Misconceived Words

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Here is a list of words, and some phrases, found in the Hamlet dialogue that deserve special attention. In some cases the word, or phrase, has been misinterpreted, historically, in other cases the word has been missed completely, historically, and in still other cases, well, it's simply that the word or phrase is worth inclusion.

The words are presented in the order in which they appear in the dialogue. The line where the word appears is quoted. Links are provided, to the line as it appears in the course of the Scene, and to the regular Note for that line. The spelling will be modernized, if necessary, unless the original spelling appears to have significance. I usually include a brief comment.

Here is an alphabetic list of the words and phrases included on this page:

A: abate, answered, antique disposition, arture; B: beautified, bord, brainish, button;
C: caviary, chapes, charge, chief, Claudio, closely, clouds, Clown, coil, compound mass, confession, continent, cooled, courage;
D: Danskers, days, debate, defense, delated, delicate, detected, devise, dild, dintier, dove; E: eale, expostulate, extent;
F: flaxen, friendly; G: gig, greenly; H: heave, a kissing hill, hems, heyday;
I: idle, imagion, imports, Index, inform against, innovation, inseamed, invected; J, K, L: love;
M: mabled, main, malhechor, massen, Master's, mobled, moth, mount; N: naked, neighbor room, not, nothing; O,
P: pale, pansies, picked, picture, poll, precisely, prefared, pregnant, process; Q, R: relish, resty, replication, Robin, rosemary;
S: Saint Charity, sallied, satire, scand, sendal, sere, set, shroudly, siege, sith, sleaded pollax, solidity, Steward, sty;
T: thought, threescore thousand, toy, Truepenny, twenty thousand, twice; U: unanviled; V,
W: wanton, wary, wisest, wormwood; X,Y,Z.


Scene 1

sleaded pollax

Scene 1#072 He smote the sleaded pollax on the ice.
Note at Scene 1#01-072

The odd spelling of sleaded pollax provides multiplicity of meaning and a kind of word puzzle.


Scene 1#122 Horatio: A moth it is to trouble the mind's eye;

Horatio uses "moth" to mean "an unpredictable thing."

Scene 2


Scene 2#038 Of these 'delated' articles allow;
Note at Scene 2#02-038

Claudius uses delated to mean "related" or perhaps "denunciatory."


Scene 2#079 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, cooled mother,
Note at Scene 2#02-079

Hamlet uses cooled to mean "insensitive."


Scene 2#084 Together with all forms, moods, chapes of grief,
Note at Scene 2#02-084

Hamlet uses chapes to mean "coverings."


Scene 2#02-131 Hamlet: Oh, that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Note at Scene 2#02-131

Sallied is from 'sally' ("to rush forth, as in making an attack.") Hamlet means he feels attacked by the rush of unhappy events.


Scene 2#135 How wary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Note at Scene 2#02-135

In this case, wary is the adjective form of "ware." Hamlet uses wary to mean "for sale" / "mercenary," like wares for sale in a shop.


Scene 2#142 Hyperion to a satire; so loving to my mother,
Note at Scene 2#02-142

Hamlet uses satire to produce a combined meaning of both "satyr" and caricature / mockery.

Scene 3


Scene 3#031 Than the main voice of Denmark goes withal;
Note at Scene 3#03-031

By main voice Laertes means the voice of the King.


Scene 3##069 Of each new-hatched, unfledged courage; beware
Note at Scene 3#03-069

Polonius uses courage to mean "man of spirit," a high-spirited fellow. Courage is "spirit." "Spirit," then is "soul," and a soul is a person. It's a little word puzzle from Shakespeare.


Scene 3#078 Or of a most select and generous, chief in that.
Note at Scene 3#03-078

Polonius uses chief to mean "lead" (the verb.) A chief is a leader, therefore "to chief" is "to lead."


Scene 3#080 For love oft' loses both itself and friend,
Note at Scene 3#03-080

Polonius's tongue slips when he thinks of the Biblical saying, "the love of money is etc." Shakespeare used this for a kind of "omen."

Scene 4


Scene 4#001 Hamlet: The air bites shroudly, is it very cold?
Note at Scene 4#04-001

Shroudly is a Shakespeare coinage that means "like a shroud of death." Hamlet says the frigid air envelops him like a death shroud.


Scene 4#038 From that particular fault; the dram of 'eale'
Note at Scene 4#04-038

The word printed eale in the Second Quarto can be interpreted as meaning both "evil" and "ail," i.e "ailment," simultaneously.


Scene 4#091 And makes each petty arture in this body
Note at Scene 4#04-091

Arture is a Shakespeare coinage meaning "joint."


Scene 4#096 Horatio: He waxes desperate with imagion.
Note at Scene 4#04-096

The word imagion is a Shakespeare coinage from 'image' + '-ion,' and Horatio uses it to mean "the result, or consequence, of the image (of his father.)"

Scene 5


Scene 5#081 Unhouseled, disappointed, unanviled,
Note at Scene 5#05-081

By unanviled the Ghost means his mettle was not properly "smithed" for him to go to Heaven.


Scene 5#166 Hamlet: Ha, ha, boy, say'st thou so, art thou there, Truepenny?
Note at Scene 5#05-166

It is important to know that Truepenny refers specifically to the character Tom Truepenny in the play Ralph Roister Doister.

antique disposition

Scene 5#189 To put an antique disposition on,)
Note at Scene 5#05-189

Hamlet uses antique disposition to mean "old personality," the personality of an old man. He is saying that sometimes he likes to pretend to be old. That is, in fact, what the phrase "anticke disposition" means in the original Second Quarto publication, no matter what else you have ever heard or read about it.

Scene 6


Scene 6#008 Enquire me first what Danskers are in Paris,
Note at Scene 6#06-008

The word Danskers means "persons of Danzig (Gdansk,) Poland." It is a mistake by Polonius, for amusement. Polonius, literally the "Polish man," who is a Dane, mistakenly refers to Poles as he's trying to speak of Danes.

Scene 7


Scene 7#006 Sith nor the exterior, nor the inward man
Note at Scene 7#07-006

Shakespeare used sith for its "snaky" sibilance as Claudius speaks.

threescore thousand

Scene 7#077 Gives him threescore thousand crowns in annual fee,
Note at Scene 7#07-077

It is important to know that threescore thousand is the correct number, because it helps lead to an important conclusion.


Scene 7#092 My Liege and Madam, to expostulate
Note at Scene 7#07-092

Polonius thinks that expostulate refers to presenting one's postulates.


Scene 7#119 "Beautified" is a vile phrase, but you shall hear;
Note at Scene 7#07-119

Polonius idiotically thinks Hamlet has written that Ophelia is beautiful because she uses cosmetics.


Scene 7#220 Polonius (aside): Indeed, that's out of the air; how pregnant sometimes
Note at Scene 7#07-220

By pregnant Polonius means "productive" (of meaning,) apropos.


Scene 7#234 Hamlet: My extent good friends; how dost thou, Guildenstern?
Note at Scene 7#07-234

Hamlet uses extent to mean "valued."


Scene 7#238 We are not the very button.
Note at Scene 7#07-238

Guildenstern uses button to mean the emblem or ornament on the front of a cap.


Scene 7#321 are tickled at the sere, and the Lady shall say her mind freely, or the
Note at Scene 7#07-321

The word sere means "dry" humor.


Scene 7#328 of the late innovation.
Note at Scene 7#07-328

Innovation means the change in government from King Hamlet to Claudius.


Scene 7#332 Hamlet: How comes it? Do they grow resty?
Note at Scene 7#07-332

Hamlet uses resty to mean lethargic.


Scene 7#412 we'll into it like friendly falconers, fly at anything we see;
Note at Scene 7#07-412

By friendly Hamlet means excessively friendly, that is, indiscriminate, uncritical, or promiscuous.


Scene 7#418 the million; it was caviary to the general, but it was, as I received
Note at Scene 7#07-418

Hamlet uses the adjective form of "caviar."


Scene 7#481 First Player: But who, ah woe, had seen the mabled Queen . . .
Note at Scene 7#07-481

The Player uses mabled to mean "hurriedly dressed," or "hurriedly wrapped."


Scene 7#482 Hamlet: The mobled Queen.
Note at Scene 7#07-482

Hamlet mishears the Player's word as mobled, based on "moble," and meaning "moved good."

