POLONIUS (continued)
You laying these slight sullies on my son,
As 'twere a thing a little soil'd i' the working, Mark you,
Your party in converse, him you would sound,
Having ever seen in the prenominate crimes
The youth you breathe of guilty, be assured
He closes with you in this consequence;
'Good sir,' or so, or 'friend,' or 'gentleman,'
According to the phrase or the addition
Of man and country. (continued)

Very good, my lord.

And then, sir, does he this--he does--what was I
about to say? By the mass, I was about to say
something: where did I leave?

At 'closes in the consequence,' at 'friend or so,'
and 'gentleman.'

At 'closes in the consequence,' ay, marry;
He closes thus: 'I know the gentleman;
I saw him yesterday, or t' other day,
Or then, or then; with such, or such; and, as you say,
There was a' gaming; there o'ertook in's rouse;
There falling out at tennis:' or perchance,
'I saw him enter such a house of sale,'
Videlicet, a brothel, or so forth.
See you now;
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out:
So by my former lecture and advice,
Shall you my son. You have me, have you not?

My lord, I have.

God be wi' you; fare you well.

Good my lord!

Observe his inclination in yourself.

I shall, my lord.

And let him ply his music.

Well, my lord.





POLONIUS (continued)
...marry, none so rank
As may dishonour him; take heed of that;
But, sir, such wanton, wild and usual slips
As are companions noted and most known
To youth and liberty.

As gaming, my lord.

Ay, or drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling,
Drabbing: you may go so far.

My lord, that would dishonour him.

'Faith, no, as you may season it in the charge
You must not put another scandal on him,
That he is open to incontinency;
That's not my meaning: but breathe his faults so quaintly
That they may seem the taints of liberty,
The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind,
A savageness in unreclaimed blood,
Of general assault.

But, my good lord...

Wherefore should you do this?

Ay, my lord,
I would know that.

Marry, sir, here's my drift - 
And I believe, it is a fetch of wit.



ACT TWO: SCENE I. A room in POLONIUS' house.


Give him this money and these notes, Reynaldo.

I will, my lord.

You shall do marvellous wisely, good Reynaldo,
Before you visit him, to make inquire
Of his behavior.

My lord, I did intend it.

Marry, well said; very well said. Look you, sir,
Inquire me first what Danskers are in Paris;
And how, and who, what means, and where they keep,
What company, at what expense; and finding
By this encompassment and drift of question
That they do know my son, come you more nearer
Than your particular demands will touch it:
Take you, as 'twere, some distant knowledge of him;
As thus, 'I know his father and his friends,
And in part him: ' do you mark this, Reynaldo?

Ay, very well, my lord.

'And in part him; but' you may say 'not well:
But, if't be he I mean, he's very wild;
Addicted, so and so:' and there put on him
What forgeries you please.

Entrances and Exits

There's an extraordinary study by Professor Mariko Ichikawa on the subject of 'Shakespearean Entrances'. While of course academia can sometimes feel like an ever-contracting nightmare of diligent students writing more and more about less and less, I have to say that this specific, particular, focused study - one of many brilliant books by Prof. Ichikawa - has really been making me think of late. Check it out! 

Here's a really obscure reference. So obscure, in fact, that I couldn't in good faith write it into the text of the episode... Shakespeare has Polonius refer to the Danish ex-pats in Paris as 'Danskers' - presumably a little flourish trying to make Polonius sound like the Danish politician he is. In modern Danish, this is absolutely the correct word. BUT in fact, our dear Bard is somewhat mistaken. While he was writing, Dansker meant something coming from Gdansk (or Danzig) - a city in what is now Poland. In Shakespeare's time it was a Danish settlement, and that is where its name comes from. You'll be delighted to know that there's an entire book dedicated to Shakespeare and Scandinavia, which goes into splendid detail about the literary correlations between Denmark and Gdansk in the English imagination. 




O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. But come;
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself,
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on,
That you, at such times seeing me, never shall,
With arms encumber'd thus, or this headshake,
Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
As 'Well, well, we know,' or 'We could, an if we would,'
Or 'If we list to speak,' or 'There be, an if they might,'
Or such ambiguous giving out, to note
That you know aught of me: this not to do,
So grace and mercy at your most need help you, Swear.

