From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
2. My hour, the time at which I must return to the lower
6. bound, Delius points out that Hamlet uses the word in the
sense of ready to go [M. E. boun, ready to go], while the Ghost
takes it as the past participle of the verb to bind.
8. What?sc. am I to revenge!
10. to walk the night, to spend the night in wandering about
11. to fast in fires, the commentators quote passages from
Chaucer and other old writers in which among the punishments
of hell are mentioned hunger, sickness, frost, etc.; and if a spirit
can be sensible to fire, as was the ordinary belief in regard to
hell, there is no reason why it should not be sensible to hunger.
12. my days of nature, the days of my natural life; or, possibly, the days in which I was subject to the passions of the natural man.
13. But ... forbid, except that I am forbidden; if it were not
that I am forbidden; for the curtailed form of the participle, see Abb. § 343.
14. my prison house, sc. purgatory.
16. harrow up, see note on i. 1. 44; up gives an intensive force
to the verb.
17. start from their spheres, cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 153, "And
certain stars shot madly from their spheres, To hear the sea-maid's
music." Furnivall (Transactions of the N. S. Society, 1877-9, pp.
431, etc.) has shown that in the Ptolemaic system, which
Shakespeare followed, round the earth, which was the centre of
the system, were nine hollow spheres, consisting of the seven
planets, the fixed stars or firmament, and the Primum Mobile;
and that in or on each of the seven spheres was a planet fixed,
which was whirled by that sphere right round the earth in twenty-four hours, the driving power being the Primum
18. knotted and combined, closely interwoven with each
19. particular, separate, individual: an end, for a-, representing a preposition, such as in, on, of, and retaining the n for euphony, see Abb. § 24.
20. fretful porpentine, easily irritated porcupine, which in its
nervous excitement erects its bristles; Skeat shows that the
animal had formerly two very similar names, "(1) porkepyn,
shortly porpin, easily lengthened to porpint ... and finally altered
to porpentine ... and (2) pork-point, porpoint" ... = "a 'pork' or
pig furnished with points or sharp quills," and that the modern
porcupine is from the M. E. porkepyn from O. F. porc espin, the
pig with spines, ultimately from Lat. spina, a thorn.
21, 2. But this ... blood, but this proclamation of the world
beyond must not be made to those still in the flesh: in eternal
there is a contrast between the everlasting and spiritual world,
and that temporary world in which flesh and blood, i.e. material life exist; blazon, according to Skeat, is a corruption of blaze, in the sense of to blaze abroad, proclaim, the final n being due (1)
to M. E. blasen, to trumpet forth, and (2) to confusion with
blazon in the purely heraldic sense.
27, 8. Murder ... unnatural, murder most foul, as it is even
in circumstances where there is some palliation, such as long-existing hatred, great provocation; but in my case doubly foul, as being of so strange and unnatural a character, the murder of a
brother by a brother to whom nothing but brotherly love had
ever been shown.
29. Haste me to know't. let me quickly know it; quickly put
me in the position of learning it.
30. meditation, in its original sense, has the idea of pondering,
dwelling upon a thing; and if here taken for the process of
thought, is somewhat tautological with thoughts of love. Warburton takes the word in the sense given it by the Mystics, "that flight of the mind which aspires to the enjoyment of the
supreme Good," — a sense which seems very forced here.
31. sweep, like a whirlwind; apt, ready and fitted for the purpose.
32-4. And duller ... this, and more sluggish would you necessarily prove yourself than that heavy weed whose torpid growth clings to the banks of Lethe, if you were unwilling to bestir
yourself in avenging my murder. For roots, the folios give rots,
and this reading is preferred by some editors, who compare A. C.
i. 4. 47, "To rot itself by motion." No two ideas, however, could be more unlike. In A. C. the "vagabond flag" (i.e. the water-plant, Iris, is represented in mid-stream borne forwards
and backwards by each flow and ebb of the tide until at last it is rotted away by its constant action; here the fat weed lazily and securely adheres to the bank. For Lethe ("the river of oblivion,"
P. L. 583), used as an adjective, see Abb. § 22; for shouldst, § 322, and for wouldst, = were disposed, willing, § 331.
35. given out, currently reported.
36-8. so the whole ... abused, the consequence of which is that
every one in Denmark is grossly deceived by a forged story of
the manner in which I met my death; cp. R. III. iv. 3. 32, "the process of their death." The Cl. Pr. Edd. think that the word here has perhaps "the sense of an official narrative, coming nearly to the meaning of the French proces verbal."
39. did sting ... life, stung your father to death.
40. prophetic, see above, i. 2. 254.
43. With witchcraft ... gifts, cp. M. N. D. i. 1. 27-35:
traitorous in being given for the purpose of winning away her
love from her husband.
