What does this line mean: "Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?"Shakespeare's Hamlet

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Just as Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet has involved every major character in a duplicitous act, with the exception of Horatio and Laertes.  Now, in Act III, Scene 2, there is duplicity; however, whereas the first scene contains duplicity that it seemingly good, the intent is evil, the second scene's duplicity is apparently for evil designs, but its goal is good.

In this scene, Hamlet has altered the purpose of the Dumb Show of the play that the actors are soon to perform.  For, he has this provide the synopsis of the play whereas usually the Prologue does this.  When the actor appears who is the "prologue," he speaks briefly,

For us, and for our tragedy,

Here stooping to your clemncy,

We beg your hearing patiently. (3.2.131-133)

Upon hearing this, Hamlet asks, "Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?"  meaning is this the prologue or simply a verse.  There is wordplay with poesy here in the word "posy" that Hamlet uses.  For, it is the idea of a poem being a flower; such short verses were engraved inside a wedding ring like the one Hamlet had planned to give Ophelia.  His remark, then, falls in line with the other sexually suggestive and derogatory remarks to Ophelia, whom Hamlet now believes to be a courtesan of Claudius.