Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 7
From Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. Now must ... seal, after what you have heard, you can no
longer fail to acquit me of all complicity in your father's death;
for seal, see note on i. 2. 60.
2. And you ... friend, nor can you help heartily recognizing me
as a friend.
3. Sith, see note on ii. 2. 6; knowing, intelligent.
5. It well appears, it appears plain.
6. proceeded not, took no action to punish: feats, deeds.
7. crimeful, full of crime, desperately criminal: capital,
8. 9. As by ... up, as by all considerations of your own safety,
of what wisdom dictated, and everything else, you were so
strongly prompted to do.
10. unsinew'd, to have no force in them.
12. by his looks, on his looks; on the sight of him.
13. be ... which, "perhaps a confusion between 'be it either'
and 'be it whichever of the two.' Perhaps, however, 'either'
may be taken in its original sense of 'one of the two,' so that
'either which' is 'which-one-soever of the two'" (Abb. § 273).
14. She's so ... soul, my life and soul (i.e. I in everything) are
so wrapped up in her; she is so much a part of my existence;
cp. Oth. i. 3. 374, "Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against
16. I could ... her, I could not but move as she moves.
17. Why to ... go, why I could not have recourse to a public
18. the general gender, the common race, the common people;
cp. ii. 24. 14.
19-21. Who, ... graces, who seeing his offences with their own
eyes (i.e. eyes prejudiced in his favour), would see in his fetters
only further reason to love him (those fetters being regarded as
an act of injustice calling for their pity). Johnson points out
that the simile would have been more appropriate if the spring
had changed base metals into gold; there does not appear to be
an allusion to any particular spring, as Reed supposed.
21. my arrows, my scheme for punishing him.
22. Too slightly ... wind, too light to meet so strong a wind.
23. 4. Would have ... them, would have been blown back in
my face instead of hitting the mark at which they were aimed.
25, 6. And so ... terms, and in this way my father has been
lost to me, and my sister been driven into circumstances of
desperation; for the construction, cp. i. 2. 215, iii. 3. 38. Also
see Abb. § 425.
27. if praises ... again, if I may speak of her as she once was.
28, 9. Stood ... perfections, proudly challenged all modern
times to produce one equal to her in her various perfections;
on mount, where the challenge of her worth could be widely
30. Break ... that, do not allow your sleep to be broken by the
fear that you may not be able to wreak your revenge. For the
plural sleeps, Dyce quotes Phaer's Virgil, AEneidos, ii., where the
original Latin has the singular.
31. That we ... dull, that we are of so spiritless and inert a
nature; flat, a metaphor from a liquid that has become insipid.
32. 3. That we ... pastime, that we can endure to have danger
flaunt us in the face and treat the matter as though it were a
mere joke; our beard, with an allusion to the insult conveyed
in plucking a man by the beard; for with, = by, see Abb. § 193,
34. I ... we, in the former case speaking of himself as a man, in
the latter of himself as a king.
35. that, sc. fact.
43. High and mighty, i.e. one; cp. above, iii. 1. 43, "Gracious,
so please you."
45, 6. first ... thereunto, first asking your gracious permission
to do so.
46, 7. my sudden ... return, my return, the suddenness of which
is only exceeded by its strangeness.
49. should, can possibly; see Abb. § 325.
50. abuse, deception.
51. character, handwriting.
54. I'm lost in it, I am completely baffled by the event.
50. That, to think that: live and tell, live to tell, as we should
58. As how ... otherwise? and yet I know not how it can be so,
or how it can be otherwise; that he should have returned in
face of the measures I took, is inexplicable; and yet that he
should not have returned is, in face of the letter received, equally
inexplicable; the one thing is as difficult to believe as the other.
59. ruled by me, guided by my advice.
60. So ... peace, provided that your advice does not compel me
to keep peace with him.
62. As checking at, in consequence of his rebelling against,
starting back in alarm at; the metaphor is from falconry; cp
T. N. iii. 1. 71, "And, like a haggard, check at every feather."
63. work him, persuade him; work upon him so that he will
65. Under ... fall, beneath the weight of which he shall have no
choice but to succumb.
