Come on, sir.
Come, my lord.
[They play and Hamlet scores a hit]
A hit, a very palpable hit.
King:Hamlet Act 5, scene 2, 280–283
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.
Themes: death and sickness