Scene 8


Scene 8#033 For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,
Note at Scene 8#08-033

Claudius uses closely to mean "privately," that is, he has summoned Hamlet for a private audience.


Scene 8#073 When we haue shuffled off this mortal coil,
Note at Scene 8#08-073

Hamlet uses coil to mean "shell," casting the human body as a "shell" for the soul.


Scene 8#124 evocutate our old stock, but we shall relish of it; I loved you not.
Note at Scene 8#08-124

Hamlet uses evocutate as an antonym of "inoculate."


Scene 8#146 you one face, and you make yourselves another; you gig & amble,
Note at Scene 8#08-146

BOOKMARK here, reexamine this

Scene 9


Scene 9#081 And 'scape detected, I will pay the theft.
Note at Scene 9#09-081

By 'scape detected Horatio means Claudius escaping even though his guilt has been detected.


Scene 9#082 Hamlet: They are coming to the play. I must be idle,
Note at Scene 9#09-082

By idle Hamlet means he must appear to be unoccupied, not busy.


Scene 9#115 Ophelia: Nay, 'tis 'twice'... two months, my Lord.
Note at Scene 9#09-115

Ophelia lisped the word "two," making the sound of twice, which she immediately corrects.


Scene 9#123 Hamlet: Marry, this munching malhechor, it means mischief.
Note at Scene 9#09-123

Hamlet uses malhechor to mean "bad actor" = wrongdoer.


Scene 9#165 Hamlet: That's wormwood.
Note at Scene 9#09-165

By wormwood Hamlet probably means "an antidote to a poisoning."


Scene 9#238 With Hecats ban thrice blasted, thrice invected,
Note at Scene 9#09-238

Lucianus uses invected to mean abused with words, evil magic words that is, thus "cursed."

Scene 10


Scene 10#080 That would be 'scand.'
Note at Scene 10#10-080

The word "scand" is Old English, and in this context it means "a shame" or "a disgrace." It is correctly printed in the Second Quarto.


Scene 10#097 That has no relish of salvation in it;
Note at Scene 10#10-097

Hamlet's word relish is best understood from its root meaning of "aftertaste."

Scene 11


Scene 11#054 O'er this solidity and compound mass
Note at Scene 11#11-054

Hamlet uses solidity to refer to the state of Gertrude's heart. He is calling her hard-hearted, as opposed to tender-hearted. Contrary to what you might see elsewhere, it is not a reference to the earth.

compound mass

Scene 11#054 O'er this solidity and compound mass
Note at Scene 11#11-054

By compound mass Hamlet means the heaviness of Gertrude's compounded sins in her soul. So, with the phrase "solidity and compound mass" Hamlet refers to Gertrude's heart and soul.


Scene 11#058 Hamlet: . . . that roars so loud, and thunders in the Index!
Note at Scene 11#11-058

The word Index means the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which is the Roman Catholic list of forbidden books. Hamlet uses Index figuratively to mean "forbidden acts" that he supposes Gertrude has done.


Scene 11#059 Look here upon this picture, and on this,
Note at Scene 11#11-059

It is important to understand that when Hamlet says picture he is pointing to a pictorial arras hanging in Gertrude's room.

heave, a kissing hill

Scene 11#065 New lighted on a heave, a kissing hill;
Note at Scene 11#11-065

Hamlet does say a heave, a kissing hill. That is not a misprint in the Second Quarto.


Scene 11#075 The heyday in the blood is tame, it's humble,
Note at Scene 11#11-075

By heyday (in the blood) Hamlet means the "high spirits" (of passion,) which of course occur in youth, and diminish as one ages.


Scene 11#100 In the rank sweat of an inseamed bed
Note at Scene 11#11-100

Hamlet uses inseamed in the sense of pieces of cloth sewn together. He means Gertrude's bed being inseamed to Claudius's, to make one bed from two.


Scene 11#102 Over the nasty sty.
Note at Scene 11#11-102

Hamlet uses sty as a euphemism for Hell.


Scene 11#137 Hamlet: On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares;
Note at Scene 11#11-137

Hamlet uses pale to mean "wide-eyed." Pale eyes are wide eyes, that show the whites well.


Scene 11#199 Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,
Note at Scene 11#11-199

By wanton Hamlet means playfully.

neighbor room

Scene 11#229 I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room;
Note at Scene 11#11-229

It is vitally important in following the action of the play to understand that by neighbor room Hamlet means the King's Room.

Scene 12


Scene 12#011 And in this brainish apprehension kills
Note at Scene 12#12-011

By brainish Gertrude means that Hamlet hallucinated, that he reacted to something from within his brain, rather than from the real, external world.


Scene 12#017 Alas, how shall this bloody deed be answered?
Note at Scene 12#12-017

Claudius uses answered to mean "legally defended."


Scene 12#040 Come, Gertrude, we'll call up our wisest friends,
Note at Scene 12#12-040

Clausius uses wisest to mean "most creative," or "most inventive."

Scene 13


Scene 13#012 to be demanded of a sponge, what replication should be made by
Note at Scene 13#13-012

Hamlet uses replication to mean "retaliation."

Scene 14


Scene 14#041 Which we do tender, as we dearly grieve
Note at Scene 14#14-041

Claudius uses tender to mean "offer."


Scene 14#066 Pays homage to us, thou mayest not coldly set
Note at Scene 14#14-066

Claudius uses set to mean "serve," as in setting a dish on a dinner table.


Scene 14#067 Our sovereign process, which imports at full,
Note at Scene 14#14-067

Claudius uses process to mean "writ."

Scene 15


Scene 15#027 Will not debate the question of this straw;
Note at Scene 15#15-027

Hamlet uses debate to mean "only talk about."

inform against

Scene 15#034 How all occasions do inform against me,
Note at Scene 15#15-034

Hamlet uses the phrase inform against to mean "shame."


Scene 15#043 Of thinking too precisely on the event -
Note at Scene 15#15-043

By precisely Hamlet means "analytically."


Scene 15#049 Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Scene 15#15-049

Hamlet uses charge to refer to the "weight" of the military force.


Scene 15#050 Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Note at Scene 15#15-050

Hamlet uses delicate to mean "mortal," i.e. subject to being hurt or killed. (Shakespeare tells us this with the word "mortal" three lines later.)

twenty thousand

Scene 15#062 The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
Note at Scene 15#15-062

Hamlet uses twenty thousand as a figure of speech to mean "a great many."


Scene 15#066 Which is not tomb enough and continent
Note at Scene 15#15-066

By continent Hamlet means "land area."

Scene 16


Scene 16#006 There's tricks in the world, and hems, and beats her heart,
Note at Scene 16#16-006

The Gentleman uses hems to mean "equivocates."


Scene 16#008 That carry but half sense; her speech is nothing,
Note at Scene 16#16-008

Nothing is "naught," so the Gentleman means her speech is naughty.


Scene 16#013 Indeed would make one think there would be thought,
Note at Scene 16#16-013

The Gentleman uses thought to mean "grief."


Scene 16#019 Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss,
Note at Scene 16#16-019

Gertrude uses toy to mean "idea," something the mind plays with.


Scene 16#027 And his sendal shoon.
Note at Scene 16#16-027

Sendal is a kind of silk. Ophelia uses sendal shoon to mean "silk slippers."


Scene 16#028 Gertrude: Alas, sweet Lady, what imports this song?
Note at Scene 16#16-028

By imports Gertrude means "brings out."


Scene 16#040 Which bewept to the grave did not go
Note at Scene 16#16-040

The word not is aside.


Scene 16#043 Ophelia: Well good 'dild' you;
Note at Scene 16#16-043

Ophelia's word is actually "dildo."

Saint Charity

Scene 16#058 (sings): By Gis and by Saint Charity,
Note at Scene 16#16-058

Saint Charity was one of the daughters of Saint Sophia.


Scene 16#079 For good Polonius' death - and we have done but greenly
Note at Scene 16#16-079

Claudius uses greenly to mean "recently."


Scene 16#085 Feeds on this wonder, keeps himself in clouds,
Note at Scene 16#16-085

With the phrase in clouds Claudius means Laertes has stayed out of his sight, instead of presenting himself to Claudius upon his return, as Laertes should have done. There is an implicit son/sun pun. A sun in clouds is out of sight.