66. And for ... breathe, and not the smallest breath of blame for
his death shall ever light on us.
67. uncharge the practice, acquit our stratagem of any evil intention against him; practice, = plot, stratagem, is very
frequent in Shakespeare.
69. The rather, all the more readily; see Abb. § 94.
70. organ, instrument; It falls right, everything conspires to
that end; all things tend to a successful carrying out of our
72. And that ... hearing, and that too when Hamlet was
present; quality, accomplishment.
73. your sum of parts, all your gifts together; parts, in the
sense of gifts, accomplishments, derives itself from the idea of a
man being put together of several parts.
75. regard, opinion.
76. Of siege, which was lowest in rank, least worthy of
respect; siege, meaning originally seat, came to be used of rank
owing to the care that was taken to place people at the table exactly
accordling to their rank; op. Oth. i. 2. 22, "I fetch my life and
being From men of royal siege."
77. A very ... youth, a mere trifling ornament to youth.
78. becomes, is in accordance with.
79. light ... livery, the airy, jaunty, dress.
80. 1. Than settled ... graveness, than sedate old age accords
with the warm clothing which concerns, is of importance to (and
so is chosen with regard to) health and gravity of demeanour;
for Importing, cp. Oth. i. 3. 284. "with such things else of
quality and respect As doth import you": for settled, cp. M. M.
iii. 1. 90, "settled visage and deliberate word"; his sables and
his weeds, a hendiadys for his clothes formed of sables; for
weeds, cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 256), "Weed wide enough to wrap a
82. Here was, there was at this court.
84. can well ... horseback, are adepts in horsemanship; for can, = are skilled in, cp. Phoenix and Turtle, 14, "And the priest in
surplice white That defunctive music can."
85. in t, sc. horsemanship: grew ... seat, sat as though riveted
to his saddle.
86. doing, feats.
87. 8. As bad ... beast, as he would have done if he and his
animal were one in form and nature; "as like an appears to be
(though it is not) used by Shakespeare for as if ... the 'if' is
implied in the subjunctive" (Abb. § 107).
88. topp'd my thought, surpassed anything I had ever conceived; for topp'd, cp. Lear. v. 3. 207, "To amplify too much,
would make much more. And top extremity."
89. in forgery ... tricks, in conjuring up in my fancy feats of dexterity; for forgery, cp. M. N. D. ii. 1. 81; for shapes, = embodiments of fancy, R. II. ii. 2. 22, "Find shapes of grief, more
than himself, to wail."
93. brooch, an ornament in former days often worn in the hat,
now worn by women only at the throat; the Cl. Pr. Edd. point
out that when worn in the hat, it was of course very conspicuous.
95. made confession of you, admitted your excellence in various
exercises; confession, "here used because Lamond would not
willingly acknowledge the superiority of Laertes over the French
in the art of fighting" (Delius).
96-8. And gave ... especially, and gave such report of your
masterly skill in the science and practice of defence, more
especially when using your rapier; Laertes was reported by him
as being good at all weapons -- the broadsword, lance, etc., but as
being something quite out of the common way when handling
100. If one ... you, if one could be found your equal at fencing;
cp. Cymb. ii. 1. 24, "I must go up and down like a cock that
nobody can match"; scrimers, fencers; F. escrimeur, a fencer;
probably a coinage of Shakespeare's; their, "we should have expected 'his,' not 'their,' but in the oratio recta Lamond might have said 'our nation' with propriety" (Cl. Pr. Edd.).
101, 2. had neither ... them, seemed when fencing with you to
have none of the power of attack, so necessary in fencing, none of
the skill by which alone blows can be warded off -- none of that keen
sight necessary equally in offence and defence; cp. Lear. ii. 1. 52.
103. Did ... envy, so poisoned the mind of Hamlet with the
envy which his report excited.
105. to play with him, that you might play a match with him;
to play, expresses the result not the object of his coming.
108, 9. Or are you ... heart? or are you like the picture of some
one in deep grief, a mere face without the heart beating beneath
in unison with the look upon it? i.e. is your grief deeply seated
and prepared to show its reality by action?
111-3. But that ... it, but that I see, by observation of occurrences which demonstrate the fact beyond all doubt, that the
spark and fire of love gradually burns low, as I know by mu omn
experience that its growth also is a gradual one.
114, 5. There lives ... it, while love is burning most brightly,
even then there is in it something which will sooner or later
abate its fervour, just as the wick of a candle when it burns to a
snuff dims its brilliance; i.e. even in its fullest vigour, love contains within it the principle of its own decay; the snuff of a candle is that portion of the wick which ceases to give forth light
owing to the wax or tallow being burnt too low to reach and
nourish it, and this snuff only dims the brightness of the flame.
116. And nothing ... still, and nothing continues for a long
period at the same pitch of excellence; still, continually.
117, 8. For goodness ... much, for goodness itself, growing to a
fulness, dies of its own excess. Shakespeare, like many of his
contemporaries, has here derived plurisy from the Lat. plus, pluris, more, whereas it really comes from the Gk. for a rib,
pleurisy, as it is properly spelled, being a disease of the membrane
which covers the lungs.
118, 9. that we ... would, that which we desire to do, we ought
to do while the desire is strong upon us: this 'would,' this desire,
122. 3. And then ... easing, and then this feeling of duty, without being put into action, is as hurtful to the moral nature as a sigh, drawn out of mere wantonness without there being any
sufficient cause for it, is to the physical nature, though for the
moment it may give relief; an allusion to the old belief that
sighing draws drops of blood from the heart; cp. M. N. D. iii.
2. 97, "With sighs of love, that costs the fresh blood dear";
ii. H. VI. iii. 2. 63, "Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking
sighs"; R. J. iii. 5. 58, "Dry sorrow drinks our blood."
123. But ... ulcer, but, to probe the ulcer to the quick, its most
sensitive point; i.e. to go to the bottom of the matter.
124. Hamlet comes back, Hamlet, as we have just heard, is on
his way back, and will soon be here, i.e. let us be prepared for
his return, accept it as certain that he is returning.
127. sanctuarize, give refuge to, shield; criminals from early
days, if they could take refuge in a sacred building, were beyond
the reach of law, and when doing so were said to "take sanctuary"; cp. R. III, iii. 1. 28; C. E. v. 1. 94; the word here
appears to be another of Shakespeare's coinages.
129. Will you ... chamber?; will you do this, viz., shut yourself up in your rooms? Most modern editors follow the earlier quartos and the first folio in putting a full stop after chamber, in
which case the meaning is 'if you are willing to do this, then,'
etc. This, however, seems to me rather more peremptory
language than the king would use to Laertes.
131. put on, instigate: those shall, those who shall.
132. set ... on, give a fresh coating of exaggerated praise to,
134. wager ... heads, lay wagers as to which of you will win:
remiss, careless; "a word seldom if ever used now except with
reference to some particular act of negligence" (Cl. Pr. Edd. ).
135. free from all contriving, innocent of all plotting himself,
and therefore unsuspicious of others.
136. peruse, carefully examine; cp. ii. 1. 90.
137. with a little shuffling, with a little trickery in the matter
of choosing your foil, i.e. by mixing, during a pause in the
combat, the foil you first use with others among which you have already placed one that has no button to its point, and then, on resuming the combat, taking that foil up.
138. unbated, not blunted by having a button, a round piece
of leather, at its point: a pass of practice, "a treacherous thrust"
(Cl. Pr. Edd.).
139. Requite ... father, pay him back for the murder of your
141. mountebank, quack doctor; literally one who mounts
on a bench to proclaim his nostrums.
142. mortal, deadly: but dip, if one only dips.
143. cataplasm, plaster, poultice: so rare, however rare in its
144. all simples ... virtue, all efficacious herbs.
