Hamlet act I scene ii What are the two main dominant metaphors in these lines?I understand that Hamlet was being sarcastic towards Cladius and Gertrude when he spoke these lines but I'm not sure...

Hamlet act I scene ii

What are the two main dominant metaphors in these lines?

I understand that Hamlet was being sarcastic towards Cladius and Gertrude when he spoke these lines but I'm not sure about the answer to the questions above. Could anyone be so kind to offer me an answer?

"Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.

'tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havoir of the visage,
Together with all forms, modes, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe."

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, Hamlet employs a metaphor to compare the black color of his cloak to ink. It's as though the sheer and absolute blackness of his clothes matches the depth of his grief over his father. Hamlet also compares his sad sighs to the wind; he must be sighing so loudly over the death of his father that he can call those regretful exhales "windy." Further, he emphasizes his absolute sorrow and the number of tears he has cried over the loss of his father by comparing their quantity to a "fruitful river": another metaphor.  

I would say that the two most significant metaphors here are the comparison of Hamlet's sighs to the wind and the quantity of his tears to a river. They both, as well as the "ink[iness]" of his cloak to a lesser degree, emphasize the extent of his grief. His cloak is the blackest of black, his sighs blow like the wind, his tears rush and sweep like a river. These seem like overstatements, to be sure, but Hamlet is also comparing what he feels to be his real, sincere grief to his mother's much more, shall we say, subtle sense of loss.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet uses figurative language to describe the outward behavior of mourning.  The "fruitful river of the eye" is a metaphorical description of crying.  A fruitful river suggests that there are a lot of tears in a steady, unending flow.  There is a river, not just a stream of tears to be cried.  "The windy suspiration of forced breath" is a metaphorical description of the deep and loud sighes that come from being overwhelmed with sadness and despair.  These are not quiet little breaths, they are windy which suggests a great volume of air leaving the lungs in a loud and pronounced way.  There is no mistaking these sighes for regular breathing or simple fatigue.  Hamlet explains that while some mourners may be putting on a show of their despair by these types of "larger than life" actions (thus the use of large metaphors), he, in fact, truly feels that largeness of emotion over the loss of his father. 

shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet's description of how "a man might play" at grief doesn't exactly include metaphors, as these are actual things someone might do: wear black; sigh, cry and look sad a lot.  He even adds on for good measure that this list should include "all forms, modes, shapes of grief."  There is such a thing as mourning, which involves rituals of dress and behaviour.  Hamlet is commenting that these "trappings" might be how someone might "seem" to be grieving for a lost loved one, but for him, the grief is real.

As you suggest, these lines are often interpreted as barbed insults, meant to condemn Gertrude for playing the part of (for "seem"ing to be) a grieving widow, while, in fact, it was all an act or "play" and only for "show,"  since she married Claudius after such a brief period of mourning for Hamlet Senior.

bluefirefly | Student

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Hamlet act I scene ii

What are the two dominant metaphors in these lines?

I understand that Hamlet was being sarcastic towards Claudius and Gertrude when he spoke these lines but I'm not sure about the answer to the question above. Could anyone be so kind to offer me an answer?

"Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.

'tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor customary suits of solemn black,

Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havoir of the visage,
Together with all forms, modes, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe."