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Act 3, Scene 4

from Act 3

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 August 2019

Heather Hirschfeld
University of Tennessee
Philip Edwards
University of Liverpool


Prince of Denmark
, pp. 180 - 190
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019
Textual variants Explanatory notes Performance notes

Enter Gertrude and Polonius


*A will come straight. Look you lay home to him.
Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with,
And that your grace hath screened and stood between
Much heat and him. I’ll silence me e’en* here.
5Pray you be round with him*.

*Hamlet (Within) Mother, mother, mother!

Gertrude I’ll warrant* you, fear me not. Withdraw, I hear him coming.

[Polonius hides himself behind the arras*]

Enter Hamlet

Hamlet Now mother, what’s the matter?


Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.


Mother, you have my father much offended.


Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.


Go, go, you question with a wicked* tongue.


Why, how now Hamlet?

Hamlet What’s the matter now?


Have you forgot me?

Hamlet No by the rood, not so.

15You are the queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And, would it* were not so, you are my mother.


Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.


Come, come and sit you down, you shall not budge.
You go not till I set you up a glass
20Where you may see the inmost* part of you.


What wilt thou do? thou wilt not murder me?
Help, help, ho*!

Polonius *(Behind)

What ho! Help, help, help*!

Hamlet (Draws)

How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead.

Kills Polonius

25Polonius *(*Behind)

Oh, I am slain!

Gertrude Oh me, what hast thou done?


Nay I know not, is it the king?


Oh what a rash and bloody deed is this!


A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king and marry with his brother.


As kill a king?

Hamlet **Ay lady, ’twas my word.

[Lifts up the arras and reveals the body of Polonius]

Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell.
I took thee for thy better*. Take thy fortune.
Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger. –
Leave wringing of your hands. Peace! Sit you down
35And let me wring your heart, for so I shall
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damnèd custom have not brazed it so,
*That it be proof and bulwark against sense.


What have I done, that thou dar’st wag thy tongue
40In noise so rude against me?

Hamlet Such an act

That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets* a blister there, makes marriage vows
45As false as dicers’ oaths. Oh such a deed
As from the body of contraction plucks
The very soul, and sweet religion makes
A rhapsody of words. Heaven’s face doth* glow;
Yea*, this solidity and compound mass,
50With tristful* visage as against the doom,
Is thought-sick at the act.

Gertrude Ay me, what act,

That* roars so loud and thunders in the index?


Look here upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
55See what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars, to threaten and* command;
A station like the herald Mercury,
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing* hill;
60A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal
To give the world assurance of a man.
This was your husband. Look you now what follows.
Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear
65Blasting his wholesome brother*. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love, for at your age
The heyday in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
70And waits upon the judgement; and what judgement
Would step from this to this? [*Sense sure you have,
Else could you not have motion, but sure that sense
Is apoplexed, for madness would not err,
Nor sense to ecstasy was ne’er so thralled,
75But it reserved some quantity of choice
To serve in such a difference.] What devil was’t
That thus hath cozened you at hoodman*-blind?
[*Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
80Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.]
O shame, where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron’s bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
85And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour* gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And* reason panders* will.

Gertrude O Hamlet, speak no more.

Thou turn’st my* eyes into my very soul*,
90And there I see such black and grainèd* spots
As will not* leave their* tinct.

Hamlet Nay, but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamèd* bed,
Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty.

Gertrude Oh speak to me no more.

95These words like daggers enter in my* ears.
No more sweet Hamlet.

Hamlet A murderer and a villain,

A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe*
Of your precedent lord, a vice of kings,
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
100That from a shelf the precious diadem stole
And put it in his pocket.

Gertrude No more!

Enter Ghost


A king of shreds and patches
Save me and hover o’er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards! – What would your* gracious figure?


Alas he’s mad!


Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That lapsed in time and passion lets go by
Th’important acting of your dread command? Oh say!


Do not forget. This visitation
110Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But look, amazement on thy mother sits.
Oh step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.
Speak to her, Hamlet.

Hamlet How is it with you lady?


Alas, how is’t with you,
That you do* bend your eye on vacancy,
And with th’incorporal* air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep,
And, as the sleeping soldiers in th’alarm,
120Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Start up and stand an end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?


On him, on him! Look you how pale he glares.
125His form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable. – Do not look upon me,
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects. Then what I have to do
Will want true colour: tears perchance for blood.


To whom* do you speak this?


Do you see nothing there?


Nothing at all, yet all that is I see.


Nor did you nothing hear?


No, nothing but ourselves.


Why, look you there – look how it steals away –
My father in his habit as he lived
*Look where he goes, even now out at the portal.

Exit Ghost


This is the very coinage of your brain.
*This bodiless creation ecstasy
140Is very cunning in.

Hamlet Ecstasy?*

My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have uttered. Bring me to the test,
And I* the matter will reword, which madness
145Would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that* flattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass but my madness speaks;
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whiles* rank corruption, mining all within,
150Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven,
Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come,
*And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker*. Forgive me this my virtue,
For in the fatness of these* pursy times
155Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo* for leave to do him good.


Oh Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.


Oh throw away the worser part of it
And live* the purer with the other half.
160Good night – but go not to my* uncle’s bed;
Assume a virtue if you have it not.
[*That monster custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
165He likewise gives a frock or livery
That aptly is put on.] Refrain tonight*,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To *the next abstinence, [the next more easy,
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
170And either … the devil, or throw him out,
With wondrous potency.] Once more good night,
And when you are desirous to be blessed,
I’ll blessing beg of you. For this same lord,
I do repent; but heaven hath pleased it so,
175To punish me with this, and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So again, good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind;
180Thus* bad begins, and worse remains behind.
One word more good lady*.

Gertrude What shall I do?


Not this by no means that I bid you do:
Let the bloat* king tempt you again to bed,
Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,
185And let him for a pair of reechy kisses,
Or paddling in your neck with his damned fingers,
Make you to ravel* all this matter out,
That I essentially am not in madness,
But mad* in craft. ’Twere good you let him know,
190For who that’s but a queen, fair, sober, wise,
Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib,
Such dear concernings hide? Who would do so?
No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house’s top,
195Let the birds fly, and like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep
And break your own neck down.


Be thou assured, if words be made of breath,
And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
200What thou hast said to me.


I must to England, you know that?

Gertrude *Alack,

I had forgot. ’Tis so concluded on.


[*There’s letters sealed, and my two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fanged,
205They bear the mandate. They must sweep my way
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work,
For ’tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petar, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
210And blow them at the moon. Oh ’tis most sweet
When in one line two crafts directly meet.]
This man shall set me packing.
I’ll lug the guts into the neighbour room.
Mother, good night. Indeed, this counsellor
215Is now most still, most secret, and most grave,
Who was in life a foolish* prating knave.
Come sir, to draw toward an end with you.
Good night mother.

*Exit Hamlet tugging in Polonius; [*Gertrude remains]

Textual variants

3.4 ] Capell

Explanatory notes

3.4 This is generally known as the ‘closet scene’ (see 3.2.299), a closet being a private apartment. See Introduction, 45.

1 lay home to him charge him to the full.

3 screened acted as a fire-screen – as the sentence goes on to illustrate.

4 I’ll silence me Dowden thought this ironical, since it is Polonius’s shout (24) that causes his death. Q1’s reading is gruesomely apt, ‘I’le shrowd myself behind the arras.’

5 round See 3.1.177.

6 Mother, mother, mother! Not in Q2, though in keeping with Hamlet’s behaviour.

14 forgot me forgotten who I am.

14 the rood the cross of Christ.

17 can speak Is this the understatement ‘will have something to say to you’?

18 Come, come This is much more than the ‘now then!’ of Gertrude’s ‘Come, come’ (12), as it prompts Gertrude to think she is under threat (21).

18 budge move away (to fetch the others).

19 glass a mirror, this time one which reveals actions in their sinful nature. See notes to 3.2.18 and 3.1.147.

24 Dead for a ducat Possibly, as Kittredge suggests, a wager, i.e. ‘I’ll bet a ducat I kill it.’

30 As kill a king? … word It is extraordinary that neither of them takes up this all-important matter again. Gertrude does not press for an explanation; Hamlet does not question further the queen’s involvement. In Q1, Hamlet reiterates the fact that his father was murdered (‘damnably murdred’), and the queen says ‘I never knew of this most horride murder.’

32 I … thy better Hamlet thought he was striking at Claudius.

37 brazed made brazen, hardened like brass.