45. won to, won over to, persuaded her to yield to.
47. falling-off, desertion, act of faithlessness: cp. i. H. IV. 1. 3. 94, "He never did fall off, my sovereign liege, But by the
chance of war": Lear, i. 2. 116, "friendship falls off, brothers divide."
48-50. whose love ... marriage, whose love was so worthy of
the name that it never for a moment swerved from the vow made
to her at the altar; even, exactly, precisely.
50-2. and to decline ... mine! and to think that she should not
only forsake me, but forsake me for a miserable creature whose
natural gifts could not for a moment compare with mine! For
to, = in comparison with, see Abb. § 187.
53, 4. But virtue ... heaven, but just as virtue (i.e. a really
virtuous person) will never be led astray even though it be
solicited by lewdness (i.e. a lewd person) in the garb of an angel; virtue here is a noun absolute; see Abb. § 417; lewd, originally 'lay,' 'belonging to the laity,' then 'untaught,' 'ignorant,' then
55-7. So lust ... garbage, so lust (i.e a lustful person), though
linked in marriage with one as white of soul as a radiant angel,
will ravenously glut itself with garbage even in a bed of heavenly
purity; cp. Cymb. i. 5. 47-50, "The cloyed will, That satiate yet
unsatisfied desire, ... ravening first the lamb, Longs after for the
garbage": sate, a shortened form of satiate; garbage, offal,
58. soft! let me pause in these reflections and go on quickly
with my story.
59. orchard, garden; as always in Shakespeare; literally ortyard, a yard for orts or worts; now used only for a garden of fruit-trees.
60. My custom, i.e. which, or as, is my custom: of the afternoon, during the afternoon; see Abb. § 176.
61. Upon ... stole, your uncle crept softly upon me in my unguarded hour, at a time when I fancied myself safe.
62. hebenon, probably ebony, though by some thought to be
henbane. Both are spoken of as being poisonous, e.g. Marlowe,
Jew of Malta, iii. 4. 99, "The juice of hebnon," mentioned in a list
of poisons; Drayton, Bacon's Wars (quoted by Steevens), "The pois'ning henbane and the mandrake drad." In regard to the latter, Grey refers to Pliny, who states that the oil made from
the seeds of this plant, instilled into the ears, will injure the
understanding; and Caldecott points out that "the eminent
surgeon, Ambroise Pare, Shakespeare's contemporary, was suspected of having, when he dressed the ear of Francis II., infused poison into it." But the Lat. hebenum, ebony, is so near to hebenon, that it can scarcely be doubted that Shakespeare meant this tree.
63. porches, entrances.
64. leperous, producing upon the skin blotches like those in a
leper: whose effect, which in its effect.
65. Holds ... man, is so hostile to the, etc.
66. quicksilver, mercury; quick-, in its lively, fluid state, as
opposed to solid, though the mineral has really no connection
with silver: courses, rushes.
67. The natural ... body, the passages and channels of the
body, but here especially of the veins; gates, gateways.
68-70. And with ... blood, and with a sudden energy thickens
and curdles with the same effect as that of acids upon milk, when
dropped into it, the blood which, while in a healthy state, is thin
and fluid; a posset, from which Shakespeare forms the verb, was
a drink generally composed of hot milk curdled by being poured
upon ale or sack, and was much in vogue at the time; for eager,
see note on i. 4. 2.
71-3, And a most ... body, and a most instantaneous eruption spread over my skin, covering it with a loathsome crust such as is seen upon lepers; bark'd, formed as a bark or crust; lazar, a
person afflicted with sores such as those of Lazarus in the
parable; see Luke, xvi. 20.
75. dispatch'd, suddenly deprived of; more properly belonging
to life than to crown or queen: cp. Lear, iv. 5. 12, "Edmund,
I think, is gone ... to dispatch His nighted life."
76. even in ... sin, even when my sins were in full blossom.
77. unhousel'd, without having received the sacrament administered to dying persons: from A.S. husel, the eucharist: disappointed, unprepared; not furnished, or appointed, with the religious consolations given to a dying man: so in T. N. K. iii. 6. 136, we have, "like knight appointed," i.e. fully furnished with everything necessary in the way of arms and armour: unaneled, without having received extreme unction, the ceremony in the Catliolic Church of anointing a dying person with holy oil; from A.S. "on, upon, and elan, to oil, ... from ele, substantive, oil" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).
78. No reckoning made, without having made my reckoning
with God by confession of my sins and repentance; sent to my
account, sent to answer for my sins before the judgment-seat of
God; cp. K. J. iv. 2. 216, "0, when the last account 'twixt
heaven and earth Is to be made."
79. imperfections, shortcomings.
81. nature, any feelings of natural affection for me and of
natural regard for your mother's honour.
