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Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth.
2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905.
PAGE 151

first line the hero speaks contains a play on words:

A little more than kin and less than kind.

The fact is significant, though the pun itself is not specially characteristic. Much more so, and indeed absolutely individual, are the uses of word-play in moments of extreme excitement. Remember the awe and terror of the scene where the Ghost beckons Hamlet to leave his friends and follow him into the darkness, and then consider this dialogue:

  Hamlet. It waves me still. Go on; I'll follow thee.
  Marcellus. You shall not go, my lord.
  Hamlet. Hold off your hands.
  Horatio. Be ruled; you shall not go.
  Hamlet.                           My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven I'll make a ghost of him that lets me.

Would any other character in Shakespeare have used those words? And, again, where is Hamlet more Hamlet than when he accompanies with a pun the furious action by which he compels his enemy to drink the 'poison tempered by himself'?

Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damn'd Dane,
Drink of this potion. Is thy union here?
Follow my mother.

The 'union' was the pearl which Claudius professed to throw into the cup, and in place of which (as Hamlet supposes) he dropped poison in. But the 'union' is also that incestuous marriage which must not be broken by his remaining alive now that his partner is dead. What rage there is in the words, and what a strange lightning of the mind!

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