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Please explain the line, "A little more than kin, and less than kind!" which occurs in...

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fitter638 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 12, 2010 at 10:39 AM via web

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Please explain the line, "A little more than kin, and less than kind!" which occurs in "Hamlet" Act I Sc.2.

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lit24 | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:07 AM (Answer #1)

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This line occurs in Shakespeare's tragedy "Hamlet" in Act I Sc.2.

This line is spoken as 'Aside' by Hamlet when the wicked king Claudius addresses him as "But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son." Hamlet is Claudius' nephew - "cousin" - but since his father is dead Claudius has become not only his guardian but also his step father by marrying Hamlet's mother Gertrude. That is why Claudius addresses him as 'cousin' and 'son.'

This line is the first line spoken by Hamlet and it has been foregrounded in that it is meant to be heard by the audience and not by the others -  especially Claudius - on stage. By doing so Hamlet straightaway establishes a close rapport and sympathy with his audience. His loneliness and his mistrust of everyone in Elsinore is immediately established by his first speaking to his audience and not to the others.

The lines are intensely ironical and the audience immediately understands and sympathizes with Hamlet's anguish of  his mother's marrying Claudius hastily and his suspicion that there is something fishy about his father's death.

Hamlet means to say that since Claudius has married his mother, Claudius  is now more than a relative - "kin" - to him because he is now his step father. But he expresses his disapproval of Claudius marrying his mother hastily by saying that it was not a civilized - "kind" - thing to do.

The word "kind" is foregrounded because Hamlet puns on the two meanings of  the word 'kind' :

1. It was not kindness or genuine love which prompted Claudius to marry Gertrude but his own lust.

2. Hamlet wishes to emphasize straight away that he and Claudius although related are altogether of a different character.

The fact that the very first line spoken by Hamlet is addressed to the audience and the fact that it contains a pun foregrounds the importance of Hamlet's play acting which he has to undertake in order to avenge his father's death. He is compelled to present a false front to his enemies and his mother in order to find out the truth behind his father's murder and avenge it.

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:32 AM (Answer #2)

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The quote is rendered by Hamlet as an aside in Act I, Scene ii of Shakespeare's Hamlet, as is correctly reported in your other answers. I'll just add that the scene has the newly crowned King Claudius in company with Hamlet's mother, Claudius's new Queen; Polonius and his son Laerees; Hamlet; and two others. The King is conducting the business of state and, while doing so, says:

Have we, as 'twere with a defeated joy,--
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,--

King Claudius dispatches business; grants that Laertes should be allowed to return to France, with Polonius's consent; and turns to Hamlet saying, "But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son,--." Hamlet here responds to the address of "my son" with aside quoted: "A little more than kin, and less than kind." Hamlet is alluding in the first part of the quote to Claudius's role as his King, which makes him more than kin, a role he has by virtue of his marriage to Hamlet's mother. He is alluding in the second part to his bitter, shocked feelings at the suspect marriage between the two when he says, "...and less than kind."

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bookkeeper11107 | eNoter

Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:29 AM (Answer #3)

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Hamlet is responding in this line, under his breath, to his uncle's epithet "And now, our cousin Hamlet, and our son":  Hamlet is put off by the dual relationship ("a little more than kin"), occasioned as it is by his mother's re-marriage to his uncle;  which is incest in Hamlet's view.  He also resents his uncle for the reminder that the late king, his own father is dead ("and less than kind").

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:06 AM (Answer #4)

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This quote comes from Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2.  This line (Line 65 of that scene) is spoken by Hamlet in an aside.

Hamlet is with King Claudius, Laertes, and Laertes' father, Polonius.  Claudius has been talking to Laertes, but now he turns to Hamlet and says something to him, calling Hamlet his "cousin" (which apparently means nephew).

At that point, Hamlet speaks the line you mention.  In saying these words, he is telling the audience that he does not like Claudius.  He sees him as more than a relative, but does not like him -- says he is not kind.

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