83. luxury, lust; as always in Shakespeare, the adjective and
the adverb having the same idea.
84. howsoever ... act, whatever measures you may take to
punish the murderer.
85, 6.. Taint not ... aught, do not allow your mind to be in any
way poisoned, or your soul to plot any injury, against your
mother: leave her to heaven, leave her to he punished by God.
87. thorns, pricks of conscience.
89. matin, morning; not elsewhere found, though we still use
matins, i.e. morning prayers; from Lat. matutinus, belonging to
90. his uneffectual fire, his fire rendered ineffectual by the
morning beams; a proleptic sense. Halliwell points out that
strictly speaking his should be her, the female only giving the
93. shall I couple hell? shall I invoke the powers of hell also?
94. instant, suddenly.
95. stiffly, firmy, unshrinkingly.
96. 7. while memory ... globe, so long as my brain remembers
anything; so long as memory is not deposed from her throne in
the brain; said as he points to his head; distracted, wracked
with agonizing thoughts.
98. table, tablets; cp. T. G. ii. 7. 3, "Who art the table
wherein all my thoughts Are visibly character'd and engraved."
99. fond, foolish, frivolous; records, accented on the latter
syllable, as more usually in Shakespeare.
100. saws, sayings, maxims; forms, images formed in the mind; pressures, impressions; cp. iii. 2. 27.
101. That youth ... there, that my youthful observation has set
down there. i.e. in the tablets of his memory.
102. live, have lasting record.
103. book and volume, the redundancy gives the idea of
completeness; the one thing contained in the whole of the
104. Unmix'd matter, unalloyed by anything of meaner
107. My tables, — let me get out my tablets: set it down,
make a memorandum of it.
110. So, uncle, there you are, so, uncle, now I have got my
memorandum about you set down in black and white; Now ... word, now for the injunction given me by my father, sc. the words Adieu ... me. For word, used of a phrase, cp. R. II. i. 3. 152. "The hopeless word of 'never to return'"; R. J. i. 4. 40. "Tut, dun's the mouse, the constable's own word." Steevens
supposes word to be an allusion to the watch-word, given every
day in military service.
113. secure him, protect him from injury.
114. So be it! In the quartos these words are given to Hamlet; in the folios, to Marcellus, and as = 'amen' they seem a natural answer on the part of Marcellus to Horatio's prayer. From Horatio's again calling out (1. 115) it appears that he and Marcellus did not hear Hamlet's reply, if these words are Hamlet's, and consequently Hamlet may not have heard Horatio's exclamation Heaven secure him! which would not have been uttered in the same loud tone as the cry in 1. 113. It follows, therefore, that the words, if Hamlet's, can only refer
to some resolution at which he has arrived, or some action he
116. come, bird, come, "this is the call which falconers use to their hawk in the air, when they would have him come down to them" (Hanmer); Hamlet taking up Horatio's call, as used in falconry, carries on in his reply the language of that pursuit.
121. once, so much as once; ever.
122. But you'll be secret? Hamlet pretends to pause, just as he is about to disclose what had happened, for a further assurance from Horatio and Marcellus that they will never reveal what he may tell them.
124. But he's, without his being; who is not.
127. without ... all, without further ceremony; cp. W. T. v.
1. 90, "his approach So out of circumstance and sudden."
128. I hold ... part, it seems better that we should, etc.; shake and part, subjunctives.
129. You, as ... you, you to occupy yourselves in such a way
130. For every ... desire, I say 'business and desire,' for you,
like other men, are sure to have some, etc.
131. Such as it is, whatever it may be.
132. go pray, for the omission of 'to,' see Abb. § 349.
133. whirling, extravagant, inconsequent.
136. Saint Patrick, Shakespeare probably named the first
saint that came into his head, and had no such subtle intention
in choosing the patron saint of Ireland as some commentators
suppose. He makes his characters swear by a variety of
saints without much regard for their special functions or
137. And much offence too, "Hamlet purposely misunderstands his friend's words in order to evade their inquiries. At first he pretends that his words have given offence, whereas his friends have merely found them vague; and when they reply that there is no offence, he takes 'offence' in a wider sense as a
'crime,' and refers it to the crime of his uncle that had just been divulged to him" (Delius).
138. that let me tell you, so much it is well you should know; said as though he were really confiding something to them.
139. what is between us, the secret between myself and the
140. O'ermaster 't as you may, I must recommend you to curb
it as best you may.
141. As you are ... soldiers, on your faith as, etc.
146. not I, i.e. I will not divulge it.
147. Upon my sword, it was customary to swear upon a sword, the hilt of which with the blade formed a cross.
149. Indeed, ... indeed, strongly emphasizing his demand. Staunton prints in deed, in deed, and explains, "Not in words only, but in act, in form; upon the cross of my sword swear yourselves."
150. truepenny, according to Collier, "a mining term, signifying a particular indication in the soil of the direction in which ore is to be found"; but the term was evidently used in a wider sense, for in The Return from Pernassus (quoted in the N. S. Society's Transactions for 1877-9, p. 466), we have, "What have we here? old true-penny come to towne, to fetch away the lining in his old greasie slops ... the time hath beene wlien such a fellow medled with nothing but his plowshare, his spade, and his hobnailes, and so to a peece of bread and cheese, and went his way"; from which the word appears to have been nothing more than a familiarly contemptuous term applied to a countryman, much as 'gaffer' (i.e. grandfather) is still used in villages to old
men. Marston, The Malcontent, iii. 1. 250, has "Illo, ho, ho, ho! art there, old truepenny," made up of Horatio's words in 1.115 and Hamlet's here, in sarcastically addressing Mendoza.
151. cellarage, not exactly the same as 'cellar,' but underground rooms suitable for cellars; here of course meaning nothing more than undergFound.
153. Never ... seen, i.e. swear never, etc.
156. Hic et ubique, here and everywhere; what, says Hamlet,
are you here, there. and everywhere?
158. 9. And lay ... heard, i.e. and swear never, etc.
162. canst ... fast? can you burrow in the earth like a mole so
fast that you have already reached the point directly under the spot to which we have moved?
163. A worthy pioner! well done! you are an excellent pioneer; for the form of the word, see Abb. § 492.
164. day ... strange! I call day and night to witness if this
be not wondrous strange; i.e. assuredly this is wondrous strange.
165. And therefore ... welcome, if, as you say, it is strange,
then treat it with the courteous welcome you would give to a
166. 7. There are ... philosophy, to you this may seem very strange, but that is only because there are many more things in heaven and earth than the philosophy to which you are so addicted ever conceived; for your, in this colloquial sense, see Abb. § 221.
169. so help you mercy, promise as you hope to find the mercy
of God in your hour of need.
170. How strange ... myself, however strange and odd I may
be in my manner.
172. an antic disposition, a fantastic behaviour; antic, literally old, then old-fashioned, quaint.
174. encumber'd, locked one with the other, like a man in deep thought; an attitude which Hamlet imitates as he speaks. To encumber is literally to load, hence to impede freedom of action, as would be the case with the arms folded: this head shake, this grave shake of the head assuming intense wisdom; this Lord-Burleigh-like nod of the head.
175. pronouncing of, see Abb. § 178: doubtful, enigmatical.
176. 'Well, well, we know,' sc. but do not care to tell: 'We could ... would,' we could explain all this, if we thought proper to do so; for an if, see Abb. § 103.
177. If we list, if we should so please; list, subjunctive from
A.S. lystan, to desire, used impersonally: 'There be ... might ,'
there are those who could explain this, if they were allowed to do so; be, used with an affectation of profound wisdom.
178. giving out, declaration; cp. Oth. iv. 1. 131, "This is the
monkey's own giving out"; to note, to indicate by the outward signs of manner or speech. The construction of the sentence, which began with you never shall, becomes changed, owing to
the long parenthesis, to (never) to note; cp. K. J. v. 2. 37-9,
"Where these two Christian armies might combine The blood of malice in a vein of league, And not to spend it so unneighbourly."
179-81. this not to do ... Swear, swear, according as you hope
that heaven's grace and mercy may help you in your time of need,
not to do this; the oath which Hamlet calls upon them to take
would be 'I swear, so help me grace and mercy at my most need, not to do so,' the help of grace and mercy being made by the taker of the oath conditional upon his keeping it; for most, used
for greatest, see Abb § 17.
184. With all ... you, with my best love I recommend myself to
you; by an avowal of my great love to you I solicit a return of
equal love to myself; a polite form of farewell.
185. Hamlet, Clarke notes in this use of the third person the
characteristic "of the philosophic man, — reflective, thoughtful,
given to moralize and speak in the abstract." In the mouth of
Caesar and of Macbeth the frequent use is characteristic of arrogance.
186. friending, friendship shown in action.
187. God willing, if it so please God: shall not lack, shall not
188. And still ... lips, and ever be silent of what you have
seen; the placing of the finger upon the lips being a sign that
silence is to be kept.
189. out of joint, utterly disordered; a metaphor from a bone which has slipped from its proper juncture with another bone, the same metaphor being apparently mixed up with that of setting a clock.
189,90. cursed spite ... right, "Hamlet does not lament
that the disjointed time is to be set right by him, but that he ...
whose duty it of necessity becomes to set the time right, should
have been born" (Seymour).
191. Nay, ... together, said as Horatio and Marcellus are at the point of leaving him, under the idea that he wished to be left alone.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet_1_5.html >.