Scene 16#173 (speaks): Fare you well, my dove!
Note at Scene 16#16-173

Ophelia acts releasing a dove. The sight of a dove in flight is a good omen.


Scene 16#178 It is the false Steward that stole his Master's daughter.
Note at Scene 16#16-178

By false Steward Ophelia means "lying Hamlet."


Scene 16#178 It is the false Steward that stole his Master's daughter.
Note at Scene 16#16-178

By Master's daughter Ophelia means "Jesus's daughter."


Scene 16#180 Ophelia: There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; (pray you love,
Note at Scene 16#16-180

Ophelia saved the rosemary from Polonius's funeral to give to Laertes since he wasn't there.


Scene 16#181 remember;) and there is pansies, that's for thoughts.
Note at Scene 16#16-181

Ophelia also saved the pansies from Polonius's funeral to give to Laertes since he wasn't there.


Scene 16#188 (sings): For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy!
Note at Scene 16#16-188

Robin is Ophelia's pet name for Hamlet. Shakespeare adapted the line from Greensleeves.


Scene 16#196 Flaxen was his poll,
Note at Scene 16#16-196

Flaxen is yellowish, pale yellow. Yellowing of the skin is common in death, and can even be an indicator that death has occurred.


Scene 16#196 Flaxen was his poll,
Note at Scene 16#16-196

Poll means "head," and in this case, particularly the skin color of the head.

Scene 17


Scene 17#024 they much too light for the bord of the matter;
Note at Scene 17#17-024

The word bord means "the side of a ship."

Scene 18


Scene 18#030 Stood challenger on mount of all the age
Note at Scene 18#18-030

Laertes uses mount to mean a pedestal, for mounting a statue.


Scene 18#043 They were given me by Claudio; he received them
Note at Scene 18#18-043

The name similarity is because Claudio is an offstage stand-in for Claudius, to handle the letters. The name Claudio derives from the Latin gens name "Claudius."


Scene 18#054 Claudius: 'Tis Hamlet's character. "Naked?"
Note at Scene 18#18-054

By naked Hamlet means "without my clothing." The pirates stole his fancy ambassadorial garments.


Scene 18#056 Can you devise me?
Note at Scene 18#18-056

Claudius uses devise to mean "tell."


Scene 18#082 Of the unworthiest siege.
Note at Scene 18#18-082

King Claudius uses siege to mean "throne."


Scene 18#104 Claudius: He made confession of you,
Note at Scene 18#18-104

Claudius's line means, "He said he had to admit about you..."


Scene 18#106 For art and exercise in your defense,
Note at Scene 18#18-106

Claudius primarily means that Lamord spoke in defense of Laertes, that is, as Laertes's advocate.


Scene 18#126 A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it,
Note at Scene 18#18-126

Claudius uses abate to mean "extinguish."


Scene 18#171 And that he calls for drink, I'll have 'prefared' him
Note at Scene 18#18-171

Claudius uses prefared to mean "prearranged as fare for."


Scene 18#184 But our cull-cold maids do dead-men's-fingers call them.
Note at Scene 18#18-184

By cull-cold maids, Gertrude means the "modest kind" of maids.

Scene 19


Scene 19#000-SD (a Clown Sexton and a Clown Deputy enter)
Note at Scene 19#19-000-SD

The second Clown is a deputy of the coroner's court.


Scene 19#060 Hamlet: 'Tis even so; the hand of little employment hath the dintier sense.
Note at Scene 19#19-060

Dintier is the correct word, meaning "more sensitive," "more easily impressed."


Scene 19#075 about the massen with a sexton's spade; here's fine revolution and
Note at Scene 19#19-075

The word massen means the "house," of the dead.


Scene 19#116 have took note of it: the age is grown so picked, that the toe of the
Note at Scene 19#19-116

Hamlet means "socially mixed up" when he says picked, like layers of soil becoming jumbled together when a pick is used for digging.


Scene 19#119 Clown Sexton: Of the days in the year, I came to it that day that our last king,
Note at Scene 19#19-119

When the Clown Sexton says days in the year he means calendar dates, such as July 4.

Scene 20

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