[Beneath] Swear.

Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!
So, gentlemen,
With all my love I do commend me to you:
And what so poor a man as Hamlet is
May do, to express his love and friending to you,
God willing, shall not lack. Let us go in together;
And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.
The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Nay, come, let's go together.



The city of Wittenberg is in central Germany, and was one of the most important cities in Saxony. As well as its fame as having been home to the university that Hamlet studied at, it was also the site of Martin Luther's dramatic revolt against the indulgences in the church in 1517 (less than a hundred years before Shakespeare wrote the play.) Wittenberg is also the home, in Christopher Marlowe's play, of his title character Doctor Faustus



My lord, we will not.

Nay, but swear't.

In faith,
My lord, not I.

Nor I, my lord, in faith.

Upon my sword.

We have sworn, my lord, already.

Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.

[Beneath] Swear.

Ah, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art thou there,
Come on--you hear this fellow in the cellarage--
Consent to swear.

Propose the oath, my lord.

Never to speak of this that you have seen,
Swear by my sword.

[Beneath] Swear.

Hic et ubique? then we'll shift our ground.
Come hither, gentlemen,
And lay your hands again upon my sword:
Never to speak of this that you have heard,
Swear by my sword.

[Beneath] Swear.

Well said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast?
A worthy pioner! Once more remove, good friends.


There haven't been a great many satisfactory books written about stagecraft, entrances and exits in Shakespeare - but the best scholarship I've encountered on the subject has been the work of Mariko Ichikawa. She has written three superb books on the subject. 

There are various suggestions as to what the significance of this phrase might mean. Hic et ubique means 'here and everywhere' in Latin - referring to the property of being able to exist in a particular place and also be everywhere at the same time. 



How is't, my noble lord?

What news, my lord?

O, wonderful!

Good my lord, tell it.

No; you'll reveal it.

Not I, my lord, by heaven.

Nor I, my lord.

How say you, then; would heart of man once think it?
But you'll be secret?

Ay, by heaven, my lord.

There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark
But he's an arrant knave.

There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave
To tell us this.

Why, right; you are i' the right;
And so, without more circumstance at all,
I hold it fit that we shake hands and part:
You, as your business and desire shall point you;
For every man has business and desire,
Such as it is; and for mine own poor part,
Look you, I'll go pray.

These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.

I'm sorry they offend you, heartily;
Yes, 'faith heartily.

There's no offence, my lord.

Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,
And much offence too. Touching this vision here,
It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you:
For your desire to know what is between us,
O'ermaster 't as you may. And now, good friends,
As you are friends, scholars and soldiers,
Give me one poor request.

What is't, my lord? we will.

Never make known what you have seen to-night.


Purgatory (repost)
According to the Catholic Church, Purgatory is an intermediate state after death, between Heaven and Hell. Merriam Webster defines it rather neatly as a place  "for expiatory purification; specifically : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven". It is very significant to Shakespeare's construction of Hamlet's theology (or, indeed, 'philosophy'.) The greatest poet to deal with Purgatory was Dante, in The Divine Comedy - although it appears very likely that Shakespeare never read Dante. (The Italian poet was not translated into English until the 18th Century). Dante conceptualised Purgatory as existing somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Rather closer to home for Shakespeare, there was reputedly an entrance to Purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg, in the north west of Ireland. Pilgrims have been visiting this place for almost 1500 years. 



HAMLET (continued)
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter: yes, by heaven!
O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damnéd villain!
My tables - meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark:


So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word;
It is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.'
I have sworn 't.


[Within] My lord, my lord,--

[Within] Lord Hamlet,--

[Within] Heaven secure him!

So be it.

[Within] Hillo, ho, ho, my lord!

Hillo, ho, ho, boy! come, bird, come.




Hamlet's reference to the tablets (tables) of his mind constitute an image of which Shakespeare seems to have been rather fond. He makes extensive use of it in Sonnet 122 - which I've included below.
Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full character'd with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain
Beyond all date, even to eternity; 
Or at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be miss'd. 
That poor retention could not so much hold, 
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score; 
Therefore to give them from me was I bold, 
To trust those tables that receive thee more: 
   To keep an adjunct to remember thee
   Were to import forgetfulness in me.

I wrote a whole extended introduction to today's episode about the word Oh and the way Shakespeare uses it within the texts of his plays. I've saved it and it'll show up in the not-too-distant future at a more appropriate moment. For now, suffice it to mention that it's the 3rd most frequent word in the whole play - after Lord and Good!

Shakespeare absolutely loved birds - not at all surprising for someone who grew up in the 16th century countryside. According to Caroline Spurgeon in her matchless book Shakespeare's Imagery, "He has more images of riding and of bird-snaring and falconry than of any other forms of outdoor sport, and in both these groups there is evidence of personal experience." No surprise, then, that even in so tiny a moment as Horatio's reappearance up on the battlements, there's a small nod to birds and hunting.



GHOST (continued)
If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not;
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her. Fare thee well at once!
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.


O all you host of heaven! O earth! what else?
And shall I couple hell? O, fie! Hold, hold, my heart;
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee!
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!


In the life of a medieval monastery, the day was divided by the various prayers and observances. The entire system of marking the day with prayers appropriate to different times was known as the Breviary. A Book of Hours would contain all of the appropriate prayers through the day. The sequence was Matins (very late in the night or when the cock crowed), Lauds (at Dawn), various prayers at the third, sixth and ninth hours, then more prayers at the middle of the day, to be followed by Vespers in the evening and Compline before retiring to bed. This arrangement of daily prayers is attributed to Saint Benedict.

I would dearly love to have some kind of fascinating reason for Shakespeare being interested in the operations of the sinews in the human body, stemming from an event or medical discovery that happened in or around 1598 or 1599. If you know of one, I'd be thrilled to hear about it!



Ghost (continued)

Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,
And with a sudden vigour doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter barked about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatched:
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head:
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!



Iambic Pentameter
The basic rhythm of all of Shakespeare's dramatic verse is iambic pentameter - a line of five feet (a pentameter) usually made of five iambs. An iamb is a combination of an unstressed syllable and a stressed syllable. The example used in this episode is 'champagne'. The reverse of an iamb is a trochee - a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. The example from this episode was 'never'. 

Feminine Endings
We already discussed feminine endings in an earlier episode, and you can check out the notes for it here.

Last Rites
The Ghost laments that he was sent from this life with "all his imperfections" on his head. Although not one of the official seven sacraments, the group of ceremonial comforts known as the last rites included the opportunity to confess one's sins (and thereby enter a state of grace), the opportunity to receive Holy Communion, and the opportunity to receive extreme unction, also known as the anointing of the sick. This last is one of the seven sacraments, usually only made available to someone in severe medical need. The Ghost makes reference to all of these in his speech. 'Unhouseled' means 'without having received the host' - also known by the archiac word 'housel'. Comparably, 'unaneled' (which appears in various spellings across different editors' texts) means 'without having been anointed'. So, the Ghost was in no way spiritually comforted or prepared for death.

The word vinegar basically means sour wine - having come to English via French and Middle English. (The Latin words vinum and acer - wine and sour - found their way via vin and egre or aigre into the word as we know it today.) In this text Shakespeare expands and contracts the word to be 'eager' - which echoes the violent, mercurial speed of the poison and of course refers to the acidic liquid that will turn milk sour. Rather clever, isn't it?



Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts - 
O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
So to seduce! - won to his shameful lust
The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen:
O Hamlet, what a falling-off was there!
From me, whose love was of that dignity
That it went hand in hand even with the vow
I made to her in marriage, and to decline
Upon a wretch whose natural gifts were poor
To those of mine!
But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
So lust, though to a radiant angel linked,
Will sate itself in a celestial bed,
And prey on garbage.
But, soft! methinks I scent the morning air;
Brief let me be...


As discussed back in Episode 15, incest would have been a contentious topic in Shakespeare's England - particularly when the incest instance of a man marrying his dead brother's wife. (This had happened when Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon.) 

In Shakespeare's usage, garbage had a much fouler meaning, to do with offal and entrails. It still meant worthless material, as today, but likening Claudius to such foulness is a direct attack. 



To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love--

O God!

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.


Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.

Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf,
Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear:
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me; so the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.

O my prophetic soul! My uncle!



Lethe was one of several rivers in the Greek underworld. Although Shakespeare is perhaps giving a nod to the Ferryman Charon (he who brought the newly-departed souls across from Life to Death), his wharf and his Ferry were not across the Lethe, but across the Styx. This was the main river of the Underworld, and encircled it seven times. In other accounts, Charon ferries the dead across the river Acheron, which was the river of Pain. Souls were judged in the Underworld by Rhadamanthus and his brothers, and it was their job to decide whether the soul would go to the Isles of the Blessed, the Fields of Asphodel or to the hellish Tartarus. Those headed for the latter would travel there via the river Phelgethon, the river of Fire. The other river of the Underworld was the River Cocytus, which was the river of wailing, or tears. Shakespeare mentions Lethe more than any of the other rivers, but he does make reference to the Styx, to Cocytus and to Acheron. (No surprises that all three are mentioned in Titus Andronicus, which has so much to say about the dead...) . Phlegethon is not mentioned by him anywhere - perhaps he imagined the word might be hard to say at speed...! 


Episode 31 - I Am Thy Father's Spirit


SCENE V. Another part of the platform.


Where wilt thou lead me? speak; I'll go no further.

Mark me.

I will.

My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.

Alas, poor ghost!

Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.

Speak; I am bound to hear.

So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.


I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.



According to the Catholic Church, Purgatory is an intermediate state after death, between Heaven and Hell. Merriam Webster defines it rather neatly as a place  "for expiatory purification; specifically : a place or state of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God's grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven". It is very significant to Shakespeare's construction of Hamlet's theology (or, indeed, 'philosophy'.) The greatest poet to deal with Purgatory was Dante, in The Divine Comedy - although it appears very likely that Shakespeare never read Dante. (The Italian poet was not translated into English until the 18th Century). Dante conceptualised Purgatory as existing somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Rather closer to home for Shakespeare, there was reputedly an entrance to Purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg, in the north west of Ireland. Pilgrims have been visiting this place for almost 1500 years. 

As we discussed earlier, the Ghost clamouring for revenge was the most memorable part of whatever earlier version of the story existed on the Elizabethan stage. Shakespeare has the Ghost mention it rather quickly, before he waxes lyrical about how much he cannot speak about his place in Purgatory. Revenge will appear a great deal from now on - the Ghost has let it out of the bag, as it were. 


Episode 30 - Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark


What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? Think of it:
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.

It waves me still. Go on; I'll follow thee.

You shall not go, my lord.

                                         Hold off your hands.

Be ruled; you shall not go.

                                           My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!
I say away! Go on! I'll follow thee.

Exeunt Ghost and HAMLET

He waxes desperate with imagination.

Let's follow; 'tis not fit thus to obey him.

Have after. To what issue will this come?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Heaven will direct it.

                                Nay, let's follow him.




Whether Hamlet is mad or just playing the part is a question that has generated millions and millions of words over the centuries. We will have plenty to say on the matter - but it's worth marking here that Horatio's mention is the first time in the play that the idea has surfaced. 

Cliffs appear often in Shakespeare - often with the epithet 'chalky' attached. In Horatio's worry about Hamlet getting giddy and falling off the edge, Shakespeare gives voice to a peculiar human habit of fantasising about the dangers while standing on a cliff. In King Lear, the startling scene between Gloucester and Edgar likewise plays on the human imagination and the fear of being on the edge. 

Nemean Lion
The Nemean Lion was the first of the Twelve Labours of Hercules - and it became the hero's personal signature garment. Because the lion's skin was impermeable and his claws invincible, the story goes that Hercules (Herakles in Greek) had to strangle the beast to death. A variant suggests that he shot an arrow into its mouth. When he was trying to skin the beast's corpse, he likewise had difficulty making any impact, until the thought struck him that he should use the animal's own claws for the job! 

Episode 29 - What Should Be The Fear?


It beckons you to go away with it,
As if it some impartment did desire
To you alone.

Look, with what courteous action
It waves you to a more removed ground:
But do not go with it.

No, by no means.

It will not speak; then I will follow it.