38 proof armour.

38 sense feeling.

40 Such an act In the speech which follows, Hamlet quite certainly implies the breaking of marriage vows (see note to 1.5.46). But when Gertrude directly asks him ‘what act?’ (51), he does not directly answer ‘adultery’, but charges her with inconstancy, immoderate sexual desire, and a lack of any sense of value, in exchanging King Hamlet for Claudius. He does not pursue the charge of adultery, but nothing he says shows him forgetting it.

42 rose A figurative rose, symbol of true love.

44 sets a blister there Assumed to mean the burn-mark from the branding of a harlot on the forehead, with the backing of Laertes’s speech at 4.5.119–20, ‘brands the harlot / Even here, between the chaste unsmirchèd brow’. But Shakespeare is probably speaking figuratively, thinking of the forehead as the place which declares innocence or boldness (compare 3.3.7). The ‘blister’ then would indicate disease or taint. It was not the custom in Elizabethan times to brand prostitutes in the face, though this dire punishment was threatened by Henry VIII in 1513 and by the Commonwealth in 1650.

46 contraction pledging, making vows or contracts.

48 rhapsody a medley, a miscellaneous or confused collection.

48–51 Heaven’s face … at the act i.e. the skies blush with shame, and the huge earth itself, with a countenance as sad as if it were doomsday, is distressed in mind by your act.

49 Yea So F. Q2, substituting ‘O’er’ (‘Ore’) for ‘Yea’, treats the visage as belonging to the glowing sun and supplies ‘heated’ for ‘tristful’.

52 index table of contents (prefixed to a book).

53 this picture, and … this Hamlet displays images of Hamlet Sr and Claudius to Gertrude – he may point to two different portraits or tapestries hung on the wall or he may show her miniatures or lockets.

54 counterfeit presentment i.e. portraits, representations in art.

56 Hyperion See 1.2.140.

56 front forehead.

57 Mars in classical mythology, Roman god of war.

58 station stance, way of standing.

59 New-lighted Newly alighted.

60 combination i.e. of divine qualities.

61 set his seal place his confirming mark.

64 ear of corn.

65 Blasting Blighting.

67 batten feed and grow fat. (Not an easy thing to do on moorland. The ‘fair mountain’ is faintly biblical: Wilson suggests an undertone of ‘blackamoor’ in ‘moor’.)

69 heyday excitement.

69 blood passions, sexual desire.

71–6, 78–81 F makes two major excisions in the remainder of this speech. See Textual Analysis, 257–8.

71–6 Sense … difference Hamlet allows that Gertrude has ability to reason, but says that this ability was so severely impaired that she was unable to distinguish between Claudius and her former husband.

73 apoplexed paralysed.

74 thralled in thrall, enslaved.

76 serve … difference i.e. to assist in differentiating between the two men.

77 cozened … hoodman-blind deceived you in a game of blindman’s buff. (The devil substituted Claudius for King Hamlet when the blindfold Gertrude chose him.)

81 mope move around aimlessly, in a daze or trance.

82 Rebellious hell Hamlet’s way of conflating sexual desire with the defiant as well as punitive force of hell, or his suggestion that the powers of hell encourage lower urges to rebel against judgement and reason.

84–5 To flaming youth … fire The argument runs that it is no good insisting on virtue as a rigid and unbending guide of conduct in the young, when age gives such a bad example. Virtue, in these circumstances, becomes a soft wax melting in the fire of youthful ardour.

86 gives the charge signals the attack.

88 reason panders will reason assists the passions to obtain their ends.

90 grainèd engrained, deep-dyed.

91 leave their tinct surrender their colour.

92 enseamèd The word has to do with ‘grease’. Its commonest context in Shakespeare’s time was scouring or purging animals, especially hawks and horses, of (it was thought) superfluous internal grease or fat. But ‘enseam’ could also mean not to remove but to apply grease, especially to cloth. The least disgusting meaning here would therefore be ‘greasy’. It is more than likely, however, that what is uppermost in Hamlet’s mind is the idea of evacuated foulness. The echo ‘semen’ is surely present. The bed is greasy with offensive semen.

93 Stewed cooked. Shakespeare combines the heat, sweat, and greasiness with the odium of the brothels, widely known as ‘the stews’.

