In the King's Room, Claudius mentions how he's explained his innocence in the death of Polonius, and asserts he has a claim on Laertes's friendship.
A messenger delivers the letters from Hamlet, to Claudius's astonishment. Laertes speaks of revenge against Hamlet. Claudius and Laertes conspire to kill Hamlet at a fencing match.
Gertrude enters, and announces that Ophelia is dead. Laertes departs, weeping, and Claudius and Gertrude follow him out.
|Messenger entry #037-SD,||Gertrude entry #174-SD2|
Jump down to the Notes.
Scene 18 [ ~ There Is a Willow ~ ] (Act 4 Scene 7)
#18-Setting: Inside the Castle; The King's Room; Nightfall.
#18-000-SD (Claudius and Laertes enter)
#18-001 Claudius: Now must your conscience my acquittance seal, Now your conscience must finally absolve me, #18-002 And you must put me in your heart for friend, And you must admit me into your heart as your friend, #18-003 Sith you have heard and with a knowing ear, Because you have heard, and with a perceptive ear, #18-004 That he which hath your noble father slain That he who has killed your noble father #18-005 Pursued my life. Was trying to kill me. #18-006 Laertes: It well appears: but tell me It very well looks that way. But tell me, #18-007 Why you proceed not against these feats Why you don't proceed legally against these deeds, that are #18-008 So crimeful and so capital in nature, So criminal and so murderous in their nature, #18-009 As by your safety, greatness, wisdom, all things else Since, because of your own safety, your rule, your judgment, and everything else, #18-010 You mainly were stirred up. You should have been strongly motivated. #18-011 Claudius: Oh, for two special reasons Oh . . . for two especially important reasons, #18-012 Which may to you perhaps seem much unsinewed, Which, perhaps, may seem very feeble to you, #18-013 But yet to me they're strong; the Queen, his mother But yet, to me they're strong: the Queen, his mother, #18-014 Lives almost by his looks, and for myself, Dotes on him, and in relation to myself - #18-015 My virtue or my plague, be it either which, Whether it's my blessing or my curse, whichever - #18-016 She is so conjunctive to my life and soul, She is so connected to my life and soul #18-017 That as the star moves not but in his sphere That, the way a planet has to move only in its orbit, #18-018 I could not but by her; the other motive, I could not get by without her. The other reason, #18-019 Why to a public count I might not go, Why I can't plead my case to the people and win, #18-020 Is the great love the general gender bear him, Is the great love people in general have for him, #18-021 Who, dipping all his faults in their affection, Who, downplaying all his faults in their affection for him, #18-022 Work like the spring that turneth wood to stone: Work like the magic spring that turns wood to stone: #18-023 Convert his gyves to graces, so that my arrows, It would turn his shackles into favors, so that my arrows of accusation #18-024 Too slightly timbered for so loved, armed, Too lightly built to penetrate such an armor of love, #18-025 Would have reverted to my bow again, Would have ricocheted back on me again, #18-026 But not where I have aimed them. Instead of sticking where I aimed them. #18-027 Laertes: And so have I a noble father lost, And so I've lost a noble father, and I have #18-028 A sister driven into desperate terms, A sister driven into hopeless extremities, #18-029 Whose worth, if praises may go back again Whose value - if I may praise the way she used to be - #18-030 Stood challenger on mount of all the age Stood, on a pedestal, to rival any of this era, #18-031 For her perfections, but my revenge will come. Because of her perfection. But my revenge will come! #18-032 Claudius: Break not your sleeps for that, you must not think Don't lose any sleep over that. You mustn't think #18-033 That we are made of stuff so flat and dull, That I am made of stuff so insipid and stupid #18-034 That we can let our beard be shook with danger, That I can let my chin be trembled by fear of danger #18-035 And think it pastime, you shortly shall hear more; And think it's fun. You will soon hear more from me. #18-036 I loved your father, and we love our self, I loved your father, and I love myself, #18-037 And that I hope will teach you to imagine . . . #18-037-SD (a messenger enters) And that, I hope, will give you something to imagine . . . #18-038 How now? What news? What is it? What news? #18-039 Messenger: Letters, my Lord, from Hamlet. Letters, my Lord, from Hamlet. #18-040 These to your Majesty, this to the Queen. These for your Majesty, and this one is to the Queen. #18-041 Claudius: From Hamlet, who brought them? From Hamlet? Who brought them? #18-042 Messenger: Sailors, my Lord, they say; I saw them not; I was told it was sailors, my Lord, I didn't see them. #18-043 They were given me by Claudio; he received them They were given to me by Claudio. He received them #18-044 Of him that brought them. From the one who brought them. #18-045 Claudius: Laertes, you shall hear them. Leave us. #18-045-SD (the messenger exits) Laertes, I'll let you hear what these letters say. Messenger, leave us. #18-046 (reads): High and mighty, High and mighty, #18-047 you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom; you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. #18-048 tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I shall, first Tomorrow I shall beg permission to look into your kingly eyes, when I shall, first #18-049 asking you pardon, thereunto recount the occasion of my sudden begging your pardon, relate, in your eyes, explain the reason for my sudden, #18-050 and more strange return. and even more strange, return. #18-051 Claudius: What should this mean, are all the rest come back, What should I understand this to mean? Are all the rest come back, #18-052 Or is it some abuse, and no such thing? Or is it some trick, and no such thing has happened? #18-053 Laertes: Know you the hand? Do you recognize the handwriting? #18-054 Claudius: 'Tis Hamlet's character. "Naked?" It's Hamlet's kind of writing. "Naked?" #18-055 And in a postscript here he says: "alone;" And in a postscript here, he says: "alone." #18-056 Can you devise me? Can you tell me? #18-057 Laertes: I am lost in it, my Lord, but let him come; I am at a loss, my Lord. But let him come. #18-058 It warms the very sickness in my heart It increases the choler in my heart #18-059 That I shall live, and tell him to his teeth: That I shall be here, and can tell him to his face: #18-060 Thus didst thou! #18-060-SD (Laertes imitates stabbing with a sword) "This is what you did." #18-061 Claudius: If it be so Laertes, If it is so, Laertes - #18-062 As how should it be so, how otherwise, As if it could be otherwise, than so - #18-063 Will you be ruled by me? Will you be led by me? #18-064 Laertes: If so you will not o'errule me to a peace. As long as you don't order me to be peaceful. #18-065 Claudius: To thine own peace, if he be now returned I'll lead you to your own peace, if Hamlet has returned. #18-066 As the King at his voyage, and that he means As the King who ordered his voyage to England - and since he intends #18-067 No more to undertake it, I will work him Not to undertake it further - I will manipulate him #18-068 To an exploit, now ripe in my devise, To an outcome, that I have ready now in my plan, #18-069 Under the which he shall not choose but fall; Under which he'll have no choice but to fall. #18-070 And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe, And, for his death, no whisper of blame will breathe on me, #18-071 But even his mother shall uncharge the practice, But even his mother will not take notice of the treachery, #18-072 And call it accident. And will call it an accident. #18-073 Laertes: My Lord, I will be ruled, My Lord, I will be ruled by you, #18-074 The rather if you could devise it so I'd prefer if you could arrange it so #18-075 That I might be the organ. That I can be the instrument, of his death. #18-076 Claudius: It falls right; It's all falling into place . . . #18-077 You have been talked of since your travel much, You have been much talked about, while you were gone, #18-078 And that in Hamlet's hearing, for a quality And where Hamlet could hear it, for a talent #18-079 Wherein they say you shine; your sum of parts Where they say you are outstanding. All the rest of your abilities #18-080 Did not together pluck such envy from him Put together, didn't draw such jealousy from him #18-081 As did that one, and that in my regard As that one did, even though I see it as #18-082 Of the unworthiest siege. Among the least valuable attainments. #18-083 Laertes: What part is that, my Lord? What ability is that, my Lord? #18-084 Claudius: A very ribbon in the cap of youth, It's a highly admired hobby for a youth, #18-085 Yet needful to, for youth no less becomes But necessary, too. For, youth is no less suited to #18-086 The light and careless livery that it wears The easy-going and carefree style that it has #18-087 Than settled age, his sables, and his weeds Than mature age suits its expensive coats, and its clothing that #18-088 Importing health and graveness; some two months since, Symbolizes soundness and seriousness. About two months ago, #18-089 Here was a gentleman of Normandy; A gentleman from Normandy was here. #18-090 I have seen myself, and served against the French, I have personally seen, in service against the French - #18-091 And they ran well on horseback, but this gallant And they galloped well on horseback - but this cavalier #18-092 Had witchcraft in it; he grew unto his seat, Rode like magic, as though he grew out of his saddle, #18-093 And to such wondrous doing brought his horse, And he made his horse do such wondrous things #18-094 As had he been incorpsed, and deminatured As if he were embodied with the horse, and combined his own nature #18-095 With the brave beast, so far he topped, methought, With that of the bold beast. He so excelled, I thought, #18-096 That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks, That I, even in fantasy about form and tricks on horseback, #18-097 Come short of what he did. Come up short of what he really did. #18-098 Laertes: A Norman, was it? He was a Norman, you say? #18-099 Claudius: A Norman. Yes, a Norman. #18-100 Laertes: Upon my life, Lamord! I'll swear, it must have been Lamord! #18-101 Claudius: The very same. Yes, the very man. #18-102 Laertes: I know him well; he is the brooch indeed, I know him well. He's the jewel, indeed, #18-103 And gem of all our nation. And ornament of all our nation. #18-104 Claudius: He made confession of you, He said he had to admit it about you, #18-105 And gave you such a masterly report And gave you such a glowing report, #18-106 For art and exercise in your defense, For skill and training, as your advocate - #18-107 And for your rapier most especially, And for your skill with a rapier, especially - #18-108 That he cried out 'twould be a sight indeed That he exclaimed it would be a sight to behold #18-109 If one could match you; the scrimures of their nation, If he saw anyone to equal you. The fencers of their nation, #18-110 He swore had neither motion, guard, nor eye, He affirmed, did not have good enough quickness, defense, or accuracy #18-111 If you opposed them; sir, this report of his If you were the opponent. Sir, this report from him #18-112 Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy, Made Hamlet so stung with jealousy, #18-113 That he could nothing do but wish and beg That he could do nothing but wish and solicit #18-114 Your sudden coming o'er, to play with him. Your prompt visit, to fence with him. #18-115 Now, out of this . . . Now, out of this . . . #18-116 Laertes: What out of this, my Lord? What follows from this, my Lord? #18-117 Claudius: Laertes, was your father dear to you? Laertes, was your father dear to you? #18-118 Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, Or are you like only a painting of sorrow, #18-119 A face without a heart? The appearance, without the heart? #18-120 Laertes: Why ask you this? Why do you ask that? #18-121 Claudius: Not that I think you did not love your father, It isn't that I think you didn't love your father, #18-122 But that I know, love is begun by time, It's only that I do know, love is begun at a certain time, #18-123 And that I see in passages of proof, And that I see proof, with the passage of time, #18-124 Time qualifies the spark and fire of it; Time diminishes the spark and fire of love. #18-125 There lives within the very flame of love There exists within the flame itself, of love, #18-126 A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it, A kind of wick or snuff that will bring love to an end, #18-127 And nothing is at a like goodness still, And nothing keeps its same quality, always. #18-128 For goodness, growing to a 'pleurisy,' Since goodness, increasing to a heartache, #18-129 Dies in his own too much; that we would do, Dies from its own excess. What we want to do, #18-130 We should do when we would. For, this "would" changes, We should do it when we first want. Because, our desires change, #18-131 And hath abatements and delays as many, And face suspensions and delays in as much quantity #18-132 As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents, As there are tongues to dissuade us, hands to impede us, and accidents, #18-133 And then this "should" is like a spendthrift's sigh, And then that "should" becomes like a wastrel's sigh, #18-134 That hurts by easing; but to the quick of the ulcer: That hurts our resolve by easing our feelings. But, now to the heart of the matter, #18-135 Hamlet comes back; what would you undertake Hamlet has come back. What action would you undertake #18-136 To show yourself your father's son in deed To prove that you are your father's son in action, #18-137 More than in words? Moreso than just in talk? #18-138 Laertes: To cut his throat in the church. I'd cut his throat in church. #18-139 Claudius: No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize; Indeed, murder should not make any place a sanctuary. #18-140 Revenge should have no bounds. But good Laertes, Revenge should have no limits. But good Laertes, #18-141 Will you do this: keep close within your chamber; Will you do the following? Stay secluded in your room; #18-142 Hamlet, returned, shall know you are come home; Hamlet, when he's returned here, will be informed you're back; #18-143 We'll put on those shall praise your excellence, We'll put someone up to praising your excellence, #18-144 And set a double varnish on the fame And put an extra shine on the renown #18-145 The Frenchman gave you; bring you, in fine, together, The Frenchman accorded you; bring you, ultimately, together, #18-146 And wager o'er your heads; he, being remiss, And bet on your respective abilities. He, being unmindful, #18-147 Most generous, and free from all contriving, Very noble, and innocent of all scheming, #18-148 Will not peruse the foils, so that with ease, Will not scrutinize the foils, so that with ease, #18-149 Or with a little shuffling, you may choose Or with a little trickery, you can select #18-150 A sword unbated, and in a pass of practice A sword that's not blunted, and in an artful pass #18-151 Requite him for your father. Repay him for your father. #18-152 Laertes: I will do it, I will do it, #18-153 And for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword. And to that end I'll oil my sword. #18-154 I bought an unction of a mountebank I bought an ointment from a mountebank #18-155 So mortal, that but dip a knife in it, So lethal that, if you only dip a knife in it, #18-156 Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so rare, When the knife draws blood, no poultice however rare, #18-157 Collected from all simples that have virtue Assembled from all the medicinal herbs that have healing power, #18-158 Under the moon, can save the thing from death Under the magic of the moonlight, can save the person from death #18-159 That is but scratched withal; I'll touch my point Who is only scratched with it. I'll touch up my sword point #18-160 With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly, it may be death. With this toxin, so that if I injure him even slightly, it can be his death. #18-161 Claudius: Lets further think of this. Let's think even further about this . . . #18-162 Weigh what convenience, both of time and means, Ponder what opportunity - taking into account both time and resources - #18-163 May fit us to our shape, if this should fail; May provide us, toward achieving our design if that idea should fail, #18-164 And that our drift look through our bad performance, And, should our plotted course of action not foresee possible failure, #18-165 'Twere better not assayed; therefore, this project It would be better not to try it. Therefore, this joint effort #18-166 Should have a back or second that might hold Should include a backup, or secondary plan, that might succeed #18-167 If this did blast in proof; soft, let me see . . . If this idea fails when tried. Hm, let me see . . . #18-168 We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings . . . We'll make a serious wager on your cunning . . . #18-169 I 'hate'; when, in your motion, you are hot and dry - I have it: When your activity makes you hot and dry - #18-170 As make your bouts more violent to that end - So make your bouts more strenuous for that result - #18-171 And that he calls for drink, I'll have 'prefared' him And when he wants a drink, I'll have prearranged for him #18-172 A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping, A cup of wine for just this occasion, from which he need only sip; #18-173 If he by chance escape your venomed stuck, If he, by luck, avoids your poisoned jab #18-174 Our purpose may hold there; but stay, what noise? #18-174-SD1 (sounds of women lamenting) Our goal can be achieved in that way. But wait, what's that noise? #18-174-SD2 (Gertrude enters, distraught) #18-175 Claudius: How now, sweet Queen? What's the matter, sweet Queen? #18-176 Gertrude: One woe doth tread upon another's heel, One woeful event steps on the heels of another, #18-177 So fast they'll follow; your sister's drowned, Laertes. So closely they seem to follow. Your sister's drowned, Laertes. #18-178 Laertes: Drowned? O where? Drowned?! Oh, tell me where? #18-179 Gertrude: There is a willow grows askant the brook, There is a willow tree which grows beside the brook, #18-180 That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream, That shows its white leaves in the mirror-like water. #18-181 Therewith fantastic garlands did she make With the willow twigs she did make fantastic garlands #18-182 Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples #18-183 That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, That licentious shepherds give a coarser name #18-184 But our cull-cold maids do dead-men's-fingers call them. But our modest sort of maids do call them "dead-men's-fingers;" #18-185 There on the pendant boughs, her crownet weeds There, on the drooping branches, with her crown wreaths of flowers, #18-186 Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; Clambering to find places to hang them, a malicious small branch broke, #18-187 When down her weedy trophies and herself Then down her floral prizes and herself #18-188 Fell in the weeping brook; her clothes spread wide, Fell into the watery brook. Her clothes spread wide, #18-189 And mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up, And for a while they buoyed her up, as if she were a mermaid, during #18-190 Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, Which time she sang parts of traditional religious morning songs, #18-191 As one incapable of her own distress, As if she was unaware of her own distressing situation, #18-192 Or like a creature native and endued Or, as if she was like a creature natural to, and outfitted #18-193 Unto that element, but long it could not be For life in water, but it could not be long, and wasn't, #18-194 Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Until it happened that her clothing, heavy from soaking up water, #18-195 Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay Dragged the poor, pitiful girl down from her melodious singing #18-196 To muddy death. To a muddy death. #18-197 Laertes: Alas, then she is drowned. Alas, then she is drowned. #18-198 Gertrude: Drowned. Drowned. Drowned . . . drowned. #18-199 Laertes: Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia, You have too much of water, poor Ophelia, #18-200 And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet And therefore I forbid myself to shed tears. But yet, #18-201 It is our trick; nature her custom holds; It's a trick men play on themselves, to pretend we don't cry. Nature enforces her ritual. #18-202 Let shame say what it will, when these are gone, Let those say "shame" who want to, when these tears are gone, #18-203 The woman will be out. Adieu, my Lord; I'll no more act like a woman. Adieu, my Lord. #18-204 I have a speech afire that fain would blaze, I have a fiery speech ready that I would blaze away with, #18-205 But that this folly douts it. Except that this misfortune extinguishes it. #18-205-SD (Laertes exits, weeping) #18-206 Claudius: Let's follow, Gertrude; Let's follow him, Gertrude. #18-207 How much I had to do, to calm his rage; There was so much I had to do to calm his rage, #18-208 Now fear I, this will give it start again; And now I'm afraid this will get him going, again. #18-209 Therefore lets follow. So, let's follow him. #18-209-SD (Claudius and Gertrude exit)
End of Scene 18
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 - Claudius's room, the King's Room.
- Time of Day - Early morning.
- Calendar Time -
(Claudius and Laertes enter)
Claudius: Now must your conscience my acquittance seal,
conscience - Claudius is sure he has caught Laertes's conscience, so to speak.
my acquittance seal - reach an official verdict of "not guilty" for me.
And you must put me in your heart for friend,
Poetically and figuratively, friends are "housed in one's heart," in the language of the play.
Sith you have heard and with a knowing ear,
Sith - because; since. Shakespeare used sith, instead of "since," from Claudius because it sounds more like a serpent's hiss.
knowing - intelligent; perceptive. Shrewd / sharp. Claudius is flattering Laertes as "sharp," which Laertes is not, however.
That he which hath your noble father slain
noble - distinguished, is how Laertes hears it. But Claudius could call Polonius noble without meaning anything more than that he was a Lord. Thus, this is ambiguous, as to precisely what Claudius means. Certainly, Claudius is trying to be congenial to Laertes.
Pursued my life.
Hamlet did indeed pursue Claudius's life, but was not doing so at the time he killed Polonius. Claudius thinks Hamlet was trying to kill him when he killed Poloius, but that is mistaken.
Laertes: It well appears: but tell me
Why you proceed not against these feats
proceed - legally. Legal proceedings.
feats - deeds, in a pejorative sense. In the most general paraphrase, actions.
So crimeful and so capital in nature,
crimeful - Laertes probably means morally wrong, full of sin. In the history of English, it appears "crime" meant sinfulness before it meant something punishable by law. We might take it Laertes uses crimeful meaning something both sinful and a crime.
Shakespeare used many '-ful' words in the play: fearful, needful, fruitful, dreadful, shameful, wonderful, doubtful, helpful, etc. It is not so very surprising to see crimeful. Shakespeare had used the word one other time, earlier, in The Rape of Lucrece."
capital - as in "capital offense," punishable by death. It is ironic that capital can also mean "excellent," "first-rate." We do not suppose that is what Laertes means.
As by your safety, greatness, wisdom, all things else
You mainly were stirred up.
mainly - strongly. As in "might and main."
stirred up - spurred into action. Motivated.
Claudius: Oh, for two special reasons
special - personal, as opposed to general. Also, especially significant. Both can be understood, with Claudius meaning the reasons are especially significant to him, personally.
Which may to you perhaps seem much unsinewed,
much unsinewed - very weak. Claudius spoke of sinew in Scene 10, "soft as sinews of the newborn babe." (Scene 10#074)
But yet to me they're strong; the Queen, his mother
Lives almost by his looks, and for myself
My virtue or my plague, be it either which,
either which - whichever.
She is so conjunctive to my life and soul,
conjunctive - connective. Conjunctions are conjunctive. The word "and" which is between the words life and soul is a conjunction in the line. Without the conjunction, life and soul would lack connection. If a man's soul were disconnected from his life, he would be dead. By this, Claudius credits Gertrude with keeping his life and soul together.
Claudius's line is ominous, though he does not know it. We know, if we have read ahead, that at the Fencing Match Claudius will die, after Gertrude dies and Claudius thereby loses his life + soul connective, as he expresses it.
That as the star moves not but in his sphere
I could not but by her; the other motive,
Why to a public count I might not go,
Is the great love the general gender bear him,
general gender - general kind (of people.) Gender goes back to Latin 'genus' ("kind.") thus it is a "kind" word. Claudius means Hamlet is popular with the masses. Second, gender can be understood, in context, as a reference to women in particular. By that, Claudius means Hamlet has the affection of women in general. While women do not have the vote in Claudius's Denmark, still, their views cannot be ignored.
However, Claudius is making excuses with all this. We know he intends that Hamlet should be executed in England. Claudius is just offering Laertes some plausible reasons for not imprisoning Hamlet.
Who, dipping all his faults in their affection,
One may be reminded of the infant Achilles being dipped into the river Styx by his mother. One will recall that while the treatment made Achilles invulnerable in general, it did leave him with an Achilles' heel, a point of vulnerability.
Work like the spring that turneth wood to stone:
Convert his gyves to graces, so that my arrows,
gyves - fetters; shackles. We recall Claudius speaking in Scene 10 to R & G about putting fetters on his fear. (Scene 10#026)
graces - favors. As if Claudius had, in the process of trying to punish Hamlet, done him a favor instead.
arrows - accusations. A figurative usage.
Too slightly timbered for so loved, armed,
slightly - slenderly; weakly; lightly.
timbered - constructed; built. Arrows are of wood (in those days,) and one could say that wood is "timber." In Old English, the verb 'timbran' was the main word used for "to build."
loved, armed - so loved and so armored. The "and so" is implicit. Carries through on what Claudius said in lines 021 and 022.
Would have reverted to my bow again,
reverted - ricocheted. Revert is from Latin 'revertere' ("to turn back.")
my bow - synecdoche for "me." The bow being the relevant item when an arrow is shot.
But not where I have aimed them.
Laertes: And so have I a noble father lost,
A sister driven into desperate terms,
desperate - hopeless. Latin 'desperare' ("to be without hope.") Laertes has no idea what to do about Ophelia.
into desperate terms - into hopeless extremities. Terms -> Latin 'terminus' ("limit,") the limit being the extremity. See Polonius's line in Scene 7, "... in my youth, I suffered much extremity for love." (Scene 7#203) Also see the Play Queen's line in the 'Mousetrap'/Gonzago play, "In neither ought, or in extremity." (Scene 9#151)
Whose worth, if praises may go back again
worth - "value," if one is uncharitable to Laertes, or "merit," if one cuts him some slack.
Stood challenger on mount of all the age
challenger - Oddly, the word "challenge" traces back to Latin 'calumnia' ("calumny.") Hamlet told Ophelia, in Scene 8, that she would not escape calumny, and there it is, lurking so unexpectedly.
mount - pedestal, for mounting a statue. Laertes is invoking the stereotype of "putting a woman on a pedestal." The mount is a raised place to stand, like the stage in a theater.
of all the age - of all our era.
Picturing Ophelia as a statue, Laertes is talking about how she would "show."
For her perfections, but my revenge will come.
Claudius: Break not your sleeps for that, you must not think
Break - interrupt. Claudius is telling Laertes not to lose sleep over it.
That we are made of stuff so flat and dull,
That we can let our beard be shook with danger,
The idea is that the beard is shaking because the chin is trembling from fear.
And think it pastime, you shortly shall hear more;
pastime - amusement; fun.
I loved your father, and we love our self,
And that I hope will teach you to imagine . . .
(a messenger enters)
How now? What news?
Messenger: Letters, my Lord, from Hamlet.
These to your Majesty, this to the Queen.
Claudius: From Hamlet, who brought them?
Messenger: Sailors, my Lord, they say; I saw them not;
They were given me by Claudio; he received them
Claudio - the name similarity, Claudius/Claudio, is because Claudio acted as Claudius's stand-in to receive the letters.
Horatio wasn't able to have the letters delivered to Claudius directly because Claudius was in conference with Laertes at that time, and Horatio did not want to wait to depart, nor did the pirates want to linger at the Castle. So, Shakespeare provided an intermediary, Claudio.
Of him that brought them.
Claudius: Laertes, you shall hear them. Leave us
(the messenger exits)
(reads): High and mighty,
you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom;
naked - like a newborn baby. Hamlet now knows Claudius intended him to die in England. Hamlet is playing with that. He means that after being "dead" in England, he is "reborn" in Denmark. To be reborn is to be like a newborn baby, and newborn babies are, of course, naked. Hamlet knows Claudius won't understand that, nor does he want Claudius to. Hamlet is giving Claudius a hard time, again.
More meaning can be found, as is usual in the way Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. We know that pirates are thieves. We also know that Hamlet was supposed to be the Danish ambassador to England, according to how Claudius set it up. Hamlet didn't yet know that Claudius's appointment of him was only a ruse, when Hamlet packed and dressed for the trip. When the pirates captured him, Hamlet was dressed for the role of ambassador, wearing some of his most fancy clothing. Fancy clothing in those days was amazing. It had embroidery with gold and silver thread, inlaid gems, and heaven knows what else. Certainly the pirates stole his clothing. They didn't really leave him naked, but we can be sure they then gave him some clothes to wear that none of the pirates particularly wanted. It would be old, worn, patched-together items. (In the Closet Scene, Scene 11, Hamlet spoke of "shreds and patches," and he himself is now dressed like that, "courtesy" of the pirates. Therefore, by naked Hamlet also means"without (my) clothes." Claudius won't figure that out, either, since he doesn't know what happened.
So, in the altogether, naked means both "like a newborn baby" and also, "without my clothing."
The image shows how fancy men's clothing could be in that era, and the clothing of a Prince acting as an ambassador would be even fancier than that.
This is an important thing to know, about Hamlet's clothing, in advance of the Graveyard Scene, Scene 19, where Hamlet talks with the Clown Sexton. Hamlet will be dressed in "shreds and patches" in that passage, and knowing that helps greatly in understanding why the Clown Sexton doesn't know, or guess, that Hamlet is the Prince. The Clown would never imagine that a man wearing raggedy clothing could be the Prince.
tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes, when I shall, first
asking you pardon, thereunto recount the occasion of my sudden
and more strange return.
Claudius: What should this mean, are all the rest come back,
Or is it some abuse, and no such thing?
abuse - deceit; trick; an abuse of one's credulity.
Laertes: Know you the hand?
Claudius: 'Tis Hamlet's character. "Naked?"
And in a postscript here he says: "alone;"
Can you devise me?
devise - tell. It's a meaning found in, for example, Chaucer, Monk's Tale, the line "The world was his - what sholde I moore devyse?" Chaucer means, "what more should I tell?" (By the way, that line in Chaucer is followed rather closely by "De Julio Cesare" which means "Concerning Julius Caesar." Hercules and Nero also get mention in the Monk's Tale. Chaucer is readily available online, including here: http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/mkt-par.htm)
Because of the Putting on a Show Theme in Hamlet, it is of interest that devise can mean "show." For example see, James Shirley, (or John Fletcher?) The Coronation, 1634, Act 3 scene 2: "Masques and devices welcome, I salute you." So, Claudius could also be understood as asking Laertes, "Can you show me (what this means?)"
Laertes: I am lost in it, my Lord, but let him come;
It warms the very sickness in my heart
That I shall live, and tell him to his teeth:
Thus didst thou!
(Laertes imitates stabbing with a sword)
Or, Laertes can draw his sword, make a lunging stab with it, then sheath it again. The actual drawing of the sword is more dramatic.
Claudius: If it be so Laertes,
As how should it be so, how otherwise,
Will you be ruled by me?
Laertes: If so you will not o'errule me to a peace.
Claudius: To thine own peace, if he be now returned
As the King at his voyage, and that he means
No more to undertake it, I will work him
To an exploit, now ripe in my devise,
Under the which he shall not choose but fall;
And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe,
But even his mother shall uncharge the practice,
And call it accident.
Laertes: My Lord, I will be ruled,
The rather if you could devise it so
That I might be the organ.
Claudius: It falls right;
You have been talked of since your travel much,
And that in Hamlet's hearing, for a quality
Wherein they say you shine; your sum of parts
shine - excel. Shine like a star. In Scene 20 we'll hear Hamlet compliment Laertes's skill with a sword in "stellar" terms: "Your skill shall, like a star in the darkest night..." (Scene 20#239)
your sum of parts - your total abilities; your total distinctions; all your good characteristics. Everything good about you. A "part" here is a distinction, a feature that sets a person apart, from the average.
Did not together pluck such envy from him
envy - jealousy. BOOKMARK for me
As did that one, and that in my regard
Of the unworthiest siege.
unworthiest - least valuable.
siege - throne. From Old French 'sege' ("seat" / "throne") then back to Latin 'sedere' ("to sit.") King Claudius speaks figuratively of a "throne." He speaks of it (ability with a sword, we'll learn,) as not valuable, because being a great swordsman is not one of his fantasies. Claudius admires horsemanship (we'll also learn.) Claudius doesn't think being "the king of swordplay" is a very valuable attainment. One could see it as jealousy about something he isn't good at.
Claudius also downplays swordplay in connection with asserting dominance over Laertes, so that Laertes will do what he's told. There's more than one psychological factor at work.
Laertes. What part is that, my Lord?
Claudius: A very ribbon in the cap of youth,
Yet needful to, for youth no less becomes
The light and careless livery that it wears
Than settled age, his sables, and his weeds
Importing health and graveness; some two months since,
health - soundness; or, prosperity.
graveness - seriousness; somberness.
two months since - would have been at the time of the state funeral for King Hamlet.
Here was a gentleman of Normandy;
I have seen myself, and served against the French,
And they ran well on horseback, but this gallant
Had witchcraft in it; he grew unto his seat,
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
As had he been incorpsed, and deminatured
With the brave beast, so far he topped, methought,
That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.
Laertes: A Norman, was it?
Claudius: A Norman.
Laertes: Upon my life, Lamord!
BOOKMARK for me, check root of "remorse" in addition to all the rest
Claudius: The very same.
Laertes: I know him well; he is the brooch indeed,
brooch - ornament; jewel.
And gem of all our nation.
gem - exactly what it says; or, more generally, adornment. With his phrase (brooch) and gem" Laertes means "jewel and gem," or in more general terms, "ornament and adornment." He is speaking of Lamord as a "treasure."
our nation - is a slip of the tongue by Laertes. Laertes is Danish, but Lamord is French. Laertes has spent enough time in France, and likes it so well, that he now reacts as if France is his home.
Claudius: He made confession of you,
made confession - admitted. That is, Lamord said something like, "I do have to admit..."
The religious tone of confession is irony, as Claudius plots to commit the mortal sin of murder.
And gave you such a masterly report
For art and exercise in your defense,
art - skill.
exercise - training. From Latin 'exercitium' ("training.")
in your defense - in defense of your ability. Claudius means Lamord spoke as Laertes's advocate, defending Laertes against any question about his swordsmanship. A second meaning is that of Laertes's defensive ability. Shakespeare once again used wording with a deliberate double meaning.
And for your rapier most especially,
That he cried out 'twould be a sight indeed
If one could match you; the scrimures of their nation,
He swore had neither motion, guard, nor eye,
If you opposed them; sir, this report of his
Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy,
That he could nothing do but wish and beg
Your sudden coming o'er, to play with him.
Now, out of this . . .
Laertes: What out of this, my Lord?
Claudius: Laertes, was your father dear to you?
Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,
A face without a heart?
Laertes: Why ask you this?
Claudius: Not that I think you did not love your father,
But that I know, love is begun by time,
love is begun by time - a person falls in love at a certain time, in his life. The actual figure of speech is as if time is a decision-making ruler, who decrees, "you shall now fall in love," so that time, itself, is responsible for the beginning of love. Claudius, the ruler of Denmark, is speaking of time as a kind of ruler, of love. We could deduce that Claudius wishes he could dictate his feelings, the way he can dictate executive orders, but that power is beyond him. As far as his feelings go, Claudius is subject to greater powers, including time, the same way we all are.
And that I see in passages of proof,
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it;
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it,
abate - extinguish. Terminate. "Kill." Used here in the legal sense, as in an abatement of action. ("At common law, a suit, when it abates, is absolutely dead." - http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/abatement-of-action/ )
And nothing is at a like goodness still,
For goodness, growing to a 'pleurisy,
Dies in his own too much; that we would do,
We should do when we would. For, this "would" changes,
And hath abatements and delays as many,
abatements - suspensions. Used in the legal sense. ("... in courts of equity, abatement signifies only a present suspension of all proceedings... - http://definitions.uslegal.com/a/abatement-of-action/ )
Some difference can be found between a plan being suspended, and it being delayed. Delay is more a matter of an unexpected obstacle, while suspension is more a matter of choice. The ideas of "suspension" and "delay" are close to synonymous.
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents,
And then this "should" is like a spendthrift's sigh,
That hurts by easing; but to the quick of the ulcer:
Hamlet comes back; what would you undertake
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
Laertes: To cut his throat in the church.
Claudius: No place, indeed, should murder sanctuarize;
Revenge should have no bounds. But good Laertes,
Will you do this: keep close within your chamber;
Hamlet, returned, shall know you are come home;
We'll put on those shall praise your excellence,
And set a double varnish on the fame
The Frenchman gave you; bring you, in fine, together,
together - at fencing, that is. Claudius is speaking of a fencing match.
And wager o'er your heads; he, being remiss,
remiss - casual, or another word to that effect. Of course Hamlet will be supposed to think it's only a casual fencing match.
Most generous, and free from all contriving,
Will not peruse the foils, so that with ease,
Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
A sword unbated, and in a pass of practice
Requite him for your father.
requite - repay.
Laertes: I will do it,
So, Laertes seals his own doom, without knowing it.
And for that purpose, I'll anoint my sword.
anoint - oil. Fencers always oil their swords. However, Laertes is talking about a special oil, as he will go on to say.
The word choice is wicked. In Biblical tradition, anointing is an act of consecration of an item. In Scene 16 we heard Laertes say, "I dare damnation," Scene 16#136, and now what he says could be taken as "consecrating" his sword, to commit murder.
I bought an unction of a mountebank
unction - salve; ointment. The word unction originally referred to the use of a grease or oil for medicinal purposes, and later came to mean religious anointment, including anointment as a last rite.
mountebank - quack doctor. A purveyor of supposed remedies and potions. Laertes is a sucker. The Laertes character, himself, means "peddler of potions." It's clear that he is not clear on what a "mountebank" is.
However, there is the logical point that just because an item comes from a mountebank that doesn't necessarily mean it won't work as claimed.
So mortal, that but dip a knife in it,
mortal - deadly; lethal.
Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so rare,
draws blood - breaks the skin.
cataplasm - poultice, applied to a wound to draw out poison, and promote healing.
so rare - however rare.
Collected from all simples that have virtue
Collected - assembled. Gathered. From Latin 'com-' ("together") + 'legere' ("to gather.")
simples - medicinal herbs, considered individually. Called "simple" before they are compounded into a mixture of ingredients. Goes back to Latin simplex in the sense of "uncompounded."
virtue - goodness. More specifically in this context, "healing power."
Under the moon, can save the thing from death
That is but scratched withal; I'll touch my point
withal - with it. BOOKMARK for me
With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly, it may be death.
Claudius: Lets further think of this.
Weigh what convenience, both of time and means,
May fit us to our shape, if this should fail;
And that our drift look through our bad performance,
'Twere better not assayed; therefore, this project
Should have a back or second that might hold
If this did blast in proof; soft, let me see . . .
blast in proof - fail when put to the test. It's understandable that Claudius would not fully trust a product bought from a mountebank.
However, Claudius seems not to realize he had Laertes set up perfectly.
We'll make a solemn wager on your cunnings . . .
I 'hate'; when, in your motion, you are hot and dry -
As make your bouts more violent to that end -
And that he calls for drink, I'll have 'prefared' him
prefared - is the correct word, it means "prearranged as fare," for Hamlet.
A chalice for the nonce, whereon but sipping,
chalice - cup. It's a wicked term in this context, however, since chalice can mean in particular the cup used for sacramental wine. We infer that Claudius is praying this will rid him of Hamlet. In Scene 19 we will hear Hamlet say to Laertes, "Thou prayest not well," (Scene 19#231,) and the same can be said about Claudius.
for the nonce - for the occasion.
If he by chance escape your venomed stuck,
by chance - An instance of the Wheel of Fortune Theme.
venomed - poisoned.
stuck - jab; stab. The ungrammatical-looking form is apparently because it is fencing jargon, a term shortened and anglicized either from Old French 'estocade' or from Italian 'stoccata.' The English "stuck" is of course the past tense of "stick," which is from Old English 'stician' ("to pierce;" "to thrust,") related to German 'stechen' ("to sting.") So the phrase venomed stuck carries the concept of a poisonous sting. We recall the Ghost telling Hamlet, in Scene 5, about Claudius being "the serpent that stung." (Scene 5#044: "The "serpent" that did sting thy father's life...")
Our purpose may hold there; but stay, what noise?
(sounds of women lamenting)
(Gertrude enters, distraught)
Claudius: How now, sweet Queen?
Gertrude: One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
So fast they'll follow; your sister's drowned, Laertes.
Laertes: Drowned? O where?
Elsinore Castle is a castle by the sea, like Kronborg Castle upon which Elsinore is based. So, when one hears of a drowning, one's first thought is that it happened in the sea. However, Laertes is skeptical that Ophelia could have been allowed to wander to the sea, so he questions where, (and rightly so, it turns out.)
Further, Laertes's question is supposed to lead the audience to think about the "wheres" of the play. An attentive person may remember the cliff Horatio mentioned to Hamlet, in Scene 4, the cliff that "beetles o'er his base into the sea." (Scene 4#076 ff) If one wanted to die by drowning, that cliff would be the very place. It's a perfect "Suicide Cliff." If Horatio, who has been at Elsinore only a short time, knows of the cliff, Ophelia must have known of it, too. However, did Ophelia die at Suicide Cliff?
Shakespeare is telling us something, if we're paying attention.
Gertrude: There is a willow grows askant the brook,
askant - aslant; leaning. As the image shows, and as willows often do. The willow was growing directly beside the brook, and leaning over it.
brook - this introduction of the brook might seem to be an ad hoc contrivance, but further reflection indicates it is only common sense applied to any human settlement. People cannot drink salt water. For a settlement to exist at Elsinore there must be fresh water available. We may take it that the brook, carrying fresh water, is what made Elsinore Town and Elsinore Castle possible. The brook would have been flowing there, already, when the very first human wanderers happened by, and discovered that location as a place where they could live.
That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream,
hoary - white, but literally, hoary means white with age. So we're told it's an old tree, not a young one. This is significant information, because old trees are more likely to have diseases or damage that can cause branch breakage. Gertrude, herself, is saying in a poetic way that it's as if the tree, with the whiteness of its leaves, is like a person whose hair is going white with age. In actually, in the case of a tree the color is a species characteristic. Anyway, Shakespeare did use Gertrude's poetic expression to tell us the tree is an old one, and that knowledge is relevant to Ophelia's fall.
Hoary is from Old English 'har' which could mean any of "hoary" (as now understood,) "gray," "venerable," or "old."
hoary leaves - identifies the tree as probably white willow, Salix alba. The twigs of the white willow are said to be still used for basket making, because they are long and can be bent rather sharply without damage.
glassy - reflective, like a mirror. There's a Mirror Motif in the play.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Therewith - by means of, that is, Ophelia was using long, supple willow twigs to make the frames for her floral wreaths.
fantastic - fanciful. Gertrude does not know Ophelia's symbolism with the floral wreaths, so she takes them as being merely products of a wild imagination.
garlands - wreaths of flowers. Namely, chaplets.
make - construct.
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
The mere variety of flowers implies madness, in Shakespeare's theatrical universe. Compare King Lear, Act 4 scene 4, Cordelia speaking:
As mad as the vex'd sea, singing aloud, Crown'd with rank fumiter and furrow weeds, With harlocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo flow'rs, Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow...
Here in Hamlet, the colors of the flowers are purple and white. Shakespeare associated a flower color of purple and white with the death of Adonis in Venus and Adonis, at line 1190:
...the boy that by her side lay kill'd Was melted like a vapour from her sight, And in his blood that on the ground lay spill'd, A purple flower sprung up, chequer'd with white 1190 ...
By using the same colors, purple and white, for Ophelia's death flowers, Shakespeare honored her at the high status of immortal myth, and more specifically, a mythical loved one, like Adonis. Per Shakespeare's symbolism, established in Venus and Adonis, the purple and white flower colors express an especially tragic death.
crowflowers - a.k.a. Ragged Robins, Lychnis flos-cuculi. The blossoms are purple. It is also called the cuckoo-flower because it blooms around the same time the cuckoo is heard in spring. The Latin "flos-cuculi" means "cuckoo flower." Madness has long been associated with the cuckoo. From that well-known association, it provides an instance of the Madness Theme.
During the course of the play it is subtly revealed that "Robin" is Ophelia's pet name for Hamlet, (namely in Ophelia's "bonny sweet Robin" line in Scene 16. (Scene 16#188) When we next see Hamlet, he will be "ragged," wearing "shreds and patches," in Scene 19 (because of the pirates stealing his clothing.) The alternative name of this flower, "ragged robin," points directly toward Hamlet, and is implicitly an instance of the Love Theme, from Ophelia having the pet name for Hamlet.
In the "language of flowers" the ragged robin expresses ardor. "Ardor" meant lust, the heat of desire, in Middle English. The word "ardor" goes back to Latin 'ardere' ("to burn.") Thus, in the crowflower/ragged robin one can also find an implicit instance of the Fire Motif.
In folklore, a crowflower under the pillow at night will produce a dream of one's future mate. By that, the crowflower informs us that Ophelia went to her "sleep" of death dreaming of her Robin, Hamlet. The crowflower is therefore also thematic on the concepts of sleep and dreams.
(Incidentally, in the Latin name Lychnis flos-cuculi, 'Lychnis' means "lamp," from the use of the leaves of such plants as makeshift lamp wicks, which makes them "lamp plants.")
In sum, the crowflower expresses instances of the Madness, Love, Fire, Sleep, and Dream themes and motifs, and it symbolizes Ophelia's loving desire for Hamlet. It's easy to see why Shakespeare chose the crowflower.
nettle - This can be understood as white dead nettle (dead = does not sting,) Lamium album, or perhaps as purple dead nettle, Lamium purpureum. Either the white or the purple variety will work here, or even a mixture of the two. The flower colors are purple and white, as mentioned above, and the nettle can provide either.
In the "language of flowers," nettle expresses slander and, especially for a woman, bad luck. Thus, we are told that Ophelia's fall from the tree was bad luck. It's also clear Ophelia has bad luck throughout the play, when various events go against her, through no fault of her own. Being the most innocent victim, she is the most sympathetic character. The nettle is thematic, since part of its meaning provides an instance of the Fortune Theme of the play, bad fortune in this case.
Further, the nettle cautions us about the later slander of Ophelia as a suicide, which we'll see in Scene 19. The "slander" that the nettle expresses supports what Hamlet said to Ophelia in Scene 8, "thou shalt not escape calumny." (Scene 8#141) The nettle provides an instance of the Talk Motif, which, as I categorize the play concepts, includes gossip and slander.
The name of the white dead nettle is "dovenetel" in Dutch. The English speaker sees "dove" in that name. I do not know if Shakespeare would have taken that into account, but it is intriguing. Recall Ophelia's flowers and her speech in Scene 16, which included the columbine and her saying "dove."
Herbals recommend ingestion of nettle seeds to treat venomous stings, and as an antidote for poison. So, nettle connects to play concepts of "sting" and "poison," as well.
(I will add, in this context it would be unwise to be fussy about exactly what is a nettle versus a dead nettle, and whether nettle meanings apply to the dead nettle. Shakespeare was doing theater, not a herbal. It's the theatrical, or literary, concepts that count, not scientific distinctions of species and variety.)
In sum, the nettle expresses the play concepts of the Talk Motif (specifically slander,) bad luck (the Fortune Theme,) perhaps "dove," and the highly pertinent ideas of "sting" and "poison." It is clearly another superb choice by Shakespeare.
daisies - Bellis perennis, the English or common daisy. Bellis = "beautiful;" perennis = "everlasting." However, there is some possibility that the oxeye daisy is meant, which is Leucanthemum vulgare ("common white flower.")
The daisy is a subject of numerous legends.
The daisy expresses innocence, and loyalty in love.
The daisy is a "sun" flower, in that it has long been especially associated with the sun.
Per Gerard's Herbal, daisy juice applied to the eyes will clear them.
Traditionally, if a fellow asked a lady for her hand, she would symbolize affirmation by wearing a crown wreath of daisies. Ophelia's crown wreath of daisies was especially for Hamlet, her Robin, meaning that if given the chance, she would marry him. In that way, the daisy confirms the crowflower meaning.
long purples - early purple orchids. Orchis mascula. The blossoms are, as stated, purple. Like the crowflower, this flower has also been called the cuckoo flower.
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
liberal - indecent; unrestrained in their speech. Ill-mannered in their speech. Rude, in the sense of primitive, in their speech. There is a Manner/Manners Motif in the play. "Immodest" would be another paraphrase.
grosser - coarser; less decent. From Old French 'gros' ("coarse, rude.") The botanical term Orchis is from the Greek and means "testicle." The name comes from many varieties having paired, globular tubers in their root systems, which in appearance can be likened to testicles. In John Gerard's Herbal, various of the orchids have the common names "dog's stones," "goat's stones," etc. ("stone" meaning "testicle.")
But our cull-cold maids do dead-men's-fingers call them.
The phrase cull-cold is a little word puzzle Shakespeare composed for us.
cull - to cull is to sort, and to sort is to separate into kinds. Gertrude is clearly talking about a certain kind of maids. It's an instance of the "kind" idea that appears occasionally in the play.
cold - unimpassioned, that is, not inclined to use sexual terms which don't really apply. Not feeling the "heat" of passion to incline them to see, and describe, things in sexual terms. The simplest paraphrase would probably be "modest." At the time Shakespeare was writing, the word "modest" when applied to women meant "not improper or lewd." The use of a term for the flowers other than that which the liberal shepherds use, is explained by such maids being shy about using sexual terms.
So, the cull-cold are literally the "sort modest," and in normal phrasing that's the "modest sort" or the "modest kind."
dead-men's-fingers - as listed in Gerard's herbal, (first published in 1597,) and judging from the pictures, this is likely a reference to one of the "Serapia's stones," as Gerard has them, in particular what Gerard calls "Sweet-smelling Satyrion." See the image at left, which shows the roots of that plant with its "hand" and "fingers." It has purple blooms and would qualify as a "long purple."
However, the sweet-smelling Satyrion does not appear to be the same flower as the early purple orchid. That's of no matter. As with the nettle, it would be a mistake to be too strict with plant identification. Shakespeare was providing symbolism and conceptual expression for his play. It would be unwise to suppose that the shepherds, the maids, the Gertrude character, and Shakespeare himself were engaged in botanical classification.
There on the pendant boughs, her crownet weeds
pendant - curving downward at the ends; drooping; sagging. From Latin 'pendere' ("to hang.") This is a fact of the willow, that there is a tendency of some of the branches to curve downward.
boughs - branches; limbs. From Old English 'bog' ("arm,") then, the arm being a limb, the meaning extended, in Old English, to "branch," a limb of a tree.
weeds - plants. In this case flowering plants, we see.
crownet weeds - plants for crowns; plants to use in making floral crowns. Ophelia was making chaplets, i.e. floral wreaths to wear on the head.
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
Clambering - climbing awkwardly, with difficulty. The difficulty was in carrying the flowers, and also, it's extremely doubtful Ophelia was an experienced tree climber. We've seen how Polonius was, so even when Ophelia was much younger, if Polonius had caught Ophelia climbing a tree, or heard of her doing such a thing, we can predict he would have scolded her severely, and punished her in some way, for such unladylike behavior. This could be the first time in her life she climbed a tree.
hang - as it says; hang up, so they wouldn't fall. Ophelia was hanging the chaplets in the tree as she made them. The easiest way to hang such things in a tree is to use stubs of twigs or stubs of small branches that have broken off. However, the limb with the most broken-off twigs, or the most broken-off small branches, is a limb that's dead or dying, and thus dangerous to climb on.
Shakespeare described all this perfectly. The tree being old, a willow, that splits, hanging chaplets in it, easiest to do on stubs, of course, implying a dead or dying limb... this is absolutely authentic. The poetry is superb, but the "natural history" of it is equally so. It could happen in reality, exactly as described.
envious - malicious; full of ill will. The word "envy" derives from Latin 'invidere' ("look at (with malice)," "cast the evil eye upon.") At root "envy" is a "see" word, going along with the play concept of eyes and vision, under the Vision Motif.
Gertrude's word envious can be read as that exactly, the "hoary" tree being envious of Ophelia's youth and beauty, and her innocence, and therefore acting maliciously toward her. That's if we anthropomorphize the tree, as an old, broken-down woman, who has the bad temper which goes along with its old age and ill health, and consider then how the tree would view Ophelia, with envy, and react to her, with malice.
sliver - a limb that was split from the trunk, or, a smaller branch that had split off from a larger one. The noun sliver derives from the obsolete verb 'sliven' ("to split.") This is a fact of willow trees, that they tend to split at a fork. Gertrude is saying that Ophelia climbed onto a limb that was already splitting off (thus a sliver,) and Ophelia's weight caused it to split away completely.
When down her weedy trophies and herself
trophies - prizes. We may take it that Gertrude speaks of the flowers as prizes because it was clear Ophelia prized them. An alternative paraphrase would be "bounty," since the "bounty of nature" is a well-known idea.
However, "trophy" can mean "memorial" and it does appear in that sense earlier in the dialogue, in Scene 16. (Scene 16#214: "No trophy sword...") By that, the flowers are memorials for Ophelia.
The word "trophy" goes back to Greek 'tropos' ("turn.") There is, of course, a "turn" concept in the play, associated with the Fortune Theme. One has to suspect Shakespeare knew the derivation of the word "trophy" to use trophies in describing this bad turn of events for Ophelia.
Fell in the weeping brook; her clothes spread wide,
weeping - tears are running water, thus, the running water of the brook is cast as weeping, for Ophelia.
And mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up,
Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,
chanted - sang. "Chant" is from Latin 'cantus' ("song;" "bird-song.") The play characters are associated with birds, so one suspects Shakespeare used chanted with knowledge of its derivation.
snatches - brief excerpts; a few lines. In the history of the word "snatch," an earlier meaning of the verb was "to make a sudden bite" (at something,) and the noun could mean "a trap," or "a sudden grab," all of which is of interest because concepts of "bite," "trap," and "grab/seize" are repeated with some prominence in the play.
lauds - songs of praise to God. Additionally, "Lauds" with a capital-L refers to a religious service, the hour of morning prayer, traditionally at daybreak. So we may see these lauds as morning songs, which brings in an implicit pun with "mourning." We are to understand "mourning songs" for Ophelia's death. (Ophelia, herself, did not mean that, the idea comes from her creator's choice of wording.) Lauds as the name for the canonical hour comes from Latin 'laudate' ("praise ye",) which begins psalms 148 and 150.
As one incapable of her own distress,
incapable - unaware. Not capable of perception. Literally, incapable of = not able to grasp. The word "capable" is from Latin 'capabilis' ("able to grasp or hold,") so it's another use in the play of a "grasp / grab / seize" word.
Or like a creature native and endued
native - born to. Gertrude means like a creature born to live in water.
endued - equipped; outfitted. "Dressed." The "clothe" meaning of "endue" applies here, but in figurative use. "Endue" goes back to Latin 'inducere' ("to cover,") which is where the "clothe" meaning comes form. In the sound, one hears "dew," of which Hamlet has spoken in Scene 2 (Scene 2#132,) and we know that dew rises. Endued is therefore a word compatible with Ophelia rising to Heaven, as (from "lauds" above,) her new day dawns.
Unto that element, but long it could not be
that element - water.
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
Pulled - pulled down.
lay - "brief song," but also, from the phrasing it's possible to understand this as meaning Ophelia lying on the surface. The ambiguity is undoubtedly deliberate.
To muddy death.
Death in the mud, at the bottom of the brook. In the 1580s, muddy could mean "low," so we can also understand this as a "low death." Ophelia has fallen from the heights, in the tree, to the depths, in the brook.
Laertes: Alas, then she is drowned.
Spoken with stress on is. Laertes believes it now.
Gertrude: Drowned. Drowned.
Laertes: Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick; nature her custom holds;
Let shame say what it will, when these are gone,
The woman will be out. Adieu, my Lord;
I have a speech afire that fain would blaze,
But that this folly douts it.
folly - BOOKMARK "bad turn" of the Wheel of Fortune.
douts - literally "does out." Douses; extinguishes. Dout is simply "do" + "out."
(Laertes exits, weeping)
Claudius: Let's follow, Gertrude;
How much I had to do, to calm his rage;
Now fear I, this will give it start again;
Therefore lets follow.
(Claudius and Gertrude exit)
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
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