Do not, my lord.

                        Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life in a pin's fee;
And for my soul, what can it do to that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
It waves me forth again: I'll follow it.


The Ur-Hamlet (the German prefix Ur- means "primordial") is a play by an unknown author, though it is maintained that it could have been written by Thomas Kyd (who wrote The Spanish Tragedy) or perhaps by Shakespeare himself. Scholarship dates it to sometime during 1587.  No printed copy of the text survives, but it is mentioned in various places. As mentioned in the episode, Thomas Lodge refers to it, and it was sufficiently current in the public imagination for Thomas Nashe to have mentioned it in comparison with Seneca in his address to the Gentlemen Students of Oxford. All we really know about the play is that it featured a character called Hamlet and a ghost character that exhorted him to revenge. 

Thomas Lodge
Lodge was a trained physician who also had a passion for literature. His father had been Lord Mayor of London. He turned to writing rather later in life, having established himself first as a doctor. He wrote in a variety of formats - novels, pamphlets, and even plays - and indeed his treatise in Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays somehow contained enough opinion to find itself banned. Lodge travelled extensively, even as far as Brazil in the early 1590s. In 1596 he wrote the work that earns him a mention here, Wit's Miserie and the World's Madnesse, a kind of memoir in which he mentions having scene the Ur-Hamlet play performed at Burbage's Shoreditch Playhouse.   

Thomas Nashe
Nashe is considered the greatest of the Elizabethan pampleteers - writers who produced pamphlets, or unbound and therefore easily distributed pieces of writing. He wrote a wide variety of items in an even wider variety of styles, very much appearing as an Elizabethan man of letters. His name appears on the title page of Christoper Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, although we have no idea what, if anything, he contributed to the play. He comes up in connection with teh Ur-Hamlet because of his somewhat convoluted reference to a Hamlet text in his address To the Gentlemen Students of Oxford, in which he laments the poor talents of writers contributing to English drama at the time. In comparison with Seneca, he feels they are rather worthless. There's an inference - given the comparison with Seneca, whose Roman plays are notoriously blood-soaked - that perhaps the Ur-Hamlet was also quite a bloody tale. (The body count in Shakespeare's version isn't anything to be sneezed at, either.)


Episode 28 - Angels and Ministers of Grace


Look, my lord, it comes!

Enter Ghost

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!
Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements; why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd,
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws,
To cast thee up again. What may this mean,
That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?



We will have much to discuss about Angels in this play - not least their final mention, which appears in one of my very favourite lines Shakespeare ever wrote. Hamlet was written at a liminal moment - the new faith of the Protestant Church of England was still only a generation old. Indeed it had come about in order to facilitate the union of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, whose only child, Elizabeth I, was head of the Church. Praying for the intercession of angels - or indeed their protection is a particularly Catholic thing, with which perhaps Shakespeare himself may have grown up. Hamlet's call to "angels and ministers of grace" makes him sound distinctly Catholic, and would not have gone unnoticed. He, Claudius and later Horatio all refer to angels throughout the play. 

Goblins (and sometimes the deluxe version, Hobgoblins) appear occasionally in Shakespeare's plays. Surprisingly, the most supernatural of all the plays, Macbeth, doesn't feature any, but they get mentioned in a good variety of others. There are a great many variations of goblins across Europe - from the friendly trickster hobgoblins of English lore to the malevolent Erlking or Erlkonig immortalised in Schubert's fiendish art song. The only Danish goblins I can find in literature all appeared a good while after Hamlet, and were all written by Hans Christian Andersen. It's worth noting that Hamlet's reference in this chunk of text is not in any way cute or kid-friendly - he's thinking that the apparition before him could be a fiend from hell. 

When I started to write a note about burial customs and their significance in the play, I wound up re-recording Episode 28 entirely! So, not much more to say than is now included in the podcast. But for a brief discussion of the differences between burial customs in Shakespeare's time and our own, click here



HAMLET (continued)
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin -
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plosive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,
Their virtues else - be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo -
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal...

                                Look, my lord, it comes!




