What are the pronoun antecedents in lines 1543-1551 of Hamlet Act 2 scene 2? I don't know who "he" or "him" resembles.First Player. 'Anon he finds him, 
Striking too short at Greeks. His antique...

What are the pronoun antecedents in lines 1543-1551 of Hamlet Act 2 scene 2? I don't know who "he" or "him" resembles.

First Player. 'Anon he finds him, 
Striking too short at Greeks. His antique sword, 
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls, 
Repugnant to command. Unequal match'd, 1545      Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide; 
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword 
Th' unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,   lifeless Troy
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top 
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash 1550  Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear. For lo! his sword,

Asked on by baltrus450

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Just before, "Anon he finds him," Hamlet quotes the following:

"And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks."

And then Hamlet tells the First Player, "So proceed you."

So when the First Player begins with "Anon he finds him," he means that Pyrrhus finds Priam. Priam is too old to defend himself. He has dropped his "antique sword" and is defenseless.

I don't find the word "resembles" in the lines you quote. You may be referring to the earlier quote by Hamlet, reading:

"The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared
With heraldry more dismal."

Pyrrhus was wearing black armor. It was black as his murderous purpose when he was hiding inside the Trojan horse, but by this time it is covered with red blood from all the Trojan men and women he has slaughtered.

"Anon he finds him
Striking too short at Greeks. His antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
Repugnant to command. Unequal matched,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives, in rage strikes wide,
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear. For lo, his sword..."

The first "he" is Pyrrhus, and the first "him" is Priam. The first "His" is Priam's (antique sword), and it is rebellious to "his" (Priam's arm), for "it" (the antique sword) "lies where it falls." "His fell sword" is Pyrrhus's fell (i.e. merciless) sword. It is Troy itself that stoops to it's (his) base when one of the main buildings suddenly collapses. "For lo! his sword" refers to Pyrrhus's sword.

These are all the pronouns you have quoted.

I can see that the passage could cause confusion. Priam is said to be "striking too short at Greeks," but his sword has fallen out of his hand--so what is he striking with? Then we have sword falls, fell sword, and father falls, all in a few lines, and then a large section of burning Ilium (Troy) falls.

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rienzi's profile pic

rienzi | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Anon he (Pyrrhus) finds him (Priam)
Striking too short at Greeks; his (Priam's) antique sword,
Rebellious to his (Priam's) arm, lies where it (the sword) falls,
Repugnant to command: unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his (Pyrrhus's) fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his (its; senseless Ileum) base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear: for, lo! his (Pyrrhus) sword,

I think think the perplexity of this passage stems not only from the stilted language and the inordinate use of pronouns but also the unfamiliarity with the topic of the speech. As Hamlet has prefaced, Pyrrhus was part of the band of Greeks that hid in the Trojan horse and then when inside the walls of Troy (also known as Ileum) they sacked the city. Here, the Greek leader, Pyrrhus, was the son of Achilles. Achilles had been killed by King Priam's son, Paris.

As the First Player picks up the story, Pyrrhus is now in the city not only as a military leader but as an avenger of his father's death that he now brings to the father of Paris and the king of Troy. As the story unfolds the speech links King Priam to the city so that as the city of Troy (Ileum in the speech) burns its collapse parallels King Priam's fall at the near miss of Pyrrhus's initial sword strike. The speech goes on to note that the collapse of the city momentarily distracts Pyrrhus's attention. Here, the use of "ear" is a form of metonymy.

Of particular note in this part of the speech is the use of "his" in that next to the last line. During a good portion of Shakespeare's writing, he did not use the gender-neutral possessive pronoun "its". In fact the word does not appear in any of the three received texts of Hamlet, (Q1, Q2 or F). Only in subsequent editions is the term modernised. Often the neuter pronoun used was "his" as in the above passage. Or if you look for example in Act 1 scene 2 where Horatio is telling Hamlet about the Ghost as the resemblance to old King Hamlet you see the following: "It lifted vp it head, and did addresse / It selfe to motion..." Also, in the graveyard as Ophelia's body is brought on stage, Hamlet says: "The corse they follow, did with {desprat} <disperate> hand / Foredoo it owne life," (see the Enfolded Hamlet). Note the lack of the use of the possessive pronoun "its".

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