From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. drift of circumstance, "roundabout method. 'Drift' occurs
in ii. 1. 10, and 'circumstance' in this same sense, in i. 5. 127,
and the two words in T. C. iii. 3. 113, 4, 'I do not strain at
the position, — ... but at the author's drift; Who in his circumstance expressly proves,'" etc. (Cl. Pr. Edd.). Cp. also iii. 3. 83, below.
2. Get from him ... confusion, find out from him what has led
him to behave in this excited manner; cp. T. C. ii. 3. 135, "the
savage strangeness he puts on': J. C. i. 3. 60, "And put on fear
and cast yourself in wonder"; in neither passage is
there any idea of making a pretence. Schmidt takes puts on as
= incite, instigate, but the two next lines show that the confusion
refers to Hamlet himself only.
3,4. Grating ... lunacy, thus disturbing his peaceful life with
outbursts of dangerous madness; the figurative sense of grating is from the literal sense of two bodies roughly rubbing against each other, as in i. H. IV. iii. 1. 132, "Or a dry wheel grate on
6. he will .... speak, he cannot by any method be persuaded to say.
7. forward to be sounded, inclined to let us find out what is at
the bottom of his mind.
8. But, with ... aloof, but with a cunning such as is seen in
mad people holds us at a distance.
11. Most like a gentleman, with the greatest courtesy.
12. But with ... disposition, though he was evidently very ill
[he] inclined to have much to do with us.
13, 4. Niggard ... reply, if question is used in its ordinary
sense, this statement is not true, for Hamlet had plied them well
with questions of various kinds, whereas they can scarcely be
said to have made any demands of him. Warburton therefore
would transpose Niggard and Most free. Against this it may be
urged that Hamlet could not be said to be niggard of his answers
when none were required of him. Malone and others take
question as = conversation, discourse, a sense which it often
bears in Shakespeare. But here again we are as far from the
fact as ever, for Hamlet conversed with them freely on a variety
of subjects. The real explanation seems to me that suggested by
the Cl. Pr. Edd., that "perhaps they did not intend to give a
correct account of the interview." Possibly after Hamlet's
generous forbearance in not forcing them to a confession as to
the reason of their coming, they may have felt some scruples of
delicacy in betraying what they knew; probably they felt that if
they reported much of the conversation it would be discovered
how completely Hamlet had seen through them, what poor diplomatists they had shown themselves; of our demands, as regarded
our demands; see Abb. § 173.
14, 5. Did you pastime? did you test him as regards to his
inclination to take part in any amusement? Cp. M. M. i. 2. 186,
"bid herself assay him." The substantive assay, which is merely
another spelling of essay, from Lat. exagium, a weighing, is now
used only in the literal sense of the testing of metal or weights.
17. o'er-raught, passed; literally over-reached.
20. as I think. I believe; they ... order, they have already
23. matter, in this word, according to Delius, there is a tinge
24. doth much content me, is a great satisfaction to me.
26. give him ... edge, it seems doubtful whether this means
'sharpen his inclination,' or 'push him towards,' in which sense
we commonly use the verb to 'egg.' The next line seems to
indicate the latter meaning.
29. closely, privately, secretly.
31. Affront, meet face to face, confront; the only sense of the
word in Shakespeare. whereas its only meaning now is to 'insult,'
from the idea of meeting with too bold a face.
32. lawful espials, who may justifiably act as spies in such a
matter; used again in this concrete sense in i. H. VI. i. 4. 8,
iv. 3. 6. Cp. "intelligence," K. J. iv. 2. 116; "speculations,"
Lear, iii. 1. 24.
33. bestow ourselves, station ourselves.
34. encounter, meeting, interview: frankly, freely; F. franc, free.
35. And gather ... behaved, and infer from his behaviour.
36. affliction of his love, the passionate love he feels.
37. That thus ... for, which causes him to suffer in this way.
38. for your part, as regards you.
