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A Camel in My Mind's Eye[]

Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.

A camel? A cloud? Claudius? Where?

Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
My father, methinks I see my father.

If your father is your foe, I can see that he would be your dearest foe, Hamlet, but he's not quite in heaven -- it sounds more like he’s on his way to heaven, going through purgatory:

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day, confin'd to fast in fires
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away.........

Let me get this straight, Hamlet:
Your father is like your Uncle Claudius.
Claudius (cloud-ius) is like a cloud that’s like a camel.
The camel-cloud is floating in heaven.
You wish to see your dearest foe in heaven.
Then you see your father.
Is he in heaven? Or in purgatory?
Hamlet, where is your father?

Oh where, my lord!
In my mind's eye, Horatio.

In your mind's eye? Or in purgatory? Or both?
Your father or your uncle? Or both?
Your dearest foe or a camel? Or both?
A camel in your mind's eye?

Why, what should be the fear?
I do not set my life at a pin's fee

So now you're a pin, Hamlet?
And there's a camel in your eye?

MATHEW, 19, 24. HOLY BIBLE in the King James version.
And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven

Some people misconstrue this biblical passage to mean that wealth is evil. Actually, it means that some rich men can't get into heaven because they value their worldly possessions more than their souls; they value Situation more than Self. Being rich is not a sin; even killing a brother to gain a kingdom is not an unforgiveable sin. But the man who values an earthly kingdom more than his own soul is doomed to fast in fires. Such a man is Claudius:

What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? Whereto serves mercy
But to confront the visage of offense?
And what's in prayer but this two-fold force,
To be forestalled ere we come to fall,
Or pardon'd, being down? Then, I'll look up;
My fault is past. But, O! what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? 'Forgive me my foul murder'?
That can not be since I am still possess'd
Of those effects for which I did the murder,
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
May one be pardon'd and retain the offense?
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it, when one can not repent?

And such a man is Hamlet's father:

Horatio (to the Ghost)
Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life
Extorted treasure in the womb of earth,
For which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death...

Hamlet's father is in purgatory by choice, because he refuses to leave his "extorted treasure."

These two foolish old men (and Polonius too) are trying to go camel-like through Hamlet’s mind’s eye. Forget the camels -- what’s happening to the poor needle?

Horatio (speaking of the ghost of Hamlet’s father)
A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.

Hamlet (after killing Polonius, whom he mistook for Claudius)
I do repent; but heaven hath pleas’d it so,
To punish me with this and this with me;
That I must be their scourge and minister.

Pity the poor camel-crammed needle; that scourge and minister; purgatory personified.

By following a tenuous thread between three innocent words, camel, pin, and eye, my imagination has traced Hamlet’s father, his Uncle Claudius, and the false steward Polonius going camel-like through the purgatory in Hamlet’s mind’s eye. At this point, perhaps the reader agrees with Horatio:


‘Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so.


No, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modesty enough and likelihood to lead it, as thus:

Before the age of Joe Camel, in the Elizabethan age, "camel" had just one vivid connotation -- the biblical metaphor of the camel going through the eye of the needle. The camel appears just four times in all of Shakespeare’s works; twice in Troilus and Cressida, once in Richard II, and once in Hamlet.



Achilles! a drayman, a porter, a very camel.

Ajax (beating Thersites)

You cur!.


Mars his idiot! Do, rudeness, do, camel, do, do.


I say this Ajax -


Has not so much wit -


As will stop the eye of Helen’s needle...



It is as hard to come as for a camel

To thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.

So the mere presence of the word "camel" is enough to send us in search of the needle (or pin) and its eye (Hamlet’s mind’s eye). But must our search lead us to Purgatory?


There’s no offence, my lord.


Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio,

And much offence, too...

A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, edited by Horace Howard Furness, Hamlet, volume 1, New York, American Scholar Publications, INC, 1965, first published in 1877, page 111:

136. Saint Patrick] TSCHISHWITZ: If Sh. had wished to be historically correct, he would have made a Dane swear by St Ansgarius. But since the subject concerned an unexpiated crime, he naturally thought of St Patrick, who kept a Purgatory of his own. See The Honest Whore [pt 2, I, I, p 330, Dodsley ed 1825, where the text reads, ‘St Patrick, you know keeps Purgatory,’ and not as the learned German quotes, ‘keeps his Purgatory.’ Ed]

There is a very personal clue that Hamlet/Shakespeare’s mind was Purgatory. In Stratford Guild Chapel there was a mural of Judgment Day. Although the mural was daubed over with whitewash about the time Shakespeare was born (in belated obedience to a government edict against religious icons and images), I believe that young Will could see the mural through the whitewash (or perhaps the whitewash was temporarily removed for special occasions, such as secret midnight Catholic Confirmations). The mural showed a group of sinners bound together with hoops of steel (a chain) and being led toward the mouth of hell. The mouth of hell (or purgatory) was set in what looked like a giant porcupine head.

Gertrude (to Hamlet)

Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep,

And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,

Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,

Starts up and stand an end.

Ghost (to Hamlet)

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part,

And each particular hair to stand on end,

Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

Bell, Book, and Candle[]

Was Hamlet possessed by his father's spirit? I think he was possessed, metaphorically & psychologically but not super-naturally, because his father's spirit was finally exorcised by thought, rather than by bell, book, and candle. However, there may have been a metaphorical exorcism. Hamlet's mind was like "sweet BELLs jangled', there was a BOOK of his brain, and Claudius suggested that within his love for his father there was a "kind of WICK or snuff that will abate it".

From Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus:
C. of Lor. My lord, it may be some ghost newly crept out of purgatory, come to beg a pardon of your Holiness.
Pope. It may be so. Friars, prepare a dirge to lay the fury of this ghost....
Meph. ...... We shall be curs’d with bell, book, and candle.

St Gertrude[]

St Gertrude of Nevelles is the patron saint of gardeners.

"! 'tis an unweeded garden, That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely."

"do not spread the compost on the weeds, To make them ranker." "St. Gertrude of Nivelles d. 655 – virgin, abbess Symbol: mouse Saint Gertrude was a very popular saint in England, the Lowlands, and neighboring countries. She had a great devotion to the souls in Purgatory which have been represented in the past by mice. As late as 1822, offerings of gold and silver mice were still being left at her shrine in Cologne."

The website where I obtained the above quote is now infected with a trojan virus. Don't go there unless you're very confident of your virus protection. If you want to risk it, change xxtp to hhtp to activate the link. On the internet, you can't even trust a saint! warning, virus: xxtp://

Hamlet's father's ghost may have been in purgatory.

Francisco: Not a mouse stirring.

King Claudius What do you call the play? Hamlet The Mouse-trap.

Hamlet Drawing How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!

St Gertrude's Feast Day is March 17, the same as St Patrick's, who is also a "keeper of purgatory."

Horatio There's no offence, my lord. Hamlet Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio, And much offence too. Touching this vision here,

To Thine Ownself Be True[]

A unifying theme of Hamlet is "To thine ownself be true" (1,3,78). Of all the main characters, Hamlet is the only one who finally is true to himself. Consequently, of all the main characters, Hamlet is the only one who avoids self-slaughter.

Even Horatio is taught by Denmark to "drink deep" (1,2,175) and so tries to drink the last drops of poison from the cup. But Hamlet saves Horatio so that he can tell Hamlet's story and teach us all not to drink from the cup of self-slaughter (5,2,346).

Fortinbras Sr. and Fortinbras Jr. value land more than they value themselves. Fortinbras Sr "did forfeit his life" fighting for land (1,1,91). Fortinbras Jr goes to war, "exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death, and danger dare, even for an eggshell" (4,4,51), "a little patch of ground that hath no profit in it but the name" (4,4,18), that is "not tomb enough and continent to hide the slain" (4,4,65).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, willing spokes to the king's nave (2,2,30;3,3,15), are deliverers of their own death warrant (5,2,44-59).

