If she should break it now!
'Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here awhile;
My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile
The tedious day with sleep.
Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain!
Madam, how like you this play?
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
O, but she'll keep her word.
Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in 't?
No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence
i' the world.
What do you call the play?
The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play
is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is
the duke's name; his wife, Baptista: you shall see
anon; 'tis a knavish piece of work: but what o'
that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it
touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our
withers are unwrung.
This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king.
You are as good as a chorus, my lord.
I could interpret between you and your love, if I
could see the puppets dallying.
You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.
Still better, and worse.
So you must take your husbands. Begin, murderer;
pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin. Come:
“the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.”
This is particularly impressive wordplay from Shakespeare. Jade is a word for a tired horse, but it also means to tire (as in, ‘jaded’) - and there’s a secondary meaning that he slips in - for sheer malice - of a fallen woman being a jade. So, there’s a variety of possibilities for Hamlet to score points with this curious little line.
Shakespeare’s plays feature a great many proverbs and then-recognisable turns of phrase. Sometimes they can seem arcane and meaningless today, but very often they are sayings that Shakespeare’s audience would have understood. The instance in this episode is a discussion of a tired horse that “winces” (or kicks!) when it is approached. It’s a very clear image for Hamlet to use against Claudius, himself weary with the weight of his guilt. Hamlet’s hope is that just a little prod from him will make the king snap. (For a complete index of Shakespeare’s Proverbial Language, there’s a splendid book compiled by Robert Dent).