Caviary to the general
Come give us a taste of your quality, come, a passionate
What speech, my good lord?
I heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted,
or if it was, not above once; for the play, I remember, pleas'd
the million, 'twas caviare to the general. But it was, as I
—and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top
mine—an excellent play, well digested in the scenes, set down
with as much modesty as cunning.
"Caviary to the general" is not a delicacy prepared for the
commanding officer. Like "pearls before swine," it refers to
quality unbefitting those who partake in it. The "general" are the
multitude—Hamlet's "million," too numerous and too vulgar to grasp
the "quality" (here, "skill") of an excellent stage play.
Hamlet addresses the traveling dramatic troupe which has come to
the Danish court to entertain the king. This is the same troupe the
prince will use to "catch the conscience" of Claudius [see
THE PLAY'S THE THING]. Hamlet nostalgically recalls a speech from a
dramatization of the fall of Troy and commends the players'
unappreciated skill. Shakespeare may be parodying the complaints of
other playwrights, especially Ben Jonson, that the many-headed
multitude don't know art when they see it. Despite Hamlet's
Jonsonian snobbery, Shakespeare's own position was probably more