39. your good beauties, the fascinations of your great beauty;
be the happy cause, may happily prove to be the cause.
40-2. so shall I ... honours, for in that case I shall be able to
cherish the hope that your various virtues will restore him to his
usual healthy state of mind, with a result honourable alike to
him and to you.
43. Gracious, addressed to the king; cp. "High and mighty,"
iv. 7. 43; so please you, provided it is agreeable to you.
44. bestow ourselves, place ourselves where we shall be unseen;
cp. 1. 33, above; Read on, fix your eyes on as though reading.
45, 6. That show ... loneliness, the appearance of your being
occupied in that way will account for you being here all alone.
46-9. We are ... himself, we are often guilty, — as only too
common experience shows, — of coating over our intentions, vile
as the devil himself, with looks of sanctity and pious acts; for
sugar o'er, cp. i. H. IV. i. 3. 251, "Why, what a candy deal of
courtesy The fawning greyhound then did proffer me!" and below,
iii. 1. 156, iii. 2. 65.
51. beautified ... art, which owes its beauty to rouge, etc., cp.
Cymb. iii. 4. 51, 2, "Some jay of Italy Whose mother was her
52. Is not ... it, is not more ugly in comparison with the thing
to which it owes its beauty; cp. Macb. iii. 4. 64, "0, these flaws
and starts Impostors to true fear."
53. Than is ... word, than are my actions in comparison with
the specious language in which I dress them up; most painted,
thickly plastered over with specious words; deed does not refer
to the particular deed of murdering his brother, but to his base
56. To be ... question, whether to continue to live or not, that
is the doubt I have to solve.
57. whether ... mind, whether it shows a nobler mind.
58. slings, properly that which casts a stone, here the missile
itself; outrageous, violent, cruel. For more on this please click here.
59. a sea of troubles, many pages have been written upon the
incongruity of taking arms against a sea, but a sea of troubles
is a common expression in other languages besides English for a
host, immensity, of troubles, and the mixture of metaphors is
not greater than in many passages of Shakespeare; not much
greater, for instance, than the "music of his honey vows," 1. 156
61. No more, i.e. for death is nothing more than a sleep; to
say we end, to assure ourselves that we thus put an end to, etc.
63, 4. 'tis a ... wish'd, that is a conclusion for which we may
65. there's the rub, there is the difficulty; if we could be quite
sure that death was a dreamless sleep, we should not need to
have any hesitation about encountering it; rub, obstacle; a
metaphor from the game of bowls; cp. K. J. iii. iv. 128, "the
breath of what I mean to speak Shall blow each dust, each straw,
each little rub Out of the path": H. V. ii. 2. 188, "For every
rub is smoothed on our way."
66-8. For in ... pause, for the doubt as to what dreams may come in that sleep of death, when we have put off this encumbrance of the body ("this muddy vesture of decay," M. V. v. 1.
64), must compel us to hesitate when considering the question of
suicide; though coil is elsewhere used by Shakespeare as = turmoil, tumult, and may here include that meaning also, the words shuffled off seem to show that the primary idea was that of a
garment impeding freedom of action.
68, 9. there's the respect ... life, in that lies the consideration
which makes misfortune so long-lived; if it were not for that
consideration, we should quickly put an end to calamity by
ending our lives.
70. the whips ... time, the blows and flouts to which one is
exposed in this life; here time seems to be opposed to eternity,
as in Macb. i. 7. 6, "If ... that but this blow Might be the be-all
and the end-all here. But here upon this bank and shoal of time
We'ld jump the world to come"; and the whips and scorns to be a general expression for the particulars in the next four lines, "the oppressor's wrong," "'the law's delay," "the
insolence of office," coming under the head of whips, and "the
proud man's contumely," "the pangs of despised love," and
"the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes," under
that of scorns. It is, however, possible that of time may be
equivalent to "of the times," as e.g. in K. J. v. 2. 12, "I am not glad that such a sore of time Should seek a plaster by contemn'd revolt."
