Scene 5

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At the graveyard, Hamlet stops and tells the Ghost he'll go no farther. The Ghost speaks to Hamlet, saying he's the spirit of Hamlet's father, and that Claudius murdered King Hamlet, using the strange method of poison in the ear. The Ghost calls upon Hamlet for revenge. The Ghost implies that he's in purgatory, and that Gertrude is less than virtuous, but makes neither statement expressly. Nor does the Ghost tell Hamlet what to do for revenge, but the implication is obvious that he should kill Claudius. The Ghost tells Hamlet to remember him, and exits. Hamlet condemns Gertrude and Claudius, and swears to himself that he will remember.

Horatio and Marcellus find Hamlet. Hamlet speaks to them in a roundabout way, and doesn't tell them what the Ghost said. Hamlet draws his sword, and asks them to swear on it that they won't reveal what has happened. The Ghost cries out, from the earth beneath their feet, for them to swear. Hamlet moves away, but the same thing happens three times. Hamlet then puts his sword away without allowing them to swear on it. Hamlet repeats that they must say nothing, and all exit.


The Scene 5 Characters are: Hamlet, Ghost, Horatio, Marcellus.

Passage Links

Ghost exit #095-SD, Horatio and Marcellus entry #116-SD, "swear" passage start #159

Jump down to the Notes.


Scene 5      [~ Murder Most Foul ~]      (Act 1 Scene 5)

#05-Setting:  Beside the graveyard;
            A few minutes after Scene 4.

#05-000-SD  (the Ghost and Hamlet enter)

#05-001  Hamlet:  Whither wilt thou lead me?  Speak, I'll go no further.
                        Where will you lead me?  Speak to me, I'll go no farther.
#05-002  Ghost:  Mark me.
                        Heed me
#05-003  Hamlet:  I will.
                        I will.
#05-004  Ghost:  My hour is almost come
                        The time is almost here
#05-005        When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
                        When I, to sulfurous and tormenting flames,
#05-006        Must render up myself.
                        Must give myself up.
#05-007  Hamlet:  Alas, poor Ghost.
                        Oh dear, poor ghost.
#05-008  Ghost:  Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
                        Do not pity me, but instead listen seriously
#05-009        To what I shall unfold.
                        To what I will reveal.
#05-010  Hamlet:  Speak, I am bound to hear.
                        Speak. I'm bound to hear you.
#05-011  Ghost:  So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
                        You'll also be bound to revenge, when you hear me.
#05-012  Hamlet:  What?
#05-013  Ghost:  I am thy father's spirit,
                        I am your father's spirit,
#05-014        Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
                        Condemned, for a certain length of time, to wander in the night
#05-015        And for the day confined to fast in fires,
                        And, in the daytime, confined to suffer in fires,
#05-016        'Til the foul crimes done in my days of nature
                        Until the wicked sins that I committed during my life
#05-017        Are burnt and purged away; but that I am forbid
                        Are burned out of me and purged away. Except that I am forbidden
#05-018        To tell the secrets of my prison house,
                        To tell you the secrets of my imprisonment
#05-019        I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
                        I could relate you a story whose softest word
#05-020        Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
                        Would uproot your soul from your body, freeze your youthful blood,
#05-021        Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,
                        Make your two eyes, (like stars leaving their orbits,) bulge from their sockets, make
#05-022        Thy knotty and combined locks to part,
                        Your braided and joined locks to separate,
#05-023        And each particular hair to stand on end,
                        And each individual hair to stand on end
#05-024        Like quills upon the fretful porcupine;
                        Like the quills on an annoyed porcupine.
#05-025        But this eternal blazon must not be
                        But this description of eternity must not be told
#05-026        To ears of flesh and blood; list, list Hamlet, oh list,
                        To the ears of the living. Listen, listen Hamlet, oh, listen,
#05-027        If thou didst ever thy dear father love . . .
                        If you ever really did love your dear father . . .
#05-028  Hamlet:  Oh, God.
                        Oh, God.
#05-029  Ghost:  . . . Revenge his foul, and most unnatural, murder.
                        . . . Revenge his rotten, and very hateful murder.
#05-030  Hamlet:  Murder?!
#05-031  Ghost:  Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
                        Murder most foul, as it is, at its best,
#05-032        But this, most foul, strange and unnatural.
                        But this one, the most foul, so strange and unnatural.
#05-033  Hamlet:  Haste me to know it, that I, with wings as swift
                        Quickly, tell it to me, so that I, with wings as swift
#05-034        As meditation, or the thoughts of love
                        As I can cogitate, or as swift as Cupid's arrow,
#05-035        May sweep to my revenge.
                        May fly to my revenge.
#05-036  Ghost:  I find thee apt,
                        I see you're bright,
#05-037        And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
                        And you would be stupider than the overgrown weed
#05-038        That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
                        That plants itself, in comfort, beside the river of forgetfulness
#05-039        Wouldst thou not stir in this; now Hamlet, hear,
                        If you didn't take action in this case.  Now, Hamlet, hear me.
#05-040        'Tis given out, that sleeping in my orchard,
                        It has been made public that, while I was sleeping in my garden,
#05-041        A serpent stung me, so the whole ear of Denmark
                        A serpent bit me, and so, everyone in Denmark who's heard that
#05-042        Is by a forged process of my death
                        Has been, by this false story about my death,
#05-043        Rankly abused; but know, thou noble youth,
                        Offensively deceived. But know this, you noble youth,
#05-044        The "serpent" that did sting thy father's life
                        The "serpent" that did bite away your father's life
#05-045        Now wears his crown.
                        Is now wearing his crown.
#05-046  Hamlet:  Oh, my prophetic soul!  My uncle?
                        I'm not surprised!  You do mean my uncle?
#05-047  Ghost:  Aye, that incestuous, that adulterate beast;
                        Yes, that incestuous and corrupt beast,
#05-048        With witchcraft of his wits, with traitorous gifts,
                        With the magic of his cleverness, and with traitorous gifts,
#05-049        (Oh wicked wit, and gifts that have the power
                        (Oh wicked cleverness, and gifts that have the power
#05-050        So to seduce,) won to his shameful lust
                        To seduce into wickedness,) he won to serve his shameful lust
#05-051        The will of my most seeming-virtuous Queen;
                        The consent of my Queen who seems so virtuous.
#05-052        Oh, Hamlet, what a falling off was there
                        Oh, Hamlet, what a dramatic descent it was -
#05-053        From me, whose love was of that dignity
                        As she went from me, whose love was of such quality
#05-054        That it went hand-in-hand, even with the vow
                        That it went hand-in-hand, exactly, with the vow
#05-055        I made to her in marriage, and to decline
                        I made to her in marriage - and then to fall
#05-056        Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor,
                        Upon that wretch whose natural features were so poor
#05-057        To those of mine; but virtue, as it never will be moved,
                        Compared to mine. But Virtue, the way it never will be seduced,
#05-058        Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven -
                        (Even though evil may court it in a shape that looks heaven-sent)
#05-059        So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
                        So it is that Lust, although it's joined to a radiant angel,
#05-060        Would fate itself from a celestial bed,
                        Would doom itself from having a resting place in heaven,
#05-061        And prey on garbage;
                        And will prey on souls that are thrown away.
#05-062        But soft, methinks I scent the morning air;
                        But hush, I think I smell the morning breeze.
#05-063        Brief let me be; sleeping within my orchard,
                        I will be brief. While I was asleep in my orchard, which was
#05-064        My custom always of the afternoon
                        My old habit, of an afternoon,
#05-065        Upon my secure hour, thy uncle stole
                        When I could secure an hour to myself, your uncle sneaked up on me
#05-066        With juice of cursed Hebona in a vial,
                        With the juice of damned Hebona, in a vial,
#05-067        And in the porches of my ears did pour
                        And into the entrances of my ears he poured
#05-068        The leprous distillment, whose effect
                        That disease-carrying extract (the effect of which
#05-069        Holds such an enmity with blood of man,
                        Is so hateful to the blood of man)
#05-070        That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
                        Which, quick as mercury, runs through
#05-071        The natural gates and alleys of the body,
                        The natural openings and passages of the body,
#05-072        And with a sudden vigor it doth posset
                        And, with a sudden force, it intermixes with
#05-073        And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
                        And coagulates (like when acid is dropped into milk,)
#05-074        The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine,
                        The normally runny and healthy blood. That's what it did to my blood,
#05-075        And a most instant tetter barked about,
                        And an immediate scabrousness covered me like tree bark,
#05-076        Most lazarlike, with vile and loathsome crust,
                        Very much like Lazarus the leper, with a vile and loathsome crust over
#05-077        All my smooth body;
                        All of my formerly-smooth skin.
#05-078        Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
                        Thus, as I was sleeping, I was by my own brother's hand
#05-079        Of life, of crown, of Queen, at once dispatched;
                        All at once deprived of my life, my crown, and my Queen.
#05-080        Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
                        I was cut from the stalk of life, even while my sins were in full bloom,
#05-081        Unhouseled, disappointed, unanviled,
                        Without sacrament, lacking in the details to go to Heaven, my mettle not properly shaped,
#05-082        No reckoning made, but sent to my account
                        No final reconciliation of my sins made, but sent to my reward
#05-083        With all my imperfections on my head;
                        With all my mortal flaws still as my own liability.
#05-084        Oh horrible; Oh horrible, most horrible.
                        Oh, it was horrible.  Oh, horrible, most horrible!
#05-085        If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not,
                        If you have natural feeling within you, don't tolerate it.
#05-086        Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
                        Don't let the royal bed of Denmark be
#05-087        A couch for luxury and damned incest;
                        A trysting place for lust, and damnable incest.
#05-088        But, howsomever thou pursuest this act,
                        But however you prosecute Claudius's act of murder,
#05-089        Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive
                        Do not darken your mind, or let your spirit contrive,
#05-090        Against thy mother, aught; leave her to Heaven
                        Against your mother, at all.  Leave her to Heaven,
#05-091        And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
                        And to the thorns that are embedded in her heart
#05-092        To prick and sting her; fare thee well, at once;
                        To jab and poison her. Farewell now.
#05-093        The glowworm shows the matin to be near,
                        The firefly shows the dawn to be near
#05-094        And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire;
                        As he begins to kill his cool fire.
#05-095        Adieu, adieu, adieu, remember me.
                        Adieu . . . adieu . . . adieu, remember me.

#05-095-SD  (the Ghost sinks into the earth)

#05-096  Hamlet:  Oh, all you host of Heaven!  Oh earth!  What else?
                        Oh, all you Heavenly host, of angels!  Oh, forces of earth!  What else?
#05-097        And shall I couple Hell?  Oh, fie!  Hold, hold my heart;
                        And should I conjoin Hell, to that?  Oh, shame!  Be strong, be strong my heart;
#05-098        And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
                        And you, my sinews, don't become old and weak this instant,
#05-099        But bear me stiffly up; remember thee?
                        But hold me up straight.  Remember you?
#05-100        I, thou poor Ghost, while memory holds a seat
                        I do, (you poor Ghost,) - while memory, itself, has a place
#05-101        In this distracted globe, remember thee.
                        In my distracted head - remember you.
#05-102        Yea, from the table of my memory
                        Yes, from the archive of my memory
#05-103        I'll wipe away all trivial, fond records
                        I'll erase all the trivial, foolish entries,
#05-104        All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
                        All the quotations from books, all ideals, all impressions of the past,
#05-105        That youth and observation copied there,
                        That in my youth and through observation I recorded there.
#05-106        And thy commandment, all alone, shall live
                        And your commandment, by itself, shall dwell
#05-107        Within the book and volume of my brain,
                        Within the memoir and journal of my brain,
#05-108        Unmixed with baser matter; yes, by heaven,
                        Unmixed with less noble subjects - yes, by Heaven!
#05-109        Oh, most pernicious woman!
                        Oh, most wicked woman!
#05-110        Oh, villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
                        Oh, villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
#05-111        My tables: meet it is I set it down
                        Where is my writing tablet - it's proper I write it down,
#05-112        That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,
                        That one may smile, and smile, and yet, be a villain.
#05-113        At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark;
                        At least I'm sure it's true in Denmark.
#05-114        So, uncle, there you are; now to my word,
                        So, uncle, there you are, in writing. Now as to my promise,
#05-115        It is: "adieu, adieu, remember me!"
                        It is: "to God, to God, remember me!"
#05-116        I have sworn it.
                        I have sworn it!

#05-116-SD  (Horatio and Marcellus enter)

#05-117  Horatio:  My Lord, my Lord!
                        My Lord! My Lord!
#05-118  Marcellus:  Lord Hamlet!
                        Lord Hamlet!
#05-119  Horatio:  Heavens secure him.
                        Heaven protect him.
#05-120  Hamlet:  So be it.
#05-121  Marcellus:  Hillo, ho, ho, my Lord!
                        Hello! Ho! Ho! My Lord!
#05-122  Hamlet:  Hillo, ho, ho, boy come, and bird, come!
                        Hello! Ho! Ho my boy, come, and my, bird, come.
#05-123  Marcellus:  How is it, my noble Lord?
                        How are you, my noble Lord?
#05-124  Horatio:  What news, my Lord?
                        What's happened, my Lord?
#05-125  Hamlet:  Oh, wonderful!
                        Oh, it's full of wonder.
#05-126  Horatio:  Good, my Lord, tell it.
                        Good, my Lord, tell us.
#05-127  Hamlet:  No, you will reveal it.
                        No, you'd reveal what I said.
#05-128  Horatio:  Not I, my Lord, by heaven.
                        I wouldn't, my Lord, I swear by God.
#05-129  Marcellus:  Nor I, my Lord.
                        I won't tell either, my Lord.
#05-130  Hamlet:  How say you, then, (would heart of man once think it,)
                        What do you say then - could I ever believe so, in my heart -
#05-131        But you'll be secret?
                        But you'll keep the secret?
#05-132  Both Horatio and Marcellus:  Aye, by Heaven.
                        Yes, we swear by Heaven.
#05-133  Hamlet:  There's never a villain,
                        There never is a villain
#05-134        Dwelling in all Denmark . . .
                        Dwelling in all of Denmark . . .
#05-135        But he's an arrant knave.
                        Except he's an absolute knave.
#05-136  Horatio:  There needs no Ghost, my Lord, come from the grave
                        My Lord, it takes no ghost from the grave
#05-137        To tell us this.
                        To tell us this.
#05-138  Hamlet:  Why, right, you are in the right,
                        Why, that's right.  You are in the right.
#05-139        And so, without more circumstance at all,
                        And so, without any further ado, at all,
#05-140        I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;
                        I think it best we shake hands and part.
#05-141        You, as your business and desire shall point you,
                        You may go where your business and desire shall send you,
#05-142        (For every man hath business and desire,
                        (Since every man has his own affairs and his own desires,
#05-143        Such as it is,) and for my own poor part,
                        Such as they are,) and for my own poor part in events,
#05-144        Look you, I will go pray.
                        Look there, I will go pray.
#05-145  Horatio:  These are but wild and whirling words, my Lord.
                        These are only wild and whirling words, my Lord.
#05-146  Hamlet:  I am sorry they offend you; heartily,
                        I am sorry if my words offend you, with all my heart,
#05-147        Yes, faith, heartily.
                        Yes, indeed, with all my heart.
#05-148  Horatio:  There's no offense, my Lord.
                        I take no offense, my Lord.
#05-149  Hamlet:  Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, my Lord,
                        Yes, by Saint Patrick, but, my lord, there is offense,
#05-150        And much offense, too, touching this vision here;
                        And great offense, too, in connection with this vision we saw.
#05-151        It is an honest Ghost, that let me tell you;
                        It is a believable ghost, I'll tell you that much.
#05-152        For your desire to know what is between us,
                        As for your curiosity to know what was said between us
#05-153        O'ermaster it as you may; and now, good friends,
                        Overcome that curiosity as best you can.  Now, good friends,
#05-154        As you are friends, scholars, and soldiers,
                        Since you are friends, informed men, and dutiful men,
#05-155        Give me one poor request.
                        Grant me just one humble request.
#05-156  Horatio:  What is't, my Lord?  We will.
                        What is it, my Lord?  We will grant it.
#05-157  Hamlet:  Never make known what you have seen tonight.
                        Never tell anybody what you have seen tonight.
#05-158  Both Horatio and Marcellus:  My lord, we will not.
                        My Lord, we will not tell.
#05-159  Hamlet:  Nay. . . but swear it.
                        No, let's see, to do this properly, you must take an oath somehow.
#05-160  Horatio:  In faith, my Lord, not I.
                        As a Christian, my Lord, I will never tell.
#05-161  Marcellus:  Nor I, my Lord, in faith.
                        Nor I, my Lord, as a Christian.
#05-162  Hamlet:  Upon my sword!                        #05-162-SD  (Hamlet draws his sword)
                        Ah, I know how we can do it, upon my sword!
#05-163  Marcellus:  We have sworn, my Lord, already.
                        We've already sworn, my Lord.
#05-164  Hamlet:  Indeed upon my sword, indeed.
                        Yes, upon my sword, that's it.
#05-165  Ghost:  Swear!        #05-165-SD  (cried out from the earth directly below their feet)
#05-166  Hamlet:  Ha, ha, boy, say'st thou so, art thou there, Truepenny?
                        Haha, boy, you don't say so!  Are you there, Truepenny?
#05-167        Come on, you hear this fellow in the cellerage;
                        Come now, you hear this fellow down in the cellar,
#05-168        Consent to swear.
                        Agree to swear, in a formal way.
#05-169  Horatio:  Propose the oath, my Lord.
                        Tell us, then, what the exact oath is, my Lord.
#05-170  Hamlet:  Never to speak of this that you have seen;
                        Never to speak of all this that you have seen tonight.
#05-171        Swear by my sword.                  #05-171-SD (Hamlet raises his sword,
                        Take the oath, by my sword.            and Horatio and Marcellus reach out, to touch it)