93 honeying … sty i.e. covering over foulness with sweet words and endearments; ‘making love’ has its usual pre-1950 sense of courtship, love-talk; sty is an area for swine (OED 3.1) but is also understood as a place of moral pollution generally (OED 3.3).

97 tithe tenth part.

98 vice clown or trickster of the old drama.

99 cutpurse pickpocket, thief.

102 shreds and patches i.e. the patchwork costume of the stage-clown.

107 lapsed … lets go by failed or neglectful in the timely and passionate pursuit of revenge. If ‘lapsed’ = apprehended or arrested, then Hamlet is saying that he is taken or surprised by the Ghost.

108 important Neither ‘momentous’ nor ‘urgent’; compare All’s Well 3.7.21, ‘his important blood will not deny’. We have no adjective which has the same sense of demanding or insisting: ‘The acting – so urged on me and required of me – of your dread command’.

110 blunted purpose Hamlet is misusing his energies or is being distracted from the central goal of revenge. Compare Sonnet 95: ‘the hardest knife, ill-used, doth lose his edge’.

111 amazement utter bewilderment. Compare 3.2.296.

113 Conceit Imagination.

118 spirits wildly peep ‘In moments of excitement the spirits or “vital forces” were thought to come, as it were, to the surface, and to cause various symptoms of agitation’ (Kittredge).

119 as the sleeping … alarm like soldiers startled out of sleep by a call to arms.

120 hair (considered plural).

120 like life in excrements ‘excrement’ can be either what is voided from, or what, like hair and nails, grows out of, the body. Probably ‘as though there were independent life in such outgrowths’.

121 an end A common form of ‘on end’.

124 how pale he glares He is gazing fixedly with a ghastly expression; ‘glares’ is not necessarily an angry stare, ‘pale’ is several times used by Shakespeare in connection with a dying or lack-lustre look of the eyes. Schmidt compares Troilus 5.3.81, ‘Look how thou diest, look how thy eye turns pale.’

126 capable receptive, sensitive.

127 piteous action behaviour which excites pity.

128 effects intended deeds (seen as issuing from anger and indignation). At their first meeting, the Ghost warned Hamlet not to pity him (1.5.5), presumably taking the same view that pity is not a state of mind likely to generate violent action.

129 true colour The ‘effects’ of pity would be colourless tears instead of blood. (The Ghost’s reappearance seems to be weakening Hamlet’s resolve instead of strengthening it.)

136 in his habit as he lived in the clothes he wore when alive.

138 very mere.

139 ecstasy madness.

140 cunning skilful.

145 gambol from spring away from.

146 unction healing oil or ointment.

148 skin and film serve as a skin and film over.

149 mining undermining.

152 spread … weeds She is not to use the good words of Hamlet as an encouragement to her vice, by supposing them to proceed only from his madness.

153–6 Forgive me … good Hamlet is self-justifying in his apology, saying, in effect, ‘I am sorry I have to apologize for speaking like this: virtue ought not to cringe before vice, but it is necessary because vice is so dominant these days.’

154 fatness grossness, ill condition (see note to 1.5.32 and 5.2.264).

154 pursy This is the same word as ‘pursive’ and it meant both short of breath and flatulent; it could be conveniently applied to a person who was grossly out of condition, panting, belching, and breaking wind. Compare Timon of Athens 5.4.12, ‘pursy insolence shall break his wind’. As OED indicates, the word had connotations of corpulence. The words ‘fatness’ and ‘pursy’ move towards each other in meaning, suggesting in sum an overweight, pampered person in poor physical condition.

156 curb bow, make obeisance (Fr. courber).

162–6 This passage is not present in the Folio. See Textual Analysis, 259.

162–6 That monster … put on Custom is a monster who destroys sensitivity or reason, and thus leads to devilish habits; but also an angel, in that he can make us accustomed to good actions; ‘aptly’ = readily.

168–71 This passage is not present in the Folio. See Textual Analysis, 259.

170 either … the devil A verb is missing. Many editions supply ‘master’ from the 1611 quarto.

172–3 when you are … beg of you When you are contrite enough to ask God’s blessing (or perhaps Hamlet’s), I’ll seek your blessing (as is appropriate for a son).

