Hamlet Act 4 scene 5 comments

  1. speaks things in doubt that carry but half sense
  2. How should I your true love know?
  3. He is dead and gone, Lady
  4. Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day 
  5. By Gis and by Saint Charity 
  6. My brother shall know of it
  7. When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions
  8. young Laertes, in a riotous head, o'erbears your officers
  9. That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard
  10. There's such divinity doth hedge a king
  11. To hell, allegiance!  Vows, to the blackest devil! . . . I dare damnation
  12. Hadst thou wits and didst persuade revenge, it could not move thus.
  13. This nothing's more than matter
  14. There's rosemary, that's for remembrance
  15. There's fennel for you
  16. Where th' offense is, let the great ax fall

 

speaks things in doubt that carry but half sense

Ophelia is mad, but interestingly, half of what she says does make sense.  Are madmen/women like fools who can understand and speak truth though no one believes them.  If half of what Ophelia says is true, what are we to believe about the nature of her sexual relationship with Hamlet?

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How should I your true love know?

Some of Ophelia's songs deal with a lover being abandoned, sometimes after the maid loses her virginity or virtue.  Hamlet has spurned Ophelia and this is part of her madness.

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He is dead and gone, Lady?

The other kind of song Ophelia sings have to do with death and particularly with her father's death.  In this she is like Hamlet, mad with grief over the death/killing of her father.  But added to her grief is the knowledge that the man she loved killed her father.  Where Hamlet at least had Horatio as a friend, Ophelia has no one, not even Laertes her brother.

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Tomorrow is Saint Valentine's Day

Again, Ophelia is describing the change of a lover's affections after he has had sex with his mistress.

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By Gis and by Saint Charity

Again, Ophelia is describing the change of a lover's affections after he has had sex with his mistress.

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My brother shall know of it

Ophelia has only her brother to rely on and he is not around to comfort her.  This could be seen as a veiled threat.  She may be as upset about the meager rights of her father's burial as Laertes is when he returns.

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When sorrows come they come not single spies but in battalions

Claudius' world is collapsing around him.  This would suggest that Hamlet's original Renaissance Christian Humanist view that "foul deeds will rise, though all the world o'rewhelm them to men's eyes" is coming about.  

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Young Laertes, in a riotous head, o'erbears your officers

Laertes is smart enough (Machiavellian enough?) to come back at the head of an army to challenge Claudius.

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That drop of blood that's calm proclaims me bastard

Laertes is now in the same position that Hamlet was at the beginning of the play, so he becomes a foil for Hamlet.  Hamlet reacted with depression, suicidal thoughts, to the death of his father; Laertes responds with anger and a desire for revenge.

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There's such divinity doth hedge a king

Claudius believes the kingship commands respect due to the office itself and since he is the King, he expects others to respect him.

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To hell, allegiance!  Vows, to the blackest devil! . . . I dare damnation

Laertes is very different from Hamlet in this philosophy; Hamlet went to great lengths to make sure that the Ghost would not be telling him to do anything that would damn him.

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Hadst thou wits and didst persuade revenge, it could not have moved thus

A picture is worth a thousand words.  The fact that Ophelia is mad probably because of the death of their father is the most convincing argument for Laertes' revenge.

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This nothing's more than matter

"Nothing" is another common theme in many of Shakespeare's plays.  Ophelia's "nothing"--her nonsense--is more convincing than her eloquence would be.  See previous note.

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There's rosemary, that's for remembrance

There is some ambiguity about which flowers Ophelia gives to which characters and whether there is meaning implied in her association of certain characters with the flowers.

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There's fennel for you

 

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Where th' offense it, let the great axe fall

This is ironic, since Claudius has committed much offense and yet is doing everything he can to avoid having to pay for it.

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Chris Barkley.
Copyright Chris Barkley. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 15, 1999 .