#05-172  Ghost:  Swear!
#05-173  Hamlet:  Hic, and ubique, then we'll shift our ground;          #05-173-SD (Hamlet abruptly lowers his sword, and steps away,
                        Here, but are you everywhere?  Then we'll change location, and find out.      before Horatio and Marcellus swear)
#05-174        Come hither, gentlemen,
                        Come over here, gentlemen.
#05-175        And lay your hands again upon my sword;
                        And put your hands upon my sword again.
#05-176        Swear by my sword,             #05-176-SD (Hamlet again raises his sword, and
                        Swear, by my sword,              again they reach out, to put their hands on the sword)
#05-177        Never to speak of this that you have heard.
                        Never to speak of all this, that you've heard.
#05-178  Ghost:  Swear by his sword!
                        Swear by his sword!
#05-179  Hamlet:  Well said, old mole!  Canst work i'the earth so fast?       #05-179-SD (Again Hamlet abruptly lowers his sword,
                        Well said, old mole!  Can you move through the earth so fast?        so they don't swear on it)
#05-180        A worthy pioneer; once more remove good friends.            #05-180-SD (Hamlet again steps away, to a different location)
                        You're a praiseworthy miner. Let's move again, my good friends.
#05-181  Horatio:  Oh, day and night, but this is wonderous strange!
                        I've lost track if it's day or night, this is all so amazingly strange!
#05-182  Hamlet:  And therefore, as a stranger, give it welcome;          #05-182-SD (Hamlet shakes hands with Horatio)
                        So therefore, like when you greet a stranger, give it a proper welcome.
#05-183        There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
                        There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio,
#05-184        Than are dreamt of in our philosophy; but come
                        Than are covered in the academic philosophy we studied. But come with me
#05-185        Here as before.           #05-185-SD (Hamlet puts his sword away; Horatio and Marcellus have not sworn on it)
                        Back over here, where we were. 
#05-186        Never, so help you mercy,
                        Now, never, so help you mercy,
#05-187        How strange or odd some'er I bear myself,
                        However strangely or oddly I may act,
#05-188        (As I perchance hereafter shall think meet,
                        (Since I might, after this, think it suitable
#05-189        To put an antique disposition on,)
                        To pretend that I'm extremely old,)
#05-190        That you, at such time seeing me, never shall
                        That you, if you see me at such a time, will not
#05-191        With arms encumbered, thus, or this head shake,
                        Put your hands out with your palms upward, or shake your head slowly,
#05-192        Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
                        Or, by saying some suggestive phrase,
#05-193        As, "well, well, we know," or, "we could and if we would,"
                        Such as "well, well, we know why he's doing that," or "we could, if we wanted, tell you about that,"
#05-194        Or, "if we list to speak," or, "there be, and if they might,"
                        Or "if we were inclined to speak. . ." or "there are those who know, and if they wanted to . . ."
#05-195        Or such ambiguous giving out, to note
                        Or by such ambiguous statement revealing, for others to notice,
#05-196        That you know aught of me, this not to do,
                        That you know anything about me, don't do this.
#05-197        So grace and mercy at your most need help you
                        Thus may divine favor and mercy help you when you need it most,
#05-198        Swear.
#05-199  Ghost:  Swear!
#05-200  Hamlet:  Rest, rest, perturbed spirit.  So, gentlemen,
                        Rest, rest, perturbed spirit.  So, gentlemen,
#05-201        With all my love I do commend me to you,
                        With all my love I do recommend myself to you,
#05-202        And what so poor a man as Hamlet is,
                        And whatever a man, as poor as Hamlet is,
#05-203        May do t'express his love and friending to you
                        Can do to express his love and favor to you,
#05-204        God willing, shall not lack; let us go in together,
                        God willing, you will not lack that. Let's return to the Castle together,
#05-205        And still, your fingers on your lips, I pray;
                        And still, please keep your fingers to your lips, and say nothing, please.
#05-206        The time is out of joint, oh curs'd spite,
                        Events are out of order, oh cursed, spiteful fate,
#05-207        That ever I was born, to set things right;
                        That I was ever born to set things right.
#05-208        Nay, come, let's go together.
                        No, don't separate from me, let's stay close together.

#05-208-SD  (they exit)

End of Scene 5

#Interscene 5-6

Scene Links

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.

Cemetery, click for details
  • Place - At the edge of the Elsinore Town cemetery. (I found no pictures of a Helsingor cemetery, so I used a picture of an English one.) We know with absolute certainty this is beside the graveyard, or churchyard, because Hamlet explicitly states in the course of the dialogue that it is.
  • Time of Day - A matter of minutes after Scene 4. It is perhaps shortly before 1:30 am, thereabouts.
  • Weather - The same as earlier, or perhaps now more cloudy, or become overcast, and even darker. Gloomy, no doubt. The forecast is gloomy, as well, according to the latest reports.
  • Calendar Time - Day 2 of the administration of King Claudius.

Return: #Setting - or - Set Decoration


(the Ghost and Hamlet enter)

Return: #000-SD


Hamlet: Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak, I'll go no further.

Whither - where. The Second Quarto says "Whether," which I modernize. The Biblical style of whither wilt thou is no accident in the phrasing.

Speak, I'll go no further - Hamlet is refusing to enter the graveyard at night.

Return: #001


Ghost: Mark me.

Mark me - is a reassertion of control by the Ghost, following Hamlet's refusal to continue. This is very strange.

You love your father, and your father loves you. An event happens so that he doesn't think he'll ever see you again. However, due to an amazing occurrence, two months later he does get the chance to see you again. And the first words out of his mouth, to you, are "Mark me."

It's preposterous. Where's the loving, familial greeting? "Hello again, my beloved son." Where's even any kind of friendly greeting? "Hello, son, I'm so happy to have this chance." Any kind of proper greeting, at all? It's nowhere, nowhere to be found. This is not right. It is not human.

I know that. You know that (if you think about it at all.) Shakespeare knew that.

Based on what Hamlet says about his father, their relationship must have been good. Hamlet wouldn't think so highly of a father who had mistreated him. That leaves no excuse for this.

You can sometimes tell as much by what is not said, as by what is said. Shakespeare knew that, also.

The Ghost's first words, when it does speak, are something a pathological control freak would say.

Return: #002


Hamlet: I will.

I will - of course. The Ghost's command was totally unnecessary, except as an assertion of control.

Return: #003


Ghost: My hour is almost come

hour - time.

My hour is almost come - Can't talk long, kid, gotta run, got an appointment.

What the Devil is that? Hamlet will be extremely charitable in interpreting what the Ghost says, because of his emotional involvement, but that's no reason we should be so charitable.

Return: #004


When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames

sulphurous and tormenting flames - Hellfire. Who's kiddin' whom, here?

But Hamlet is looking at the exact image of his father's face, and listening to the exact sound of his father's voice. It's sounding alright to Hamlet. (A high-flown, melodramatic show appeals to Hamlet, we will learn.)

Return: #005


Must render up myself - That sounds extremely unpleasant.

Must be Hell. As they say.

render - submit. It sounds like "surrender." Hamlet never knew of his father having to surrender, during his entire life. From what we've been told, King Hamlet never did surrender. Now, Hamlet hears the image of his father speak of having to submit. It touches his heart.

Return: #006


Hamlet: Alas, poor Ghost.

Alas, poor Ghost. - Indeed. But Hamlet doesn't say, "Alas, poor father."

Return: #007


Ghost: Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing

Pity me not - because I don't pity you. Where's the "thanks for your concern, my son?" Nowhere.

After speaking to Hamlet in a way that's bound to evoke pity, the Ghost says not to pity him. The Ghost is playing psychological games with Hamlet.

lend thy serious hearing - lend me your ears, is the line in another Shakespeare play. Same meaning here. (Julius Caesar Act 3 scene 2)

serious - when I run this by you, don't giggle.

Return: #008


To what I shall unfold.

unfold - reveal. It has a secret. There is what one might call a Revelation Motif in the play.

Return: #009


Hamlet: Speak, I am bound to hear.

Speak - I thought you said you were in a hurry. So, go ahead.

bound - yes, he is. The ties that bind. Hamlet is using bound in the sense of "certain."

Return: #010


Ghost: So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.

revenge - the Ghost is now getting to the point.

Return: #011


Hamlet: What?

What? - is both question and exclamation. The mention of "revenge" surprises Hamlet.

Return: #012


Ghost: I am thy father's spirit,

I am thy father's spirit, - so says the lying snake in the grass.

Just because Hamlet thinks so, or dearly wishes to believe so, doesn't mean we should.

Return: #013


Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,

Doomed - sentenced. Condemned. The word doom is from Old English 'dōm' ("statute," or "judgment") so it carries the implication of a judgment having been passed on the Ghost.

a certain term - a certain length of time.

to walk the night - to walk during the night, as opposed to the daytime.

Return: #014


And for the day confined to fast in fires,

confined - like being locked in a cell. The Ghost says it's a captive. This also touches Hamlet's heart, the idea that King Hamlet could be a captive.

fast - suffer. Hunger. Hunger is an elemental suffering. There is an Appetite Motif in the play. When a ghost fasts, it does without whatever spiritual sustenance a ghost needs, we suppose. But if it "fasts" during the day, what does it "feed on" in the night? Mice? Princes? It must have to "feed on" something, or fasting would not bother it.

Death is an insatiably ravenous eater. It eats everything that is living. So to speak. Death is the ultimate consumer. Literally. Death must always feel the pain of hunger, figuratively speaking. Having to fast would bother Death a lot.

in fires - those "sulphurous and tormenting" ones, we suppose.

Return: #015


'Til the foul crimes done in my days of nature

foul crimes - such as? The Ghost doesn't specify. It can't, of course. If the Ghost did tell Hamlet what it had done, Hamlet would know that the Ghost's wicked sins did not match up with anything his father had ever done, so it would give the game away.

in my days of nature - during the days of my life. Nature is the world of the living.

Return: #016


Are burnt and purged away; but that I am forbid

purged - implies Purgatory, but the Ghost doesn't actually say that. One of the worst kinds of dishonesty is to insinuate something without actually saying it, then leave the listener to draw his own (wrong) conclusion. It's a setup so that, if ever challenged, the dishonest one can defend himself by saying, "I never meant that!"

I am forbid - I can't tell you because "they" won't let me. But, what good entity would ever object to a plain statement of the truth? Can one imagine God, or an angel, or a saint ever ordering someone not to tell the truth?

Return: #017


To tell the secrets of my prison house,

prison - is a word that goes back to Latin 'prensio' / 'prehensio' ("laying hold of.") It's another "hold" word.

my prison house - the "house" where I'm held.

Imprisonment is another Motif of the play. The most-quoted instance is probably Hamlet's later line, "Denmark's a prison."

Return: #018


I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

tale - story. The word tale connotes fiction. For example:

The Winter's Tale Act 5 scene 2:

Here comes the Lady Paulina's steward: he can
deliver you more.  How goes it now, sir? this news
which is called true is so like an old tale, that
the verity of it is in strong suspicion

The Ghost, itself, does not mean that, of course. It's as honest as the day is long. Except, the Ghost only appears at night.

unfold - reveal, again. The Ghost would like to tell Hamlet the Revelation, but he can't. "They" won't let him.

lightest - having the least impact. Softest; gentlest. One always looks for relevant ambiguity, in Hamlet. Lightest can also be understood as "most illuminating." However, the Ghost does not want to tell Hamlet any word which is truly illuminating.

Return: #019


Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Action is everything, here and in what follows. "Suit the action to the word." Do what Shakespeare wrote! EXACTLY! As best one can figure it out. I incorporate the Action notes into the regular Notes from here on, for a while, because it is necessary.

harrow up thy soul - playing the Ghost, hold your hands with palms forward toward Hamlet, fingers bent, suggestive of a rake, or harrow. You'll observe it's a "grabbing" pose. The location of the soul is considered to be coincident with the heart. Make a "grabbing" motion toward Hamlet's heart. Don't actually touch Hamlet. The Ghost's action is a classic "magician" action for casting a spell. The Ghost has just cast a spell on Hamlet.

freeze thy young blood - Hamlet freezes in place. His eyes close (we know, from the following line.) Hamlet is now asleep on his feet, like a horse sleeps. He now hears nothing the Ghost says.

(How do we know this happens? We know because Shakespeare wrote it.)

Return: #020


Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,

The Ghost makes another "magician" gesture toward Hamlet, and Hamlet's eyes pop open, wide. Very pale, so to speak.

"glasses ... eyes" Richard II

The Ghost steps close to Hamlet, and looks deeply into his eyes.

It's proverbial that the eyes are the windows, or mirrors, of the heart, or of the soul or the mind. The wording varies. As shown in the image from the Shakespeare play Richard II, Shakespeare made some use of the concept expressed in the proverb. (Richard II is saying to his uncle, John of Gaunt, that he can "see his heart in his eyes.")

The Ghost is having a look inside Hamlet, into his heart and soul, and mind. Mostly his mind. Hamlet is still asleep, he knows nothing of this.

Return: #021


Thy knotty and combined locks to part,

The Ghost reaches out his hand, and runs his hand over Hamlet's hair. The Ghost TOUCHES HAMLET'S HEAD.

The Ghost has no physical hand. However, he exercises a supernatural, spiritual power. The old phrase, "touched in the head" does not mean a physical touch, the phrase refers to a non-physical influence.

The word locks is deliberately ambiguous, in a malevolent way this time. Speaking of Hamlet's head, it merely means his hair.

What the Ghost really means are the "locks" on Hamlet's mind, the "locks" that keep his knowledge, and his moral principles, safe and secure. By parting those locks, the locks on Hamlet's mind, the Ghost can "change Hamlet's mind." Literally.

The locks on Hamlet's mind are knotty, meaning difficult to get through, but the Ghost can do it. He's doing it now.

Return: #022 - or - Folio Difference


And each particular hair to stand on end,

The Ghost is now through the locks. The locks are separated, and sorted out. The Ghost is now working on Hamlet's mind, as it continues to speak. It is stealing some items, some knowledge, some principles, some notions that would prove obstacles to what the Ghost wants Hamlet to do. A little gem here, a little gem there, not enough so that Hamlet, or anyone else, would easily notice the theft.

Return: #023

emblematic porcupine in Paradin

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine;

It's very touchy, dealing with those locks. It's a little like petting a porcupine, so to speak. You have to be careful to move your hand in just the right way. But the Ghost can do it.

The word "fret" is from Old English 'fretan' ("devour") so at root it's an "eat" word, which goes along with the Appetite Motif in the play. For plain reading, fretful means "fearful." That can be taken both ways, that a porcupine with its quills standing is in fear, but also, a porcupine like that is something to fear.

The image, from an emblem book, is not illustrative of this speech, but it presents the porcupine, revenge, and Troy, all of which are in Hamlet. The association of concepts is interesting. Certainly "revenge" is the context in which this "porcupine" line is spoken. The Ghost already mentioned revenge, in line 11, and he will mention it again in five more lines. And between those, we get a porcupine.

Return: #024 - or - Folio Difference


But this eternal blazon must not be

eternal blazon - a blazon in heraldry is a description in words, so an eternal blazon is a description of eternity.

eternal blazon puns with eternal blazin'. Yes, Hellfire is an eternal blazin'. And no, that eternal blazin' isn't for ears of flesh and blood, it's a blazin' to fry the souls of the damned.

The Ghost has made a little oops there, in what it said. Earlier, it said it was to serve a term, but now it refers to eternity. That's a long "term." That's the "term" a soul would serve if it were damned to Hell.

Further on blazon, a heraldic blazon is a description of something in its "true colors," per the heraldic jargon. The Ghost isn't going to tell Hamlet its true colors.

