Episode 66 - The Unnerved Father Falls


First Player
Anon he finds him
Striking too short at Greeks; his antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
Repugnant to command: unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear: for, lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick:
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,
And like a neutral to his will and matter,
Did nothing.
But, as we often see, against some storm,
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold winds speechless and the orb below
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Doth rend the region, so, after Pyrrhus' pause,
Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour forged for proof eterne
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.


Publius Vergilius Maro, known to us as Virgil, was among the greatest Roman poets, known most particularly for his epic The Aeneid. In the vein of Homer’s equally celebrated Iliad and Odyssey, it tells the story of Aeneas, detailing his escape from Troy, his love affair with Dido and his eventual founding of what would become Rome. Among Virgil’s other works were The Eclogues and The Georgics.

Pyrrhus, more often known as Neoptolemus, was the son of Achilles and Deidamia. Achilles’ mother, the sea goddess Thetis, wanted to protect him from having to fight in the Trojan War, so she disguised him as a girl and hid him in the kingdom of Skyros. There, he fell for the princess Deidamia and she eventually gave birth to a son. Since Achilles’ name was Pyrrha while he was in his female disguise, the child was called Pyrrhus. This son goes on to be instrumental in the Trojan War - no more than his father before him - and had a reputation for being vicious. Shakespeare is drawing on that reputation in the passages he quotes in Hamlet.

Priam was the mythical king of Troy. His son Paris was caught up in the spat between competing goddesses that led to his affair with Helen, and this led to the Trojan War. Eventually nearly all of Priam’s children - among them Paris, Hector, and many, many others - are killed, as is Priam himself. The sack of Troy was massively important in the classical imagination, and figures heavily in much of the literature that has survived from classical Greece and Rome.

Ilium is another name for Troy - it is from this name that we get the title Iliad. (It literally means ‘the poem about Ilium’…) Its location has been variously disputed throughout history.

Dido was the mythical founder and queen of Carthage. She is most famous thanks to her depiction in Virgil’s Aeneid, wherein she is sometimes also called Elissa. She is also the subject of an early English opera by Henry Purcell - his Dido and Aeneas remains one of the most popular operas of the English baroque.

Carthage was a major city-state in North Africa, an almost-permanent enemy of Rome. Virgil’s depiction of its fiery foundress Dido contains many elements designed to reflect Roman history and politics, as a kind of origin-story for the conflict between the two powers. As Dido dies, she enjoins the spirit of the place to rise up in permanent vengeance and enmity between her city and that of Aeneas - and indeed this certainly came to pass. The most famous episodes in the conflict were the Punic Wars, and perhaps the most famous character of all is Hannibal, the Carthaginian warrior who marched an army - including elephants - through Spain and across the Alps into Italy. He never managed to reach Rome, but is remembered as one of the greatest military strategists in history.

The Cyclops (whose name means ‘round-eyed’) were a race of giants. They forged Zeus’ thunderbolt, and Poseidon’s trident, among other things. In Homer, one of their number became the most famous Cyclops of all when he was tricked by Odysseus. Although he is now synonymous with the word Cyclops, his name was actually Polyphemus.

Shakespeare seldom uses the Greek names for any of the gods - particularly when he’s writing something that is based on a poem by Virgil or Ovid. Mars is the Roman version of the classical god of War. 



HAMLET (continued)
One speech in it I
chiefly loved: 'twas Aeneas' tale to Dido; and
thereabout of it especially, where he speaks of
Priam's slaughter: if it live in your memory, begin
at this line: let me see, let me see…
'The rugged Pyrrhus, like the Hyrcanian beast,'
it is not so: it begins with Pyrrhus:
'The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is he total gules; horridly tricked
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord's murder: roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.'
So, proceed you.

'Fore God, my lord, well spoken, with good accent and
good discretion.

