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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: December ::
Four Riddles in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0585  Monday, 30 November 2009

From:       Jim Fess <
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Date:       Saturday, 21 Nov 2009 18:47:26 +0800
Subject:    Four Riddles in Hamlet

1. Hide Fox, and all after

Claudius sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Polonius' body. By a 
riddle, Hamlet told them: "The king has a human body, but he deserves 
not the body. The king is nothing but a fox with the human skin, and 
everyone follows him."

ROS: My Lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go with us to the 
King.
HAM: The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body.
The King, is a thing  --
GUI: A thing, my Lord?
HAM: Of nothing: bring me to him, hide Fox, and all after.

a thing: contrary to the human body as a hint.

hide Fox: a fox with the human skin.


2. Camel, Weasel, Whale

Before Hamlet agreed to meet Gertrude, he riddled with Polonius about 
cloud's shapes, Camel, Weasel, and Whale, to tell Polonius that they 
could not fool him. The three names share some common letters in HAMLET, 
hinted by how close they can spell it, _almost_, _indeed_, _methinks_, 
and _very like_. Hamlet was saying: "When you admit that I'm as the 
intangible cloud, durable camel, sly weasel, and great whale, then I 
will come to my mother."

POL: My Lord; the Queen would speak with you, and presently.
HAM: Do you see that Cloud? that's almost in shape like a Camel.
POL: By the Miss, and it's like a Camel indeed.
HAM: Methinks it is like a Weasel.
POL: It is backed like a Weasel.
HAM: Or like a Whale?
POL: Very like a Whale.
HAM: Then will I come to my Mother, by and by: They fool me to the
top of my bent. I will come by and by.
POL: I will say so. [Exit]
HAM: By and by, is easily said. Leave me, Friends.

Cloud ... almost: Hamlet can almost spell Camel except C (amel in 
hAMLEt); the missing C is compensated by the Cloud.

By the Miss ... indeed: By the missing C, Hamlet indeed spells Camel.

Methinks ... Weasel: Hamlet lacks W and S to spell Weasel; Methinks 
supplies the S, and the W is backed by M in next line.

backed: a backed M provides the missing W. (Camel's back shapes an M.)

Very like: Hamlet can spell Whale with the M from the backed W.

Then will I come to my Mother: with above animal features, Hamlet can 
come to the trap.

By and by: Hamlet was bent to different shapes as cloud, and would come 
over it by and by.


3. A little more than kin, and less than kind

Claudius challenged Hamlet by calling him cousin, a word related to 
cozen in the end of 16th century, and threatened him with a name riddle, 
Claudius as Cloud-dears, one who darkens his dear ones.

CLA: But now my Cousin Hamlet, and my Son?
HAM: A little more than kin, and less than kind.
CLA: How is it that the Clouds still hang on you?
HAM: Not so my Lord, I am too much in the Sun.

my Son?: With question mark (in the original print), Claudius was 
testing Hamlet, "My son, can you figure out my name's sound?"

A little more than kin: _dears_ are little closer than the kin.

less than kind: to _cloud_, to darken, is unkind.

Clouds still hang on you: to hint the answer cloud; clouds puns for 
claws that hang on Hamlet. Claudius knew that Hamlet figured out his 
name riddle.

Sun: a pun for sound, probing. "I am too much in the probing (of your 
crime) in the sun (public)."


4. I know a Hawk from a Handsaw

Claudius sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to test Hamlet's madness. 
Hamlet told them: "I am but furious with a firm goal to discover my 
uncle's crime. When the support is from the opposite direction, I know a 
fierce man from his handsaw, not to help but kill."

HAM: You are welcome: but my Uncle Father, and Aunt Mother are deceived.
GUI: In what, my dear Lord?
HAM: I am but mad North, North-West: when the Wind is Southerly, I
know a Hawk from a Handsaw."

North: indicating the North Star, a firm target.

North-west: a new passage, North-west Passage; at the end of 16th 
century people believed that there existed a new water channel connected 
the Atlantic and Pacific. (OED north-west, C.2. 1600)

Hawk: a fierce man. (OED hawk, n.1, 3. 1548)

Handsaw: a tool for dissecting, also handy for a cruel kill.

wind: a support or press.

Southerly: against the north, opposite.


All comments are welcome. Thank you.

Jim

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