . . itself unkennel" (3.2.80-81). "Occulted" means hidden. "Unkennel" means to come into the open. [Scene Summary]
"How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!" (3.4.24), cries Hamlet as he stabs through the arras at what's hidden behind it. After this, Hamlet gives his mother such a psychological working-over that she says, "Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul; / And there I see such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct" (3.4.89-91). Almost as soon as she says this, the Ghost appears out of nowhere. When the Ghost is gone, Hamlet warns his mother against flattering herself that the problem is his madness, not her guilt. Such a thought, he says, will be "rank corruption, mining all within" (3.4.148). At the end of the scene, Hamlet boasts that he will beat Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at their own game, he "will delve one yard below their mines, / And blow them at the moon" (3.4.208-209). Thus, throughout the scene, hidden things figure strongly in both what we see and what we hear. [Scene Summary]
"I see a cherub that sees them" (4.3.48), says Hamlet to the King. This is just before Hamlet leaves for England, and what the cherub sees is the King's real purpose in sending Hamlet to England. At the end of the scene, when he is alone, the King states his purpose -- to send Hamlet to his death. [Scene Summary]
"This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace, / That inward breaks, and shows no cause without / Why the man dies" (4.4.27-29), says Hamlet of Fortinbras' attack on Poland for a worthless little piece of ground. An "imposthume" is an abscess, and so once again disease or poison is imagined as working below the surface, unseen, until it becomes deadly. [Scene Summary].
"Her speech is nothing, / Yet the unshaped use of it doth move / The hearers to collection" (4.5.7-9), says a gentleman of mad Ophelia. "The unshaped use of it" means "the random manner of her speech," and "collection" is used as "collect" is used in the phrase "collect my thoughts." In short, people are trying to find the hidden meaning in Ophelia's crazy talk. We can understand why, because throughout the rest of the scene, there does seem to be elusive meanings in Ophelia' singing and talking. [Scene Summary].
"Couch we awhile, and mark" (5.1.222), says Hamlet to Horatio as Ophelia's procession enters the graveyard where Hamlet has been bantering with the gravedigger. Earlier in the play, Hamlet has been spied upon from behind a curtain; now it is his turn to hide and watch. [Scene Summary]
Telling of his adventures at sea, Hamlet tells Horatio what was in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's packet:
I found, Horatio,--
O royal knavery!--an exact command,
Larded with many several sorts of reasons
Importing Denmark's health and England's too,
With, ho! such bugs and goblins in my life,
That, on the supervise, no leisure bated,
No, not to stay the grinding of the axe,
My head should be struck off.  (5.2.18-25)
A little later, Hamlet boasts that he used the same sort of hypocritical rhetoric in his substitute command to the King of England -- the one that cost Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their lives. [Scene Summary]

This is the last scene of the play, and it ends with the plots of the King and Laertes being revealed and turned against them.