Polonius is a busybody, minding everybody's business but his own. Thus he was killed by a sword-thrust meant for somebody else. (3,4,33)

Laertes subverts his own life so totally and unthinkingly to filial duty that he is willing to go to hell to revenge his father's death (4,5,131). Although he is satisfied in nature with Hamlet’s repentance, he continues the fatal duel until by some elder masters [Claudius] he has a voice and precedence of peace. Thus he is fighthing not for himself but for a cause borrowed from Claudius.

When Laertes allied himself with Claudius he dulled the edge of his husbandry. Then, in the subsequent duel with Hamlet, Laertes first wounded Hamlet with his poison-tipped sword, then accidently exchanged swords with Hamlet and was fatally poisoned with his own sword. Thus he was a borrower and lender of swords, and was killed by a lent sword while fighting for a borrowed cause. [We shall see later that Laertes symbolized Christopher Marlowe and that "go far with little" is a paraphrase of Marlowe’s "infinite riches in a little room." (The Jew of Malta,]

Gertrude cannot separate her too two solid flesh (this "solidity and compound mass",3,4,49) from the doomed flesh of Claudius. Her soul is grappled to his "with hoops of steel" (1,3,63) - wedding bands. So she drinks poison, extending her union into hell (5,2,331).

Ophelia lets her brother keep the key to her memory. She "does not understand herself so well as it behooves" Polonius's daughter, and so she lets her father tell her what to think (1,3,105). When she falls into the water, she makes no attempt to save herself because her true self has already been lost. She dies by falling into a mirror image of her father in the "glassy stream"

Both Claudius and Hamlet Sr are unable to separate themselves from their land. So they slaughter their own souls, dooming themselves to be dragged down into hell by their possessions. Hamlet Sr is "doom' walk the night" (1,5,10) to "walk in death" for "extorted treasure in the womb of earth" (1,1,140). Claudius could save his soul by sincerely repenting, but he cannot repent because he won't give up his kingdom and he cannot "be pardon'd and retain the offense" (3,3,56), he finally drinks a poison "tempered by himself" (5,2,332).

In the end, Hamlet recovers his true self in time to save his soul, although not his life.

Polonius Well-Ended[]

Shakespeare weaves a web of puns connecting Polonius with Poland and hence Hamlet with Fortinbras. Fortinbras set out to attack Claudius, but Claudius arranged to shift the attack to a part of Poland. Hamlet tried to attack Claudius, but stabbed Polonius instead.

Act III, Scene 3
Behind the arras I'll convey myself,

Act IV, Scene 4
Go, captain, from me greet the Danish king;
Tell him that, by his licence, Fortinbras
Craves the conveyance of a promised march
Over his kingdom.

Act V, Scene 1
Hamlet (looking in a grave)
The very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in this box

Act III, Scene 4 Hamlet
How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!

Act IV, Scene 4
Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five
ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.

Act II, Scene 2
Be you and I behind an arras then;
Mark the encounter: if he love her not
And be not from his reason fall'n thereon,
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters.

A Good End Polonius announced the ambassadors from Norway who would tell Claudius that Fortinbras attack had been shifted to Poland:

Act II, Scene 2
Give first admittance to the ambassadors;
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast. [the end or dessert]
After the ambassadors delivered their news:

Act II, Scene 2
This business is well ended.

After Hamlet’s attempt to attack Claudius caused Polonius’ untimely end:

Act IV, Scene 5
...when my father died: they say he made a good end,

Act IV, Scene 3
Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?
At supper.
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that's the end.

There was another foreshadowing of Polonius as dessert:

Act II, Scene 2
....after your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.
Polonius My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?

"Your worm is your only emperor for diet" is probably an allusion to the Diet of Worms. See

Questions of the Play[]

Bernardo opens the play with a question: "who’s there?". That question reverberates through the rest of the play, as Hamlet, the mirror of fashion, reflects and is reflected by the other characters.

