Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 4
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. from me greet, bear my greetings to.
2. by his license, if he will allow it.
3, 4. Craves ... kingdom, desires that, according to promise, he
may be allowed to transport his forces across Denmark: the rendezvous, the appointed place of meeting; Fr. rendez, 2nd person plural, imperative, of rendre, to render, bring, and vous, the
plural of the 2nd personal pronoun; a military term for the place
appointed for soldiers to assemble.
5. would ... us, wishes to see us for any purpose.
6. We shall ... eye, we shall be ready to appear before him in
person and do homage to him; for in his eye, Steevens compares
A. C. ii. 2. 212, "Her gentlewomen ... tended her i' the eyes,"
and says "the phrase seems to have been a formulary for the
7. And let him know so, and therefore tell him so. For this
change of construction, cp. M. A. v. 1. 303, 4, "I do embrace
your offer; and dispose (i.e. do you dispose) For henceforth of
poor Claudio. "
8. softly, slowly; i.e. with the troops under your command.
9. powers, forces; as frequently in Shakespeare.
10. of Norway, belonging to Norway.
11. How purposed, with what object have they marched
15, 6. Goes it ... frontier? is the expedition directed against
the mainland of Poland, or only some outlying portion of that
17. with no addition, without exaggeration.
18. to gain, to make ourselves masters of.
19. That hath ... name, whose only value lies in the name of
20. To pay ... it, I would not pay five ducats, not even five, for
the lease of it.
21. Norway, the king of Norway.
22. ranker, higher; literally more exuberant in growth;
sold in fee, sold out and out, not merely farmed; a 'fee'
originally signified an estate feudally held of another person,
and an estate in fee simple is the greatest estate or interest
which the law of England allows any person to possess in landed
23. then, if it is worth no more than that.
25, 6. Two thousand ... straw, the decision of this petty quarrel
will cost the lives of at least two thousand men, and the waste
of, etc.; for debate, = decide by combat, cp. Lucr. 1421, "It
seem'd they would debate with angry swords"; the word is from
the O. F. debatre, to beat down.
27-9. This is ... dies, this morbid desire in the body politic to
quarrel about nothing, a desire due to superabundance of wealth
and the idleness of a long peace, is like an abscess in the physical
body which bursts inwardly without showing any visible cause of the man's death; i.e. this readiness to quarrel merely for the
sake of quarrelling shows an unhealthy condition in a state; so,
in i. H. IV. iv. 2. 32, the idle, discontented, fellows whom Falstaff
enlists are called "the cankers of a calm world and a long peace";
imposthume, from "O.F. apostume, an 'inward swelling full of
corrupt matter'; Cot. — Lat. apostema, an abscess....
Here the prefix im - is due to mere corruption" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).
Cp. Beaumont and Fletcher, Four Plays in One, "the two imposthumes That choke a kingdom's welfare, — ease and wantonness."
30. God ... you, merely a courteous form of bidding farewell.
32. How all ... me, how everything that happens seems to
denounce my irresolution! inform against me, being a charge
against me as informers do against guilty persons; cp. R. II. ii.
1. 242, "what they will inform ... 'gainst any of us all." [Please click here for analysis of Hamlet's soliloquy.]
34. market of his time, that for which he brings his time for
sale as beasts are brought on market-day.
35. a beast, no more, thus making himself no better than a
36, 7. made us ... after, endowed us with such comprehensive
faculties, faculties which concern themselves with both the future
and the past; not like those of brute beasts which seem concerned with the present moment only.
39. to fust, to grow fusty, mouldy; literally 'tasting of the
cask,' from O. F. fuste, a cask.
40. craven, cowardly: literally one who sues for mercy.
41. Of thinking, which consists in thinking: precisely,
42. 3. A thought ... coward, a mode of thinking which, if quartered, will be found to be made up of one part of wisdom to three parts of cowardice.
44. 'This ... do,' this act still remains to be done; for the
infinitive active where we use the passive, see Abb. § 359.
46. Examples ... me, so plain and material that the dullest
man could not fail to recognize them as such.
47. Witness, for instance; literally 'let this army witness';
48. delicate and tender, brought up in ease and luxury, and so
not naturally inclined to such rough work.