73. The insolence of office, the insolent behaviour with which
men in office treat those who have to sue to them; cp. the term "Jack in office," and i. H. VI. i. 1. 175, "But long I will not
be Jack out of office."
74. That patient ... takes, that men of merit have patiently to
endure at the hands of those who have no claim to respect.
Furness remarks, "In the enumeration of these ills, is it not
evident that Shakespeare is speaking in his own person? As
Johnson says, these are not the evils that would particularly
strike a prince."
75. his quietus, his release, acquittance; quietus was the
technical term for acquittance of all debts at the audit of
accounts in the Exchequer, and is used as late as Burke, Speech
on Economical Reform. Cp. Sonn. cxxvi. 12, "Her audit, though delay'd, answer'd must be, And her quietus is to render
76. With a bare bodkin, with a mere dagger. Though Shakespeare probably had in his mind the idea also of an unsheathed dagger, his primary idea seems to be the easiness with which the
release could be obtained, and the word bodkin, a diminutive, =
small dagger, goes to confirm this notion. Among other passages
in which the word occurs, Steevens quotes Beaumont and
Fletcher, The Custom of the Country, ii. 3. 87, "Out with your
bodkin, Your pocket-dagger, your stiletto": fardels, burdens;
"a diminutive of F. farde, a burden, still in use in the sense of
'bale of coffee'" ... (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).
77. grunt, groan; the word, though now having a ludicrous
association, had none to the ears of our forefathers. Steevens
gives several instances of its use, and Staunton one from Armin's
Nest of Ninnies, which is particularly apt; "how the fat fooles
of this age will gronte and sweat under their massie burden."
79. bourn, boundary, confines; cp. Lear, iv. 6. 57, "From the
dread summit of this chalky bourn."
80. No traveller returns, to the cavil that this is in opposition
to the fact of the ghost of the king having re-visited the earth,
Coleridge conclusively replies, "If it be necessary to remove the
apparent contradiction, — if it be not rather a great beauty, —
surely it were easy to say that no traveller returns to this world
as to his home or abiding-place": will, resolution. For more on this line, please click here.
84, 5. And thus ... thought, and thus over the natural colour of
determination there is thrown the pale and sickly tinge of anxious
86. of great pitch and moment, of soaring character and
mighty impulse. The folios give pith for pitch, a word we have
already had in i. 4. 22, in a different context. With Staunton, I
take pitch in the sense of the highest point of a falcon's flight, as
in R. II. i. 1. 109, "How high a pitch his resolution soars!"
J. C. i. 1. 78, "Will make him fly an ordinary pitch"; but
moment seems to me to be used here for 'momentum,' 'impulse,' the sense which the word appears to have in A. C. i. 2. 147, "I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment."
87,8. With this ... action, influenced by this consideration,
divert their course, turn themselves from the path along which
they were going, and no longer can be said to be active.
88. Soft you now! said to himself, 'but let me pause!'
89. Nymph, literally bride, was a title given to female deities
of lower rank; orisons, prayers; through F. from Lat. orare, to
90. Be all ... remember'd! may you remember to ask pardon
for all my sins! - to intercede for me.
91. How does... day? how have you fared for these many
days during which I have not seen you? for many a day, see
Abb. § 87.
93. remembrances, tokens of love given to ensure being remembered.
94. longed long, long been most desirous.
97. you know ... did, you know well enough, if you choose to
remember, that you did give them to me, trifles though they
may now seem, not worth remembering.
99, 100. their perfume ... again, now that you no longer have
kind words to give me, take back the remembrances which those
words made so dear to me.
100, 1. for to ... unkind, to a mind of any nobility, gifts,
however costly, lose all their value when their givers change
from what they were when they bestowed them.
102. There, my lord, said as she offers to return his gifts.
103. honest, virtuous, modest.