Who's there?... What, is Horatio there?... Looks it not like the king? Is it not like the king? . so like the king that was and is the question of these wars .How is it that the clouds still hang on you?. Methinks I see my father. Where, my lord? In my mind’s eye Must I remember?... What does this mean, my lord? What may this mean... why is this? wherefore? what should we do?... Why, what should be the fear?... What if it... deprive your sovereignty of reason and draw you into madness? Whither wilt thou lead me? Thou comest in such a questionable shape... canst work i' the earth so fast? What is't but to be nothing else but mad? Will you walk out of the air, my lord? Into my grave... And can you, by no drift of circumstance, get from him why he puts on this confusion, grating so harshly all his days of quiet with turbulent and dangerous lunacy?... some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. To be or not to be. That is the question. so like the king that was and is the question of these wars Who, I?... what is your cause of distemper? Sir, I lack advancement. How can that be, when you have the voice of the king himself for your succession in Denmark? Sir, I cannot... make you a wholesome answer; my wit's diseased..Try what repentance can: what can it not? Yet what can it when one can not repent? Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats will not debate the question of this straw.....must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?...How came he mad?...Whose grave's this, sirrah?... is't not perfect conscience, to quit him with this arm? and is't not to be damn'd, to let this canker of our nature come in further evil?.. crowner’s quest...answer to the purpose the king’s purpose confess thyself..when you are asked this question next, say 'a grave-maker:. ... if your lordship would vouchsafe the answer...How if I answer 'no'?.. Who does it, then? His madness... Is thy union here?.. What warlike noise is this?.

The Majesty of Buried Denmark[]

Was "Hamlet" just a ghost story? Hamlet was possessed by his father’s ghost. Hamlet’s mind was purgatory for the ghost. By the end of the play he had managed to exorcise that ghost by confessing the sins of the ghost. Who could let belief take hold of him when presented with such a silly story? But ghost and purgatory and exorcism were not the point of the story, they were merely trappings above the deeper themes which denoted Hamlet truly.

Hamlet, by study and thought and love of life, had formed his own character. But there was another side of his character, formed by his heritage, by his upbringing, by the "terms of honor" defined by his elders, and by the particular circumstances of his life. Hamlet was trying to be true to himself, but which self? He finally realized that Denmark was part of him and he was part of Denmark. Thus he returned to Denmark "naked and alone." He was "constant to the King’s purpose," yet unwilling to "let this mole of our nature come in further evil." He was not able to inoculate his old stock with virtue, but by remembering his sins and repenting, he could perhaps help others avoid his fate.

The Cause of Hamlet's Lunacy[]

Polonius: "I have found the very cause of Hamlet's LUNACY."

The word "lunacy" is derived from "luna," Latin for moon, because of an old belief that insanity was caused by the moon (or, I believe, in this play's metaphor, being like the moon).

When Polonius finally states the cause of Hamlet's "lunacy," a small part of his babbling is "What majesty should be, what duty is," which unknown to Polonius, really is precisely the cause. Hamlet is mad because duty demands that he become what majesty should be - a king. Yet Hamlet by nature is a man of reason, while kings are by nature "the question of these wars." Filial duty demands that Hamlet reflect the values of his father, but that way lies madness.

Hamlet compared his father to Hyperion. Hyperion was the Greek Titon god of the sun. Laertes compared Hamlet to the moon: "nature, crescent...waxes...If she unmask her beauty to the moon." In the "Mousetrap," Hamlet is implicitly related to the moon by "And thirty dozen moons with borrow'd sheen." The "thirty" relates to Hamlet's age. "Borrow'd sheen" is a hint that Hamlet is reflecting his father's values rather than shining with his own true self - and that is indeed lunacy.

Polonius: Neither a borrower nor a lender be; .... This above all: to thine ownself be true

--Ray Eston Smith Jr 23:25, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

Internal Links[]

Motifs in Hamlet - first part of this article

Where Truth Is Hid - A Speculative Biography of Shakespeare

External links[]

--Ray Eston Smith Jr 22:37, 6 March 2007 (UTC)