Hamlet is not hearing this, however. He is still asleep.

The Ghost is now done. It has stolen what it wanted to steal, and it has reset the locks on Hamlet's mind so he'll never know his brain has been tampered with.

Return: #025


To ears of flesh and blood; list, list Hamlet, oh list,

to ears of flesh and blood - the Ghost has no real tongue, but still, it can speak. Likewise, it has no real hands, but it can make a clapping sound, or at least, a person will perceive the result as a sound, if the Ghost so wishes. The Ghost brings its hands together sharply, and makes a clapping sound, as Hamlet hears it. Hamlet gives a start, blinks, and glances around.

Hamlet is now awake, again.

Hamlet is also, now, "touched in the head." He is now even more receptive to what the Ghost has to say.

list, list Hamlet, oh list - The Ghost peers intently at Hamlet as it says this, to judge whether Hamlet is now adequately awake, and is able to follow what the Ghost wants to tell him.

Return: #026


If thou didst ever thy dear father love . . .

The Ghost says that in a measured way, looking to judge Hamlet's reaction. It stole only those few little gems, but it does want to be sure it did not diminish Hamlet's love for his father. It doesn't think it did, but it's always sly to verify.

Return: #027


Hamlet: Oh, God.

Oh, God - Hamlet puts his hands to his head. He feels strange.

Return: #028 - or - Folio Difference


Ghost: . . . Revenge his foul, and most unnatural, murder.

foul - rotten, is probably the best paraphrase, going back to Marcellus saying, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." The most general synonym might be "offensive." The word foul had about the same range of meanings in Shakespeare's time as it has now.

most unnatural - very contrary to nature. Contrary to the natural feeling of brotherly love (we shall hear.) The word "nature" goes back to the Latin prefix 'nat-' ("born.") There are references in Hamlet to a person being subject to his birth, however, the principle is obviously not infallible. By the natural principle of brotherly love, an unnatural murder would be a "hateful" one. I use "hateful" in the paraphrase in connection with that point. The word "heinous" would serve, also.

The word unnatural can be further pondered as "unkind." We recall Hamlet's famous first line in the play, where he spoke of "kind." The word "unkind" can then be considered as contrary to kind, contrary to what should be natural to humankind, that is.

Return: #029


Hamlet: Murder?!

Murder?! - Hamlet is astounded. Hamlet, like everyone else, had ascribed his father's death to snakebite (which the Ghost will go on to mention.)

Hamlet is wide awake now.

Return: #030


Ghost: Murder most foul, as in the best it is;

as in the best it is - is more deliberately ambiguous phrasing. Being charitable to the Ghost, it can be understood to mean that even at its best murder is still extremely foul. But, why should one be charitable to this Ghost?

One can also read the meaning, as in the best it is = as it is, when it's at its best. The Ghost has phrased his remark so that Hamlet will not apply this interpretation.

Return: #031


But this, most foul, strange and unnatural.

The Ghost is engaged in dramatic buildup, to appeal to a young man who likes a dramatic show.

The Ghost is toying with Hamlet. In Scene 20, Hamlet will say to Laertes, "I am afeared you make a wanton [a plaything] of me."

Return: #032


Hamlet: Haste me to know it, that I, with wings as swift

Haste me to know it - Hamlet responds as the Ghost had hoped. Hamlet is eager to hear more.

Return: #033

"meditate" in the Century Dictionary

As meditation, or the thoughts of love

(with wings as swift) As meditation - is an odd thing to say. Contemplation is not usually viewed as a swift process. However, the word meditation can be taken to follow from the way Shakespeare used "meditate" in Twelfth Night, as shown in the image. By that, Hamlet means, "as soon as I can think of a plan."

or the thoughts of love - is another odd thing to say. However, Cupid's arrow is swift. One might view it like that.

The phrasing is facetiousness from Shakespeare, and also "ominousness," that Hamlet's pledges of swiftness are expressed in "slow" terms.

Return: #034


May sweep to my revenge.

sweep - fly, for plain reading. Compare the lines by Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 3 scene 2:

Puck:  ...Or russet-pated choughs, many in sort,
           Rising and cawing at the gun's report,
           Sever themselves and madly sweep the sky,

The phrase "madly sweep" is not irrelevant here.

However, there is the facetiousness that if a bird runs, or walks, with its wings spread, they will sweep the ground, i.e. drag the ground. The bird will not be moving swiftly if it's doing that kind of "sweeping." But the Hamlet character means he intends to "fly." (Which is part of what Gertrude will think Hamlet's trying to do in the Closet Scene, by the way. There is a point in that Scene, Scene 11, where Gertrude will think Hamlet is seriously trying to fly by flapping his arms.)

my revenge - Hamlet has adopted, as his own, the Ghost's expressed desire for revenge, (a desire the Ghost has no standing to express.)

Return: #035


Ghost: I find thee apt,

apt - fit; ready. The idea of "fit" appears several times in the play.

Return: #036

"stolid" in the Century Dictionary
"stolidity" in the Century Dictionary

And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed

duller - stupider. Or more stolid, which includes the idea of being unmoved. The idea is that of stolidity, being both stupid and unmoved, as defined in the Century Dictionary, imaged at right.

fat - overgrown, for plain reading. In application to weeds in particular, the equivalent phrase in the language of Hamlet is "rank and gross," as Hamlet said in Scene 2 when he spoke of the unweeded garden (lines Scene 2#137 and Scene 2#138.)

clip from Saxo's Amleth

The idea of stolidity is found in the story of "Amleth" by Saxo Grammaticus, as imaged. The phrase "stoliditatis simulationem" refers to Amleth simulating stolidity, that is, pretending to be stupid.

(If you see a book, or other source, that tells you Amleth pretended to be mad, it is telling you a falsehood. Amleth pretended to be stupid, as Saxo's original language proves. Simply observe the word "stoliditatis." The Century Dictionary definition of "stolidity" tells you what that means. I deal more with this point elsewhere. Shakespeare did not use that element of the "Amleth" story in his Hamlet because he wanted to make his Hamlet character a "University Wit," and a pretense of outright stupidity is not compatible with that approach.)

The weed can be identified as the narcissus.

Return: #037

Narcissus poeticus

That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,

roots itself - the idea is of remaining unmoved. The Ghost is telling Hamlet not to be "rooted" but to be active.

ease - comfort.

Lethe wharf - the bank of the River Lethe, in Hades. The Ghost speaks as though he's seen it. Probably has.

Back to the weed being narcissus: it is rooted on the bank of the Lethe as it looks at its own reflection in the water, and does nothing else, we take it. This pertains to Hamlet's obvious tendency toward self-absorption and self-reflection in the play. Hamlet is narcissistic, to the degree that he is too self absorbed.

The narcissus also symbolizes deceit, and imminent death, based on the story of Persephone in Greek mythology. We know Shakespeare knew of that Greek myth, because he made a use of it in The Winter's Tale.

In Folklore, the narcissus is associated with bad luck, which makes it pertinent to the Fortune Theme of the play. It is also a traditional flower for grave decoration.

The Ghost is essentially telling Hamlet not to be self absorbed, but to get busy doing what the Ghost wants him to do.

Return: #038 - or - Folio Difference


Wouldst thou not stir in this; now Hamlet, hear,

stir - take action. The idea of stir appears several times throughout the play.

hear - an instance of the Ear Motif, obviously, as we approach the Ghost's tale of how King Hamlet was poisoned.

Return: #039


'Tis given out, that sleeping in my orchard,

given out - publicized. Stated publicly. By whom? We learn later that Denmark has a coroner, so the Ghost must be speaking of the coroner's verdict in the death of King Hamlet.

orchard - is not a clear distinction from "garden." The word orchard is from Latin 'hortus' ("garden,") + English "yard," with the initial letter "y" suppressed. An orchard is a "garden yard."

Return: #040

European viper

A serpent stung me, so the whole ear of Denmark

serpent - there is, indeed, a poisonous snake in Denmark. It's Vipera berus, the common European adder, or common European viper. It can be found in both Great Britain and Denmark. There is a melanistic variant, the "black adder." The image, showing both the common and melanistic types, is from a photo taken at the Copenhagen zoo. The toxicity of its poison is relatively low, and human death from its bite is a rarity.

The apparent allusion to the adder provides an implicit instance of the Hearing Motif in the play. Shakespeare elsewhere made reference to the adder being deaf. For one example, see Henry VI Part 2 Act III scene 2, Queen Margaret: "Art thou, like the adder, waxen deaf?"

stung - bit. A "sting" is a puncture wound, which is what the fangs of a poisonous serpent do, they puncture. In folklore, it was taken that the serpent's flickering tongue was the sting.

the whole ear of Denmark - means the ears of all the people of Denmark, the whole (entire) county. Second, it can be taken to mean the healthy ear of Denmark. To be whole is to be healthy.

There is deliberate ambiguity. The idea of the healthy ear of Denmark being abused can be interpreted both with respect to King Hamlet, and also to the Danish people, in that the body politic is not so "healthy" when the people are deceived.

Return: #041


Is by a forged process of my death

forged process - implies that the coroner's decision was a knowing falsehood. We learn during the play, in Scene 19, the Graveyard Scene, that there is indeed a coroner, thus there is a legal process for finding cause of death. The Ghost is impugning that process, by insinuating that the coroner's verdict, in the death of King Hamlet, was a knowingly false ruling.

The Ghost is lying.

See the Special Note, Why Snakebite, on the matter of why the coroner issued a ruling of snakebite as the cause of King Hamlet's death. It isn't too hard to figure out, based on what Shakespeare wrote into the dialogue.

Return: #042 - or - Why Snakebite


Rankly abused; but know, thou noble youth,

Rankly abused - highly misused; offensively misused. Like what the Ghost is doing to Hamlet's ears in this passage.

noble - Hamlet, in the play, takes "noble" particularly in the sense of "king."

noble youth - Hamlet hears the Ghost call him a "kingly youth." The idea appeals to Hamlet. The Ghost hopes a little flattery will get him somewhere.

Return: #043


The "serpent" that did sting thy father's life

sting - poison, to death.

"serpent" - it's significant in the course of events that the Ghost calls Claudius a serpent. That leads to Hamlet having the Dumb Show, in Scene 9, staged as emblematic of "The Serpent in the Garden."

Return: #044


Now wears his crown.

his crown - whoever is King correctly wears the Crown of Denmark. It was not King Hamlet's personal property. However, Hamlet thinks of the Crown as belonging to his father. The Ghost's language plays on Hamlet's point of view.

Return: #045


Hamlet: Oh, my prophetic soul! My uncle?

prophetic - an instance of the Omen Motif, which comprises omen, prophecy, etc.

Hamlet means he could feel it in his soul that Claudius was the low, criminal kind. He is not saying he expected to hear about murder in particular. Hamlet had perceived Claudius's "kind."

Return: #046


Ghost: Aye, that incestuous, that adulterate beast;

incestuous - follows up what Hamlet said in Scene 2, about his view of the situation, although there with reference to his mother. Scene 2#159

adulterate - corrupt, but the Ghost is intentionally insinuating adultery. In the early 16th century, according to the Oxford Dictionary, adulterate could be used in the sense of "spurious," not authentic, a fake. Adulterate is from Latin 'adulterat-' ("corrupted,") thus "corrupt" as the simple paraphrase which I use.

Interesting that the Ghost should speak in a way that implies a fake.

Oh, as far as the implication of adultery by Gertrude, with Claudius, as a conclusion from this speech by the Ghost, we can take it that the Ghost does intend Hamlet to draw that conclusion. The Ghost is lying.

Gertrude did not commit adultery with Claudius. Even if she wanted to, she could not have done so. Later in the play, we will be told why not. Think "capon." Claudius has been an alcoholic for quite a long time.

beast - a creature less than human. Going back to "kind," a beast is one who is not of humankind. It's an interesting characterization, again, from this Ghost.

The Ghost's denunciation of Claudius as a beast resonates with Hamlet's point of view of Claudius as a satire-slash-satyr.

Return: #047


With witchcraft of his wits, with traitorous gifts,

witchcraft of his wits - (the) magic of his cleverness.

traitorous gifts - has a deliberate double meaning. The word gifts can be understood either as "talents," or as gifts as in items given as presents. In the Dumb Show, Scene 9, we will see the "serpent" woo the queen with gifts. Also, in the Nunnery Scene, Scene 8, Ophelia will use the word "gifts" in a line she says to Hamlet as she offers Hamlet the return of the keepsakes he gave her. However, the Ghost's primary meaning is apparently "talents." I leave it as "gifts" in the paraphrase, because of the later events. It gives Hamlet the idea that Gertrude's (and Ophelia's) affections can be bought, by Claudius. (That idea is mistaken, but Hamlet will come to believe it.)

Return: #048


(Oh wicked wit, and gifts that have the power

(Oh wicked wit - and who's the wickedest wit of all?

Return: #049


So to seduce,) won to his shameful lust

gifts that have the power) So to seduce - Hamlet now has the distinct impression that Claudius seduced Gertrude with gifts. The Ghost was apparently not trying to say that, however. Not that the Ghost would mind Hamlet getting that idea.

(Oh wicked wit, and gifts that have the power | So to seduce,) - The Ghost can't help being pleased with himself, for how well this is going, so far. As Hamlet hears it, the Ghost means Claudius.

Return: #050


The will of my most seeming-virtuous Queen;

will - ordinarily "desire" or "appetite," but here primarily, "consent," for plain reading. In the context of what the Ghost says, the "desire" implication is not irrelevant.

seeming-virtuous - the Ghost is claiming that Gertrude's appearance of virtue was only a show. Hamlet is sensitive on the subject of shows, as we've seen, and on the subject of how things "seem."

Now, however, after being touched by the Ghost, Hamlet is no longer as sensitive as he should be on the matter of how things "seem," and Hamlet is no longer so easily able to identify a "show."

Return: #051


Oh, Hamlet, what a falling off was there

falling off - a descent from high to low, from virtue into vice. One might observe, by the way, the singularly great fall was the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve left the Garden, because of disobedience to God's command. It was the woman who was tempted by the serpent, we recall, or more to the point, Hamlet recalls. Then, there was the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. Anyway, one can take it that a falling off is a fall from grace.

The idea of a falling off also implies a desertion, which is certainly what the Ghost is intending to imply, that Gertrude deserted King Hamlet. The term falling off is not so common these days, we are more likely to speak of a "falling out."

Return: #052


From me, whose love was of that dignity

From me - in the Closet Scene, Scene 11, Hamlet will compare King Hamlet to a mountain, and Claudius to a moor, thus indicating Gertrude "fell" from the mountain to the Moor. (She will not understand that when Hamlet says it, by the way.) The idea of a falling off from King Hamlet, that the Ghost expresses here, is, in the flow of the dialogue, the genesis of Hamlet's later figure of speech.

that dignity - such dignity. "Such quality," where "quality" is understood to be a "high" state. By the dictionary, dignity is "worth," from Latin 'dignus' ("worthy.") In Shakespeare's day, a person of dignity was a "high" person, a person of "quality," as they termed it in their social class awareness.

Return: #053


That it went hand-in-hand, even with the vow

went hand-in-hand, even with the vow - is deliberately ambiguous. Don't shoot! I'l skip this one for the moment, come back to it later. BOOKMARK for me

Return: #054


I made to her in marriage, and to decline

(vow) ... in marriage - marriage vows being holy, the Ghost says King Hamlet's love for Gertrude was "holy," or treated so by him.

to decline - again the "falling off" idea. At root, a decline is a downward bend: Latin 'de-' ("down") + 'clinare' ("to bend.") It's like saying Gertrude stooped to Claudius, or bowed to him, an act that was beneath her.

Return: #055


Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor,

wretch - villain, in this context. Wretch implies a person disfavored by fortune; an unlucky man. Both ideas can be read to apply, i.e. an unfortunate man who became a villain.

natural gifts - natural endowments, of handsomeness, strength, intelligence, etc. "Gifts of nature."

However, Hamlet again gets the opportunity to misunderstand gifts, and think that material objects (e.g. gold & gems) are meant. Hamlet's misunderstanding of gifts here contributes to him misunderstanding the situation in the Nunnery Scene, Scene 8.

Return: #056


To those of mine; but virtue, as it never will be moved,

virtue - the ideal of virtue, with a capital V. The abstract entity, Virtue.

as - the way that.

moved - tempted; seduced. The ideal of Virtue will never be seduced, to become less than Virtue. Virtue with a capital-V can't be tempted.

Hamlet, a mortal, is less than the ideal of Virtue. He could be tempted. Hamlet thinks the Ghost is talking about Gertrude. Indeed, the Ghost is, in a way, but he's not only talking about Gertrude.

Return: #057


Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven -

lewdness - in Middle English could mean "evil." That's the meaning here. The Ghost is making it sound like he's talking about debauchery.

a shape of heaven - a shape that looks heaven-sent. Like, say, you thought you had the heaven-sent chance to see your father again, because of a shape that looked just like him.

Return: #058


So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,

lust - the Deadly Sin of Lust.

radiant angel - the Angel of Light, Lucifer. Additionally, the dawn is near, so one may go further and consider the morning star. BOOKMARK for me, ponder this; lust, Venus as the morning star, hm

linked - indeed, Lust is linked to Lucifer.

Return: #059

the "But virtue" speech in the First Quarto, 1603

Would fate itself from a celestial bed, - would doom itself from a resting place in Heaven.

Return: #060


And prey on garbage;

prey - recall the Ghost was twice said, in Scene 1, to be stalking. Stalking is, by one definition, the behavior of a predator.

garbage - in its most general definition, garbage is something thrown away, such as the soul of one who commits a mortal sin, a sin like murder.

It's all so damned unfair. Virtue doesn't do a thing, and still gets to go to Heaven. But Lust is an ideal, too, and even directly connected to the Angel of Light, himself, and Lust never gets to go to Heaven, but is stuck preying on refuse. It's just plain damned unfair, in the Ghost's opinion.

The Ghost has just told us why he's in Hell, doing what he's doing, instead of resting in Heaven. It's because he was linked to Lucifer, by the deadly sin of Lust. The Ghost wasn't intending to tell us about himself, but he did, as a symptom of his abnormal psychology. Hamlet doesn't take it that the Ghost, who Hamlet believes is his father, was talking about himself.

Return: #061


But soft, methinks I scent the morning air;

But soft - but hush myself.

air - breeze. It's common for a breeze to blow, lightly, around sunrise.

methinks I scent the morning air - The original printing shows "sent." See the image just above. There's a pun with "scent." The Elizabethans spelled both words the same, apparently. Yes, the Ghost did "send air" to the morning. He got gassy for a moment there. Nowadays, in polite publication, we use "scent."

When the play is performed correctly, the Ghost gets gassy in more than one way. I'm still not certain the world is ready for that, in Hamlet. I will point out, Elizabethan times were not Victorian times. Shakespeare amused the vulgar crowd at this point in the speech, with a sound effect, just before the Ghost remarks that he "sent air" to the morning.

By the way, the implication is that the Ghost is facing stage left. If you "send air" to the east, you are facing toward the west.

Anyway, the Ghost is getting back to business, now...

Return: #062


Brief let me be; sleeping within my orchard,

Brief let me be - brevity is the soul of wit. The Ghost then speaks continuously for more than 30 more lines. At first the Ghost wouldn't speak, and now, once he gets started, he'll hardly shut up. Shakespeare did some characterization with this, with a nod to an amusing aspect of psychology.

Return: #063


My custom always of the afternoon

custom - means what it says. Habit.

Is that true, that King Hamlet habitually took a nap in the afternoon?


Return: #064


Upon my secure hour, thy uncle stole

my secure hour - the hour he could secure for himself. His hour of private time, time to himself. The word usage is ironic since it proved an insecure time for King Hamlet.

thy uncle - the Ghost cleverly casts it in Hamlet's terms. He does not say, "my brother." The Ghost uses phrasing to make the events personal for Hamlet.

stole - snuck up on me. Cast in terms of criminal behavior.

Return: #065


With juice of cursed Hebona in a vial,

vial - puns with "vile," which might have contributed to the word's use here, as the Ghost speaks of Claudius's vile act.

cursed Hebona - not just Hebona, but cursed Hebona, which is even worse. Cursed Hebona is the worst kind of Hebona there is.

Hebona is Shakespeare's mythical poison. It is not from any particular plant, rather, as the character Lucianus will later describe at the 'Mousetrap' play, it's a poison made from a mixture of the most poisonous plants, collected at the witching hour of midnight, and cursed with the strongest of black magic. The "ebon" in the name, from "ebony, signifies "black." Think of it as the ultimate "black" (evil) poison. The color symbolism, the blackness of death, is what's important about the name.

Christopher Marlowe's play, The Jew of Malta probably inspired the name, Hebona, from the mention in that play of "the juice of hebon." One might guess, Shakespeare stuck an "a" on the end because "hebon" sounds too much like "heaven," and poisoning someone with "the juice of heaven" doesn't make sense. One can't picture "the juice of heaven" being poisonous. You'd picture it expiating sins, or some such. Thus, a small change in spelling, for different pronunciation.

The Elizabethans strongly condemned poisoning, and viewed it as an especially despicable and cowardly thing to do. Which it is. Claudius is a coward, of the lowest kind.

Or is this true? Pretending we've never seen any more of the play than this, we'd have to wonder.

Return: #066


And in the porches of my ears did pour

the porches of my ears - the outer ears, the external parts. From which, presumably, the Hebona juice ran down into the inner ears.

The body is the "house of the soul," thus, like a house, it has porches, per that figure of speech.

Where on earth would Claudius get the idea to try something like that?

Return: #067


The leprous distillment, whose effect

leprous - literally, "scaly" (like a serpent.) From Latin 'lepra' ("scaly.") Here, leprous can be taken in the more general sense of "diseased," i.e. causing disease. "Infectious," would be another word for it. The Ghost uses that particular word in anticipation of what he will go on to describe.

distillment - potion. Concoction. Extract. Distillation.

effect - power. Force.

Return: #068


Holds such an enmity with blood of man,

Holds - has. Another instance of expression using a "seize"/"grasp" word.

enmity - hostility.

with blood of man - Hebona, and blood of man, are enemies. When combined, the Hebona goes to war against the blood. That's the figure of speech.

Return: #069


That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through

swift as quicksilver - a proverbial phrase, referring to high speed.

it courses through - runs its course, through.

In the wording of the line, we go from quicksilver to courses. Quicksilver is from Old English 'cwicseolfor' ("living silver,") and courses puns with "corses;" "corse" is an earlier word for, or an earlier form of, "corpse." So in the line we go from the idea of "living" to the implication of "corpse," in the span of three words. That is swift, indeed.

Return: #070


The natural gates and alleys of the body,

natural gates - natural openings. This use of gates goes along with the Old English meaning, which was the opening in a fence, or wall, or hedge. Nowadays, the word "gate" more often refers to a barrier which blocks the opening.

alleys - passages. The word "alley" is from Old French 'alee' ("passage.")

Return: #071


And with a sudden vigor it doth posset

vigor - strength; force. The word vigor is rooted in Latin 'vigere' ("be lively,") which makes it an ingenious choice of word when speaking of a death. This is one of Shakespeare's many "contrary" word usages.

posset - intermix; infuse. A posset is a mixture of two different liquids, one being milk and the other usually alcoholic. To posset, then, is to mix two dissimilar liquids, or to infuse one liquid into another that is dissimilar. That is exactly what the Ghost is describing, of course. The word "intermix" carries the idea better than just "mix," because "intermix" more implies the liquids being dissimilar.

So, posset = intermix (with,) or, infuse (into.)

Return: #072


And curd, like eager droppings into milk,

curd - congeal. Clot; coagulate. Change from liquid to solid.

like eager droppings into milk - like when acid is dropped into milk.

Eager - from Old French 'aigre' ("acid," among other meanings.) The word 'aigre,' itself, might be what Shakespeare meant, for plain reading. The Second Quarto spelling is eager, and the First Folio spelling is "Aygre." I tend toward the conclusion that Shakespeare's own spelling was probably eager, because of the depth of denotation and connotation that the word has.

Return: #073


The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine,

thin - runny; free flowing. Liquid.

wholesome - healthy.

so did it mine - is deliberately ambiguous. First, "that's what it did to my blood." Second, "that's how it did undermine (me.)" For the second, read "mine" as in an excavation, that leads to something collapsing. We will see mention of "mine" and "pioneer" in the dialogue.

Return: #074


And a most instant tetter barked about,

most instant - very fast. Immediate.

tetter - skin outbreak. Rash. Scabrousness, might be the best paraphrase here. His skin became one big scab, the Ghost implies.

barked about - like being covered with tree bark.

The Ghost is lying.

There is no chance at all that skin condition would ever have been ascribed to snakebite, either by the coroner, or anybody else. In those days, it would have been seen as some kind of plague, and everybody would have run away. Elsinore would be deserted now.

Hamlet, now touched in the head, is just listening.

The Ghost knows it can get away with that lie, as far as Hamlet can prove, because the Ghost is wearing the armor that shows only its face. Also, we learn during the play of the funeral practices, when Ophelia sings, in Scene 16, "they bore him bare-faced on the bier." At the funeral, Hamlet and others saw only King Hamlet's face, his body was shrouded.

So, the Ghost is confident it can tell Hamlet that lie, especially in this situation. But it is most certainly a lie, it has to be.

The Ghost is telling Hamlet the lie to "add insult to injury" in what Claudius did, and thereby add to Hamlet's motivation.

How'd the Ghost think of that whopper? Easy. Orchard -> trees -> tree bark.

Return: #075


Most lazarlike, with vile and loathsome crust,

Most lazarlike - very much like leprosy; or, very much like Lazarus the leper. The term lazarlike has reference to the Lazarus in the Bible, the Book of Luke (Luke 16: 19-31) who was a diseased beggar denied charity by a rich man. In the afterlife, Lazarus was rewarded and the rich man was tormented. It's a parable about charity. The Roman Catholic Church venerates Lazarus as the patron saint of lepers.

vile and loathsome crust - the Ghost is laying it on thick. The idea of crust implies King Hamlet as a meat pie, to coldly furnish forth Death's table. There is the concept in the play that Death eats people. The literal meaning of crust is apparently "exudate."

Return: #076


All my smooth body

That Hamlet can't see, and did not see at King Hamlet's funeral.

Return: #077


Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand

sleeping - a person's most vulnerable time, underscoring the cowardliness of Claudius. Later, in Scene 10, as Hamlet speaks of suitable revenge, he will mention the possibility of taking Claudius when he is asleep.

a brother's hand - here, the Ghost does not say, "your uncle's." He says brother's to underscore the unkindness of what Claudius did, as the Ghost seeks to maximize the effect of its words.

But is any of this true?

Return: #078


Of life, of crown, of Queen, at once dispatched;

at once - all at once. The phrase can also be read as "straightaway," meaning with no lapse of time. Both meanings apply, and make sense. The ambiguity is undoubtedly deliberate in the author's choice of phrasing.

dispatched - sent away (from); sent off (from.) This is like Claudius's use of "dispatch" in Scene 2 when he "dispatches" Cornelius and Voltemand (Scene 2#033) as he sends them away on their mission. Since "dispatch" can also mean "kill," it suits the context. The Ghost means Claudius "sent him away" from his life, etc.

Return: #079


Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

Cut off - cut from the stalk of life, so to speak, like a cut flower.

the blossoms of my sin - sin is like a flower garden, says the Ghost. It's a point of view you don't encounter every day. The "blossom" is the time when a flower is most "showy." It can be taken the Ghost means the time when his sin showed the most. So, this can be seen as an implicit instance of the 'Putting on a Show' Theme.

But it is not normal to speak of sin as something beautiful. That is the point of view of an evil entity.

Return: #080


Unhouseled, disappointed, unanviled,

Unhouseled - without receiving the sacrament, the Eucharist, the commemoration of the Last Supper (which assists a person in achieving a state of grace.)

disappointed - can be read with its ordinary meaning. Beyond that, it can be read with the "at all points" concept of the Ghost's armor. By that, disappointed means "not ready," not "suited" in all respects.

"unanviled" in the Second Quarto

unanviled - is the correct word. It is a Shakespeare coinage. There is an implicit metal/mettle pun (indeed, at one time, "metal" and "mettle" were the same word.) The Ghost means his mettle was not shaped correctly for him to go to Heaven. There is the concept of a blacksmith working metal to shape it for a particular purpose. A smith uses fire to shape metal, which provides an analogy to Purgatory using fire to shape mettle.

Further on unanviled, beyond the above, it can additionally be taken as Sewell observed in 1728, since beating on an anvil has a bell-like sound: “Unknelled. without the Passing Bell going for a dying Man.” (Cite is in the Extended Note.)

By the way, it's an interpretive mistake to suppose the words in this line are all necessarily references to Roman Catholic ceremony. That's an idea you'll find in some historical Hamlet commentary, but it was never a valid idea.

Return: #081 - or - Extended Note - or - Folio Difference


No reckoning made, but sent to my account

reckoning - "final accounting," of his sins, while he was still alive. Thus, says the Ghost, King Hamlet died still "in debt" for his sins. It can be understood as "reconciliation" as in "reconciling" a financial statement.

sent to my account - sent to make my accounting (before the Throne of Judgment.) For plain reading, account can be read as "reward." The "reward" can be negative where the "account balance" is negative.

Return: #082


With all my imperfections on my head;

imperfections - mortal flaws. Literally, things not completely done. From Latin 'in-' ("not") + 'perfectus' ("completed,") and beyond that, to Latin 'per-' ("through") + 'facere' ("do.")

From the Latin root, the Ghost says King Hamlet was "not done all the way through." Therefore, more fire was required, was the judgment. Claims the Ghost.

This wouldn't happen to be something the Ghost is just "cooking up" would it?

on my head - on my own account; as my own liability.

Return: #083


Oh horrible; Oh horrible, most horrible.

horrible - Indeed. Sounds horrible. Horrible goes back to Latin 'horrere' ("to bristle with fear,") so something that's horrible is basically something that makes your hair stand on end.

Giving this line to Hamlet is an act of madness, by the way. Samuel Johnson, in 1765, wrote that a "learned lady" told him it was Hamlet's line, but Johnson couldn't tell who the learned lady was, because his dog ate the note with her name on it. Johnson fibbed, of course. He fabricated the anonymous "learned lady" to get his own hare-brained notion into print, without embarrassing himself too much (at the time.)

The Ghost is, of course, furnishing a dramatic emphasis to impress Hamlet.

Hamlet only stands, looking at the Ghost. He cocks his head from time to time, like a little bird looking at a snake.

Return: #084


If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not,

nature - natural sentiment, in particular, love for his father. Here, the meaning is not much different from "kindness," in more than one sense of that word.

bear it not - don't tolerate it. The phrasing bear it not is ironic, and is more of Shakespeare's "contrary-ism" with language, in that the Ghost has just dropped a heavy burden on Hamlet, the burden of revenge, and is asking Hamlet to bear that burden.

Return: #085


Let not the royal bed of Denmark be

the royal bed of Denmark - the King of Denmark's bed.

Return: #086


A couch for luxury and damned incest;

couch - a place to lie down; also, a place of concealment. A "hide." Conventionally, a couch is a trysting place, so I put that in the paraphrase.

There is an implication in this line, an implication Hamlet will notice, which is that Claudius will not be faithful to Gertrude. What other women are there? (Hamlet knows nothing of the symptom Claudius suffers from his long-term alcoholism.)

luxury - lust. Sexual self indulgence; sexual excess. The Latin root, 'luxuria' refers to rankness, or luxuriance of vegetation. At root luxury connects back in concept to Hamlet, in Scene 2, speaking of "things rank and gross in nature" in the "unweeded garden."

damned incest - again reinforces the view that Hamlet, himself, had already expressed in Scene 2.

Return: #087


But, howsomever thou pursuest this act,

pursuest - prosecute. The Ghost is appointing Hamlet the "prosecutor" of the crime. "Pursue" goes back to Latin 'prosequi' ("prosecute.")

Or, second meaning, pursuest = follow up (with.) "Pursue" can mean either "follow" or "prosecute."

act - of Claudius murdering King Hamlet. Second, "act of revenge."

howsomever thou pursuest this act - The phrasing is deliberately ambiguous.

The line can be read either:

  • "however you prosecute this act of murder, by Claudius;" or
  • "however you follow up with this act of revenge, that I'm calling for."

Once again, Shakespeare wrote a line so that two interpretations can apply, and both make sense and are pertinent.

The Ghost's howsomever is sly. The conclusion is obvious that Hamlet should kill Claudius (an eye for an eye...) but the Ghost doesn't say that. The Ghost leaves it up to Hamlet to draw the obvious conclusion, that the Ghost knows Hamlet will draw. Psychologically, it's wicked.

Persons are naturally inclined to object to, and argue, orders they are given. It's how people are. Order somebody to do something, and he'll immediately think of reasons why he shouldn't. However, leave it up to the person to reach the conclusion, and he's far, far less likely to argue against his own conclusion, even if it's identical to what he might be ordered to do. People favor their own conclusions.

This also reflects how the Ghost is. The Ghost has left itself an out, so that it can claim innocence, if accused. "Why, yes I called upon Hamlet for revenge, but I never meant he should kill Claudius. Good heavens, no, not that! That was just Hamlet's own idea! It isn't my fault!" What kind of individuals think like that? Criminal ones.