107, 8 That if ... beauty, that if you be virtuous and fair, your
virtue should not allow itself any intercourse with your beauty.
109, 10. Could beauty ... honesty? Ophelia, with a woman's wit, inverts the terms of the proposition by asking whether
beauty could associate with anything more profitably than with
111. Ay, truly, yes, assuredly it could, so far as the interests
of virtue are concerned.
113, 4. this was ... proof, this was at one time considered a
strange idea, but the present time have shown that it is a mere
truism; paradox, literally that which is contrary to (received)
117, 8. for virtue ... it, for virtue cannot so graft herself upon human nature but it shall smack of its original depravity; inoculate, Lat. in, in, and oculus, an eye, the technical term for the
bud which is grafted on to another tree. Cp. W. T. iv. 4. 92-5.
120. I was the more deceived, then my mistake was all the greater.
121. why wouldst thou, why should you desire.
122. indifferent honest, fairly honourable as men go; indifferent, used adverbially.
123. it were better, it would be better.
125. at my back, ready to come at my summons, whenever I
choose to beckon them; thoughts ... in, thoughts in which to clothe them.
127, 8. What should ... heaven? what business have such
wretched fellows as myself to be crawling, like noxious reptiles,
on earth and aspiring to heaven? arrant, through, utter; "a
variant of errant, wandering, vagrant, vagabond, which from its
frequent use in such expressions as arrant thief, became an intensive, 'thorough, notorious, downright,' especially from its original associations, with opprobrious names" (Murray, Eng.
Dict.). Though generally used in a bad sense, we find it occasionally in a good one, e.g. Ford, The Fancies, Chaste and Noble, iii. 2, "true and arrant ladies"; also Fold, Love's Sacrifice, ii.
2, and Beaumont and Fletcher, The Loyal Subject, iii. 5, and
The Little French Lawyer, iv. 4. 4.
129. thy ways, see note on i. 3. 135.
132. shut upon him, shut against his going out.
136, 7. be thou ... calumny, see quotation from W. T. ii. 1.
71-4, on i. 1. 38, above.
138. needs, of necessity; the old genitive used adverbially.
139. what monsters ... them, an allusion to the old belief that
horns grew out of the forehead of men whose wives had been unfaithful to them.
142. your paintings, the rouging of the complexion so common
among your sex; your, used generally.
144. jig, are given to loose dances; amble, walk with a mincing gait.
144, 5. nick-name God's creatures, are not content with calling
God's creatures by their right names, but must invent foolish and
ribald ones for them: a, nick-name is an eke-name, a name given to
eke out another name, an additional name; creatures, both animate and inanimate, as in K. J. iv. 1. 121, "fire and iron ... creatures of note for mercy-lacking uses." So, Bacon, Essay of
Truth, "The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was
the light of the sense"; also Temp. iii. 3. 74; and make ... ignorance, and when charged with immodest behaviour plead ingenuous simplicity as your excuse.
146. I'll no more on 't, I will allow no more of such goings on; on't, of it, sc. your behaviour.
148. one, sc. the king. "This exception would be quite
unintelligible to Ophelia, but the audience, who are in on Hamlet's
secret, see its purport" (Cl. Pr. Edd.); keep as they are, remain
151. The courtier's ... sword, i.e. the eye of the courtier, the
tongue of the scholar, the sword of the soldier; Hamlet, according to Ophelia, being endowed with the sprightly look of the
courtier, the learning of the scholar, and the skill in arms of the
152. The expectancy ... state, the hope and chief ornament of
the state, thus beautified by him; fair is used proleptically,
which was made fair by wearing him (as a rose in a dress, coat,
153. The glass of fashion, in whom was reflected all that was
in the highest fashion, the most perfect good taste; the mould of
form, "the model by whom all endeavoured to form themselves"
154. The observed of all observers, he whose conduct and
carriage was closely observed by every one as an example to
be followed; quite, quite down, now utterly overthrown; cp.
iii. 2. 198.