174–6 heaven … minister It is the will of heaven, in making me the agent of their chastisement, that I myself should be punished by being the cause of Polonius’s death, and that Polonius should be punished in his death at my hands.

177 answer well i.e. give good reasons for. Jenkins also gives ‘atone for’.

179–80 I must be cruel … behind The remarkable change of tone in this couplet led one editor to suggest they were spoken aside. They do indeed have a meditative quality, and, in this recognition of the heaviness of his task, they resemble the couplet at the end of Act 2 – ‘The time is out of joint …’. His own cruelty repels him; he sees the death of Polonius as the bad beginning of a vengeance that will yet be ‘worse’.

183 bloat bloated, swollen (with drink).

184 wanton wantonly, lasciviously.

185 reechy soiled, emitting smoke or other foul smells (OED).

187 ravel … out unravel, disentangle.

189 in craft by design.

189–92 ’Twere good … concernings hide Sarcastic. A respectable queen, as you consider yourself to be, has of course no reason to keep a secret from her loathsome husband.

191 paddock frog or toad.

191 gib tom-cat (an abbreviation of ‘Gilbert’; the ‘g’ is hard).

193 secrecy discretion.

194–7 Unpeg … neck down Oddly enough, there is no record of this fable. It more or less explains itself, however. An ape takes a birdcage onto a roof; he opens the door and the birds fly out. In order to imitate them, he gets into the basket, jumps out and, instead of flying, falls to the ground.

196 To try conclusions To test results.

197 down Either an intensifier – ‘utterly’ or ‘completely’ – or adverbial – ‘falling down’.

198–200 In Q1, the queen promises also to assist Hamlet in his revenge.

201 I must to England Though Hamlet has not yet been told explicitly of Claudius’s plan to send him away (see 3.1.163, 3.3.4).

203–11 There’s letters … meet These nine lines are not found in F. See Textual Analysis, 260–1.

205 sweep my way clear a path for me.

207 engineer one who constructs or designs military machines or contrivances, especially for use in sieges. Q2 gives it the normal spelling for the time, ‘enginer’.

208 Hoist i.e. blown up.

208 petar bomb. Also ‘petard’.

208 an’t and it.

211 in one line The image is of the mine and the countermine.

212 This man … packing The murder of Polonius will make the king send me off immediately.

217 draw … with you conclude our discourse.

Performance notes from Shakespeare in Production

Until the twentieth century this was known as the ‘closet scene’ (see 3.2.299). Since Barrymore in 1922 gave it an oedipal reading, the episode has come to be called the ‘bedroom scene’. And Gertrude's bed has more and more become the site for the encounter between mother and son; especially on film and television, many of their exchanges in recent decades have taken place as they lie together on the bed. (Although an illustration of the scene in Rowe's 1714 edition shows a double bed, royal closets did not ordinarily include a bed.)

0sd Michael Redgrave (1949) had a maidservant place the Queen's chestnut-red wig on a block, revealing that Gertrude had grey hair, business borrowed from Poel's production of Fratricide Punished (Redgrave, Mind's I, pp. 190–1).

1–5 With Burton Gielgud directed Cronyn: ‘Hamlet might come at any moment’ (Sterne, p. 39).

8 Q1's Hamlet voices his suspicion: ‘I’le tell you, but first weele make all safe’.

10 J. B. Booth emphasized you and my father (Gould, p. 65).

14a Clare Higgins, with Rylance, paused before ‘me’, as if to mean ‘How could you?’ (Gilbert, ‘Rylance’).

15 On BBC-TV Claire Bloom slapped Jacobi's face.

17 Irving caught the arm of the Queen (Georgina Pauncefort), as she crossed the stage (Terry's rehearsal book). After slapping Mel Gibson's face, Glenn Close started to exit but was stopped by a great roar by Gibson.

20 When J. B. Booth said ‘in-most’ its sound ‘greatly prolonged on the first syllable, was like a searching probe of steel’ (Gould, p. 65).

21b Robert Helpmann gave a ‘glance at his sword’ in 1944 – ‘bewildered, frightened, half-realising how dangerously near he might have been to this’ (Williamson, Old Vic, p. 170).

27 ‘Quick’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

29 Claire Bloom, playing the Queen opposite Derek Jacobi, holds that she here for the first time realizes that Claudius committed the crime (BBC-TV Hamlet, p. 25).

