CR Episode 194: Hamlet, Act II

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Download Link: Released on 25 September 2023

The panel begins with a brief exercise in parsing Shakespearean prose, followed by a reading of Act II’s scenes, with attention to Polonius’ ambitious scheming, and Hamlet’s feigned (or genuine?) madness with his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.


  1. I commented last time about having a copy of Hamlet that has both original verse and then modern English translation and you two commented back disparaging translation. Now I agree with what you said. I now see that reading Hamlet or any Shakespeare in modern English is cheating oneself of the experience. I also see that taking the time to comprehend the verses does result in being able to more easily understand what is being said. I am making progress. Finally some of the modern translation is nowhere near as rich as the original verse. I only occasionally glance at the translation now and concentrate on the original text. To read the original verse or not to read that verse? The answer is read the verse!

  2. In Act 2, Hamlet speaks three minced oaths – ‘Sblood (God’s blood), God’s bodykins (God’s body), and ‘Swounds (God’s wounds). Interestingly, these serious swear words are only spoken by Hamlet in the whole play. Although soldiers, grave diggers, an evil King, actors, and courtiers also speak, any thoughts as to what Shakespeare is telling us about Hamlet by having him swearing the most and the worst?

    I agree 200% with Robert and our wonderful Professors that reading or hearing Shakespeare’s original words is essential. I enjoy listening to the play on the Hamlet Podcast because it goes beyond the words to explain how brilliant the writing is. For one example, when Hamlet says he can tell a “hawk from a handsaw” this could be comparing two birds (a hawk and a heronshaw), two tools (a hawk as a way to carry mortar and a handsaw), or two types of actor (a hawk (Hamlet has referred to child actors as eyases or young hawks) and a handsaw (Hamlet instructs the actors “to not saw the air too much with your hand”). I would never have realized the possible multiple meanings on my own. It is 182 episodes (about 40 hours) of learning about Hamlet – which I can do while walking my dog! But I would not have thought about learning about Hamlet without the motivation from Critical Readings and the great discussions.

    O< O< O<


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