A hit, a very palpable hit
Come on, sir.
Come, my lord.
[They play and Hamlet scores a hit]
A hit, a very palpable hit.
Stay, give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine,
Here's to thy health! Give him the cup.
This fencing match between Prince Hamlet and Laertes seems
innocent, but will be deadly. King Claudius and Laertes, each for
his own reason, have conspired to murder the prince while
pretending to sport with him [see SPECIAL PROVIDENCE IN THE FALL OF A SPARROW]. The tip of Laertes' foil is poisoned;
one successful "hit" will do Hamlet in. Hamlet, however, takes the
first point, as judged by the otherwise sycophantic Osric, who saw
Hamlet's "very palpable hit." "Palpable," though it had originally
meant "sensible to the touch," by the fifteenth century had come to
mean "readily perceived by any of the five senses"—in other words,
"obvious." In this case, Osric's use of the word is felicitous;
when Hamlet is palpably hit, he will definitely feel it.
The king is easily excited. When Laertes loses the first point,
Claudius nervously adopts his second strategy: to poison Hamlet
with a cup of wine. He ostentatiously plunks a poisoned pearl in
the drink he offers to his stepson. Unfortunately for the king,
Hamlet refuses the offer, but the queen drinks. And while Hamlet is
dying from the poison on Laertes' foil, he forces the rest of the
wine down Claudius's throat. A fitting end for a man born to the
manner of carousing.