31 J. B. Booth gave each word of this line separately, with ascending emphasis, ‘in tones of mingled grief and anger’ (Gould, pp. 65–6). Fechter used ‘a tone of almost affectionate pity’ (Examiner, 20 April 1861).

33 On BBC-TV Jacobi spoke very loudly, as if Polonius were deaf.

53 If the frontispiece to Rowe's 1709 edition reflects stage practice, the ‘presentments’ at that time may have been portraits on the wall. However, Davies states that ‘It has been the constant practice of the stage, ever since the Restoration, for Hamlet, in this scene, to produce from his pocket two pictures in little, of his father and uncle, not much bigger than two large coins or medallions’ (p. 106). Kean was the first to have the Queen wear a miniature of her second husband around her neck; Finlay wished that Kean too wore a miniature of his father (Miscellanies, p. 228). Fechter did just that, from his first appearance giving prominence to the medallion of King Hamlet that he wore on a chain; here he ‘placed his miniature of his father side by side with his mother's miniature of Claudius’ (Cook, Hours, p. 262). Macready introduced full length paintings not only of King Hamlet and Claudius but of the Queen and the Prince; he had the Ghost enter suddenly, ‘gliding through the arras of his own picture as if the warrior of the canvas had stepped from his frame’ (Examiner, 22 March 1840). As all concerned imagine the pictures, Irving ‘points straight out before him in audience’ (Terry's rehearsal book). For fuller details about earlier treatments of the pictures, see Sprague, Actors, pp. 166–9; for later treatments, see Rosenberg, pp. 676–7.

55–63a Jacobi directed Branagh in 1988 to slow the pace of this passage, lose himself in admiration of his remembered father, and thus vary the general ‘hectoring’ tone (Branagh interview on US National Public Radio, January, 1997).

61 J. B. Booth emphasized every (Gould, p. 66).

64 As he showed the picture Alec Guinness ‘shrank as though his hand had touched foulness’ (Sunday Times, 20 May 1951).

65 Michael Redgrave had produced from his pocket a coin with Claudius's head on it which he contrasted with the miniature of his father, which he wore in a locket. He here ‘thrust them at the Queen, almost ramming them in her face’ (Mind's I, p. 191).

71 Gielgud directed Burton to ‘inflect the first “this” favorably to indicate your father and color the final “this” repulsively to indicate Claudius’ (Sterne, p. 39).

86 Garrick emphasized compulsive (Vickers, Critical Heritage, iv, p. 426).

91–103 Irving delivers this passage ‘working it up tremendously – excitedly; “The laws of Climax”’; then, with a tremendous pause, he speaks ‘whisperingly, “Save me …”’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

92 Stephen Dillane, with Gwen Taylor as Gertrude, ‘actually makes her smell “the rank sweat”’ (Daily Telegraph, 7 November 1994). Recent Hamlets (Jacobi, Gibson, Fiennes among them) have here simulated one form or another of sexual intercourse.

101 Of Fechter: ‘One moment more and the passion that made a corpse of Polonius might have wreaked vengeance on the guilty Queen’ (Field, p. 95).

101sd Q1: ‘Enter the ghost in his night gowne’.

102 Large bell strikes One (Irving promptbook). In the Zeffirelli film, Glenn Close here gave Mel Gibson a long kiss, whether from passion or from the need to stop his hurtful words.

102–4 Of Betterton: ‘This is spoke with arms and hands extended, and expressing his concern, as well as his eyes, and whole face’ (Gildon, Betterton, p. 74). Macready ‘broke from the most intense and passionate indignation to the lost and bewildered air, and with a face of unearthly horror and tones of strange awe, tremblingly addressed the spirit, or pointed towards him with silent finger’ (New Monthly Magazine, 1 July 1821, p. 333). For Bernhardt (1899), by means of a transparent painted gauze and a change of lighting, the Ghost in the closet scene materialized from the portrait of King Hamlet on the wall; when it disappeared and only the painting remained, the Prince passed his hands over it, seeking to bring his father back. On Barrymore's American tour during the closet scene a white light enveloped the Prince and a picture of Reginald Pole as the Ghost was projected onto Hamlet ‘to convey the effect of the Ghost taking possession of Barrymore’ (promptbook 156): ‘He went rigid, his voice hoarse like the voice of the Ghost. When the light left him, he dropped to his knees, as though released from the grip of the spirit’ (Kobler, Damned, p. 179). In the 1976 Albert Finney/Peter Hall production, the Ghost's ascent by the trap was masked from the audience by the prince and queen; as Richard David describes the complex effect when the Ghost thus, unexpectedly, appears:

Hamlet, by now kneeling at his mother's knee, looks at the Ghost over her shoulder; she, all tenderness for her son suddenly seized in this paroxysm of madness, has no consciousness of his father's presence. The three reactions, Hamlet's intense, Gertrude's all maternal solicitude, the Ghost in painful hope against hope that sufficient memory of their bond may linger in his wife to make her aware of him, built up a strange chord …

(Theatre, pp. 81–2).

104 Emma Lazarus praised Salvini for ‘the sudden break in his voice as he appeals to the “heavenly guards” to save and shield him, the attitude of awe and adoration which he instantaneously assumes’ (Century Magazine, November 1881, p. 116).

106 Irving spoke this line ‘most tenderly, never taking his eyes off the Ghost’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

111ff With Barrymore, ‘the relation of Hamlet to his mother and through her to the ghost was achieved by his moving toward the ghost on his knees and being caught in his mother's arms’ (New Republic, 6 December 1922, p. 46). With Branagh (1992) Gertrude stands behind Hamlet stroking his hair while he reaches across the bed to hold the Ghost's arm, which he has held out to his son: ‘the portrait of the ruined family’ (Shakespeare Bulletin, Fall, 1994, p. 6).

114 Serjeant John Adams remembered that ‘Kemble's hand was always on his mother's arm – her eyes fixed on him – his own on the Ghost; and when the Ghost desired him to address her, he did so mechanically, without looking at her or moving a muscle’ (Cole, Charles Kean, i, p. 276). J. B. Booth also kept his eyes on the Ghost (Gould, p. 68).

121–3 ‘Wiping [his] brow’ (Irving's studybook).

124 J. B. Booth spoke ‘On him, on him’ ‘as if she must see the figure also’ (Gould, p. 68). Booth's Queen, Fanny Morant, ‘turns so slowly and with such anxious hesitancy, and seeing nothing is so startled and overcome that a sympathetic thrill of terror runs through the audience’ (World, 9 January 1870). With Irving in 1874 Georgina Pauncefort gave ‘a terrific shriek’ as if she had caught a glimpse of the Ghost; the business was soon discarded (Graphic, 7 November 1874, p. 443). In the Pennington/Barton production, Hamlet grabbed the Queen's head and forced her to look ‘On him’ (Pennington, Hamlet, p. 102n), at which Barbara Leigh-Hunt to her horror actually saw the Ghost, but then repressed the experience (Daily Mail, 18 September 1981). Rosenberg adds that she put her hands over her ears when the Ghost spoke and that Leigh-Hunt supported this interpretation to him by citing Gertrude's reference at 4.1.5 to ‘what have I seen tonight’, which she delivered ‘with a shudder’ (p. 698). Playing the Ghost in 1994 Pennington almost succeeded in touching the Queen's hand ‘until she recoiled as if at an electric shock’ (Hamlet, p. 102n).

126 Irving spoke ‘imploringly’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

131 Booth paused after ‘nothing’ then ‘pointing slowly toward the Ghost, “there?”’ (promptbook 111). Irving's delivery was very much the same (Graphic, 7 November 1874, p. 443). With Irving in 1878 Pouncefort spoke this line as she was ‘turning – and looking straight at the Ghost’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

134–5 While Booth stares at his mother's face, he does not notice that the Ghost has crossed the stage. When at 135a he looks at the spot where the Ghost has been and sees nothing, he gasps and starts backward, his hand flies to his forehead and his eyes are full of terror. He turns about, drawing the Queen with him, until he sees the Ghost’ (Shattuck, p. 233).

137 Kemble ‘threw himself passionately, yet fondly forward, as if to catch and detain the form so revered, so lamented’ (H. Martin, Remarks, p. 7).

140 F only.

141–2 Booth as if taking his own pulse holds his wrist out to her (Shattuck, p. 234). Burton is less assured: ‘Fearful for a moment that she may be right, he feels his pulse, convincing himself of his own sanity’ (Sterne, p. 233).

