'Tis most true:
And he beseech'd me to entreat your majesties
To hear and see the matter.

With all my heart; and it doth much content me
To hear him so inclined.
Good gentlemen, give him a further edge,
And drive his purpose on to these delights.

We shall, my lord.


Sweet Gertrude, leave us too;
For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,
That he, as 'twere by accident, may here
Affront Ophelia:
Her father and myself, lawful espials,
Will so bestow ourselves that, seeing, unseen,
We may of their encounter frankly judge,
And gather by him, as he is behaved,
If 't be the affliction of his love or no
That thus he suffers for.

I shall obey you.
And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
That your good beauties be the happy cause
Of Hamlet's wildness: so shall I hope your virtues
Will bring him to his wonted way again,
To both your honours.

Madam, I wish it may.



There is a terrible price to pay for spying in this play. It is set up early in the seemingly-unimportant scene between Polonius and Reynaldo, wherein the father despatches a servant to spy on his son abroad. This is Polonius’ modus operandi, it seems. As soon as there’s another problem, his suggestion is another spying trick. Later in the play, he is dealt his own reward when he winds up behind another arras, this time with less intent, and is stabbed by Hamlet. It’s a neat trick, and at some level perhaps it is Shakespeare’s comment on the spycraft so enthusiastically employed in Elizabeth’s England.



And can you, by no drift of conference,
Get from him why he puts on this confusion,
Grating so harshly all his days of quiet
With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?

He does confess he feels himself distracted;
But from what cause he will by no means speak.

Nor do we find him forward to be sounded,
But, with a crafty madness, keeps aloof,
When we would bring him on to some confession
Of his true state.

Did he receive you well?

Most like a gentleman.

But with much forcing of his disposition.

Niggard of question; but, of our demands,
Most free in his reply.

Did you assay him to any pastime?

Madam, it so fell out, that certain players
We o'er-raught on the way: of these we told him;
And there did seem in him a kind of joy
To hear of it: they are about the court,
And, as I think, they have already order
This night to play before him.


The Mousetrap
I mentioned within this episode that The Mousetrap is an alternate name (given by Hamlet himself) for the play-within-the-play. It is also the name of the longest-running play in the history of the theatre - The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie has been running in London’s West End for decades already. They’ve already achieved the astonishing milestone of 25000 performances. (And I have never seen it!)

Although it dates back almost a thousand years to Old English, this word has very much fallen out of favour due to its close similarity to that very worst of racial slurs. Happily we now live in a world where no decent person would think of using the latter word, but as a result its homonym is likewise avoided for fear of misunderstanding. Believe it or not, there’s an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated to controversies and difficulties that surround the word niggard. It is unlikely that niggard or niggardly will come back into common use, with their meanings of stinginess or miserliness, and that’s probably for the best.



O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play 's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.

Episode 70 - Who Calls Me Villain?


HAMLET: (continued)
Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!


This is an old Middle English word for head (specifically the crown of the head).

Peter Hall
David Warner’s performance, mentioned in this episode, was directed by Peter Hall. The latter was the subject of one of our bonus episodes - you can listen to it here.

Swounds or Zwounds is the latest entry into our catalogue of minced oaths. This one is “by Christ’s wounds

Episode 69 - What's Hecuba to Him, or He to Hecuba?


O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.



As mentioned in this episode, antithesis is one of the central keys to unlocking Shakespeare’s language. Simply put, it’s a word or group of words set against its opposite. The contrast between the two juxtaposed ideas - the antithesis - enriches the imagery and depth of thought. The actor must play the antithesis in order to highlight the meaning of the text. Some recognisable examples of antithesis in Shakespeare are:

To be, or not to be. . .
Fair is foul, and foul is fair. . .
What he has lost, noble Macbeth has won. . .

Michael MacLiammoir was an Irish actor, writer, and co-director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre for much of the theatre’s history. He wrote a splendid memoir called All For Hecuba - An Irish Theatrical Autobiography. It’s out of print and rather hard to find online, but if you happen upon it in a second-hand shop, don’t hesitate!



Look, whether he has not turned his colour and has
tears in's eyes. Pray you, no more.

'Tis well: I'll have thee speak out the rest soon.
Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.

My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Take them in.

Come, sirs.

Follow him, friends: we'll hear a play to-morrow.

Exit POLONIUS with all the Players but the First

Dost thou hear me, old friend; can you play the
Murder of Gonzago?

First Player
Ay, my lord.

We'll ha't to-morrow night. You could, for a need,
study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which
I would set down and insert in't, could you not?

First Player
Ay, my lord.

Very well. Follow that lord; and look you mock him not.

Exit First Player

My good friends, I'll leave you till night: you are
welcome to Elsinore.

Good my lord!

Ay, so, God be wi' ye;


Now I am alone.


The Murder of Gonzago

There’s sadly no record of any play with this title - in choice Italian or any other language! I feel it’s fairly safe to assume that Shakespeare made it up. We will soon have to discuss more about The Spanish Tragedy, Thomas Kyd’s enormously popular revenge tragedy, which many believe was a major influence on Hamlet.

Minced Oaths
A minced oath is an expression formed by adapting a blasphemous or taboo word or phrase, in order to reduce the offence it might cause. Since Shakespeare 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'!  Likewise in this episode we have ‘God’s bodykins’ - a rather cute way for Hamlet to swear at Polonius.



Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! All you gods,
In general synod 'take away her power;
Break all the spokes and fellies from her wheel,
And bowl the round nave down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!'

This is too long.

It shall to the barber's, with your beard. Prithee,
say on: he's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he
sleeps: say on: come to Hecuba.

'But who, O, who had seen the mobled queen…'

'The mobled queen?'

That's good; 'mobled queen' is good.

'…run barefoot up and down, threatening the flames
With bisson rheum; a clout upon that head
Where late the diadem stood, and for a robe,
About her lank and all o'er-teemed loins,
A blanket, in the alarm of fear caught up;
Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steeped,
'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have pronounced:
But if the gods themselves did see her then
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport
In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs,
The instant burst of clamour that she made,
Unless things mortal move them not at all,
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,
And passion in the gods.'


In Book II of Virgil’s Aeneid, the hero Aeneas is telling his story to Dido. Obviously we hear the story from his perspective as a prince of Troy, and as such it is understandable that the Greeks are very negatively portrayed. None of them is more wickedly presented than Pyrrhus (more frequently known as Neoptolemus), the son of Achilles. What Shakespeare does not mention is that before slaughtering Priam, he killed Priam’s son Polites. The prince was clinging to the altar of Zeus desperately praying for sanctuary, and the enraged Pyrrhus killed him in full view of his father. Pyrrhus then dragged Priam to the altar too, and “minced his limbs” as Shakespeare so grimly describes it.

Fortuna was the Roman goddess of fortune, both good and bad. Of all of the ancient gods who were supplanted by Christianity, Fortune was perhaps the one who lasted the longest. Well into the Middle Ages, she remained a central part of the imagination. She was frequently depicted with a horn of plenty, or a ship’s rudder, or a ball, but more than anything else with a wheel - hence the reference to her wheel in this week’s episode. Boethius makes several references to her, and particularly to her wheel, charting how a person’s life can go through good and bad periods as their fortune increases or decreases. Fortune is also featured in the writings of Boccaccio, and I’ve included an image of an illuminated manuscript page from one of his books.

A synod is a council of a religious group, usually meeting to discuss an issue of doctrine. Historically, the word applied primarily to a meeting of bishops of the Catholic Church. Amazingly, every single time Shakespeare uses it in one of his plays, he does so to refer to the collected gods of the ancient world.

Hecuba (or Hekabe), wife of Priam, features in an impressive variety of literary works. As well as several episodes in Homer’s Iliad, she is the lead character in two separate plays by Euripides. The Trojan Women happens in the aftermath of Troy’s capture by the Greeks. All of the women are assigned as slaves to the Greek warriors, and Hecuba watches as several of them are carted off. In this part of the story, Pyrrhus gets even more revenge against Priam’s family when he ensures that the last living male Trojan prince, Hector’s son Astyanax, is murdered, thrown from the walls of Troy. Hector’s widow, Andromache, is given to Pyrrhus as a slave. Hecuba herself is given to Odysseus, and the next play, Hecuba, takes place after they leave Troy. Finally the queen is allowed just a tiny bit of revenge, against the king Polymestor who murdered another of her sons. She blinds the king and is turned into a dog, so that she can escape her captors.
Hecuba also appears in Dante’s Inferno, described as Ecuba trista, misera e cattiva - poor Hecuba, sad and captive.

I mention this here (and not in the podcast itself) because the reference is a little too far outside the scope of the play, but both Hecuba and Fortuna appear in the Carmina Burana. Although most famous in the 1930s setting by Carl Orff that has become so famous in horror films, the original text is a collection of songs and poems called “Songs from Benediktbeuern” or Carmina Burana. The most famous segment of Orff’s music is in fact an invocation to the goddess - ‘O Fortuna’. Treat yourself - play this on LOUD.

As I mentioned at the end of the episode, Kenneth Branagh went all-out in his film version of the play in 1996. He filmed the entire play, with a fabulous cast that includes Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie and Kate Winslet. He also includes a good few flashbacks and extra scenes, including those described at Troy by the First Player. Here’s the full speech, performed by Charlton Heston and with John Gielgud and Judi Dench as Priam and Hecuba.

This is a page from a copy of Boccaccio’s writings, featuring this bold image of Fortune and her wheel.

This is a page from a copy of Boccaccio’s writings, featuring this bold image of Fortune and her wheel.

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!