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Main Ideas

Allusions

Main Ideas Allusions

Act 1, scene 1

[A]nd the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse. (1.1.117–119)

This is an allusion to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Act 1, scene 2

So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr. (1.2.139–140)

This is an allusion to Hyperion, one of the Titans—a superhuman race in Greek mythology that ruled the world before the Olympian gods.

Like Niobe, all tears. (1.2.149)

This is an allusion to Niobe, a grieving woman in a Greek myth.

My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules (1.2.152–153)

This is an allusion to Hercules, a Roman mythological hero known for his immense strength.

Act 1, scene 4

As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve. (1.4.88)

This is an allusion to the Nemean lion, a monstrous creature in Greek mythology that could not be killed with humans’ weapons.

Act 1, scene 5

And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf[.] (1.5.32–33)

This is an allusion to Lethe, a river in the underworld of Greek mythology; its waters made humans forgetful.

Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio, And much offense too. (1.5.139–140)

This is an allusion to St. Patrick, the Catholic patron saint of Ireland and the guardian of Purgatory, where souls such as Hamlet’s father atone for their sins on earth before entering heaven. St. Patrick was also believed to have rid Ireland of snakes, so the allusion could also refer to Hamlet’s ridding Denmark of his uncle, the “serpent” who killed his father.

Act 2, scene 2

Ay, that they do, my lord. Hercules and his load too. (2.2.336)

This is an allusion to Hercules, a Roman mythological hero known for his immense strength.

Seneca cannot be too heavy, nor Plautus too light. (2.2.373–374)

This quote contains allusions to two Roman playwrights—Seneca, who wrote tragedies, and Plautus, who wrote comedies.

O Jephthah, judge of Israel, what a treasure hadst thou! (2.2.375)

This is an allusion to Jephthah, a judge in ancient Israel who, according to the Bible, agreed to sacrifice to God the first thing to come out of his door in exchange for winning a battle—which turned out to be his daughter.

One speech in it I chiefly loved. ’Twas Aeneas’ tale to Dido and thereabout of it, especially where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter. (2.2.409–410)

This quote contains allusions to Aeneas, Dido, and Priam, three characters in the Roman epic poem The Aeneid, which inspired the fictional play to which Hamlet is referring.

The rugged Pyrrhus, like th’ Hyrcanian beast— (2.2.414)

This quote contains two allusions. Pyrrhus is the son of the Greek mythological hero Achilles. The Roman epic poem The Aeneid and the play Hamlet quotes tell the story of how Pyrrhus went to Troy to avenge his father’s death. The Hyrcanian beast refers to a ferocious tiger.

When he lay couchèd in the ominous horse, (2.2.418)

This is an allusion to the Trojan horse from the Roman epic poem The Aeneid, in which Pyrrhus hid to enter Troy secretly.

With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.
(2.2.427–428)

This is an allusion to Pyrrhus’s search for Priam, the king of Troy, in order to kill him to avenge his father’s death, events described in the Roman epic poem The Aeneid.

And never did the Cyclops’ hammers fall
On Mars’s armor forged for proof eterne
With less remorse
(2.2.452–454)

This quote contains two allusions: The Cyclops were monstrous one-eyed giants who forged thunderbolts for the gods to use as weapons, and Mars is the Roman god of war.

Say on. Come to Hecuba. (2.2.464)

This is an allusion to Hecuba, the queen of Troy and wife of Priam, two characters in the Roman epic poem The Aeneid.

Act 3, scene 2

I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it. (3.2.11–13)

This quote contains two allusions: Termagant was mistakenly believed by Christians to be an Islamic god, and Herod was a Jewish king who, according to the Bible, ordered the murders of baby boys following the birth of Jesus. Both are portrayed as raging tyrants in morality plays.

And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him heedful note. (3.2.76–77)

This is an allusion to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, metalworking, and forges.

Full thirty times hath Phoebus’ cart gone round Neptune’s salt wash and Tellus’ orbèd ground[.] (3.2.142–143)

This quote contains three allusions: Phoebus, another name for Apollo, was the Roman sun god; Neptune was the Roman god of the sea; and Tellus, another name for Terra, was a Roman goddess of the earth.

Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate’s ban thrice blasted, thrice infected[.].
(3.2.241–242)

This is an allusion to Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft.

For thou dost know, O Damon dear, (3.2.263)

This is an allusion to Damon, who, in an ancient Greek legend, exhibited great loyalty to his friend Pythias.

This realm dismantled was
Of Jove himself.
(3.2.264–265)

This is an allusion to Jove, also called Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods.

Ay, sir, but “While the grass grows—” The proverb is something musty[.] (3.2.307)

This is an allusion to an old proverb: “While the grass grows, the horse starves.”

O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom. (3.2.355–356)

This is an allusion to Nero, a Roman emperor known for extreme cruelty.

Act 3, scene 4

Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself,
An eye like Mars to threaten and command,
A station like the herald Mercury (3.4.57–59)

This quote contains four allusions: Hyperion was the Titan god of heavenly light; Jove, or Jupiter, was the king of the Roman gods; Mars was the Roman god of war; and Mercury was the swift messenger of the Roman gods.

Act 4, scene 5

Well, God’ield you! They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. (4.5.34)

This is an allusion to a medieval tale of a woman who was turned into an owl by Jesus when she criticized her mother for giving him bread.

Act 5, scene 1

They hold up Adam’s profession. (5.1.29)

This is an allusion to Adam, the first man created by God in the Bible.

How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it were Cain’s jawbone, that did the first murder! (5.1.68)

This is an allusion to Cain, Adam and Eve’s son, who, according to the Bible, committed the first murder when he killed his brother, Abel.

Dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this fashion I’ th’ earth? (5.1.174)

This is an allusion to Alexander the Great, king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, who established a large empire.

Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay[.] (5.1.188)

This is an allusion to the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.

T’ o’ertop old Pelion or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus. (5.1.229–230)

This is an allusion to two actual mountains—Mount Pelion and Mount Olympus—that are featured in Greek mythology: Giants piled Mount Ossa onto Mount Pelion in order to form a way to climb to heaven; Mount Olympus was the home of the gods.

Make Ossa like a wart! (5.1.261)

This is an allusion to Mount Ossa, which, according to Greek mythology, was piled onto Mount Pelion by giants in order to form a way to climb to heaven.

Let Hercules himself do what he may[.] (5.1.269)

This is an allusion to Hercules, a Roman mythological hero known for his immense strength.