Hyrcania was an ancient province of the Persian Empire, south east of what is now known as the Caspian Sea. In antiquity, it was called the Hyrcanian Ocean. The tigers for which the region is famed - more often known as the Caspian Tiger - died out in the 1970s. A famous specimen was to be seen in the Berlin Zoo until the end of the 19th century.

Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness
This book was recommended to me over the summer and I haven’t managed to get a copy until quite recently. It’s quite a heavy read, as Prof. Lewis is very erudite, but his insights are fascinating. You can get it here.

Arden Shakespeare
The Arden Shakespeare is perhaps my favourite imprint - always has been. The third edition is reaching its final volumes, and indeed the editors for the fourth edition have already been selected. There have been numerous Hamlet publications from the third edition, but the revised text by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor is available here. It’s one of many editions that I use for the podcast, but it is certainly one of the best.

 The Caspian Tiger at the Berlin Zoo.

The Caspian Tiger at the Berlin Zoo.



Enter the Players

HAMLET (continued)
You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad
to see thee well. Welcome, good friends. O, my old
friend! thy face is valenced since I saw thee last:
comest thou to beard me in Denmark? What, my young
lady and mistress! By'r lady, your ladyship is
nearer to heaven than when I saw you last, by the
altitude of a chopine. Pray God, your voice, like
apiece of uncurrent gold, be not cracked within the
ring. Masters, you are all welcome. We'll e'en
to't like French falconers, fly at any thing we see:
we'll have a speech straight: come, give us a taste
of your quality; come, a passionate speech.

First Player
What speech, my lord?

I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was
never acted; or, if it was, not above once; for the
play, I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas
caviare to the general: but it was--as I received
it, and others, whose judgments in such matters
cried in the top of mine--an excellent play, well
digested in the scenes, set down with as much
modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there
were no sallets in the lines to make the matter
savoury, nor no matter in the phrase that might
indict the author of affectation; but called it an
honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very
much more handsome than fine.


French Falconers
I’ve found a rather detailed description of falconry and its place in medieval life, which you can read by clicking here.

Unsurprisingly, this is the only instance of this word in all of Shakespeare. A chopine was a rather tall platform shoe, particularly associated with Venice. Perhaps Shakespeare is conflating two ideas - the received wisdom was that actors in ancient Greek tragedy wore tall platforms called kothurnoi, and maybe Shakespeare is being clever and linking theatre and fashion. In both realms, the taller the shoe, the more important the wearer. Of course there’s no guarantee that Shakespeare had any idea of what ancient actors would have worn. Regardless, he’s definitely making a nice flourish for the performer he’s speaking to, commenting that the youngster has grown at least as much taller as one of his fancy (female) costume shoes would make him.
Here are images of a pair of chopines, and a figurine of an ancient actor in his platform shoes.



 Figurine of an ancient actor, probably in a female role.

Figurine of an ancient actor, probably in a female role.



O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou!

What a treasure had he, my lord?

'One fair daughter and no more,
The which he loved passing well.'

[Aside] Still on my daughter.

Am I not i' the right, old Jephthah?

If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter
that I love passing well.

Nay, that follows not.

What follows, then, my lord?

'As by lot, God wot,'
and then, you know,
'It came to pass, as most like it was…'
the first row of the pious chanson will show you
more; for look, where my abridgement comes.


The Book of Judges is the seventh book of the Old Testament. It covers the time between the conquest detailed in the Book of Joshua and the establishment of a Kingdom during the Book of Samuel. Generally the narratives within the Book of Judges follow a similar pattern - people are unfaithful to Yahweh and He therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemeies, and then when they beg for mercy He sends them a champion or ‘judge’. This judge delivers them from oppression, and the Israelites prosper again, before falling away from God again and re-starting the cycle.

Jephthah has been an inspiration in many artforms, most interestingly in music. There is a beautiful cantata by Carissimi (which I had the joy of staging in 2014), and also a longer oratorio by Handel, featuring some very famous arias. Both are very much worth a look!

