What are some examples of metonymy in Hamlet and their effectiveness?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Metonymy is the substitution of a word with another that is closely related to it and there are many of them in "Hamlet" (and throughout Shakespeare's plays).  Act 1, sc. 2, when Hamlet is lamenting his mother's marriage to her former brother-in-law (ll.156-157), he refers to her marriage as a rush to "incestuous sheets".  In scene 3 of Act 1 when Polonius is admonishing Laertes with how to act while Laertes is in Paris, Polonius tells him to "give every man thy ear" (l. 68).  Polonius uses the phrase in place of "listen to what other people have to say". Another example from the first act is in scene 5, when the ghost of King Hamlet tells his son that "the serpent that did sting thy father's life..." using the word "serpent" for "murderer" (ll. 40-41).   In Act 3, sc. 3, when Claudius is in the chapel praying after the interrupted play, he laments that he can't be forgiven for his sins because he still has what he profited from his crime of murdering his brother - "my crown,...".  He uses the phrase to mean his position as king.  In scene 4 of Act 3, Hamlet is preparing to move the dead body of Polonius and he says, "I'll lug the guts..." using "guts" for "body" (l. 218).  There are many other examples. Metonymy is used to bring more color into the words spoken by the characters.  It gives the audience a clearer picture by essentially comparing what the character means to something with which the audience is familiar.  Metonymy is highly effective because it does add color and it does clarify meaning.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial