In the King's Room, Hamlet is hiding, behind an arras, as Claudius enters with R & G. Hamlet hears everything that's said in the room, up to his exit. The others have no idea he's there.
Claudius expresses his worry about Hamlet, and tells R & G he'll send Hamlet to England, with R & G to accompany him. R & G pledge their loyalty to Claudius, and exit to pack for the trip.
Polonius arrives as R & G exit, and says he'll go to Gertrude's room to eavesdrop. (Hamlet hears Polonius say it.)
Claudius, taking it for granted he's alone in the room, thinks out loud, and expresses at some length his worry over his guilt in the death of his brother. Claudius kneels and prays, silently. Hamlet emerges from hiding, behind Claudius, and draws his sword. Hamlet rationalizes to himself, aside, that if he kills Claudius during prayer he may be sending Claudius to Heaven, which is not good enough to qualify as true revenge. Hamlet sheaths his sword, and leaves to talk to Gertrude.
Claudius finishes his prayer, and rises, believing his prayer went unheard. He has no idea it saved his life. Claudius exits, in terms of the playscript, as the Scene ends. In silent action, he goes to his desk, to finish the paperwork for the diplomatic mission to England.
For more detail: Explication#Scene 10.
Jump down to the Notes.
Scene 10 [ ~ Prayer Scene ~ ] (Act 3 Scene 3)
#10-Setting: inside the Castle; the King's Room; just after midnight.
#10-000-SD (Claudius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz enter; the Ghost enters invisibly! ; Hamlet lurks!)
#10-001 Claudius: I like him not, nor stands it safe with us I don't like it, and the way things stand, it isn't safe for me #10-002 To let his madness range; therefore, prepare you; To let his madness roam free. Therefore, prepare yourselves. #10-003 I your commission will forthwith dispatch, I'll get your official paperwork done right away, #10-004 And he to England shall along with you; And he'll go to England, along with you. #10-005 The terms of our estate may not endure The circumstances of my reign may not survive the #10-006 Hazard so near us as doth hourly grow Peril, so near me, as that which hour-by-hour increases #10-007 Out of his brows. Out of his effrontery. #10-008 Guildenstern: We will ourselves provide; We will make ourselves available. #10-009 Most holy and religious fear it is It is a highly sacred and divine concern #10-010 To keep those many, many bodies safe To keep those many, many, people secure #10-011 That live and feed upon Your Majesty. Whose livelihood and sustenance depends upon Your Majesty. #10-012 Rosencrantz: The single and peculiar life is bound The unique, particular individual is determined, #10-013 With all the strength and armor of the mind With all the armored strength of his brain, #10-014 To keep itself from 'noyance; but much more To keep himself from being vexed, but far more important is #10-015 That spirit, upon whose weal depends and rests That person, upon whose well-being, depend and rely #10-016 The lives of many; the cease of Majesty The lives of many others. The cessation of greatness #10-017 Dies not alone; but like a gulf, doth draw Terminates not only itself, but like a whirlpool, it draws #10-018 What's near it, with it; or, it is a massy wheel What's near it, down with it. Or, it is a like a weighty wheel #10-019 Fixed on the summit of the highest mount, Placed at the top of the highest mounting, #10-020 To whose hock spokes, ten thousand lesser things To whose joint spokes, ten thousand lesser things #10-021 Are mortised and adjoined; which, when it falls, Are jointed and connected - which, when it falls, #10-022 Each small annexment, petty consequence, Each little attached thing, as a minor consequence, #10-023 Attends the boisterous rain; never alone Takes part in the stormy downfall. Never just by himself #10-024 Did the King sigh, but with a general groan. Did a King sigh, but along with him the people groan. #10-025 Claudius: Arm you, I pray you, to this speedy 'viage,' Equip yourselves, please, for this prompt voyage. #10-026 For we will fetters put upon this fear For, we will restrain this fear #10-027 Which now goes too free-footed. Which now gallops too freely. #10-028 (Both R. and G.): We will haste us. We will hurry. #10-028-SD1 (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit) #10-028-SD2 (Polonius enters) #10-029 Polonius: My Lord, he's going to his mother's closet; My Lord, he's going to his mother's parlor. #10-030 Behind the arras I'll convey myself I'll escort myself behind an arras there #10-031 To hear the process; I'll warrant she'll tax him home; To hear the proceedings. I bet she'll give him a scolding; #10-032 And as you said, and wisely was it said, And as you said, and it was a wise thing to say, #10-033 'Tis meet that some more audience than a mother, It's proper that some listener, in addition to a mother, #10-034 Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear (Because nature makes mothers partial to their own children,) should overhear #10-035 The speech of vantage; fare you well, my Liege, What's said, from a better vantage point. Farewell, my Liege, #10-036 I'll call upon you ere you go to bed. I'll look in on you before you go to bed, #10-037 And tell you what I know. And tell you what I've found out. #10-037-SD (Polonius exits) #10-038 Claudius: Thanks . . . dear my Lord. Thanks . . . dear my Lord! #10-039 O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven! Oh, my crime is foul, it smells to Heaven! #10-040 It hath the primal, eldest curse upon it: It has the primal, oldest curse upon it . . . #10-041 A brother's murder. Pray, can I not, A brother's murder. Pray? - I can't bring myself to do it. #10-042 Though inclination be as sharp as will, Although my inclination to pray is a feeling as keen as hunger, #10-043 My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent, My stronger feeling of guilt blocks my strong inclination, to pray, #10-044 And like a man to double business bound, And like a man trying to do two opposite things at the same time, #10-045 I stand in pause where I shall first begin, I stand still not knowing where to begin, #10-046 And both neglect; what if this cursed hand And don't do either one. What if this damned hand of mine #10-047 Were thicker than itself with brother's blood? Were darker than it is, with my brother's blood really on it? #10-048 Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens Wouldn't there be rain enough from all the sweet heavens #10-049 To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy, To wash it white as snow? Where will I find mercy #10-050 But to confront the visage of offense? Except where I face up to my crime? #10-051 And what's in prayer but this two-fold force: And what's found in prayer, except this two-fold power: #10-052 To be forestalled ere we come to fall, To be stopped before we fall from God's favor, #10-053 Or, pardon being down? Then I'll look up. Or, to gain pardon after we've sinned? All right, then, I'll look toward Heaven. #10-054 My fault is past, but oh, what form of prayer My crime is in the past, oh, but now, what style of prayer #10-055 Can serve my turn, forgive me my foul murder? Can do me any good, to forgive me, for my foul murder? #10-056 That cannot be, since I am still possessed There can't be any, because I still have possession #10-057 Of those effects for which I did the murder: Of those things I gained by the murder: #10-058 My Crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen. The crown, my desire to be King, and the Queen. #10-059 May one be pardoned and retain the offense? Can a person be pardoned while he holds the ill-gotten gain from his crime? #10-060 In the corrupted currents of this world, In the corrupt ways of this earthly world, #10-061 Offense's gilded hand may show by justice, The rich offender, with gold in his hand, might plead his way by human justice, #10-062 And oft' 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself And it is often seen, that the wicked loot, itself, #10-063 Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above; Buys off the law. But it is not so, above, in Heaven. #10-064 There, is no shuffling; there, the action lies There, no deception is possible; there, the "legal case" proceeds #10-065 In his true nature, and we, ourselves, compelled According to its true character, and we, ourselves, are forced, #10-066 Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults Even down to the hardest parts of our faults, #10-067 To give in evidence; what then, what rests? To submit ourselves in evidence. What then, what remains to me? #10-068 Try what repentance can, what can it not, To test what repentance can do? Or, what it can't do? #10-069 Yet what can it, when one cannot repent? Yet, what help can a show of repentance do, when a person can't bring himself to feel sorry? #10-070 Oh wretched state, oh bosom black as death, Oh, my miserable dilemma! Oh, my spirit, black as death. #10-071 Oh limed soul, that struggling to be free, Oh, my trapped soul, that while struggling to get free, #10-072 Art more engaged; help, angels, make assay; Is even more entangled. Help me, angels above, to make the attempt. #10-073 Bow stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel, Bend, my stubborn knees - and, my steeled heartstrings, #10-074 Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe. Become as yielding as the sinews of a newborn baby. #10-075 All may be well. All may be well . . . #10-075-SD (Claudius kneels in prayer; Hamlet draws his sword, and emerges from behind the arras, to stand behind Claudius) #10-076 Hamlet: Now might I do it pat, Now, I could do it so easily. #10-077 But now he is a-praying, and now I'll do't, But now he is at prayer. And, should I do it now, #10-078 And so, he goes to heaven. And so, am I And like that, he goes to Heaven. And so, am I #10-079 revenge? Revenge? #10-080 That would be 'scand.' That would be a disgrace. #10-081 A villain kills my father, and for that, A villain kills my father, and in return, #10-082 I, his 'soule' son, do this same villain send I, his only son, will send this same villain #10-083 To heaven. To Heaven. #10-084 Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge. Why, it would be like hire and payment, not revenge. #10-085 He took my father grossly full of bread, He killed my father grossly "fat" with his sins, #10-086 With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May, With all his religious offenses in full bloom, as profuse as May. #10-087 And how his audit stands, who knows save heaven? And how Claudius's account stands, who knows, except Heaven? #10-088 But in our circumstance and course of thought, But under the circumstances, as my thoughts go, #10-089 'Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged His sins must be heavy on him. And am I then revenged, #10-090 To take him in the purging of his soul, If I kill him during the cleansing of his soul, #10-091 When he is fit and seasoned for his passage? When he is in shape and ready for his passage to Heaven? #10-092 No. No, I won't do it. #10-093 Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent, Be put away, my sword, and wait for a more horrid apprehension, #10-094 When he is drunk, asleep, or in his rage, When he is drunk, asleep, or in his madness, #10-095 Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed, Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed, #10-096 At gaming, swearing, or about some act Or gambling, or swearing, or doing some act #10-097 That has no relish of salvation in it; That has no hint of salvation in it. #10-098 Then trip him that his heels may kick at heaven, Then, I'll trip him up, so his heels kick uselessly toward Heaven, #10-099 And that his soul may be as damned and black And so his soul will be as damned and black #10-100 As Hell, whereto it goes; my mother stays; As Hell, to which it goes. My mother is waiting. #10-101 This physic but prolongs thy sickly days. This "treatment" only prolongs your sickly days. #10-101-SD (Hamlet exits) #10-102 Claudius: My words fly up; my thoughts remain below. My words ascend, but my thoughts remain below. #10-103 Words without thoughts never to heaven go. Words, without the right thoughts to go with them, never reach Heaven. #10-103-SD (Claudius exits)
End of Scene 10
Go to: Scene 1 - Scene 2 - Scene 3 - Scene 4 - Scene 5 - Scene 6 - Scene 7 - Scene 8 - Scene 9 - Scene 10
Scene 11 - Scene 12 - Scene 13 - Scene 14 - Scene 15 - Scene 16 - Scene 17 - Scene 18 - Scene 19 - Scene 20
Jump up to the start of the Dialogue.
- Place - The King's Room.
- Time of Day - A few minutes after midnight.
- Calendar Time -
(Claudius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz enter; the Ghost enters invisibly! ; Hamlet lurks!)
It's a certainty that Hamlet is in the room from the start of this Scene. That's the only way he can know what he says later, in Scene 11, about the trip to England.
The fact of Hamlet being in the room has gone unrecognized, historically, because of a failure to appreciate the technical nature of the Second Quarto entries. The Second Quarto entries instruct an actor to move into his correct position for the dialogue, regardless of where he was earlier. In Hamlet as published in the Second Quarto, a character can receive an entry when he is already on stage. That occurs in this Scene, with Hamlet.
Claudius and R & G are arriving here after R & G went to the Queen's Room, where Claudius was waiting with Gertrude, to inform them that, yes, Hamlet has obeyed Gertrude's request for Hamlet to speak with her. Gertrude is now in the Queen's Room waiting for Hamlet, while Claudius and R & G have come here to the King's Room.
Also, it is implied by later dialogue that the Ghost is present, invisible to the other characters, in the expectation that he will now witness Hamlet's killing of Claudius.
Claudius: I like him not, nor stands it safe with us
Claudius is now worried as much about what Hamlet might say, as what he might do. Based on what Hamlet said at the play, Claudius thinks Hamlet must, somehow, know that the Gonzago news story inspired Claudius to make the attempt on his brother's life. If Hamlet knows that, he must know everything, Claudius supposes.
To let his madness range; therefore, prepare you;
madness - Claudius continues to slander Hamlet as a madman, the irony of which is that Claudius has no idea Hamlet really is "touched."
range - run free, like an unrestrained horse.
I your commission will forthwith dispatch,
commission - as ambassadors of Denmark.
will forthwith dispatch - informs us of what Claudius will do as this Scene ends. At his "exit" in terms of the dialogue, Claudius will go to his desk and begin writing.
And he to England shall along with you;
shall along - shall go along. Shakespeare, and earlier English writers in general, tended to leave "go" implicit where it could be easily inferred.
Hamlet, from his hiding place behind an arras, hears Claudius say this.
It is an irony in the dialogue that after Claudius says he doesn't want Hamlet's madness to range, Claudius is going to order Hamlet to "range" even beyond Denmark, all the way to England.
Claudius is going through with the plan he first expressed near the end of Scene 8, when he spoke of collecting the tribute England owes Denmark. Claudius has, however, changed his mind about what his letter to the King of England will say. We'll hear of that later.
Recall that when Claudius sent the diplomatic mission to Norway, in Scene 2, he briefed the ambassadors, in some detail, about what he wanted to accomplish. Doing so is standard procedure. Based on hearing this, and then hearing what R and G reply, to follow, Hamlet thinks Claudius has taken them into his confidence about the mission, and they are eager to carry it out. So, when Hamlet later learns the real goal of the mission, he thinks R and G are in on it.
The terms of our estate may not endure
terms - conditions; circumstances.
our estate - Claudius is speaking of his reign, as the King.
The concept of the "terms of an estate" sounds like a will being read. That suggestion of the phrasing is not accidental.
endure - survive, in the sense of continuing to exist.
Hazard so near us as doth hourly grow
near us - indeed. Hamlet is standing only a few feet from Claudius, with murder on his mind, and Claudius doesn't know Hamlet is in the room.
Out of his brows.
brows - dictates the correct action. Claudius puts his hand to his forehead, in the action of a very worried man. Or, to suit the plural, brows, Claudius can bump both fists against his temples, which is a well-recognized action.
For paraphrase, brows - countenance -> behavior, about which we can be more specific, since we know Claudius considers Hamlet's behavior an effrontery. The word "effrontery" is probably the best paraphrase, since it is from Late Latin 'effrons,' which literally means "putting forth one's forehead." So, brows = forehead -> effrontery.
Guildenstern: We will ourselves provide;
provide - prepare; get ready. The irony behind the word provide, as Guildenstern says it, is wicked, since provide is from Latin 'providere' ("foresee") which is from 'pro-' ("before") + 'videre' ("to see.") and R & G most certainly do not foresee how this is going to turn out for them. It's another magnificent word choice by Shakespeare.
Most holy and religious fear it is
holy and religious - sacred and conscientious. Holy as in the idea of a "sacred trust." Religion as in a matter of conscience.
G is apparently trying to express that it's a sacred trust, and an obligation of conscience, to assist the monarch. He has gone overboard with the "theological" terms to which he was so exposed at Wittenberg.
fear - concern. G expresses it as if he's speaking of the fear of God.
Hamlet is hearing all this exaggerated verbiage with which G virtually equates Claudius with God. As Hamlet interprets it, G has gone "all in" with Claudius.
To keep those many, many bodies safe
bodies - paradoxically, "souls" = persons.
That live and feed upon Your Majesty.
Guildenstern has made it sound like maggots feeding on a corpse. He didn't mean for his phrasing to be so ominous. By live and feed upon G was only trying to say "depend upon."
Rosencrantz: The single and peculiar life is bound
With all the strength and armor of the mind
strength and armor - can be read as hendiadys: "armored strength."
To keep itself from 'noyance; but much more
Stress on itself. The point in these lines being that most people are self-centered, mainly concerned that they, themselves, not be bothered.
'noyance - noisomeness; noxiousness. Misfortune and harm. 'Noyance is a shortening of "annoyance," but as used here it is a stronger word than modern "annoyance." There is an implicit idea of Fortune in the general meaning of this word, from its historical usage.
Since 'noyance can be taken as "noisome" it is perhaps not irrelevant to note that "noisome" could mean "bad-smelling," as first documented from the 1570s, according to dictionary.reference.com. The relevance is that Polonius will shortly appear in this Scene, and Claudius will say, below, the phrase "smells to heaven." A bad smell is not G's intended meaning.
That spirit, upon whose weal depends and rests
spirit - soul, therefore "person."
weal - well-being. Puns with "wheel" as in Wheel of Fortune. R will say "wheel" explicitly below.
The lives of many; the cease of Majesty
cease - cessation; passing away. The verb cease has an obsolete definition of "to pass away." R is speaking figuratively in what he takes to be the properly high-flown way of a courtier, and he does not realize his phrasing is ominous for the death of Claudius.
Dies not alone; but like a gulf, doth draw
Dies - R is only intending to be figurative. He does not really mean to speak of the King's death in front of the King himself. R's lack of appreciation that Claudius might find his language offensive, even if figurative, is a symptom of R's foolishness. Rosencrantz is not bright.
a gulf - a whirlpool, that swallows nearby objects. The basic concept is "eat," as G began with "feed" in line 011. Gulf is from Old French 'golf' ("a gulf, whirlpool.")
draw - pull. Suck. The oral sense is actable and in conformance with the Mouth Motif.
What's near it, with it; or, it is a massy wheel
(doth draw) with it - pulls down along with it, that is.
a massy - an enormous; or, more to the point, "a towering." We recall the Player mentioning the fall of Ilium, meaning the fall of the tower of Troy, during the recital in Scene 7. The massy wheel is gigantic and towering.
Fixed on the summit of the highest mount,
Fixed - positioned.
summit - top.
mount - mounting. Might be understood as "mountain" with an indirect allusion to the home of the gods on Olympus. The mountains Ossa, Pelion, and Olympus will be mentioned in Scene 19.
To whose hock spokes, ten thousand lesser things
hock - is the correct word. It means "joint," that is, it refers to the spokes having joints. It is an instance of the Joint Motif in the play ("the time is out of joint," etc.)
The Second Quarto word "hough," shown in the image, is a variant spelling of hock, as the dictionary definition shows. The spelling "hough" is apparently now considered obsolete, or archaic.
For verification of the meaning, act "joint(ed) spokes."
Extend your arms, straight out. This is the "cross" body position we've seen several times earlier in the play. Swing your arms up and down to indicate the spokes of a turning wheel. Right arm swings down, as left arm swings up, then reverse, etc. Then, simply bend your elbows. The "spokes" have joints.
When one "suits the action to the word," this speech by R implies a little dance routine by R & G, waggling their arms and bending their elbows, as R speaks to Claudius. Shakespeare did not just write scripts, he did shows.
Are mortised and adjoined; which, when it falls,
mortised - fitted; jointed.
adjoined - connected.
The words mortised and adjoined can be read as synonymous, with both referring to a joint or a joining. They are instances of the Joint Motif.
when it falls - Rosencrantz means, "should it fall." He is not trying to make a definite statement about the fall of Claudius, in front of Claudius himself.
The idea of the great wheel falling is reminiscent of the passage in the Player's Recital in Scene 7 about breaking the Wheel of Fortune. (Scene 7#474)
Each small annexment, petty consequence,
annexment - subordinate. The word "annex" almost always means "joined (with or to) in a subordinate role." Based on Old French annexer "to join." The Joint Motif applies.
petty consequence - literally, a "little follower." Consequence is based on Latin 'sequi' ("to follow,") and petty is from French 'petit.'
Attends the boisterous rain; never alone
Attends - is present at; takes part in.
boisterous - stormy. Tempestuous (when one keeps in mind The Tempest.) Or, clamorous, tumultuous, and all that, to give the general idea. Further, although the word origin seems not to be securely pinned down, boisterous may go back all the way to Latin 'bestia' which carries a "beast" meaning (as opposed to human,) and that would accord with the human v beast concept that arises in the play. I cannot tell if Shakespeare saw 'bestia' behind boisterous, but it's possible.
rain - downfall. Puns with "reign."
Did the King sigh, but with a general groan.
general - a reference to the public, the people in general.
The idea is like old sayings on the pattern of, when the King sneezes the people catch pneumonia.
Claudius: Arm you, I pray you, to this speedy 'viage,'
Arm you - literally "armor yourself" but Claudius means "prepare." The Ghost appeared in armor, we know. So, arm you meaning "armor yourself" implying "be like the Ghost" in turn implies being dead. Claudius's request implies the deaths of R & G.
viage - is the Middle English root word of "voyage," and for plain reading it means "voyage." However, when viage was a current word, it could be used with the figurative meaning of going to Heaven. So, Claudius's use of viage carries the implication of a speedy trip to Heaven for R & G.
Now, the Claudius character, himself, is not actually trying to tell R & G to put on armor, like the Ghost, and take a speedy trip to Heaven, in other words, die soon. But the gods, who know more than Claudius, get a chuckle out of the way he expresses himself.
Claudius, himself, does indeed have in mind a speedy trip to Heaven, for Hamlet.
For we will fetters put upon this fear
we - I. A royal pronoun.
fetters - restraints; shackles. Anticipates what Hamlet will say to Horatio in Scene 20 about sleeping as uneasily as a mutineer shackled to a bilbo. (Scene 20#005 - 6)
So, Claudius speaks here of shackling his fear of Hamlet, as he prepares to send Hamlet to England, and on the way to England, Hamlet will speak of feeling shackled. Hamlet is hearing what Claudius says.
Which now goes too free-footed.
too free-footed - fear can be said to gallop. This is allusively a horse figure of speech, and thus an implicit instance of the Horse Motif.
(Both R. and G.): We will haste us.
haste us. - hasten ourselves.
(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exit)
At a quick walk, on their way to pack for the trip.
Having finally made his slow way around through the Castle hallways.
Polonius: My Lord, he's going to his mother's closet;
Which is what R and G already told Claudius, and Gertrude, many minutes ago. In fact, Hamlet is not, at this time, on his way to Gertrude's parlor, he is standing, listening, a few feet away.
closet - parlor. Private room for conversation.
Behind the arras I'll convey myself
convey - transport. A pompous way of saying it. In Shakespeare's time, convey could be used as a euphemism for "steal," which goes along with the character of Polonius's behavior.
To hear the process; I'll warrant she'll tax him home;
To hear the process - to hear how it proceeds; to hear how it goes.
I'll warrant - "I'll bet," in modern casual speech. More formally, "I'd guarantee."
tax him - take him to task. Scold him. The word tax is rooted in Latin 'tangere' ("to touch") so it's ultimately a "touch" word. The "touch" concept is significant in the play, especially in the final Scene, where the "touch" of the poisoned foil will kill.
home - as in the expression about something "hitting home," an idea sometimes phrased as "hit him where he lives." There's also a second meaning, "usual behavior."
In Scene 8 Gertrude spoke of bringing Hamlet "to his wonted way again," with Polonius present. (Scene 8#045) One's "wonted way" is one's usual behavior, which is "where one lives."
So, tax him home can mean scold him so it hits home, however, it can also be understood as chiding him back to normal.
Viewed in isolation, "him" could mean any man, including Polonius, himself. Dame Fortune is a "she." A tax "touch" could be with a sword. The idea of home could include 'maison mortuaire,' the home of the dead.
In the next Scene, Dame Fortune will spin her Wheel, with the consequence that Polonius will be "touched" with a sword, into his final "home" on earth, his grave. But of course Polonius is not trying to say, "I'll bet Lady Fortune will see to it that I'm 'touched' into my grave."
And as you said, and wisely was it said,
as you said - is a lie, as Polonius proceeds to credit Claudius with the idea of eavesdropping, when it was actually his own idea. (Scene 8#184 ff) The eavesdropping went bad in Scene 8, and Polonius doesn't want the blame if it somehow goes bad again. Polonius, the old bureaucrat, is engaged in the "office politics" stunt of trying to be sure someone else gets the blame, if anything goes wrong. Here, he's doing that with his boss, the King, in hopes Claudius won't remember.
wisely - in connection with lying to Claudius, Polonius flatters him. Polonius may be a deplorable nitwit in some ways, but his bureaucratic instincts are pretty sharp.
'Tis meet that some more audience than a mother,
meet - suitable. Or in this case just "good."
audience - goes back to Latin audire' ("to hear.") More audience = more hearers.
Since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear
Yes, mothers, by nature, are partial to their children. In Gertrude's case, she is more partial to Hamlet than Claudius, or Polonius, or Hamlet, himself, realizes.
The speech of vantage; fare you well, my Liege,
vantage - reference to having a better vantage point, a more objective view. But Polonius is hardly an unbiased observer. He will merely be hearing from a different bias.
Vantage could mean "profit" in those days, and Polonius is saying they will profit by his presence as a listener. As so often in Hamlet, Shakespeare's word choice is fitting in more than one way. The idea of profit is in character for Polonius, who, for one thing, spoke in financial terms to Ophelia in Scene 3.
According to dictionary.reference.com the English word 'avantage,' adopted from the Old French word of the same spelling, meant "position of being in advance of another." That implication of the word vantage is also in character for Polonius, where Hamlet is concerned. Recall Polonius saying in Scene 6 that he was sorry he "had not coted" Hamlet. (Scene 6#118) It is not that the Polonius character is trying to say all that at once, the point is the perfection of Shakespeare's choice of word for Polonius to say.
I'll call upon you ere you go to bed.
And tell you what I know.
Claudius: Thanks . . . dear my Lord.
O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven!
It hath the primal, eldest curse upon it:
A brother's murder. Pray, can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect; what if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood?
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy,
But to confront the visage of offense?
And what's in prayer but this two-fold force:
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or, pardon being down? Then I'll look up.
My fault is past, but oh, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn, forgive me my foul murder?
That cannot be, since I am still possessed
Of those effects for which I did the murder:
My Crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen.
May one be pardoned and retain the offense?
In the corrupted currents of this world,
Offense's gilded hand may show by justice,
And oft' 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above;
There, is no shuffling; there, the action lies
In his true nature, and we, ourselves, compelled
Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults
teeth and forehead - hardest parts. In common understanding, the teeth and the bone of the forehead are the hardest parts of the human body. Claudius is talking about his sins that will be hardest for him to address, and that will go hardest against him on Judgment Day.
faults - moral faults. Sins.
Playing Claudius, "suit the action to the word," and act teeth and forehead, as follows:
Look downward, toward the floor, as a despondent person would do. Don't look down so far it hides your face from the audience. Clench your teeth, and draw your lips back so your teeth show. Bump your forehead with your fist, the thumb side, of course. You will recognize that pose, and that action, as expressive of a man in emotional distress. The teeth, and the forehead, are salient elements in picturing it.
With teeth and forehead Shakespeare not only chose a superb phrase for meaning, he chose a superb phrase for dictating appropriate action.
To give in evidence; what then, what rests?
Try what repentance can, what can it not,
Yet what can it, when one cannot repent?
Oh wretched state, oh bosom black as death,
Oh limed soul, that struggling to be free,
Art more engaged; help, angels, make assay;
Bow stubborn knees, and heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe.
All may be well.
(Claudius kneels in prayer; Hamlet draws his sword, and emerges from behind the arras, to stand behind Claudius)
Hamlet: Now might I do it pat,
But now he is a-praying, and now I'll do't,
And so, he goes to heaven. And so, am I
(And so, am I) revenge? - The word revenge here refers to the ideal, "Revenge" with a capital R. Hamlet is asking whether, if he proceeds to kill Claudius now, that will make Hamlet the personification of Revenge.
