"The chariest maid is prodigal...." Please explain those lines from act 1, scene 3 of Hamlet. Laertes is speaking to Ophelia. Do the lines have any relation to the play's era or its conceptions?

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This is in response to sahabia's request for clarification on the first two lines:

The chariest maid is prodigal enough
If she unmask her beauty to the moon:

The term "chariest" is the word that indicates she is virtuous (a virgin). It means "modest". The word "prodigal" means "giving or yielding profusely". It is because of the close pairing of these two words, along with the general gist of Laertes speech, that the lines can be read as speaking of her sexuality. She may be a chaste, modest maid (read--virgin) but she is immodest (prodigal--read too free or open with her sexuality) if she "unmasks her beauty to the moon."

As for the second part, the unmasking to the moon, there are several layers of possible meanings. The moon, of course, is a significant reference because it is suggestive of female sexuality. The first, literal meaning of unmasking to the moon, is to show herself in the dark, and...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 506 words.)

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