Return: #088


Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive

Taint not thy mind - since I can do a better job of that than you ever could, yourself.

Taint - darken. As opposed to being enlightened, which the Ghost certainly does not want Hamlet to be.

In Middle English, taint could mean "convict." The Ghost is saying, that as Hamlet "prosecutes" Claudius, he shouldn't "convict" Gertrude.

contrive = invent; imagine. (From Middle English, from Old French, 'controver' ("imagine" or "invent.") In other words, plot a scheme, a contrivance. The word contrive goes back to Latin 'contropare' ("compare.") At root, It implies the Ghost saying to Hamlet, "don't compare your soul to Gertrude's," that is, "don't put your soul up against Gertrude's." That's odd. Why not?

We've seen that Hamlet obeys his mother. That's why Hamlet is still here at Elsinore, and not in Wittenberg. The point will be made again, later in the play, that Hamlet obeys his mother. The Ghost is afraid that if Hamlet "puts his soul up against Gertrude's" she'll order him not to do it, and Hamlet will obey her.

The best equivalent of contrive is probably "devise," since there is a Devise/Device Motif in the play. To contrive something is to devise it.

Anyway, nor let thy soul contrive - for the plain reading: "don't let your spirit devise" (something against Gertrude.)

Return: #089


Against thy mother, aught; leave her to Heaven

aught - at all.

leave her to Heaven - said the way a normal person would say "to hell with him." The Ghost takes an opposite point of view from what is normal.

The Ghost is saying that Gertrude's soul is lost to the power that he serves, and he knows it. How so?

Hamlet doesn't understand that.

Return: #090


And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge

thorns that in her bosom lodge - thorns of conscience, in her heart. (Gertrude does have something that bothers her conscience, but it isn't what the Ghost is talking about.)

Hamlet remembers this remark by the Ghost, and it plays a role in his actions in the Closet Scene, Scene 11.

Return: #091


To prick and sting her; fare thee well, at once;

prick and sting - jab and poison. Like, oh, the way a poisoned foil could "prick and sting" someone. The phrase is an "omen" of the Fencing Match in the final Scene.

fare thee well, at once - before you have a chance to ask me any questions, that I probably can't answer the way your father could, which would create a serious problem for my credibility.

Return: #092


The glowworm shows the matin to be near,

glowworm - firefly. The word "worm" goes back to an earlier word "wyrm" which could mean "snake." By the way. There's an obscure "snake" hiding in the Ghost's line.

the matin - the hour of dawn. Or, the hour for morning prayers, matins. Essentially the same thing, either way.

The hour of matins is associated with the crowing of the cock, which connects back to the rooster's crow that made the Ghost leave in Scene 1. (See the Extended Note.)

Return: #093 - or - Extended Note


And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire;

pale - is a contrary word usage. When something "pales," it becomes fainter. In the case of a fire becoming fainter, pale means darken. Shakespeare used a "light" word for a "dark" meaning. For plain reading, since the meaning is "put out," the basic idea is "kill."

uneffectual - cool. A cool fire is not effectual at purging sin, or more to the point, in the case of the Ghost, punishing sin. The Ghost has only contempt for any fire you can't use to fry a soul.

The Latin root of uneffectual is interesting, in that it boils down to "not done out." By the way. Indeed, the glowworm's fire is "not done out" as the Ghost speaks. One might also see it that the glowworm can "not out do" the rising sun.

Return: #094


Adieu, adieu, adieu, remember me.

adieu, remember me - to God, remember me.

What the Ghost said can be heard as "remember me to God." That Ghost is a sarcastic snake in the grass.

Return: #095


(the Ghost sinks into the earth) - It is a certainty the stage trap door must be used here, to lower the Ghost below the stage, since the Ghost will cry out from the earth later in the Scene.

However, King Hamlet's body was placed in a tomb, we have been told. A tomb is above ground. King Hamlet's spirit would not sink into the earth to return to his body. Hamlet is not thinking about that.

Return: #095-SD


Hamlet: Oh, all you host of Heaven! Oh earth! What else?

host of Heaven - can be read as meaning either all the heavenly bodies (the stars and planets,) or, the army of the Lord.

If Hamlet means the stars and planets, that is idolatry, contrary to God's commandments. See Deuteronomy 4, 19:

And lest thou lift vp thine eyes vnto heauen,
and when thou seest the sunne and the moone
and the starres with all the host of heauen,
shouldest bee driuen to worship them and
serue them, which the Lord thy God hath
distributed to all people vnder the whole heauen.

(Geneva Bible wording.) The context is the people being told what not to do. They are not to call upon the stars and planets as if they were gods.

However, if Hamlet means the Heavenly host of angels, when he says host of Heaven, that would be a different story. The original printing of Hamlet in the Second Quarto does not capitalize "heaven," but I do so here to give Hamlet the benefit of the doubt. The reader does need to be cautioned that that capitalization may be incorrect. It is ambiguous. Shakespeare was that way.

Deuteronomy 4 has a further point of interest in advance of the voice of the Ghost calling out from the ground later in this Scene. Deuteronomy 4, 12 says:

And the Lord spake vnto you out of the middes
of the fire, and ye heard the voyce of the wordes,
but sawe no similitude, saue a voyce.

The concept is that of hearing a voice, but not seeing the source.

Deuteronomy 4, 26 is also worth noting:

I call heauen and earth to record against you this day,
that ye shall shortly perish from the land,

Hamlet has just "called heaven and earth" so to speak, and by that sentence in Deuteronomy, albeit taken out of context, the concept can be seen as ominous of him shortly perishing.

Deuteronomy 4 is about remembering and obeying the laws and ordinances of the people, and obeying God's commandments. The lesson is that forgetting the laws and ordinances, and God's commandments, will mean failure and destruction. Observe, then, what Hamlet goes on to say in this passage.

earth - nature, the natural world, the world of the living. Hamlet's crying out to the earth is an ironic anticipation of the Ghost crying out from the earth, later in this Scene. In action, Hamlet inclines his face to the ground when he says, Oh earth, as if he's speaking to the ground. Later, the ground will seem to speak back to him. Well, he spoke to it first.

What else? - to what else can, or should, I cry out, Hamlet means.

Return: #096


And shall I couple Hell? Oh, fie! Hold, hold my heart;

couple - a good equivalent is probably "conjoin," which I use in the paraphrase, since there is a Joint Motif in the play. The Join Motif includes statements about joints or joinings. Hamlet is questioning whether he should 'join" Hell to what he said about Heaven and earth.

shall I couple Hell? - Hamlet is so shaken, the thought crosses his mind of whether he should also call upon Hell for assistance. No Christian (which Hamlet is) would consider that, if he's in his right mind.

fie! - shame! Hamlet immediately says "shame" to himself. He's not quite that far gone.

Hold, hold my heart - Hamlet is calling upon his heart, his courage, not to fail him. Hold can be read as "be strong" or "hold up" (under the pressure.) In action, Hamlet must clutch at his heart here, as if trying to "hold" it manually. All the "heart" actions in the play are important. That is because, well... there's a line in the play, "You would pluck out the heart of my mystery." There is a "heart mystery" in Hamlet. It is important.

Return: #097


And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,

my sinews - the tendons and ligaments of his joints. Hamlet is telling himself not to fall to pieces, at the joints. Basically, "don't fall to pieces" is what he means.

grow not instant old - don't become like you're weakened with age, at this very instant.

That phrase is a prescription for action in performance.

Imagine you have just had "the weight of the world" come down on you (as when Hercules substituted for Atlas, but Hamlet is no Hercules.) Playing Hamlet, hunch over, bend your knees some and shake them, and overall, assume the posture of a very old man. "Old" is your main keyword. The posture of a very old man can be likened to that of a younger man bearing an extremely heavy burden on his back.

Return: #098


But bear me stiffly up; remember thee?

bear me stiffly up - with considerable effort, Hamlet stands up straight. By stiffly Hamlet, himself, means "strongly."

Elsewhere in his writings, Shakespeare used "stiff" to mean "as when dead." See Romeo and Juliet Act 4 scene 1, Friar Laurence:

...Each part, deprived of supple government,
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:
And in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death...

The word stiffly is another prescription for action. Playing Hamlet, stand straight and stiff, arms straight down at your sides, and momentarily close your eyes, with the effort it takes for you to stand straight. That is the posture of a corpse readied for burial. Hamlet does not realize the ominousness of what he does.

remember thee? - in action, Hamlet now puts his hands to his head, and hunches over again. He is so burdened, he can't stand straight for long. Memory is of the mind, the brain, of course, thus the action to the head. Hamlet does not feel right, mentally, and the question of whether he can, indeed, remember the Ghost has crossed his mind.

Return: #099 - or - Folio Difference


I, thou poor Ghost, while memory holds a seat

I, thou poor Ghost - can be viewed in isolation as Hamlet talking to himself, calling himself "you poor Ghost" (of his former self.) That's from Shakespeare, not the Hamlet character. The Hamlet character, himself, is expressing sympathy for the Ghost, (who does not deserve it.)

while memory holds a seat - as long as my memory is "enthroned" (in my own head.) Recall Horatio's caution, in Scene 4, that the Ghost might deprive Hamlet of his "sovereignty of reason." Hamlet is now speaking a similar idea, the "sovereignty of his memory." The seat is the throne, and Hamlet is speaking to the effect of his own memory being "king of his own mind."

Return: #100


In this distracted globe, remember thee.

In this distracted globe - is ambiguous, intentionally so, although the relevant ambiguity is not major.

(while memory holds a seat) In this distracted globe - "while memory has a place in my distracted head," or, as already mentioned, "while memory rules in my distracted head," and it can also be read to mean, "while remembrance of the dead has a place in this crazy world." A simple pun on the Globe Theater can also be heard, i.e. "while the audience can remember what's being played in this distracted theater." One takes it that the Globe audience was not always attentive to the plays.

"Distract" is from Latin 'dis-' ("apart") + 'trahere' ("to draw," "to drag.") Hamlet feels like his head has been disjointed, pulled apart. Drawn apart.

remember thee - a person in normal condition is not so focused on whether he can remember something from only a short time ago. Hamlet is dazed and confused, after being touched by the Ghost, and he is worried about his own mental processes. He's worried that his memory isn't working right.

Return: #101


Yea, from the table of my memory

table - tablet. Notebook. I paraphrase it as "archive" which is the general idea, but might be too formal a word.

Return: #102


I'll wipe away all trivial, fond records

wipe away - erase.

trivial - what it says. Unimportant. This is a perfectly apt word from a university student, since Medieval students were taught the Trivium, of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and all that trivia.

fond - foolish. Hamlet casts it that anything except what the Ghost said is now unimportant foolishness.

records - entries. Notes. The word "record" is from Latin 'recordari' ("remember,") and based on 'cor,' 'cord-' ("heart.") A "record" is ultimately something of the heart, in the traditional view, it seems. Or, one might see it that records are "the heart" of the matter.

But can a person, himself, voluntarily control what he's going to remember? No. Hamlet is not speaking rationally.

Return: #103


All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

All saws of books - all sayings from books. Quotations. Proverbs, and such. There's one Book in particular, which has some curious "proverbs," like...

Dearely beloued, auenge not your selues,
but giue place vnto wrath: for it is written,
Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12, 19, Geneva wording. Hamlet has decided to forget that "old saw."

Also, there is that "old saw" in an old Book: "Thou shalt not kill." Exodus 20, 13. Hamlet has decided to forget that old saw, too.

forms - patterns; general principles. Guidelines. I paraphrase it as "ideals."

pressures - impressions. Pressure produces an impression. It can be read as "interpretations," or "understandings." It could also be read as "rules," that "press" a person to do one thing, and not do another. The phrase pressures past can be read as referring to everything that impressed him in the past.

past - that's all "ancient history" for him, now, says Hamlet.

Return: #104


That youth and observation copied there,

observation - The word "observe" is from Latin 'observare' ("to watch,") and that's where they've all seen the Ghost, on watch. Just by the way.

youth and observation - observant youthfulness. The phrase can be read as hendiadys. Hamlet is now too old and grown up for childish saws such as "thou shalt not kill," he says.

Return: #105


And thy commandment, all alone, shall live

thy commandment, all alone, shall live - displacing those other old saws he learned earlier, all Ten of them. Every educated English speaker knows what the word commandment suggests.

live - dwell. Also, "have existence." Live, as opposed to being dead.

Return: #106


Within the book and volume of my brain,

One might note that, (thy commandment, all alone, shall live) Within the book and volume of my brain - makes the Ghost's "commandment" sound like a bookworm. What lives in a book, literally? A bookworm.

Then, worm -> wyrm -> snake. Equating the Ghost with his commandment makes the Ghost a "booksnake," a snake of the Book. Well, back to the play.

It's possible to read the phrase book and volume in the way of hendiadys as "voluminous book." That is probably not the best reading here, though.

I paraphrase book as "memoir" on the point of memory, which is what Hamlet is talking about.

For volume I paraphrase "journal," a word which also suggests memory. Other synonyms could be used, and might be better. It's certainly possible to leave the phrase as is. The terms are close enough to modern.

Volume has wordplay between "book" and "space." (Hamlet's later line, in Scene 7, about counting himself king of infinite space, has allusion to sovereignty over his own brain, although as usual the line has a deliberate ambiguity. Scene 7#262 In one way, that will be another "sovereignty of reason" line. Thus, the consideration of volume as "space" here.)

Return: #107


Unmixed with baser matter; yes, by heaven,

Unmixed with baser matter - lest all the "noble substance" of the Ghost's commandment be "douted," extinguished. One supposes. As the Ghost's "commanment" would be extinguished if "baser matter" like, oh, "thou shalt not kill" were mixed with it.

unmixed - "unadulterated," if we follow up on earlier terms. The Ghost called Claudius, "that adulterate beast."

baser - less noble. There are noble metals, and there are base metals.

by heaven - as long as we're madly tossing things around, might as well throw that in, too. By god!

Hamlet is in bad shape.

Return: #108


Oh, most pernicious woman!

Oh, most pernicious woman! - Oh dear, Hamlet is already violating the Ghost's commandment, or one of them. It didn't take long. "Taint not thy mind... against thy mother" said the Ghost.

Whatcha gonna do with these darn mortals, who can't keep a commandment for five minutes, despite all their promises?

I paraphrase pernicious as "wicked," for plain reading, but it has a "death" root: Latin 'pernicies' ("ruin,") based on 'nex,' 'nec-' ("death.") Here, the word pernicious might be taken more in the sense of a femme fatale, a ruinous female.

Return: #109


Oh, villain, villain, smiling damned villain!

smiling damned villain - informs us of two things about correct action in the play.

In Scene 2, as Claudius was speaking to Hamlet, with everyone in the Throne Room watching, Claudius smiled, and smiled, to 'Put on a Show' of friendliness to Hamlet.

In this Scene, as the Ghost was speaking to Hamlet, it smiled, and smiled, to 'Put on a Show' of friendliness. But Hamlet is talking about Claudius.

Return: #110


My tables: meet it is I set it down

tables - writing tablet. Hamlet, the university scholar, is well trained to take notes, and he always carries a tablet.

Hamlet displays a scholar's first reaction when encountering a new subject. Take notes.

meet - proper.

Return: #111


That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain,

As Hamlet notes this, he smiles... and smiles... with the thought on his mind of murdering Claudius.

Return: #112


At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark;

Denmark - Claudius. Hamlet's primary meaning is that it's so in the current King of Denmark.

Second, Hamlet means it's so within the state of Denmark, where Claudius is. And where the Ghost is. And where Hamlet is. Smilers all, now.

Return: #113


So, uncle, there you are; now to my word,

There you are, uncle, recorded in writing, as a smiling damned villain. Hamlet smiles at that.

now to my word - Hamlet has thought of more to write. Lest he forget.

Return: #114


It is: "adieu, adieu, remember me!"

To remember what some one said is to remember the individual, himself. Hamlet is assuring his remembrance of the Ghost, as he swore he would, by recording what it said, at the end.

Hamlet has made a note of something the Ghost said, to remind himself of the Ghost. Which is nuts. Hamlet is in such bad shape, mentally, he's worried about forgetting the Ghost, but perhaps if he has a "Ghost quotation" to remind himself, that will help. Good scholars make notes of quotations, so Hamlet, the scholar, has noted a "Ghost quotation."

Hamlet is "not all there" now. Were the question asked, "Is that Hamlet with you," the reply should be, "a piece of him."

Can Hamlet recover?

Return: #115


I have sworn it.

Yes, he swore to remember the Ghost. Hamlet has to remind himself, again. He feels so mentally disjointed.