50. Makes ... event, laughs at the possible consequences; cp.
ii. 2. .344, "makes mows."
51. mortal, liable to death.
53. an egg-shell, the merest, most worthless, trifle.
54. Is not to stir, Furness thinks that the negative belongs to
the copula, and that there should be a comma after not: argument, cause of quarrel.
55. But greatly ... straw, but to be prompt to find in the
slightest trifle provocation for fighting. [Please click here for further analysis of Fortinbras' motivation.]
51. When ... stake, when honour is concerned; when it is
honour that is the subject of attack; cp. T. N. iii. 1. 129,
"Have you not set mine honour at the stake And baited it with
all unmuzzled thoughts...?" Schmidt takes at the stake, as
equivalent to 'at stake,' as in Oth. iv. 2. 13.
56-9. How stand ... sleep? how unworthy is my position, then,
who though my father has been murdered and my mother's good
fame destroyed, — facts which should be sufficient to stir both
my reason and my passion, — still allow things to remain exactly
as they were without making the smallest effort to remedy them.
61. for a ... fame, for the sake of such a fanciful whim as the
desire of fame; for trick, in this sense, cp. M. M. iii. 1. 114,
"Why would he for a momentary trick Be perdurably fined?"
Schmidt takes trick as = trifle, as in Cor. iv. 4. 21. [Please click here for more on the problem this passage presents.]
62. like beds, as readily as they would to their beds: plot,
small strip of land.
63. Whereon ... cause, too small to hold the combatants for it.
64. which is ... continent, which is not large enough to be the
tomb and cover; continent, that which contains; cp. A. C. iv.
4. 40, "Heart once be stronger than thy continent, Crack
thy frail case!"
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_4.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_4.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Many comparisons can be made between Fortinbras and Hamlet. Both are young princes, both are seeking revenge for a slain father, and both have had their crown taken by an uncle. But there are also some key differences between them. How many can you think of? Why does Hamlet admire Fortinbras? For more on Fortinbras, please click here.
2. Hamlet's conversation with the Captain and his subsequent pivotal soliloquy appear in Q2 but, quite surprisingly, not in the First Folio. What effect would its absence have on the play overall?
3.Hamlet is not without its share of improbabilities and contradictions. In his discussion with the Captain, Hamlet believes that Fortinbras' motive for fighting over such an insignificant piece of land is "the imposthume of much wealth and peace", but in Hamlet's soliloquy he says it is Fortinbras' value of honor that makes him "find quarrel in a straw." Might there be a way to explain this incongruity? Is it possible that the passage "Two thousand souls...dies" (lines 25-30) should belong to the Captain instead of Hamlet?
Points to Ponder ... Hamlet's last soliloquy is crucial to our understanding of his character development. By the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet brings to a halt his solemn contemplation on the immoral act of murderous revenge, and finally accepts it as his necessary duty. It is not that Hamlet has presented a solid and reasonable argument to convince himself of his terrible responsibility; rather he has driven himself to the conclusion with intense and distorted thoughts. Full soliloquy analysis...
The First Hamlet Review ... In Hamlet: An Historical and Comparative Study, Elmer Edgar Stoll writes that the first known critical notes on Hamlet appeared in 1699 in James Drake's Antient and Modern Stages Survey'd. Drake wrote:
Nothing in Antiquity can rival this plot for the admirable distribution of Poetick Justice. The Criminals are not only brought to execution, but they are taken in
their own Toyls, their own Stratagems recoyl upon 'em, and they are involved them
selves in that mischief and ruine, which they had projected for Hamlet. Polonius
by playing the Spy meets a Fate, which was neither expected by nor intended for
him. Guildenstern and Rosencrans, the Kings Decoys, are counter-plotted, and sent
to meet that fate, to which they were trepanning the Prince. The Tyrant himself
falls by his own plot, and by the hand of the Son of that Brother, whom he had
Murther'd. Laertes suffers by his own Treachery, and dies by a Weapon of his own
preparing. Thus every one's crime naturally produces his Punishment, and every
one (the Tyrant excepted) commences a Wretch almost as soon as a Villain.