Connie J. Beane’s Reconsidering the Jephthah Allusion in Hamlet is the article I mentioned in this episode. It’s a brilliant read, and you can find it here.



Hark you, Guildenstern; and you too, at each ear a
hearer: that great baby you see there is not yet
out of his swaddling-clouts.

Happily he's the second time come to them; for they
say an old man is twice a child.

I will prophesy he comes to tell me of the players;
mark it. You say right, sir: o' Monday morning;
'twas so indeed.

My lord, I have news to tell you.

My lord, I have news to tell you.
When Roscius was an actor in Rome…

The actors are come hither, my lord.

Buzz, buzz!

Upon mine honour…

Then came each actor on his ass,--

The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
poem unlimited: Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor
Plautus too light. For the law of writ and the
liberty, these are the only men.


Swaddling Clouts
The phrase “swaddling clouts” refers to the swaddling clothes familiar to Christian listeners who recognise it from the description of the Nativity. From the King James version of the Gospel of St. Luke: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Quintus Roscius (ca. 126 BC – 62 BC) was a Roman actor. By the Renaissance, he was considered the paradigm of achievement as an actor. Presumably Hamlet is quoting a ballad or poem about him when he mentions actors riding on their asses in ancient Rome.

The Roman Actor
The Roman Actor is a Caroline-era play by Philip Massinger. Written shortly after Shakespeare died, it is an intriguing look at how contemporary England looked at Ancient Rome.

Harold Bloom - Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (here)
J. Dover Wilson - What Happens in Hamlet (here)
Michael Srigley - Hamlet, The Law of Writ, and the Universities (here)

Seven Ages of Man
As You Like It contains Shakespeare’s beloved speech about the stages of human life. Here it is, in its entirety!

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.



It is not very strange; for mine uncle is king of
Denmark, and those that would make mouths at him while
my father lived, give twenty, forty, fifty, an
hundred ducats a-piece for his picture in little.
'Sblood, there is something in this more than
natural, if philosophy could find it out.

Flourish of trumpets within

There are the players.

Gentlemen, you are welcome to Elsinore. Your hands,
come then: the appurtenance of welcome is fashion
and ceremony: let me comply with you in this garb,
lest my extent to the players, which, I tell you,
must show fairly outward, should more appear like
entertainment than yours. You are welcome: but my
uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived.

In what, my dear lord?

I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.


Well be with you, gentlemen!


Ducats appear in several of Shakespeare’s plays based in Europe - nowhere more famously than in The Merchant of Venice. This is probably appropriate for the city that minted the coin, which went on to become the most common trading coin in Europe for several centuries.

I’ve attached one below. May it bring you luck!




Do they hold the same estimation they did when I was
in the city? Are they so followed?

No, indeed, are they not.

How comes it? Do they grow rusty?

Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but
there is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases,
that cry out on the top of question, and are most
tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the
fashion, and so berattle the common stages - so they
call them - that many wearing rapiers are afraid of
goose-quills and dare scarce come thither.

What, are they children? Who maintains them? How are
they escoted? Will they pursue the quality no
longer than they can sing? Will they not say
afterwards, if they should grow themselves to common
players - as it is most like, if their means are no
better - their writers do them wrong, to make them
exclaim against their own succession?

'Faith, there has been much to do on both sides; and
the nation holds it no sin to tarre them to
controversy: there was, for a while, no money bid
for argument, unless the poet and the player went to
cuffs in the question.

Is't possible?

O, there has been much throwing about of brains.

Do the boys carry it away?

Ay, that they do, my lord; Hercules and his load too.


The War of the Theatres (also rather fancifully dubbed the Poetomachia by Thomas Dekker) was a controversy between various playwrights in London in the early 17th century. The Archbishops of Canterbury and London brought about a ban in 1599 (The Bishops’ Ban) that forbade satire in prose or poetry, or in plays that were not approved by the Privy Council. Thanks to the ban, theatre became the centre of conflict between rival poets. Wikipedia has a helpful summary of the shots fired:

The least disputed facts of the matter yield a schema like this:

  1. In his play Histriomastix (1599), John Marston satirized Jonson’s pride through the character Chrisoganus.

  2. Ben Jonson responded by satirizing Marston's wordy style in Every Man out of His Humour (1599), a play acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

  3. Marston, in turn, replied with Jack Drum's Entertainment (1600), a play acted by the Children of Paul's, satirizing Jonson as Brabant Senior, a cuckold.

  4. In Cynthia's Revels (1600), acted by the Children of the Chapel, Jonson satirizes both Marston and Thomas Dekker. The former is thought to be represented by the character Hedon, a "light voluptuous reveller," and the latter by Anaides, a "strange arrogating puff."

  5. Marston next attacked Jonson in What You Will (1601), a play most likely acted by the Children of Paul's.

  6. Jonson responded with The Poetaster (1601), by the Children of the Chapel again, in which Jonson portrays the character representing Marston as vomiting bombastic and ridiculous words he has ingested.

  7. Dekker completed the sequence with Satiromastix (1601), which mocks Jonson ("Horace") as an arrogant and overbearing hypocrite. The play was acted by both the Children of Paul's and the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

Apparently Jonson and Marston eventually came to terms and even collaborated with George Chapman on the play Eastward Hoe in 1605. That play offended The King, because of its anti-Scottish satire. While Marston evaded capture, Jonson and Chapman ended up in jail as a result.

What’s particularly interesting is that the vast majority of these plays seem to have small references to Hamlet within them. (Go find them!)



HAMLET (continued)
…no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

Why did you laugh then, when I said 'man delights not me'?

To think, my lord, if you delight not in man, what
lenten entertainment the players shall receive from
you: we coted them on the way; and hither are they
coming, to offer you service.

He that plays the king shall be welcome; his majesty
shall have tribute of me; the adventurous knight
shall use his foil and target; the lover shall not
sigh gratis; the humourous man shall end his part
in peace; the clown shall make those laugh whose
lungs are tickled o' the sere; and the lady shall
say her mind freely, or the blank verse shall halt
for't. What players are they?

Even those you were wont to take delight in, the
tragedians of the city.

How chances it they travel? their residence, both
in reputation and profit, was better both ways.

I think their inhibition comes by the means of the
late innovation.

Richard Burbage
Click here to listen to the Bonus Episode about Richard Burbage, the original interpreter of Hamlet.

The Essex Rebellion
The Essex Rebellion was an unsuccessful rebellion led by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, in 1601. His faction rose up against Queen Elizabeth I and the court faction led by Sir Robert Cecil in the hope of gaining further influence at court.

Children’s Acting Companies
Companies of boy performers, known as children’s or boys’ companies, enjoyed great popularity in Elizabethan England. The young performers were drawn primarily from choir schools attached to the great chapels and cathedrals, where they received musical training and were taught to perform in religious dramas and classical Latin plays. Famous examples included the Children of the Chapel and the Children of Paul’s. During Elizabeth’s reign these groups were formed into highly professional companies, usually consisting of 8 to 12 boys, who gave public performances outside the court. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, these companies were so popular that they posed a serious threat to the professional men’s companies - the ‘innovation’ referred to in this episode.



What say you?

HAMLET [Aside]
Nay, then, I have an eye of you.
If you love me, hold not off.

My lord, we were sent for.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late - but
wherefore I know not - lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not

The Globe

As promised, here is a cutaway image of The Globe wherein you can see the stage platform (frame), the canopy (the heavens) and the proximity of how close the groundlings would have been. It must indeed have felt like a promontory, jutting out into a sea of listening faces.



HAMLET (continued)
But, in the beaten way of friendship,
what make you at Elsinore?

To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.

Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I
thank you: and sure, dear friends, my thanks are
too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it
your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come,
deal justly with me: come, come; nay, speak.

What should we say, my lord?

Why, any thing, but to the purpose. You were sent
for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks
which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:
I know the good king and queen have sent for you.

To what end, my lord?

That you must teach me. But let me conjure you, by
the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of
our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved
love, and by what more dear a better proposer could
charge you withal, be even and direct with me,
whether you were sent for, or no?



Let me question more in particular. What have you,
my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune,
that she sends you to prison hither?

Prison, my lord!

Denmark's a prison.

Then is the world one.

A goodly one, in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

We think not so, my lord.

Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me
it is a prison.

Why then, your ambition makes it one - 'tis too
narrow for your mind.

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.

Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

A dream itself is but a shadow.

Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.

Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and
outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows. Shall we
to the court? For, by my fay, I cannot reason.

We'll wait upon you.

No such matter. I will not sort you with the rest
of my servants, for, to speak to you like an honest
man, I am most dreadfully attended.


Queen Anne of Denmark
(12 December 1574 - 2 March 1619)
Anne was born on 12 December 1574 at the castle of Skanderborg on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. She spent her earliest years in Germany, but grew up mostly in Denmark. She was married to James VI of Scotland at the age of fourteen. En route to Scotland, her ship was stranded in Norway, and the king himself sailed to Norway, where their marriage was celebrated on 23 November 1589.
Anne was rather tall - taller than her husband, indeed - and was a fan of dancing and performing. She went on to appear in numerous masques by Ben Johnson, among them The Masque of Beauty. Several of her children with James did not survive into adulthood, and eventually the royal couple grew apart. Anne lived in Somerset House - which she renamed Denmark House - and was a great patroness of the arts. She died in 1619. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, but the catafalque covering her resting place was destroyed during the upheavals against her son, Charles I.

Queen Mab
Shakespeare’s descriptions of the magical are always alluring and enticing, perhaps nowhere moreso than in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However it is in Romeo and Juliet that we get one of the most beautiful evocations of things in miniature - and I must confess that Hamlet’s “king of infinite space” within a nutshell always makes me think of it. Mercutio, gently mocking Romeo, gives this magnificent description of the fairies’ midwife, Queen Mab, as follows:

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders' legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider's web,
The collars of the moonshine's watery beams,
Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coach-makers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love;
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on curtsies straight,
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O'er ladies ' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail
Tickling a parson's nose as a' lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she…

EPISODE 55 - The World's Grown Honest


My honoured lord!

My most dear lord!

My excellent good friends! How dost thou,
Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?

As the indifferent children of the earth.

Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune's cap we are not the very button.

Nor the soles of her shoe?

Neither, my lord.

Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of
her favours?

'Faith, her privates we.

In the secret parts of fortune? O, most true; she
is a strumpet. What's the news?

None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.

Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.

Episode 54 - There's Method In It


[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method
in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?

Into my grave.

Indeed, that is out o' the air.
How pregnant sometimes his replies are! a happiness
that often madness hits on, which reason and sanity
could not so prosperously be delivered of. I will
leave him, and suddenly contrive the means of
meeting between him and my daughter. - My honourable
lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will
more willingly part withal: except my life, except
my life, except my life.

Fare you well, my lord.

These tedious old fools!


You go to seek the Lord Hamlet; there he is.

[To POLONIUS] God save you, sir!


Episode 53 - Words, Words, Words


That's very true, my lord.

”For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a
god kissing carrion…” Have you a daughter?

I have, my lord.

Let her not walk i' the sun: conception is a
blessing: but not as your daughter may conceive.
Friend, look to it.

[Aside] How say you by that? Still harping on my
daughter: yet he knew me not at first; he said I
was a fishmonger: he is far gone, far gone: and
truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for
love; very near this. I'll speak to him again.
What do you read, my lord?

Words, words, words.