There is a point about his note writing. It's at night, although the dawn is near. Can Hamlet write legibly in the dark? Probably not. Most people can't. After trying to write in the dark, when Hamlet looks at his notes later, they may be only an illegible, meaningless scrawl, that neither he nor anyone else can read.

Return: #116


(Horatio and Marcellus enter)

After wandering all over the landscape. They've gone all around the Castle, they've checked the area of that cliff Horatio mentioned, and it did finally occur to them, ghost -> graveyard. It's always easy to say in hindsight that you ought to have checked a certain place first.

Horatio and Marcellus are onstage now, of course, at the wing. They call out as soon as they step on.

(Elsewhere you may see the extremely peculiar notion that they call out while still offstage. They could not be properly heard like that at the Globe, and further, the audience could not see who was calling out. And still further, they are not the Ghost. Of course, all sorts of crackpot drivel has found its way into supposedly "respectable" Hamlet commentary, over the years. Doing Hamlet properly, these days, is mostly an exercise in shoveling the historical accumulation of crap out of the way as one plods along. But never mind that.)

Return: #116-SD


Horatio: My Lord, my Lord!

Hamlet does not immediately reply. What's he going to say?

Return: #117


Marcellus: Lord Hamlet!

Hamlet frowns. Marcellus, the "liegeman to the Dane," is suddenly a problem. Marcellus's highest duty is to Claudius.

Return: #118


Horatio: Heavens secure him.

secure - is from Latin 'se-' ("without") + 'cura' ("care.") Ah, if only Hamlet were without a care. However, it's the thought, from Horatio, that counts.

It is still on Horatio's mind that "Heaven will direct it," as he said at the end of Scene 4.

Hamlet smiles, a sincere smile of true friendship. Horatio is no problem. But still, what to do about Marcellus?

Return: #119


Hamlet: So be it.

Hamlet is pleased to hear Horatio's little prayer for him, and joins in, with an "amen."

Return: #120


Marcellus: Hillo, ho, ho, my Lord!

In performance, it would be good if Marcellus whistles here, in a way that's like the keening cry of a hawk. Noises, like whistles, are not in the play dialogue since they are not words. They must be inferred. For example, the rooster's crow, in Scene 1, was not a word in the dialogue. This call from Marcellus is in the style of hawking. Marcellus uses that style of call because it carries. It would be typical to add a whistle.

Return: #121


Hamlet: Hillo, ho, ho, boy come, and bird, come!

Hamlet replies in the same style. He calls as if he's a man out hawking with his boy and his bird. The boy is to fetch the prey the bird brings down. It's also possible to understand boy as reference to a dog.

A whistle from Hamlet, in reply to Marcellus, would be appropriate.

Hamlet casts Horatio as his "boy" (or dog) and Marcellus as his "bird," following up on Marcellus's "birding" call.

The things about hawks, as Hamlet casts Marcellus here, is that they are not entirely dependable. Even after training, they will sometimes go their own way. Hamlet will have that concern about Marcellus.

Return: #122 - or - Folio Difference


Marcellus: How is it, my noble Lord?

Marcellus is first to speak, when they're within speaking distance. He's been leading the way, since he knows the area better than Horatio does.

The sight Horatio and Marcellus see shocks them. Look back to that keyword "old" from Shakespeare.

They see a Hamlet who is hunched over, his legs are trembling, his hands are shaking, and from his posture and behavior you'd think he was 100 years old. Also, his demeanor is decrepit, as if Hamlet is showing signs of senile dementia. Playing Hamlet, do it like you're 90, if not 100, and suffering from osteoporosis, Parkinson's disease, and with a touch of Alzheimer's disease. Horatio and Marcellus see a Hamlet who looks like, through some horrible misfortune, he has aged 80 years in a single night. Other things further along in the play tell us that is the correct way for the Hamlet actor to play it here.

The last they saw of Hamlet, he was upright, bold, strong enough to push them aside, and determined enough to threaten them with his sword. Now he looks as if he'd topple over if you blew on him. What could have happened to him, out here in the darkness, to produce such a dramatic and woefully tragic change?

Return: #123


Horatio: What news, my Lord?

"What's new," asks Horatio. Well, Horatio is not one inclined to excessive verbiage, generally.

Return: #124


Hamlet: Oh, wonderful!

wonderful - literally, full of wonder. Hamlet is, at this time, leaving it as something for Horatio and Marcellus both to wonder about. Marcellus is a problem. He is sworn in service to Claudius.

Return: #125


Horatio: Good, my Lord, tell it.

tell it - Horatio takes it Hamlet meant "marvelous," so he'd like to hear about it. "Marvelous" is what Hamlet wanted Marcellus to think he meant.

Hamlet will tell all to Horatio, later. Hamlet will fulfill Horatio's request to tell it, but not now.

Return: #126


Hamlet: No, you will reveal it.

Correct action is vital here.

Hamlet, hunched over and trembling, looks at Horatio, and speaks this to Horatio, while at the same time Hamlet points a shaky index finger at Marcellus. Hamlet is worried about Marcellus telling Claudius, if Hamlet reveals what the Ghost said.

The mismatched words and action look mad, as if Hamlet can't tell to which of them he's speaking, or at which of them he's pointing. However, there is method to Hamlet's madness.

Hamlet is trying to hint to Horatio that he's worried about Marcellus revealing to Claudius what he has to say. Such a hint is extremely hard to convey, impossible really, with Marcellus standing right there, and Horatio having no idea of what happened.

Return: #127


Horatio: Not I, my Lord, by heaven.

Horatio didn't get the hint when Hamlet pointed at Marcellus. There's no way he could have. It's virtually impossible.

Return: #128


Marcellus: Nor I, my Lord.

Marcellus promises he won't tell, but he doesn't know what Hamlet could tell them.

Marcellus is a problem because...

  • He is sworn in service to Claudius. Serving Claudius is his highest duty. Duty is one of the motivations that led Marcellus, and the others, to approach Hamlet about the Ghost in the first place. The first statement we heard from Marcellus is that he is one of the "liegemen to the Dane," and the Dane at this time is Claudius.
  • Marcellus knows of the coroner's verdict of snakebite as the cause of King Hamlet's death. Everybody knows about that, as the Ghost mentioned.
  • Marcellus does not see "hero" stamped on Hamlet's forehead, nor "villain" stamped on Claudius's forehead. Marcellus thinks he's a real person, in real life, (we are to understand,) and he knows nothing of any tragic play.
  • Given all that, if Hamlet tells Marcellus what the Ghost said, and that he intends revenge, what is Marcellus going to do?

Out here face to face with Hamlet, Marcellus might agree Hamlet needs to seek revenge against Claudius. But then, what about after Marcellus has had a good sleep, and then thinks about it in the cold light of day? How will it look to him then? Marcellus would have numerous points to consider.

  • Hamlet is behaving, and speaking, strangely. He doesn't seem to be "tracking" correctly.
  • Marcellus heard none of what the Ghost said to Hamlet, and Marcellus knows that misunderstandings are a daily occurrence. People so very often mistake what others say.
  • Could Hamlet have misunderstood the Ghost? Well, of course that's possible, Marcellus would have to conclude.
  • Poison in the ear?? That's just weird. Marcellus never heard of that, it sounds like something someone would make up.

The more Marcellus thought about it, the more he would doubt. It would further occur to him that if he remains silent, it will put him in the position of being complicit in treason. That is no place a professional soldier, if he's sane, wants to be.

What will Marcellus do? You'd like to think he'll side with the hero, but again, Marcellus doesn't see "hero" floating in the air over Hamlet's head. There is a distinct possibility that, after a good sleep, and mulling it over, Marcellus will decide that he is duty-bound to inform the King of a threat to his life. You cannot absolutely rule that out.

Hamlet knows it.

As mentally disjointed as Hamlet feels, he has spotted that problem where Marcellus is concerned. But, what to do about it?

Return: #129


Hamlet: How say you, then, (would heart of man once think it,)

How say you, then - Hamlet is expressing doubt of Marcellus's promise not to tell, but doing it in a vague way that Marcellus won't perceive as expressing doubt of him.

(would heart of man once think it,) - sounds mad, in that the heart feels, while it's the brain that thinks. We take it Hamlet has used think to mean "feel." Hamlet is trying to summon up his intuition, for guidance on how to proceed. He needs his intuition, since his brain doesn't seem to be working quite right, after that encounter with the Ghost.

heart of man - Hamlet is a man, so "my heart."

once - ever.

think - believe.

would heart of man once think it - can I ever believe that, in my heart?

Return: #130


But you'll be secret?

But you'll be secret? - Hamlet looks at Marcellus, and speaks to him, while this time pointing at Horatio. The you'll be secret applies to Horatio, whom Hamlet knows he can trust fully. The But applies to Marcellus, about whom Hamlet has doubts, for good reason.

Return: #131


Both Horatio and Marcellus: Aye, by Heaven.

Aye, by Heaven - Hamlet can believe Horatio. Perhaps he can believe Marcellus when he swears by Heaven.

Return: #132


Hamlet: There's never a villain,

[I combine this with the next Note.]

Hamlet begins to tell them.

Return: #133


(There's never a villain) Dwelling in all Denmark . . .

Well, if Hamlet could tell Marcellus that he intended to bring Claudius to justice, and not kill him, that should be alright. Marcellus shouldn't object to that.

Consider Hamlet pondering this: "So, then, let's see... what does the law say about villains who dwell... let's see..."

about a villain who is dwelling

"That doesn't look too promising. So, let's see... what else is there... let's see..."

more about a villain who is dwelling

"Um... no, that doesn't look too promising either. Hm... So, forget it, the law about a villain dwelling doesn't look at all helpful. Guess I'll just have to kill Claudius. And I can't tell Marcellus that."

Google Books is quite a resource. I suppose. Back to the play...

So, Hamlet's impulse is to reveal what the Ghost said, and what he intends to do about it, but then, what is he going to say? "There's never been a villain like this one who killed the King?"

Villain... kill the King. Whoops, that's a little too close to home. What can Hamlet say about Claudius, that won't apply to him, also, as he plans revenge?

The words villain and "knave" can both refer to servants, and both words can be synonymous with "scoundrel," so Hamlet's speech here reduces to a mere truism, when he continues, with the following line.

(In these lines, there may be wordplay with a proverbial expression of Shakespeare's time, but if so, I have not yet been able to identify it. Else it could be wordplay with a lyric, or a quotation.)

Return: #134


But he's an arrant knave.

an arrant knave - an absolute knave. In Scene 19 Hamlet will say, "How absolute the knave is" to imply the Clown Sexton is an absolute knave. Second, the word arrant can also mean "rank," with the further wordplay that the usages of "rank" in the play suggest.

Recall that in Scene 4 Hamlet raised the question of whether the Ghost was a "goblin damned." Scene 4#043 Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned?

"goblin" in Greek etymological glossary

The word goblin apparently comes from Greek 'kobalos.' The Greek word originally did not have to do with the spirit world. It denoted a naughty or unruly youngster, so that "goblin" meant an "impudent rogue" or an "arrant knave."

By that, given the choice in Hamlet's earlier line in Scene 4, it means arrant knave = goblin damned. See the image.
(The image is a clip from - "An etymological glossary of English words derived from the Greek," 1878, by Edward Jacob Boyce.)

Shakespeare is telling us something, once again, while Hamlet is trying to speak of Claudius. The Bard just had Hamlet answer his own earlier question, and Hamlet doesn't know it.

Return: #135


Horatio: There needs no Ghost, my Lord, come from the grave

Horatio remains the skeptic. Rightly so in this case. He is correct, the Ghost did not say that, although "absolute knave" would describe Claudius, as would "villain."

Return: #136


To tell us this.

Horatio doesn't think the Ghost went to all the trouble only to voice a simple truism. But Horatio doesn't know the problem Marcellus poses for Hamlet.

Return: #137


Hamlet: Why, right, you are in the right,

Stage positioning is important here. Horatio is to Hamlet's left. As Hamlet says, you are in the right he points at Horatio to his left.

But Hamlet is telling Horatio that, yes, he's right that the Ghost didn't say that. Hamlet is still groping for an answer to what to do about Marcellus.

Return: #138


And so, without more circumstance at all,

circumstance - Hamlet speaks this with the literal meaning of its Latin root, 'circum' ("around") + 'stare' ("stand.")

without more circumstance - without more standing around.

Return: #139


I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;

The easy answer to the situation is simply to break it up and leave.

Return: #140


You, as your business and desire shall point you,

Return: #141


(For every man hath business and desire,

Return: #142


Such as it is,) and for my own poor part,

Return: #143


Look you, I will go pray.

Look you - look there. Hamlet points at the church. He means, "Look there, at the church." This is at the edge of the graveyard, with the church in the background. A correctly furnished set will have a backdrop of a church.

I will go pray - but for what? In action, Hamlet takes a step toward the church, and stops. Is he to pray for success in committing murder? That prayer would not be well received, Hamlet realizes.

Return: #144


Horatio: These are but wild and whirling words, my Lord.

wild - unrestrained, by reason.

whirling - confused; agitated.

words - remarks.

A reading as hendiadys is possible: "whirling, wild words." A storm of words, rather than a meaningful flow.

Return: #145


Hamlet: I am sorry they offend you; heartily,

Return: #146


Yes, faith, heartily.

Return: #147


Horatio: There's no offense, my Lord.

Horatio of course means that he takes no personal offense.

Return: #148

St Pat's Purgatory on 1592 map

Hamlet: Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, my Lord,

Saint Patrick - legendarily drove the snakes out of Ireland. There is also a cave in Ireland called Saint Patrick's Purgatory. Hamlet's mention of Saint Patrick follows from the Ghost calling Claudius a serpent, and also the Ghost's implication of being in Purgatory. Hamlet hopes he can emulate Saint Patrick by driving the "snake," Claudius, out of Denmark.

The image is from a 1592 map which includes Saint Patrick's Purgatory, as shown. The inscription on the map can be translated as, "The Purgatory of Saint Patricius, whose prayers in this place prompted its establishment by God, according to Sylvius Gyraldus."

my Lord - can be read as the oath, "good lord!" It can also be read that Hamlet madly kneels to Horatio, with a clasping of the hands, in the manner of a lower person imploring his Lordship, to make his Lord believe him. The mad action of Hamlet briefly treating Horatio as his lord is probably intended.

Return: #149 - or - Folio Difference


And much offense, too, touching this vision here;

touching - concerning; in connection with.

vision - apparition, that is, the Ghost.

In action, upon saying "touching this vision here," Hamlet pauses a moment, as if he has gotten a bright idea, and then pokes himself in the eye with the tip of his index finger.

Shakespeare has directed us, "suit the action to the word." So do it! Since that's what he wrote, that's what you do. Now then, you are only acting. You do not really poke yourself in the eye. You put on a show of doing that. If you actually do poke yourself in the eye, you deserve it.

Poking oneself in the eye is a mad action, certainly. Crazy as heck. Acted well, it will get a reaction from the audience every time.

Return: #150


It is an honest Ghost, that let me tell you;

honest - is not to be interpreted as "truthful." That is, one should not take it that Hamlet is saying he's firmly concluded the Ghost was truthful, or genuine. The word honest has too many meanings, and Shakespeare used it with meanings other than "truthful." For example, Much Ado About Nothing Act 3 scene 1:

Hero: ... And, truly, I'll devise some honest slanders
            To stain my cousin with ...
"honest" in the Century Dictionary

There, honest means "plausible," or "believable" or "convincing." That can be taken as Hamlet's meaning here. He found the Ghost believable (from the point of view of one who is, unknown to himself, touched in the head.) Second, honest can be taken as "true" in the sense that a "true Ghost" is something that's truly a Ghost (as far as Hamlet could tell.) The uncertainty, or ambiguity, is probably, once again, deliberate.

One must always keep in mind that Shakespeare's characters speak from their own points of view.

One also, as always, keeps the action in mind. When Hamlet says, It is an honest Ghost, he points toward where the Ghost was, when it spoke to him. However, the Ghost is gone. There is no ghost there now, when Hamlet points. When Horatio and Marcellus look, they see "no ghost." So, what does "it" mean? The "it" Hamlet is pointing to now is "no ghost." Including Hamlet's action in the interpretation of the line gives, "(It = no ghost) is an honest ghost." No ghost is an honest ghost. That is not what Hamlet is trying to say, but it is what you end up with, from Shakespeare.

"Suit the word to the action" and that's what you get, from Shakespeare, in this case. No ghost is an honest ghost. (Hamlet will say "suit the word to the action, the action to the word" in Scene 9.)

that let me tell you - I'll tell you that much.

Return: #151


For your desire to know what is between us,

what is between us - means both "what transpired between the Ghost and me," and also, "what obstacle prevents me from telling you." Shakespeare chose the wording to convey both meanings simultaneously, relying on the ambiguity of "us."