147. contagion, infectious poison: gall, rub the skin off any
part of him.
148. It may be death, the result will be death.
149, 50. Weigh ... shape, let us consider how we may take such
advantage of time and means as will best accommodate us to the
form of proceeding we must adopt; the metaphor is that of
getting a garment to fit the body; cp. Cymb. iii. 4. 195, "To
some shade And fit you to your manhood," i.e. put on a dress
which will suit you in playing your assumed part of a man, said
to Imogen who is to disguise herself as a page.
151. And that ... performance, and if we should play our parts
so badly that our object reveal itself; for the conjunctional affix that, see Abb. § 287.
153. a back, something in reserve to strengthen it, an inner
lining as it were: second, something to assist (as in a duel); cp.
Cor. i. 4. 43, "So, now the gates are ope: now prove good
seconds"; hold, sc. firm, not give way.
154. If this ... proof, if this should fly to pieces when put
to the proof. Before being issued for use, weapons, such as
cannon, etc., are 'proved' by putting a great strain upon them, loading them with a heavier charge than will be ordinarily used; and if not well made they 'blast,' blow to pieces in the
156. I ha't, I have it, i.e. I have hit upon a capital device.
157. motion, the lunging and retiring in making and receiving
thrusts: dry, thirsty.
158. As make ... end, with which object (sc. that you may both
become hot and thirsty) take care to let your bouts be as violent
as possible; bout, properly a turn; then the turnings and twistings in a personal encounter, especially in fencing; Dan. bugt, a turn.
159. And that, and when; see Albb. § 284.
160. chalice, cup; Lat. calix, cup: for the nonce, for the
occasion; originally for then anes, for the once, the n properly
belonging to the dative case, then, of the article, and anes being
a genitive case used adverbially; cp. needs, twice, i.e. twies.
161. stuck, thrust; Ital. stoccado, or stoccata, a thrust.
162. Our ... there, our project may by this means hold good,
be carried through; cp. 1. 153.
166. grows, which grows: aslant, leaning over, literally on slant.
167. hoar, the under side of the leaves of the willow being
168. with, bearing: fantastic, fancifully made up of various
169. crow-flowers ... purples, "the crowflower, according to
Parkinson, was called The Fayre Mayde of France; the 'long purples' are dead men's fingers, the 'daisy' imports pure virginity
or spring of life" ... (Farren).
170. pendent, hanging over the water: her coronet weeds, the
flowers she had woven into a chaplet.
171. Clambering ... broke, as she was making her way along
the sloping trunk in order to hang her flowers on its boughs, a
branch on which her foot rested, as though resenting her action,
suddenly gave way; sliver, a small branch, properly a slice; cp.
Macb. iv. 1. 28, "slips of yew Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse";
Lear, iv. 2. 34.
174. And, ... up, and for a time they kept her afloat, like a
mermaid in her natural element.
175. Which time, during which time, i.e. as long as she was
borne up by her clothes; for the omission of the preposition,
see Abb. § 202: snatches, odds and ends; such as she sang in
176. As one ... distress, as though she were insensible of the
plight in which she was; for incapable, cp. Cor. iv. 6. 120,
"incapable of help," i.e. not to be helped.
177, 8. Or like... element, or as though she were a creature
native to that element and endowed with properties suitable
to existence in it; indued, a corruption of endued, in the sense
170. heavy, literally, but with a play on the word in the sense
of being overcome, made stupid, by intoxicating liquors.
180, 1. Pull'd ... death, put an end to her melody by dragging
her down to death at the bottom of the stream.
185. It is our trick, it is a habit we cannot shake off; cp. T. G.
V. 4. 1, "How use doth breed a habit in a man!"
186, 7. when these ... out, when these tears have passed away, my
thoughts will then be of revenge only; for The woman, cp. Macb.
iv. 3. 230, "O, I could play the woman with mine eyes" ; H. V.
iv. 6. 31, "And all my mother came into mine eyes And gave me
up to tears."
