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What is the irony in the lines "call me what instrument you will, though you can fret...

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hpcvc | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 20, 2009 at 3:08 PM via web

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What is the irony in the lines "call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me."

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jagtig | Salutatorian

Posted August 21, 2009 at 1:05 AM (Answer #1)

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"Fret" has two meanings, both to vex and worry and as a verb, to finger chords on a guitar or similar stringed instrument. I suppose it could be applied to a pitch pipe or recorder, as we call them today, but that's no necessary to make sense out of the statement.

Now, a recorder is played by covering the ventages, stops or holes with the fingers. So one doesn't fret a recorder, but that's why Hamlet says, "Call me what instrument you will..."

I hope that clears up one of Shakespeares many puns or plays on words.

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of

me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know

my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my

mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to

the top of my compass: and there is much music,

excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot

you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am

easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what

instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you

cannot play upon me.

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jagtig | Salutatorian

Posted August 23, 2009 at 5:40 AM (Answer #2)

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A second way of looking at the problem of irony would be in the context of the entire play. Ros. and Guild. might be manipulating Hamlet, playing on him, but it's Hamlet's playing (and writing) that results in the deaths of all the major characters.

He admits to this ambition (to be a writer) in these lines:

http://www.tailsntales.com/eng/sha/ham/tex/sel_6.html#anchor257931

Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers-- if

the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me--with two

Provincial roses on my razed shoes, get me a

fellowship in a cry of players, sir?

This is a little more far-fetched, but might be worth mentioning.

Hamlet is the master player, who would be a member of a troupe of actors. It is his writing and playing that rules in the larger play.

 

 

 

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