What is the matter, my lord?

Between who?

I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.

Slanders, sir: for the satirical rogue says here
that old men have grey beards, that their faces are
wrinkled, their eyes purging thick amber and
plum-tree gum and that they have a plentiful lack of
wit, together with most weak hams: all which, sir,
though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet
I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down, for
yourself, sir, should be old as I am, if like a crab
you could go backward.



                How may we try it further?

You know, sometimes he walks four hours together
Here in the lobby.

     So he does indeed.

At such a time I'll loose my daughter to him:
Be you and I behind an arras then;
Mark the encounter: if he love her not
And be not from his reason fall'n thereon,
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters.

We will try it.

But, look, where sadly the poor wretch comes reading.

Away, I do beseech you, both away.
I'll board him presently.

Exeunt CLAUDIUS, GERTRUDE, and Attendants
Enter HAMLET, reading

O, give me leave.
How does my good Lord Hamlet?

Well, God-a-mercy.

Do you know me, my lord?

Excellent well - you are a fishmonger.

Not I, my lord.

Then I would you were so honest a man.

Honest, my lord!

Ay, sir - to be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand.



From the Latin word lobium (plural lobia), meaning a covered walkway or portico. A Roman home was often built around a garden with a pool for rainwater - this kind of entrance to a home or building grew over time (via cloisters in religious convents and monasteries) and the place filled with lobia came to be known as the lobby. Hamlet is the only play that refers to such an architectural feature. The word lobby in its other meaning appears only in Henry VI.2 and in Timon of Athens

Arras is a town in northern France famous for its tapestries. Its reputation for fine such artworks dates back at least to the 14th century, and indeed the reputation grew so great that the name of the town became synonymous with beautiful hanging tapestries. The image below is of Henry VIII in court - the hanging tapestry behind the throne is spectacular, and the curtains around it give a small sense of the distance between the tapestry and the wall behind - just enough room, perhaps, for someone to hide and eavesdrop...





POLONIUS (continued)
                              No, I went round to work,
And my young mistress thus I did bespeak:
"Lord Hamlet is a prince, out of thy star;
This must not be." And then I precepts gave her,
That she should lock herself from his resort,
Admit no messengers, receive no tokens.
Which done, she took the fruits of my advice,
And he, repulsed - a short tale to make -
Fell into a sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness, and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves,
And all we mourn for.

                                 Do you think 'tis this?

It may be, very likely.

Hath there been such a time - I'd fain know that -
That I have positively said "Tis so,"
When it proved otherwise?

                                           Not that I know.

Take this from this, if this be otherwise.
If circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the centre.



Shakespeare gives many descriptions of how it feels to fall prey to lovesickness. At the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio (himself feeling out of sorts) spots Romeo out moping in the early hours of the morning. Indeed it is his distracted lovesickness that makes Romeo miss the brawl that starts the play. As mentioned in the episode, Rosalind also has a fun description of the symptoms Orlando would display if he really were in love. The comedies Much Ado About Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost also poke fun at the grisly process of falling in love and the ill-effects it can have on human health - all of which might have prepared an audience for Hamlet's behaviour. But is he really in love or only acting?

Tony Church wrote a brilliant contribution to the first of the six excellent "Players of Shakespeare" books from Cambridge University Press. In his essay on playing Polonius, he discusses a genius move in rehearsals for the play, in which the company changed the alcohol being consumed in the Danish court. They moved from wine to harder liquor (aquavit, appropriate to the Scandinavian setting) - immediately Polonius' verbosity became a bravura performance at dizzying speed, in which he could deliver twice the text anyone else might speak in the same amount of time. In this staging, Polonius could show a different awareness of his overblown language - and these earlier scenes displayed rather more humour. 

As mentioned in the notes for a previous episode, for a very good article by Erin Sullivan on heartbreak and Shakespeare, including some discussion of contemporary medicine and medical opinion on sadness and heartbreak, click here




'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
'O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers;
I have not art to reckon my groans: but that
I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
'Thine evermore most dear lady, whilst
this machine is to him, HAMLET.'

This, in obedience, hath my daughter shown me,
And more above, hath his solicitings,
As they fell out by time, by means and place,
All given to mine ear.

But how hath she
Received his love?

What do you think of me?

As of a man faithful and honourable.

I would fain prove so. But what might you think,
When I had seen this hot love on the wing--
As I perceived it, I must tell you that,
Before my daughter told me--what might you,
Or my dear majesty your queen here, think,
If I had play'd the desk or table-book,
Or given my heart a winking, mute and dumb,
Or look'd upon this love with idle sight;
What might you think?


Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 100 – c.  170) was a Greco-Roman astronomer, mathematician, geographer and astrologer. He also wrote a short poem that was included in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Alexandria. He wrote on music, on science, and is particularly noted for his treatises on how the earth is the centre of the universe, and that the sun rotates around it. 

Hamletmachine (Die Hamletmaschine) by Heiner Muller was written in 1977. Although it is only about nine pages long, it is a dense and sometimes shocking response to Shakespeare's play. 

Here is the article I mentioned - an extensive discussion of Astronomy in Hamlet



This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

More matter, with less art.

Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true: a foolish figure;
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant him, then: and now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause:
Thus it remains, and the remainder thus. Perpend.
I have a daughter - have while she is mine - 
Who, in her duty and obedience, mark,
Hath given me this: now gather, and surmise.


'To the celestial and my soul's idol, the most
beautified Ophelia...'
That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase - 'beautified' is
a vile phrase: but you shall hear. Thus:


'In her excellent white bosom, these, etc.'

Came this from Hamlet to her?

Good madam, stay awhile; I will be faithful.


Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance (1592) is a tract published as the work of the deceased playwright Robert Greene. It is studded with references to other playwrights and writers who were contemporaries of Greene, and is most famous for its reference to Shakespeare as an "upstart crow, beautified with our feathers." There's currently a BBC sitcom called after the slander - Upstart Crow will have a new season in late 2018. 




Most fair return of greetings and desires.
Upon our first, he sent out to suppress
His nephew's levies; which to him appeared
To be a preparation against the Polack;
But, better looked into, he truly found
It was against your highness: whereat grieved,
That so his sickness, age and impotence
Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys;
Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine
Makes vow before his uncle never more
To give the assay of arms against your majesty.
Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,
Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee,
And his commission to employ those soldiers,
So levied as before, against the Polack:
With an entreaty, herein further shown,
Giving a paper
That it might please you to give quiet pass
Through your dominions for this enterprise,
On such regards of safety and allowance
As therein are set down.

It likes us well;
And at our more consider'd time well read,
Answer, and think upon this business.
Meantime we thank you for your well-took labour:
Go to your rest; at night we'll feast together:
Most welcome home!




In contemporary English, the nouns Polack or Polak are ethnic slurs and derogatory references to a Polish person, of a person of Polish descent. It is an Anglicisation of the Polish masculine noun Polak, which denotes a Polish male or a person of Polish ethnicity and unspecified gender. However, in English the word is now considered an ethnic slur, and is considered insulting in nearly all contemporary usages. The neutral English language noun for a Polish person (male or female) is Pole. 




The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,
Are joyfully return'd.

Thou still hast been the father of good news.

Have I, my lord? I assure my good liege,
I hold my duty, as I hold my soul,
Both to my God and to my gracious king:
And I do think, or else this brain of mine
Hunts not the trail of policy so sure
As it hath used to do, that I have found
The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.

O, speak of that; that do I long to hear.

Give first admittance to the ambassadors;
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.

Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.


He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found
The head and source of all your son's distemper.

I doubt it is no other but the main;
His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage.

Well, we shall sift him.


Welcome, my good friends!
Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?