God bless you, sir!
My lord, the queen would speak with you, and
Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
Methinks it is like a weasel.
It is backed like a weasel.
Or like a whale?
Very like a whale.
Then I will come to my mother by and by.
They fool me to the top of my bent.
I will come by and by.
I will say so.
By and by is easily said.
Leave me, friends.
Exeunt all but HAMLET
Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!
There are libraries already filled with books about Shakespeare and King James and Macbeth and witchcraft. The topic is endlessly fascinating - as much today as it seems to have been in 16th and 17th century England. Hamlet’s vision of drinking hot blood stems from a Renaissance belief that witches would drink the blood of children for their dark purposes. In Shakespeare’s Edward III there’s a reference to how drinking the blood of a king could restore the sick, although Hamlet’s mind is tending more towards murder than restoratives.
Aeromancy was the ancient art of reading the future from clouds and other atmospheric conditions. It’s not likely that Hamlet set any store in it, but it is amusing to watch him spotting camels, weasels and even clouds in the “sky” during this scene. Polonius perhaps wisely doesn’t engage too much - he has no desire to get further involved in Hamlet’s madness.
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (15 December 37 – 9 June 68) was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. He succeeded his (great) uncle Claudius after the latter’s death, perhaps caused by Nero’s mother Agrippina the Younger. She herself was a sister of Caligula, another notoriously badly-behaved emperor. Nero’s reign was one of debachery and cruelty - as well as arranging the death of his own mother, he also killed his pregnant wife by kicking her in the stomach. Most famously, he is reputed to have played music while his city was on fire. Hamlet worries about a comparison with Nero since he too has an uncle Claudius that has married his mother and is blocking his ascent to the throne.
Agrippina the Younger
Daughter of Germanicus, and younger sister of Caligula, Agrippina Minor (Agrippina the Younger) was born on November 6, 15 and died on March 23, 59. She was one of the most prominent and successful women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and was the sister, wife and mother of three successive emperors. She was a particularly difficult mother, and was heavily involved in Nero’s succession to the imperial throne - although her heavy-handed involvement in his affairs meant that he had her murdered five years into his reign. She has been immortalised in plays, novels, television programmes and even a terrific baroque opera by Handel.