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?
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,
How miserable a thing soever, yet a thing still,
And though a thing of nothing, thy thing ever. (The Humourous Lieutenant, iv, 6)
Shakespeare uses the phrase again in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "a paramour is, God bless us, a thing of naught" (4.2.12).
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.