What are three metaphors in Act 2, Scene 2?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Polonius tells Claudius and Gertrude that he believes he knows the reason why Hamlet appears to have lost his mind.  He says,

And I do think -- or else this brain of mine
Hunts not the trail of policy so sure
As it hath used to do -- that I have found
The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.  (2.2.46-49)

Here, the king's adviser uses a metaphor to compare politics to a trail that one is either cunning enough to follow or not; he also personifies his brain as something which can hunt, or follow, this so-called trail.  Polonius means that he is fairly sure that he's uncovered the reason for Hamlet's crazy behavior, unless his brain has become somewhat less capable than it once was.  

King Claudius really wants to hear what Polonius has to say on this subject, but then Polonius tells him,

Give first admittance to th' ambassadors.
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast. (2.2.51-52)

Here, he uses a metaphor to compare his news of Hamlet to dessert.  He compares whatever the ambassadors will have to say to a giant feast, and then his own news will be the sweet thing at the end.

When Hamlet meets up with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he asks them,

What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune that she sends you to prison hither? 

Here, Hamlet uses a metaphor to compare Denmark to a prison.  He, obviously, was not allowed to leave to return to college at Wittenberg, and so he probably does think of it as a place of punishment that he cannot escape.

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