155. deject, dejected, broken-spirited; for the omission of the
participial termination, see Abb. § 342.
156. That sucked ... vows, who so greedily drank in his honeyed
words of love; Ophelia combines what is sweet to the taste and
sweet to the ear.
157. sovereign, the supreme power in the state of man: cp. J.
C. ii. 1. 68, "the state of man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers
then The nature of an insurrection."
158. Like sweet ... harsh, like bells naturally of a sweet tone,
rung in such a way as to be out of tune with each other, and so harsh-sounding. It seems better to follow the folios in placing the comma after tune and not after jangled, as most editors
follow Capell in doing.
159, 60. That unmatch'd ... ecstasy, that peerless form and
feature of youth in its full bloom now cruelly marred by madness
(as a flower in bloom is blasted by a storm); feature is used by
Shakespeare for the person in general (and especially of dignified
appearance, e.g. R. II. i. 1. 19, Cymb. v. 5. 163, as featureless in
Sonn. xi. 10, for 'ugly'), and rarely, if ever, in the restricted
modern sense of the particular parts of the face; so that form and feature is almost redundant; woe is me, woe is to me; see Abb. § 230.
161. To have ... see, that I should have known him as he once
was, and should know him as he now is.
162. Love! ... tend, you say that love is the cause of his madness! nonsense! the bent of his mind is not in that direction.
163. though it ... little, though it was somewhat incoherent,
164. Was not, for the emphatic double negative, see Abb. § 406.
165. on brood, a-brooding; cp. i. 5. 19.
166. 7. And I do ... danger, and I suspect that when the outcome of it is seen, we shall find it something dangerous; disclose "'is when the young just peeps through the shell.' It is also
taken for laying, hatching, or bringing forth young; as 'She disclosed three birds.' R. Holme's Academy of Armory and Blazon ... Cp. also v. 1. 275 " (Steevens).
167. which for to prevent, in order to anticipate which; for to, now a vulgarism, occurs, among the undoubted and wholly Shakespearean plays, in W. T. i. 2. 427, A. W. v. 3. 181, and
below v. 1. 89.
108, 9. I have ... down, I have with prompt determination
decided; he shall, sc. be sent, go; the verb of motion omitted,
170. For the ... tribute, to demand the tribute of money due
to us, which they have neglected to pay; cp. Cymb. iii. 1. 8-10.
171-5. Haply ... himself, possibly the variety of novel sights
which in his voyage and travels he will behold will drive out this
matter which has to some extent settled in his heart, and which
by his brains constantly beating on it, has changed him from his
usual self; the grammatical construction is 'the beating of his
brains on which'; cp. Cymb. i. 6. 8, "blest be those ... that have
their honest wills, which (sc. the having their wills) seasons
comfort;" and see Abb. § 337.
176. It shall do well, the plan is certain to answer; yet, still (in
time), not, notwithstanding what you say.
177,8. The origin ... love, a redundancy for 'the origin and
commencement are from,' etc., or 'his grief sprung from'; How
now, Ophelia! what brings you here?
181. if you ... fit, if you agree with me as to the propriety of
183. grief, some editors prefer the reading of the folios, griefs,
but we have the singular in 1. 177, and the idea of a burden,
which here seems wanted, is better expressed by the singular
than the plural; round, peremptory, plain spoken; see note on
ii. 2. 139.
184,5. in the ear ... conference, where I can hear all that
passes between them. Polonius insinuates that from maternal
affection the queen may not faithfully report the interview, and
also perhaps that his wisdom is necessary to judge of the real
meaning of what Hamlet may say with an accuracy that could
not be expected of a woman; find him, discover his secret; cp.
Lear, iv. 6. 104, "there I found 'em, there I smelt 'em out."
187. Your wisdom, you in your wisdom.
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_3_1.html >.