Return: #152


O'ermaster it as you may; and now, good friends,

O'ermaster it as you may - control it as best you can. Master (your curiosity) however you may be able to do that.

Return: #153


As you are friends, scholars, and soldiers,

Return: #154


Give me one poor request.

poor request - simple request. Humble request. "Humble" is probably best, as Hamlet asks them humbly.

Return: #155


Horatio: What is't, my Lord? We will.

We will - Horatio can speak only for himself, however, as Hamlet knows. Horatio is taking it for granted that Marcellus wouldn't tell, but Horatio doesn't know what Hamlet heard from the Ghost.

Return: #156


Never make known what you have seen tonight -

Return: #157


Both Horatio and Marcellus: My lord, we will not.

But still, they do not know the importance of what has happened. A promise about a trivial matter is easy enough to keep, and if it's broken, does no harm. This is not a trivial matter.

Return: #158


Hamlet: Nay. . . but swear it.

Nay - no, a mere promise isn't good enough.

swear it - an oath is stronger than a promise.

Return: #159


Horatio: In faith, my Lord, not I.

In faith - Horatio does swear, as a good Christian. In faith = on my faith as a Christian.

Return: #160


Marcellus: Nor I, my Lord, in faith.

in faith - Marcellus follows suit, swearing as a good Christian, that he won't tell either. But none of this has changed the fact that his highest duty is to the King.

Return: #161

"cross" hilt of a rapier in 1600

Hamlet: Upon my sword!

When they swear "in faith" it gives Hamlet the idea of using his sword to represent the Christian cross.

The swords in the play are Renaissance rapiers, as opposed to the long swords or broad swords of an earlier era, but rapiers of the time could have a distinct "cross" hand guard as the image shows.

Return: #162


(Hamlet draws his sword)

The last time Hamlet drew his sword, it was to threaten Horatio and Marcellus, at the end of Scene 4, when they tried to stop him from following the Ghost. They remember that quite clearly. This makes them uneasy.

Hamlet has now recovered enough, physically, that he has his normal, upright posture again. We can be sure of that in connection with him drawing his sword.

Return: #162-SD


Marcellus: We have sworn, my Lord, already.

Marcellus expresses his uneasiness. This looks to him like more desperation from Hamlet. Recall the end of Scene 4 when Horatio said Hamlet had become desperate. Scene 4#096 Marcellus doesn't see the need for the sword.

Indeed, what actual need is there for it? But Hamlet is touched.

This is Marcellus's last line in the play.

Return: #163


Hamlet: Indeed upon my sword, indeed.

Having gotten the idea, Hamlet is insisting on it. He's pleased with himself for thinking of it. He holds the sword out in front of himself, with a straight arm, sword point upward, and looks at it with a smile. (We can discern his posture and expression from something later in the play, strange as that might sound.)

Indeed can be understood as "in action." Hamlet is looking for some overt act, to seal the oath. He wants both words and action, to make the oath complete (like a play must have both words and action.)

Return: #164


Ghost: Swear!

It is important to understand that the men are not seeing a speech prefix of Ghost floating in the air before them. They cannot see who, or what, has cried out below their feet. We would not know who, or what, it was, either, if the word Swear were printed without the speech prefix.

In the real world, we do not see speech prefixes to inform us of who, or what, has said something.

The Ghost is speaking in King Hamlet's voice. Hamlet and Marcellus recognize the voice, and even Horatio may (presuming King Hamlet spoke on the occasion when Horatio met him.) But, so what? So what if it sounds like King Hamlet?

It's accepted in traditional Christian theology, and in folklore, that the Devil can imitate any voice, in order to lead people into sin. Hamlet knows about the ability of the Devil to do that, and he cannot see who or what has called out Swear!

It might be the Devil. (Well, yes, if it's the Ghost then it is indeed the Devil, but Hamlet doesn't know that. Hamlet will soon realize, however, that whatever his conclusions about the Ghost, so far, the voice he's hearing from within the earth might be that of the Devil.)

The men all jump and take a step back. The swearing on the sword does not proceed at this point.

Return: #165


(cried out from the earth directly below their feet)

So the actor could be heard, I believe he stuck his head out through an overlap in cloth stage skirting. See the Extended Note.

For the play, we are to understand the voice comes from directly below their feet.

It is important to understand they all hear it. If Hamlet didn't see by the reactions of Horatio and Marcellus that they heard it, he wouldn't bother moving, as he goes on to do.

What is the Ghost doing? It is attempting to ensnare Horatio and Marcellus into unknowingly swearing an oath to the Devil, while they think they are swearing to God. After the Devil tells them to swear, if they go ahead and do so, it will be an oath to the Devil.

Again, Hamlet is attempting an oath to God, using his sword to represent the Christian cross. The Ghost is trying to intercept that oath, and make it an oath to himself, instead.

Return: #165-SD - or - Extended Note


Hamlet: Ha, ha, boy, say'st thou so, art thou there, Truepenny?

Ha, ha, boy, say'st thou so - Hamlet is amused, at first. He takes it that his father's spirit has not entirely departed, but has remained long enough to help him swear his friends to silence. His word boy expresses teasing amusement, a facetious familiarity when addressed to his father.

Truepenny - Hamlet says Truepenny because of a line in the play Ralph Roister Doister. In R.R.D., the Truepenny character says, "Ye are a slow goer, sir." Hamlet says it because, although the Ghost said "adieu" and disappeared, it has not left yet. The Ghost is a "slow goer."

You can see the "slow goer" line in context in Ralph Roister Doister at the following link:

There are several references to Ralph Roister Doister in this Scene, and elsewhere in Hamlet, including one later that is quite astonishing. (The reason the Ghost appears in the Closet Scene, Scene 11, is because Polonius accidentally summoned him, by inadvertently speaking the "magic" of a line in Ralph Roister Doister.)

Shakespeare was paying tribute to R.R.D., which is a play of historical importance (much more than its dramatic importance.) Edward Arber was the editor of the 1869 reprint of R.R.D. (linked above) and he wrote in the Introduction to that publication: "Of the few dramatic pieces of that early period that have survived, Roister Doister is regarded as the transition-play from the Mysteries and Enterludes of the Middle Ages to the Comedies of modern times." So, R.R.D. is considered to be the beginning, as far as is known, of modern comedy theater in the English language.

an Edward I penny
an Elizabeth I crown

As usual, there is more to Shakespeare's line than only an R.R.D. reference. Shakespeare hardly ever settled for just one idea, at least in Hamlet.

The word "penny" is, of course, the name of a coin. The Elizabethan penny was twelve to one shilling. The most common coin in circulation in Elizabethan England was the "crown," which was worth 5 shillings, so a crown was worth 60 pence. (The "crown" was equal in value to a Venetian ducat, by the way; the word "ducat" appears several times in the play.)

That being said, if something is a true penny then it isn't a true crown, is it? King Hamlet would be a "true crown." Hamlet, himself, is not intending to give us that hint.

Return: #166


Come on, you hear this fellow in the cellerage;

Hamlet plays along with what he thinks is, essentially, his father's teasing. He is delighted. We can be sure that when Hamlet was a child, he and his father would occasionally play silly games.

cellerage - place like a cellar, below the surface of the ground.

Return: #167


Consent to swear.

They have already consented, but that was before the Ghost cried out. Such an event can change things. Hamlet is seeing whether they will still agree to swear, despite a voice from something unseen in the earth.

Return: #168


Horatio: Propose the oath, my Lord.

Horatio promptly agrees. Yes, despite the voice, he will still swear. Marcellus says nothing. This is getting too weird for him.

Return: #169


Hamlet: Never to speak of this that you have seen;

Hamlet keeps to the same oath, and promise, he wants to hear. It's the same as a dozen lines earlier. Indeed, it's essentially still the same as Hamlet said he wanted at the end of Scene 2: "Give it an understanding, but no tongue." However, at this point, understanding has gone by the wayside.

Return: #170


Swear by my sword.

Hamlet will try it again. However, he has now had a little more time to think, and wonder, about that voice.

Return: #171


(Hamlet raises his sword, and Horatio and Marcellus reach out, to touch it)

As before.

Return: #171-SD


Ghost: Swear!

Also as before.

Return: #172


Hamlet: Hic, and ubique, then we'll shift our ground;

Hic, and ubique - here and everywhere. Theologically, only God and the Devil have the power to be everywhere at once.

The thought has now occurred to Hamlet that he cannot conclusively identify that voice. His father's spirit did say "adieu," and did leave, as far as he knows, so what is that voice? If it's his father's spirit, why does it not show itself, since they have all already seen it? Hamlet finds he must consider the possibility, the voice may be coming from something other than his father's spirit.

Hic, and unique[?] - Hamlet is pondering the question, "it is here, but is it everywhere?" The question mark is not appropriate in the dialogue printing, because Hamlet is musing more than he is asking any actual question. It's rhetorical.

Hamlet's phrase is him wondering, about whatever is calling out, "Is that the voice of the Devil?"

Ralph Roister Doister contains a line about Truepenny being "everywhere" (spelled "euere where.") Link below, click that line to return.

we'll shift our ground - it has occurred to Hamlet that he cannot be certain of the source of that voice. It's possible it might be the Devil.

If Hamlet proceeds with the oath-taking, he'll be putting his friends in the position of swearing not only to him, but also to whatever has called out Swear! If something says "swear," and you do so, you are swearing to it, whatever it is.

Hamlet does not want to put his friends in the position of swearing to the Devil, should it be so. That would hardly be friendly. Put your friends in the position where they are unknowingly taking an oath to the Devil? Friends don't treat friends like that. Hamlet wants Horatio and Marcellus to swear to him, but not to whatever is calling out, just in case.

A quick reminder, the only way we know the voice is the Ghost is because we have a speech prefix to read. One must appreciate that to understand the passage. We must also appreciate that we know more than Hamlet knows.

Return: #173


(Hamlet abruptly lowers his sword, and steps away, before Horatio and Marcellus swear)

Hamlet decides not to proceed with the oath, unless he can get reassurance about what is calling out.

Return: #173-SD


Come hither, gentlemen,

Hamlet leads them, quickly, some distance away. On stage, it will be in the prearranged direction, to the prearranged spot.

Return: #174


And lay your hands again upon my sword;

They had gotten as far as touching the sword earlier, but no oath on the sword has been spoken (or will be.)

Return: #175


Swear by my sword

Another try. Hamlet has gone beyond administering the oath into testing the voice. Will it call out where they're standing now?

Return: #176


(Hamlet again raises his sword, and again they reach out, to put their hands on the sword)

Marcellus is still participating, although we can be sure he's increasingly hesitant.

Return: #176-SD


Never to speak of this that you have heard.

Hamlet amends the wording, because what they've just heard is so much on his mind now. Earlier, he said "seen," but there's no seeing of where that voice is coming from, except the ground.

Return: #177


Ghost: Swear by his sword!

"To me," the Ghost means. Horatio and Marcellus don't realize that, and Hamlet only suspects it, if the voice is the Devil (which it is, but Hamlet doesn't know that Ghost = Devil.)

We saw earlier what a "control freak" the Ghost was, when its first words to Hamlet were "mark me." It's trying to get control of this, too. That thing is pathological.

The Ghost is helping to advance his scheme, in a way. He's helping to deal with Marcellus. If Marcellus tells anybody about this, about all of what has happened, he will have to include that he heard a voice calling out from the earth. That will arouse skepticism, and make people wonder if Marcellus is crazy. Marcellus should recognize that, and be discouraged from speaking about these events.

Return: #178


Hamlet: Well said, old mole! Canst work i'the earth so fast?

Well said, old mole! - R.R.D. contains the line, "Well said, Truepenny," linked below. Click that line in R.R.D. to return here. After Hamlet has called the voice "Truepenny," this line of Hamlet's suggests, "Well said, Truepenny."

Canst work i'the earth so fast? - but Hamlet cannot see if the whatever-it-is is tunneling through the earth, or is already everywhere at once.

Return: #179


(Again Hamlet abruptly lowers his sword, so they don't swear on it)

Same thing again, Hamlet does not trust that voice.

Return: #179-SD


A worthy pioneer; once more remove good friends.

worthy pioneer - praiseworthy miner; praiseworthy tunneler. However, the word originally spelled pioner might be best understood by the general term "delver." The word "delver" does appear in the dialogue, in the Graveyard Scene, Scene 19, and Hamlet says "delve" during the Closet Scene, Scene 11. I paraphrase it as "miner" simply for plain reading. If one were to stick with Shakespearean vocabulary, "delver" is probably the synonym.

remove - move to a different place. Remove ourselves from here.

Return: #180


(Hamlet again steps away, to a different location)

Very quickly, now. On stage, running is appropriate. Hamlet is trying to outrun the voice, to see if he can. If he can, the entity responsible for the voice isn't everywhere at once.

Return: #180-SD


Horatio: Oh, day and night, but this is wonderous strange!

Oh, day and night - can be understood as I show it in the paraphrase, as an exclamation about a confusion of things, or you can take it merely as Horatio saying, "goodness." Horatio says "day and night," and does not swear "by the sun and moon," because Deuteronomy says the latter is improper. By the way.

this is wonderous strange! - thou hast said a mouthful, Horatio. The first thing Hamlet told them, when they found him here in the darkness, is that it was "wonderful" (full of wonder.) Prophetic words, it turns out. Horatio is now in agreement about the "wonder" of these happenings.

Return: #181


Hamlet: And therefore, as a stranger, give it welcome;

It is proverbial that one ought to be hospitable to strangers. This is in one's own interest, since you don't know who they are yet, and they might be important. The proverbial hospitality is not simple charity. By the way.

Ralph Roister Doister contains two lines relevant to this line by Hamlet. Links below, click those R.R.D. lines to return here.

Observe that for both of those R.R.D. lines, the associated lines specify a hand shake. That informs us of the correct stage direction for this, if we didn't already realize it.

Observe further, that the second R.R.D. line, "And much heartily welcome from a straunge lande" speaks to a return from a "strange land." That concept anticipates, in its way, Hamlet's lines in Scene 8, the Nunnery Scene, where he speaks of, "The undiscovered country, from whose bourn / No traveler returns."

Return: #182


(Hamlet shakes hands with Horatio)

Hamlet extends his hand, and Horatio responds, albeit with a look, and perhaps with a bit of a head shake, in addition to the hand shake.

Return: #182-SD


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

heaven and earth - and should he couple Hell? There are things in Hell, some of which have vocal capability.

Return: #183


Than are dreamt of in our philosophy; but come

our philosophy - the academic philosophy we studied at the University of Wittenberg.

Return: #184 - or - Folio Difference


Here as before.

They return to center stage.

Return: #185


(Hamlet puts his sword away; Horatio and Marcellus have not sworn on it)

Hamlet was unable to satisfy himself that the voice was not that of the Devil.

Return: #185-SD


Never, so help you mercy,

mercy - a euphemism for "God." That is, it's an indirect term for "God." Hamlet, with murder on his mind, is sensitive about a too-direct reference to the Almighty, who frowns on such behavior, he knows.

so help you mercy - so help you God.

Return: #186


How strange or odd some'er I bear myself,

bear myself - comport myself. Behave; act. It's an "acting" word. Hamlet is talking about however strangely or oddly he "shows."

Return: #187


(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet

Hamlet is saying this because of Marcellus. Hamlet is in search of a way to prevent Marcellus from saying anything about him, to draw attention to him, attention which could arouse suspicion and lead to inquiry by Claudius.

Return: #188

the word "antique" in Scene 5, Second Quarto
the word "antique" in Scene 7, Second Quarto
the word "antique" in Scene 20, Second Quarto

To put an antique disposition on,)

antique disposition - is, in fact, what Hamlet says. He is saying there may be times when he'll want to act very old, that is, to 'Put on a Show' of being very old.

The word antique here is the same as the word antique in Scene 7 during the Player's recital, and the same as Horatio's word antique during the Fencing Match Scene, Scene 20. See for yourself, in the images clipped from facsimiles of the original Second Quarto publication. It's the same word, each time. The word is antique.

I know that if you have previously encountered Hamlet in school, or in a book, or elsewhere, that you have almost certainly been told otherwise. If, indeed, you have been told otherwise, you have been misled. There is a long, long story behind this, which it is probably ultimately pointless to dwell upon. Let's simply proceed with a correct explanation of the play.

Hamlet has realized how he looked when Horatio and Marcellus found him. Recall that Shakespeare's keyword for action there was "old." Hamlet was bent over, like a very old man, trembling, etc. Hamlet wants to account for that, to Marcellus. (Hamlet will later explain everything to Horatio.) Hamlet wants to give Marcellus something to help insure Marcellus will be deflected from saying anything to Claudius.