145ff On the verge of tears throughout the scene, Nicol Williamson at last weeps uncontrollably and at 172–3 is joined in weeping by his mother.

145b–7 ‘Kemble knelt in the fine adjuration to his mother … As an affectionate son, he is endeavouring to awake all the feelings of the mother in her, to combat the delusion of her guilty attachment’ (Boaden, pp. 102–3). Irving ‘casts his head upon his mother's lap’ (Russell, p. 49). He spoke 145b ‘imploringly’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

157 ‘Breaking down and weeping bitterly’ (Terry's rehearsal book).

158–60a Forrest ‘compressed into his utterance, in one indescribable mixture a world of entreaty, command, disgust, grief, deference, love, and mournfulness’ (Alger, Forrest, p. 756). Of Irving: ‘An ocean of tenderness to her. Eyes – voice – breaking’ (Terry's rehearsal book). Forbes-Robertson, ‘resting his mother's head on his breast, tenderly kisses her’ (Stage, 16 September 1897, p. 14–15). Olivier in the film kissed Gertrude (Eileen Herlie) tenderly on the temple.

172–3a Kemble accented be and beg, Henderson blest and the second you (Boaden, p. 103). When Fanny Morant with Booth, ‘raises both hands as if in benediction, he pushes her hands away as if preventing a sacrilege. He rises slowly and with dignity: “When you (prolonged) are desirous to be blessed, I'll blessing beg of you” (Shattuck, p. 235). In the Olivier film the Queen kissed Hamlet on the cheek and lightly on the lips. On BBC-TV Jacobi's inflection of these lines acknowledged that Claire Bloom, although troubled, was not persuaded to refrain from sex with the King and thus was not yet ready to be blessed.

173b–4a Macready wept (Pollock, Macready, p. 107). Irving emphasized do (Academy, 12 December 1874).

179 Stage tradition ended the scene here. Of Macready: when Gertrude starts to leave but returns for a last embrace, Macready motions her to stop: ‘the memory of his dead parent was a sacred thought, and would not allow him to enfold in his embrace her who, even now, held communication with his murderer’ (Theatrical Journal, 29 August 1840, p. 313). At this line, Booth tenderly takes his mother in his arms and says the words in such as way as to make clear that his earlier harshness has ‘cut his heart and feelings no less than hers’ (Shattuck, p. 237). Olivier in the film pressed the side of his head to his mother's bosom, then rested it in her lap as she cradled him with her hands.

181ff Of Gielgud, seeing the Queen move towards the door and thus to the King: ‘His anger rises in a sudden tide, stirring once more the dregs of deep-rooted loathing. His words, again, sting and slash’ (Gilder, p. 189).

181b Judi Dench, with Day Lewis, addressed this line to herself, ‘acknowledging the discovery within herself of unsuspected depths she could not fathom’. During the preceding speech her ‘climactic kiss’ with Hamlet had been ‘a naked and mutual acknowledgement of desire that shocked her’ (Shakespeare Survey 43, 1991, p. 196). Julie Christie in the Branagh film is here utterly vulnerable, all her society-matron defences down, ‘on the edge of a breakdown’ (Screenplay, p. 111).

189–200 With Guthrie in Minneapolis, George Grizzard delivers his lines ‘jokingly, and the Queen [Jessica Tandy] begins to laugh in a strange way. She continues the laughter during her speech … both are on the verge of hysteria’ (Rossi, p. 41).

200 After this declaration of loyalty by Clare Higgins with Rylance, there was a long silence as he kisses her, passionately (Gilbert, ‘Rylance’, p. 13).

213 After this line and before he walks apart Olivier and his mother kiss one another fully on the lips.

218 Barrymore paused between ‘good night’ and ‘mother’ – with a suggestion of ‘please forgive me’ (Spectator, 28 February 1925, p. 319). With Gielgud, as his mother flees the room ‘his braggadoccio drops from him like the false mask that it is. He sways against the wall, his head and shoulders sink. For a moment he looks after her and then, with repressed anguish, the one word “Mother” – the cry of a child left in the dark’ (Gilder, p. 187). As Rylance jauntily dragged off dead Polonius, he bid his mother a final ‘good night’ through teeth clenched on his dagger.

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