Alchemy is (or was) the attempt, via scientific processes, to improve or perfect something. Most frequently the aim was to turn something ordinary into gold. More specifically - and useful to us - was the process of converting a 'base metal' into a 'noble metal'. The noble metals are those substances that resist oxidisation or corrosion - particularly gold, silver, platinum, palladium and so on. (The metals that are worth making into jewellery or currency, since they will survive!) Hamlet's reference to the 'noble substance' is, we can reasonably assume, to gold. 

The Humours
The four humours date back at least to medicine in the time of Hippocrates. Ancient Greek medicine identified four humours - black bile (whose name in Greek gives us the word melancholy), yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Galen suggested that an excess of any of these led to one of four personality types as mentioned in the episode - melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic and sanguine. Although rejected by most of modern medicine, in this breakdown we do have the seeds that grew into personality indicators like the Meyers-Briggs test and its many off-shoots. Below is a 17th century engraving of the four - from left to right Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy and Phlegmatic. Make of them what you will! 

Episode 26 - To The Manner Born


SCENE IV. The platform.


The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold.

It is a nipping and an eager air.

What hour now?

I think it lacks of twelve.

No, it is struck.

Indeed? I heard it not: then it draws near the season
Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk.

A flourish of trumpets, and ordnance shot off, within

What does this mean, my lord?

The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.

Is it a custom?

Ay, marry, is't:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax'd of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.


There is always a good deal to say about doubling of roles in Shakespeare's plays. It's reasonable to assume that The Lord Chamberlain's Men (and, as they were later known, The King's Men) had no problem with doubling up on roles so that actors were kept busy and utilised in performance. Most of the current Arden editions feature a casting/doubling table as an appendix, and these can be helpful in terms of tracking how performers might be cast. Our first instance of it is Bernardo, who doesn't appear in this scene (Act 1 Scene 4). The actor might return soon enough as Reynaldo, Polonius' steward. The same actor, and the performer playing Marcellus, could likewise reappear as the various messengers who appear in the later acts of the play. 

Hamlet's distaste for Claudius' drunken revels is an unusually negative response to alcohol in Shakespeare. Falstaff is, of course, the Bard's most celebrated boozer, and there's a case to be made for substantial alcoholism in Macbeth's Scotland. Hamlet's negativity towards it is interesting - scholars who enjoy the hunt for biographical clues in the plays might suggest that it's a reflection of Shakespeare's own views, but I find this unlikely. 

The word wassail comes from Old English was hál, related to the Anglo-Saxon greeting wes þú hál , meaning "be you hale"—i.e., "be healthful" or "be healthy". It grew to be associated particularly with Christmas - wassailing and mumming were integral parts of the Medieval Christmas celebration. It's easy enough to trace the phrase back towards Old Norse, and Scandinavia in general, and imagine Shakespeare including it as an appropriate reference to Danish drinking. 



My lord, he hath importuned me with love
In honourable fashion.

Ay, fashion you may call it; go to, go to.

And hath given countenance to his speech, my lord,
With almost all the holy vows of heaven.

Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know,
When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows: these blazes, daughter,
Giving more light than heat, extinct in both,
Even in their promise, as it is a-making,
You must not take for fire. From this time
Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence;
Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley. For Lord Hamlet,
Believe so much in him, that he is young
And with a larger tether may he walk
Than may be given you: in few, Ophelia,
Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers,
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile. This is for all:
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth,
Have you so slander any moment leisure,
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to't, I charge you: come your ways.

I shall obey, my lord.




The woodcock, or snipe (with the fabulous Latin family name Scolopax) is a family of birds notorious for being easy to catch - primarily because they aren't particularly sharp. Shakespeare uses the bird as an example of being easily had in several of the plays, particularly when characters play an elaborate prank on someone. Notable examples are Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well. The term crops in similar fashion in a good few other plays, too. There's a neat little flourish from our dear author in Hamlet - Polonius advises Ophelia not to be caught up in Hamlet's traps (or springes), and then towards the end of the play Laertes laments the fact that he gets caught in the one he sets for Hamlet - using the same metaphor of the poor, unwitting woodcock. 



Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.

The time invites you; go; your servants tend.

Farewell, Ophelia; and remember well
What I have said to you.

Tis in my memory locked,
And you yourself shall keep the key of it.



What is't, Ophelia, he hath said to you?