188. that ... blaze, that is eager to blaze out.
189. But ... it, if it were not extinguished by these foolish
tears; dout, see note on i. 4. 37.
190. How ... calm, how much trouble I had in calmimg.
191. will ... again, will set it in motion again.
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_7.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_7.html >.
Marshall, Frank A. A Study of Hamlet. London: Longmans, 1875.
Trench, Wilbraham Fitzjohn. Shakespeare's Hamlet. London: J. Murray, 1913.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Claudius, out of view of the audience, has told Laertes a version of events that seems to satisfy him completely. Note that "conscience" here means "knowledge of the facts." Laertes wonders why Claudius would not have punished Hamlet for feats "So crimeful and so capital in nature" (line 6). What two reasons does Claudius give Laertes for sparing Hamlet?
2. Do you think that Claudius is about to change his mind and tell Laertes his real purpose in sending Hamlet to England (lines 30-35), just when the messenger interrupts him with the letters?
3. The arrival of the letters shocks Claudius to his core and, for a moment, he is dumbfounded. He even asks the bewildered Laertes for advice (line 54). How does Claudius change his plans after he reads the letters? Why doesn't Claudius simply let Laertes confront Hamlet when he returns to Denmark? (See note below: "On Claudius' New Plot.")
4. Does your opinion of Laertes change in this scene?
5. Gertrude announces the death of Ophelia in a lengthy poetic passage. We have seen earlier in the play that Gertrude is willing to tell lies to protect those around her. Should we believe Gertrude's account of Ophelia's drowning? Would you agree with one critic who says that "the whole passage is absurd, and as undramatic as it could be, if it is regarded as the account of the actual death of Ophelia." Please see Queen Gertrude's Account of the Death of Ophelia for more on this topic.
On Claudius' New Plot ... "To the wily mind of Claudius any straightforward revenge, such as could be obtained by a fair fight between
Laertes and Hamlet, was utterly distasteful; besides, such a revenge would be at best uncertain, and might fail in the end to rid him of his hated nephew. Once embarked upon the ocean of crime, one must sail on through all the rocks and quicksands; a straight course is impossible. Already in his fertile brain and treacherous heart a scheme of cruel and underhand vengeance is being planned; his only doubt is whether this generous, and seemingly noble-minded, youth will consent to be his instrument in carrying it out. So much more tractable is Laertes now than when, but a little while since, he rudely burst in upon the royal presence
at the head of a riotous mob, that he consents to be ruled by the King so long as he does not "overrule" him "to a peace." The scheme, which in so short a time has grown "ripe" in the "device" of Claudius, answers every end required — it is sure, it is safe, involving no danger or blame to those who execute it: But even his mother shall uncharge the practise And call it accident." (Frank A. Marshall. A Study of Hamlet. p. 84)
Thoughts on Hamlet's Fencing ... We are given to know that Hamlet has practised fencing, has rather fancied himself as a fencer if
the King speaks true. We are to learn later that he started practising at the time represented by the close of Act I. And the information adds
substantially to our knowledge of Hamlet. For who can question once it has been pointed out the intimate relation subsisting between, on the
one hand, Hamlet's suspicion, in Act I, Sc. ii, of foul play, or his knowledge, by Act I, Sc. v, of the form which it has taken, and, on the other hand, his
desire to perfect himself in sword-practice? Fencing was an exercise more suited to Laertes' temperament than to Hamlet's, and that is why Horatio
in V. ii. says Hamlet will lose the wager; but Hamlet's reply is that his chances are good, as he has given himself 'continually' to this exercise of late. Shakespeare might have made out of Hamlet's resolve to perfect himself in sword-play a better excuse for procrastination than any that occurred to Hamlet's thoughts. But perhaps it is because it would have been an excuse of too practical a nature, for that unpractical mind, that Shakespeare has until now withheld this
information of high character value." (Wilbraham Fitzjohn Trench. Shakespeare's Hamlet. p. 214)