Hamlet is explaining away how he looked, and acted, by telling Marcellus there are times when he just likes to act old. It doesn't matter whether Marcellus believes that, or not. Marcellus doesn't know Hamlet well enough to know whether it's true or not.

If Marcellus does go to Claudius, to tell Claudius what he has seen and heard, Marcellus will have to mention it. Marcellus is an honest man. He would have to say to Claudius that when he and Horatio found Hamlet, after searching in the darkness, Hamlet was all hunched over and shaking, like a hundred year old man. But then Marcellus would say to Claudius, that Hamlet went on to explain that sometimes he liked to act very old. So, then, what is Claudius going to get out of that, that he can use against Hamlet? Nothing. Will he arrest Hamlet, for fooling around, pretending to be old? No.

Whatever Marcellus thinks, he isn't going to go to Claudius with something like that. Marcellus, himself, would look crazy.

That is why Hamlet says what he does, in this line. Again, if you have previously been told otherwise, you have been misled.

There is, in fact, no time during the play when Hamlet ever "pretends to be mad." It does not happen. Hamlet's speech and behavior are always explainable in other terms, according to the exact situation, in context. Just keep reading, on this website, and see for yourself, as we move along.

Return: #189


That you, at such time seeing me, never shall

Hamlet is now "coaching" Marcellus in particular about how to react, or rather not react. This somewhat anticipates Hamlet's coaching of the Players at the beginning of the 'Mousetrap' Scene, Scene 9, when Hamlet will speak to them about how not to act.

Return: #190


With arms encumbered, thus, or this head shake,

With arms encumbered - with arms burdened. Hold your hands in front of you, palms upward, with your hands about the height of your ribcage, as if carrying some object in both hands, your hands underneath the object. While doing that, look ahead, as if you see something odd ahead of you. You should recognize the pose. That is what Hamlet does when he says thus.

this head shake - the slow "oh dear" kind of head shake.

Return: #191


Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,

pronouncing - speaking, in a knowing way. As if being oracular.

doubtful - questionable, in the sense of raising questions in the mind of a listener; suspicious, in the sense of raising suspicion. Hamlet doesn't want Marcellus to say anything to people that would lead to questions about him, or suspicion about him.

Return: #192


As, "well, well, we know," or, "we could and if we would,"

The plural, addressing both Horatio and Marcellus, is nominal. Hamlet does that so Marcellus won't realize Hamlet is focusing on him in particular. Hamlet is going to explain it all to Horatio later.

well, well, we know - Hamlet wants nothing said by Marcellus to imply he knows why Hamlet is behaving oddly, because that would lead to questions of what exactly Marcellus knows, and how he knows it. Stress should be on we as Hamlet speaks the phrase.

we could, and if we would - Can be taken to imply "we could tell you, and if we would, then you would know..." Hamlet wants none of that, since the question it raises is obvious.

Return: #193


Or, "if we list to speak," or, "there be, and if they might,"

if we list to speak - Can be completed as "if we were inclined to speak, we could tell you ..." Hamlet wants no implication from Marcellus to anyone that he knows a secret.

there be, and if they might - Can be understood as "there are those who know about a time when Hamlet acted oddly, and if they might wish to, they could tell you quite a story." Again, Hamlet wants no implication of anybody knowing anything special about him.

All these phrases are intentionally ambiguous from Hamlet (and from Shakespeare.) Hamlet is making a point about how ambiguous phrasing leads to questions. "What, exactly, does that mean?" is the question raised by all of these phrases.

Hamlet doesn't want Marcellus making statements which cause his listener to ask, "What does that mean?" thereby obligating Marcellus to explain, and in that way get around his promise to say nothing.

Return: #194


Or such ambiguous giving out, to note

such ambiguous giving out - ambiguous indeed. It's hard to pin down what Hamlet means. Hamlet is doing that intentionally, to puzzle Marcellus about what, in particular, he could say.

to note - make note. That is, cause others to take note.

Return: #195


That you know aught of me, this not to do,

aught - anything. "Naught" is nothing, aught is anything.

Hamlet continues trying to nip in the bud any inquiry about him, because of where any serious inquiry could lead.

Return: #196 - or - Folio Difference


So grace and mercy at your most need help you

grace and mercy - can be interpreted as hendiadys, "(God's) merciful grace."

at your most need - when you need it most. Hamlet feels that this is the time when he needs grace and mercy most, but he cannot call upon God to help him commit murder. There is some "projection" as the psychologists call it, in Hamlet's line. Hamlet's statement to Horatio and Marcellus mirrors his own feelings. It is a subtle psychological instance of the Mirror Motif in the play.

Return: #197



Is a simple request for a promise, this time. Hamlet has already put his sword away.

Return: #198


Ghost: Swear!

They all jump a little again at this. The Ghost has not given up. The Ghost echoes Hamlet, in a mocking way. Devils are inclined to be impish.

Return: #199


Hamlet: Rest, rest, perturbed spirit. So, gentlemen,

rest - rest in peace, that is.

perturbed - as opposed to resting in peace. Outspokenly disturbed. Agitated. In the vocabulary of the play, one could say "stirred up." There's a Stir Motif in the play.

Hamlet sheathed his sword some time ago. But that Ghost has an eternity to mess with people's minds.

Return: #200


With all my love I do commend me to you,

commend me to you - commit myself to your care. Entrust myself to you. Put myself in your hands.

It's a way of Hamlet saying he's relying on them.

Return: #201


And what so poor a man as Hamlet is,

Hamlet is not poor in the terms of the common man. He has any amount of good food he wants, any amount of good clothing, etc. However, Hamlet has not reached his majority yet, and he does not control his own wealth. His pocket money is far less than one would like to have to challenge the King, certainly.

Further, there is the figurative meaning that he can never repay them enough if they will provide him any assistance. That's like the common sentiment, "You've been such a help, I don't know how I can ever repay you."

Return: #202


May do to express his love and friending to you

express - show. The Show Theme, again.

friending - favoring; favoritism. Or just "favor." "Friend" is from Old English 'freond', the present participle of 'freogan' ("to love, to favor.") Here, the latter, "to favor," applies, as it must, since Hamlet stated love separately. A friend is a favored person.

Hamlet is promising to favor Horatio and Marcellus, when and if he becomes King. Hamlet doesn't just mean he'll smile at them when he sees them. Hamlet is talking about real, serious, wealth and power for them, dispensed from the throne of Denmark... if all this works out.

Return: #203


God willing, shall not lack; let us go in together,

lack - be lacking; be wanting.

go in - as on the previous night, the sentinel duty ends at dawn.

Return: #204


And still, your fingers on your lips, I pray;

fingers on your lips - the classic "hush" action.

Return: #205


The time is out of joint, oh curs'd spite,

Return: #206


That ever I was born, to set things right;

Return: #207


Nay, come, let's go together.

Return: #208


(they exit)

To go get some sleep. Perchance to dream.

Return: #208-SD

Interscene 5-6

Inside the Castle, Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus go to their respective quarters to get some sleep. Hamlet, exhausted, tosses his hat and cloak on a chair, unbraces his doublet, undoes his garters, kicks off his shoes, and flops into bed.

Hamlet sleeps fitfully, tossing and turning, for one or two hours. He has a shocking, terrifying nightmare. He awakens, jumps out of bed, and runs to Ophelia's room, to check that she's alive and well. His nightmare has left him speechless, and Hamlet departs from Ophelia's room without having spoken a word to her.

  • Hamlet's Bad Dream went approximately as described below. Shakespeare scattered elements of Hamlet's Bad Dream throughout the play.

Hamlet dreamed he was a Ghost. Also, he was in Purgatory, still at Elsinore. Hamlet's ghost is free to wander at night, the same as the Ghost told Hamlet. So Hamlet is having a look around Elsinore, to see how things stand. (#Footnote 1)

Since he's a Ghost, Hamlet must have died. Yes, Hamlet knows how he died. He followed his first impulse, and as soon as he saw Claudius the next day, Hamlet immediately drew his sword and took a stab at Claudius. But he missed! (#Footnote 2)

Claudius's bodyguards, his Swissers, reacted, attacked Hamlet, and killed him. Gertrude was there and she screamed. The last sound Hamlet heard in his life was his mother screaming. (#Footnote 3)

Hamlet wonders how his mother is, so he goes to the Queen's Room. She isn't there. With some revulsion, he goes to the King's Room. Gertrude isn't there either, nor is Claudius. It's puzzling. At this time of night, where are they? (#Footnote 4)

Hamlet wonders how Ophelia is, so he goes to her room. He finds her there, and is relieved that he can at least find the one he cares most about. However, as he looks again, he sees it isn't Ophelia, it's Ophelia's ghost. She's a ghost, like him. As Hamlet watches, Ophelia's wings appear, and she ascends to Heaven in a golden beam of light. He's glad of that, and smiles. That's how Hamlet thought of Ophelia, as his angel. He's glad she isn't stuck in Purgatory like him. (#Footnote 5)

But, if Ophelia is a ghost, and then an angel, she must have died. How could Ophelia have died? Hamlet can't figure it out. He continues wandering through Elsinore.

Hamlet feels a hitch in time, the time goes out of joint, out of proper sequence. (#Footnote 6)

Hamlet hears a woman scream. It makes him jump. The sound comes from beneath his feet. In this case of a voice from below, it isn't coming from the earth, it's from the Castle dungeon. (#Footnote 7)

Hamlet descends to the dungeon. He looks into the first cell. There's Gertrude, his mother. She is not asleep. She's kneeling, and murmuring a prayer, as she lights a candle set on a small table, and tears run down her face. She looks older, and tired and sad. (#Footnote 8)

Hamlet looks into the next cell. There's Horatio! (#Footnote 9)

Hamlet hears another scream, and moves on, deeper into the dungeon. He sees Claudius, standing there. Nearby are hot coals in a grate, and the red light from them flickers on Claudius's face. Claudius is drunk, his eyes look hellish and glow like carbuncles with the reflected firelight. (#Footnote 10)

Claudius says to someone, in a harsh, insistent voice, "I know Hamlet loved you, so he must have confided in you. You must have information about the conspiracy, about the people who are trying to kill me. Tell me, now!" (#Footnote 11)

Hamlet looks to see whom Claudius is talking to. He sees it's Ophelia, on the rack. Ophelia replies, in a weak, sobbing voice, "I don't know, he never said anything."

Claudius says to somebody, "Prove your faithfulness to me!" There's a click as the rack tightens. Ophelia screams again.

Hamlet looks, and he sees it's Polonius operating the rack. Polonius is torturing his own daughter to prove to Claudius that he is not a traitor, and that his word to his Lord is good. (#Footnote 12)

Claudius speaks again, "The rack is not working." He points toward the hot coals, and orders, "Use the fire."

Hamlet awakens, jumps out of bed, and rushes to Ophelia's room, to check that she's alive and alright. Hamlet is left speechless. He cannot explain his behavior to Ophelia without revealing to her his intent against Claudius. However, the explanation would give Ophelia "guilty knowledge" of treason, which would make her a traitor along with Hamlet. Hamlet isn't going to put her in that position. After checking on Ophelia, he leaves without saying anything.

Hamlet's nightmare is not a correct forecast of events in the play. As we will see, the events of the nightmare do not happen. However, Hamlet's nightmare causes him to realize that his actions can affect people he cares about, and it isn't only a question of himself, and the memory of his father.

How would it be for Gertrude and Ophelia, and others, if Hamlet rashly gets himself killed in a futile attempt, and leaves those he cares about under the tyrannical power of a murderer who has gone mad? Hamlet changes his mind about attacking Claudius immediately, and he begins thinking about the situation much more carefully.

Footnote 1

The beginning of Hamlet's nightmare follows directly from what Hamlet believes about the Ghost. King Hamlet as a Ghost implies Hamlet as a ghost.

Footnote 2

See the Player's recital, Scene 7: Scene 7#452, "...with the whiff and wind of his fell sword..." In those events, Pyrrhus got a second swing, but if Hamlet misses Claudius, he probably won't get a second stab at it. Also, this element of Hamlet's nightmare accounts for what Claudius will say to Laertes in Scene 18: Scene 18#112 and ff, "Did Hamlet so envenom with his envy... to play with him." We can be sure Hamlet did express a wish that he could practice fencing with Laertes, but it wasn't envy, as Claudius casts it, rather Hamlet's desire for good fencing practice was so Hamlet could be more sure of killing Claudius with one stab, without missing.

In general, trying something, but failing, is a common nightmare element.

Footnote 3

Gertrude screaming when Hamlet is killed has a kind of echo in the Player's recital, when Hecuba will scream as Pyrrhus kills Priam: Scene 7#494, "The instant burst of clamor that she made..."

Footnote 4

Looking for people, and being unable to find them, is a common nightmare element.

Footnote 5

For Ophelia as angel, Scene 7#201, Polonius (aside): "... still harping on my daughter..." The stereotypical angel plays a harp.

Footnote 6

Hamlet speaks of the time being out of joint in a famous quote from this Scene, Scene 5. One interpretation of that phrase is that events are out of their expected chronological sequence. Dreams, bad or otherwise, are disjointed in place and time.

Footnote 7

In Scene 7 Hamlet will call Denmark a prison, and say, (Scene 7#254), "...dungeons, Denmark being one o'the worst." Hamlet's statements in the "prison passage" in Scene 7 are influenced by his nightmare.

Footnote 8

See the 'Mousetrap' / Gonzago play dialogue in Scene 9, (Scene 9#202) where the play queen will say, "To desperation turn my trust and hope, And anchor's cheer in prison be my scope." The concept is, "the Queen in prison." In addition to its function in the play, that speech reveals an element of Hamlet's nightmare. (Hamlet will write, or rewrite, that octet Queen speech in the play.)

Footnote 9

After Claudius flees in the 'Mousetrap' play Scene, Scene 9, Hamlet's lines will include, "For thou dost know, oh Damon dear..." (Scene 9#259) In the story of Damon and Pythias, Damon was imprisoned in the absence of Pythias. Thus, while Hamlet intends to compliment Horatio, as the ideal friend, his line implies Horatio in prison, which is an element of Hamlet's nightmare. In the story of Damon and Pythias, Pythias returned just in time to save Damon from execution. In his nightmare, Hamlet, being dead, cannot return to save Horatio.

Footnote 10

Claudius's drunkenness is a facet of his character. The hellish eyes like carbuncles are a detail that will appear in the Player's recital in Scene 7: Scene 7#442, "With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus..."

Footnote 11

Claudius has gone mad with paranoia. He thinks the attempt to kill him was a conspiracy. Claudius knows nothing of any purely personal motive Hamlet might have to try to kill him. He knows nothing of Hamlet's encounter with the Ghost, and the Ghost's call for revenge.

Claudius does know of a political motive for Hamlet, that motive being the Crown. For Hamlet to try to kill him, to get the Crown, it must be that Hamlet had political support. Ergo, Claudius concludes, there are others who conspired with Hamlet in treason, and who still want to be rid of Claudius. Certain that a threat to his life still exists, and another attempt to kill him could be made at any time, Claudius has lost all restraint, and he wields the King's dictatorial power.

Who else was involved in Hamlet's attempt on his life, or, who else would at least know about the political conspiracy? Hamlet's mother, the Queen, is Claudius's first guess. He orders, "Arrest the Queen on suspicion of treason, and lock her in the dungeon!"

Who else? Well of course, Hamlet's best friend, Horatio. Likewise, Claudius orders, "Arrest Horatio, on suspicion of treason!"

Who else? Ah, Hamlet's sweetheart, Ophelia! Sweethearts always share secrets. Claudius again orders, "Arrest Ophelia, on suspicion of treason!"

That's what has happened. When Hamlet took that stab at Claudius, but got killed himself, Claudius did not know that Hamlet had, all by himself, made the attempt to kill Claudius, based on what the Ghost said. Claudius has concluded (so predictably) that a political faction has formed against him, in the wake of his defeat of Hamlet for the Crown, and is now determined to be rid of him. Claudius is now acting desperately to root out the conspiracy against him, certain that his survival is at stake. Hamlet is not available to tell Claudius any different. Nor do any of the accused have anything to tell Claudius that will save them.

Footnote 12

This "torture" element of Hamlet's bad dream is why he will later call Polonius "Jephthah" in Scene 7: "Hamlet: Am I not in the right, old Jephthah?" (Scene 7#397) The pertinent part of the story of Jephthah, in the Book of Judges chapters 11 - 12, is that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a "burnt offering" to demonstrate his devotion to his Lord. Also in Scene 7, Polonius will virtually equate Claudius with God, (Scene 7#047 and 048), where Polonius will say, "I hold my duty as I hold my soul, Both to my God, and to my gracious King." Further, in Scene 6 Polonius will say the phrase "wrack thee" to Ophelia. (Scene 6#120) The dialogue was written to be spoken, and the phrase sounds like "rack thee."

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