What are three metaphors in Act 2, Scene 2?

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Act 2, Scene 2 is the longest scene in the play. It is basically broken down into four parts:

  • Polonius's conversation with the king and queen.
  • Hamlet's first feigning madness in conversation with Polonius.
  • Hamlet reuniting with school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • Hamlet meeting with the players.

Each of these sections contain many metaphors. Three of the best come from Hamlet himself, when he is pretending to be mad:

HAMLET: I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw. (ln. 264-265)

Hamlet here is saying that his knowledge (or madness) is based on the wind. Essentially he's saying, "I am only mad sometimes. When the wind is from the South, I know what is what."

HAMLET: That great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling-clouts. (ln. 266)

Here Hamlet calls Polonius a baby ("swaddling-clouts" is a word for "diapers"). He fully intends to be insulting, but the metaphor is that in calling Polonius a "baby," Hamlet is directly referring to the older man's lack of intelligence, experience, and possibly courage.

A final metaphor can be found a few lines up when Hamlet asks his friends about the troop of actors who are coming to the palace:

HAMLET: How comes it? Do they grow rusty? (ln. 252)

Such a metaphor is actually pretty common even today, speaking of someone or something getting "rusty" to mean old and not as sharp as it once was. These types of metaphors are in fact so common and acceptable, we often overlook them as figures of speech.


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