That would be 'scand.'
scand - a shame; a disgrace. An infamous action. Scand is the exact spelling in the Second Quarto. It is, indeed, a word in English, however, it's Old English. Scand is a cognate of the Old High German word 'scanda' (“ignominy, shame, disgrace.”)
Wiktionary entry https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/scand
Observe that the Wiktionary entry for "scand" says "more at 'shend.'" The "shend" entry then says "related to 'scand.'" It's a certainty that Shakespeare knew "shend." See the next-to-last line in the previous Scene: "How in my words somever she be shent." (Scene 9#360) There is no reason to doubt Shakespeare knew scand and used it here.
Most editions of Hamlet have used the First Folio word "scanned," in the sense of "minutely examined," but that is probably wrong for the primary meaning. As always in Hamlet, one looks for deliberate multiplicity of meaning. It is entirely possible that Shakespeare chose scand to suggest "scanned" as well, and bring in another relevant meaning.
Scand means "shame;" "disgrace;" "infamy," or "a shameful, infamous, or abominable thing," or "that which brings disgrace or scandal, a disgraceful thing." I preserve it, and adopt it for the playtext here, for the simple reason that it makes perfect sense. It is probably exactly what Shakespeare wrote.
Hamlet is saying that if he kills Claudius now, in this situation, it would not properly be revenge, it would be a disgrace. There is the further implication, based on scand suggesting "scanned," that Hamlet will examine the situation carefully.
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his 'soule' son, do this same villain send
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
hire and salary - as if Claudius had hired and paid Hamlet to send him to Heaven.
He took my father grossly full of bread,
BOOKMARK alleged failure to keep Lent, for one thing, in addition to Bible quote. the play is in spring
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May,
The figures of speech in this line follow from what the Ghost said in Scene 5, line 80: (Scene 5 #05-080) "Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin." It's a peculiarly floral painting of sin.
And how his audit stands, who knows save heaven?
his - Claudius's.
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
'Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?
Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent,
hent - seizure, that is, seizing. From Old English 'hentan' (“to pursue; "to seize;" "to arrest.”) It is another "seize" word in the play.
Notice also, "to arrest." In the last Scene of the play, Scene 20, when Hamlet is dying, he will speak of being "arrested" by Death: "...this fell sergeant, death | Is strict in his arrest." (Scene 20#334 ff)
Further, 'hentan' is related to O.E. 'huntian' ("to hunt,") which is worth mention when we recall Hamlet calling Claudius a "deer" in the previous Scene: "Why, let the stricken deer go weep..." (Scene 9##250)
Hamlet is speaking of "seizing" Claudius, in a more horrid way, later, but the word hent that Shakespeare gave him has not only the right definition, it has a perfect "atmosphere" of meaning, as well.
When he is drunk, asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed,
the incestuous pleasure of his bed - That is impossible for Claudius, but Hamlet doesn't know it. Claudius is a long-term alcoholic, who is suffering some of the symptoms of his habit.
At gaming, swearing, or about some act
At gaming - is an unintentional prophecy from Hamlet. Hamlet will, indeed, ultimately seize Claudius "at gaming," that is, at the Fencing Match in the final Scene. Once again, a character has predicted the future, in a way, with no idea of having done so.
That has no relish of salvation in it;
relish - savor; flavor. Used figuratively. Hamlet means he will kill Claudius in a way that hasn't the slightest "taste" of salvation about it.
Indeed, in this usage, relish does an even better job of expression than a mere synonym can reveal. Relish is from Middle English 'reles' ("aftertaste.") One would go to Heaven after dying, if one is going. The "aftertaste" idea, from the root meaning, is perfect. Hamlet means he wants Claudius's death to have no aftertaste of salvation, instead he wants Claudius to experience the "aftertaste" of damnation.
Then trip him that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damned and black
As Hell, whereto it goes; my mother stays;
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
Claudius: My words fly up; my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
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