So please you, something touching the Lord Hamlet.

Marry, well bethought:
Tis told me, he hath very oft of late
Given private time to you; and you yourself
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous:
If it be so, as so tis put on me,
And that in way of caution, I must tell you,
You do not understand yourself so clearly
As it behoves my daughter and your honour.
What is between you? give me up the truth.

He hath, my lord, of late made many tenders
Of his affection to me.

Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl,
Unsifted in such perilous circumstance.
Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?

I do not know, my lord, what I should think.

Marry, I'll teach you: think yourself a baby;
That you have ta'en these tenders for true pay,
Which are not sterling. Tender yourself more dearly;
Or - not to crack the wind of the poor phrase,
Running it thus - you'll tender me a fool.


Mothers and Daughters
As mentioned in this episode, mothers and daughters very seldom share the stage in plays by Shakespeare. The only ones I can think of Queen Isabel of France and her daughter Katharine in Henry V, Mistress Page and her daughter Anne in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Thaisa and Marina in Pericles, Hermione and Perdita in The Winter’s Tale, Lady Capulet and her headstrong child in Romeo & Juliet, and perhaps their distant cousin the Widow Capilet and her daughter Diana, who is instrumental in making sure that All’s Well That Ends Well. A formidable trio of women appears in Coriolanus (Volumnia, his mother, Virgilia, his wife, and Valeria, 'a noble lady of Rome') - but they are not directly mother and daughter. Lear, Prospero, Titus Andronicus, Duke Senior, Shylock, and Brabantio have fascinating children, but none of them have wives any more. It's such a startling absence from what is otherwise so rich a canon of characters and human experiences.

There's a long tradition of what are known as 'minced oaths' in Shakespeare - given that he was writing under the watchful eye of a censor, in a time when Puritans were gaining influence he couldn't write the full versions of any curses or swearwords or expletives. As a result we have various items - sblood, zounds, and the very common 'Marry' - which is a contraction of 'By the Virgin Mary'. There's even an argument that the word 'bloody' as a curse word came into use as a contraction of 'By Our Lady'! 

Mrs. Polonius
As promised, here is the link to Anne Harris' (hopefully deliberately) hilarious exploration of the evidence for the character of Mrs. Polonius, published in The Spectator in March 1933. I'm not sure if it's out of copyright, so I haven't included the entire text on the website. 

Doll Display
I think that Ninagawa's use of the hinadan, or doll-display stand, is one of his most ingenious staging devices in all of the Shakespeare plays he put on. The idea featured repeatedly in several of his productions of Hamlet over the years, and in some cases was extrapolated further through the play in different ways. Jon Brokering wrote an excellent article on this - you can access it here (if you have a way of getting in to JSTOR!) 

  A traditional  hinadan  ( 雛段 ) - the idea of it is also memorably used in Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams. 

A traditional hinadan (雛段) - the idea of it is also memorably used in Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams. 



POLONIUS (continued) 

And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!


Henrik Ramel
Ramel was a Danish diplomat, born in Poland sometime in the 1550s. Notably, he appears in Wikipedia only in Danish! He is mentioned in Keith Brown's essay on the play in English Studies Vol. 55 (1974). 

Precepts for the Well Ordering of a Man's Life
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, wrote these for his son Robert before HE left for Paris in about 1584. You can read the entire set right here, but the ones that are particularly interesting for their parallels to what Polonius says are as follows:

Precept V - Be sure you keep some great man always to your friend, yet trouble him not for trifles; compliment him often, present him with many, yet small gifts, and of little charge, and if you have cause to bestow any great gratuity on him then let it be no chest commodity or obscure thing, but such a one as may be daily in sight, the better to be remembered…

Precept VI - Neither undertake law against any man before you be fully resolved you have the right on your side, which being once so ascertained, then spare neither cost nor pains to accomplish it. 

Precept VII - Beware of suretyship for your best friend

Precept VIII - Towards your superiors be humble yet generous; with your equals familiar yet respective; towards your inferiors show much humility, with some familiarity…

Precept X - be not scurrilous in conversation, nor satirical in your wits… jest when they do savour of too much truth leave a bitterness in the minds of those that are touched.