Please see the bottom of the page for full explanatory notes and helpful resources.
|ACT IV SCENE II ||Another room in the castle.|| |
|GUILDENSTERN AND ROSENCRANTZ||[Within.] Hamlet! Lord Hamlet!
|HAMLET||But soft, what noise? who calls on Hamlet?|
|O, here they come.|
|[Enter ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN]|
|ROSENCRANTZ||What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?|
|HAMLET||Compounded it with dust, whereto 'tis kin.|
|ROSENCRANTZ||Tell us where 'tis, that we may take it thence|
|And bear it to the chapel.|
|HAMLET||Do not believe it.|
|HAMLET||That I can keep your counsel and not mine own.|
|Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! what|
|replication should be made by the son of a king?|
|ROSENCRANTZ||Take you me for a sponge, my lord?|
|HAMLET||Ay, sir, that soaks up the king's countenance, his|
|rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the|
|king best service in the end: he keeps them, like|
|an ape, in the corner of his jaw; first mouthed, to|
|be last swallowed: when he needs what you have|
|gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you|
|shall be dry again.||20|
|ROSENCRANTZ||I understand you not, my lord.|
|HAMLET||I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a|
|ROSENCRANTZ||My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go|
|with us to the king.|
|HAMLET||The body is with the king, but the king is not with|
|the body. The king is a thing --|
|GUILDENSTERN||A thing, my lord?|
|HAMLET||Of nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after.|
Next: Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3
Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. stowed, put away.
6. Compounded ... kin, mixed with the earth of which it was
originally formed; cp. the Burial Service, "earth to earth,
ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Cp. ii. H. IV. iv. 5. 116, "Only
compound me with forgotten dust."
11. Keep your counsel, keep your secret; referring perhaps to
his discovery, in ii. 2. 284, 5, that they had been sent to sound
12. Besides ... sponge! besides, to think of my being questioned by a fellow like you, who would get everything out of me, suck me dry, with the same insidiousness that a sponge sucks up
water! Some editors follow the quartos and folios in putting a
connna, instead of a note of admiration, after sponge; with that
punctuation the meaning will be, 'in the case of one's being
12, 3. what ... king? what sort of answer do you expect to
receive from one, like me, of royal birth? do you expect that
such a one would submit to be sucked dry by a fellow like you?
Rushton says that replication is "an exception of the second
degree made by the plaintiff upon the answer of a defendant."
In the jargon of Holofernes, L. L. L. iv. 2. 15, the word is used,
as here, for 'reply'; in J. C. i. 1. 51, for 'echo.'
15. countenance, favour.
16. authorities, the several attributes of power; cp. Lear, i.
17. like an ... nuts, as an ape does nuts; the later quartos read
"like an apple," for which Farmer conjectured 'like an ape, an
apple'; the reading in the text is that of the first quarto, and is
adopted by Staunton and Furness.
18. mouthed, taken into his mouth.
19. gleaned, picked up in the way of information: it is but
squeezing you, all he needs to do is to squeeze you like a
22. a knavish ... ear, I am glad you should not understand it,
as that shows you are only a fool, fools never seeing the point of
25, 6. The body ... thing, various subtle meanings have been
read into these words, but they were probably used for no
other purpose than that of mystifying Guildenstern -- and commentators.
28, 9. Hide fox, and all after, an allusion to the game of hide
and seek, in which one of the players, called the fox, hides, and
all the rest have to go after him and find out his hiding-place.
Here, of course, merely a continuation of Hamlet's feigned
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet_4_2.html >.
How to cite the scene review questions:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet: Scene Questions for Review. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet_4_2.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Hamlet does an excellent job of confusing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- and critics -- with his paradox (line 25). It could mean: Claudius is in the vicinity of the body of Polonius, but the King (Hamlet's father) is not with his own body.
More likely it means: Claudius is in the vicinity of the body of Polonius, but Claudius is not with the body (i.e., body politic). Earlier in the play Laertes says that when Hamlet becomes king he will certainly be on the side on the people, and his choices will "be circumscrib'd unto the voice and yielding of that body whereof he is the head" (1.3.19-24). There are many interpretations of this line. What do you think Hamlet means?
2. What is the purpose of this short scene? Do you feel an increase in the speed of action at this point?
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Claudius and the Condition of Denmark
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Introduction to Hamlet
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Did You Know? ... According to Robert Neres (1753-1829), the phrase "a thing of nothing" or "of naught" was a common way to express anything very worthless. In his Glossary on the Works of English Authors he cites an example from a play by Shakespeare's contemporaries, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont:
Shall then that thing that honours thee,
Shakespeare uses the phrase again in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "a paramour is, God bless us, a thing of naught" (4.2.12).
How miserable a thing soever, yet a thing still,
And though a thing of nothing, thy thing ever. (The Humourous Lieutenant, iv, 6)
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Essential Resources ... Explore our Shakespeare Glossary and find the meanings of old and unusual words used in Elizabethan England and, of course, in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Just what is a rabbit-sucker anyway? The Shakespeare Glossary.
Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
Hamlet as National Hero
Claudius and the Dumb-Show: Why Does he Stay?
Claudius and the Mousetrap
In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King
An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet
Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
All About Yorick
Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?
The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
Ophelia and Laertes
Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius
The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
Shakespeare's View of the Child Actors Through Hamlet
Divine Providence in Hamlet
What is Tragic Irony?
Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet
Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
Why Shakespeare is so Important
Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers