You are here:

Literature/Entities in Comparison


I'd be grateful if you can help me with the following. I have divided my questions into four parts, A, B, C and D. Thank you.

A. What is the TOPIC (the entity described by the simile) in the followings?

1. Do not believe his vows; for they are brokers, --
Not of that dye which their investments show,
But mere implorators of unholy suits,
Breathing like sanctified and pious bawds,
The better to beguile.
2. To draw apart the body he hath kill’d:
O’er whom his very madness, like some ore
Among a mineral of metals base,
Shows itself pure: he weeps for what is done.
3. So haply slander, -- whose whisper o’er the world’s diameter,
As level as the cannon to his blank,
Transports his poison’d shot, -- may miss our name and hit the woundless air.

B. In the following extracts, what exactly has been compared to what? Which one is considered as the TOPIC of the comparison?

4. To thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
5. It seems it as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion.   
6. That I am guiltless of your father’s death,
And am most sensibly in grief for it,
It shall as level to your judgment pierce
As day does to your eye.  
7. Repair thou to me with as much haste as thou wouldst fly death
C. In the following extract, if I’m not mistaken ‘it’ has been compared to ‘droppings’. But what does it mean by ‘droppings’ exactly?
8. And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood

D. I have difficulty in interpreting the following extract from Hamlet. Can we say that one time ‘wings’ has been compared to ‘meditation’, and another time it has been compared to ‘the thoughts of love’? or Are both of them, that is, ‘meditation’ and ‘the thoughts of love’ have been considered the same? I think there is a kind of ambiguity here. I think the problem is with using OR here.There is a kind of ambiguity here.
9. Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.

ANSWER: Okay, let's see.

1. The topic is "his vows", i.e. Hamlet's promises of love to Ophelia.

2. The topic is "the body he hath kill'd", which fills him with guilt.

3. The topic is "slander", i.e. reported blame.

4. The topic is the precepts of how to behave in order to be a good and respectable person. The comparison is between the logic of 1. being true to oneself and not false to anyone, and 2. the logic of night following day. Both cases are presented as being so inevitable, that if you are true to yourself, you cannot be false to others, just as there cannot be a day without being followed by a night.

5. The topic is what is proper (i.e. characteristic) to old age and youth, respectively. Old men who overreach themselves in their opinions (i.e. assume too much) are contrasted with young people's lack of discretion.

6. The topic in the first two lines is "your father's death", while the topic in the next two lines is "guiltless of your father's death". The comparison is between the clear light of day in the last line, and the clearness (level) of judgment in the second-last line. Claudius is saying that, if Laertes scrutinizes the legal circumstances, it will be clear as day that Claudius is innocent. (Of course, this is just a lie.)

7. The topic is that Horatio should come back to Hamlet as fast as he can. Hamlet urges Horatio to come to him with as much speed as if Horatio was fleeing from death.

8. "Eager droppings" refers to sour or bitter drops. The meaning is that the poison (the "it" of the first line) has the effect that it turns human blood sour, just like sour milk (you know how old milk becomes clotted and distasteful?).

9. Well, in Shakespeare's time there was a saying that went "as swift as thought", and this is what Shakespeare is making a variation of here. "Meditation", I think, simply means "thinking" here, and Shakespeare then adds "thoughts of love" because such thoughts are imagined to be ever faster than normal thoughts. The comparison between "wings" and "mediation" and "the thoughts of love" is not about *either* "meditation" *or* "the thoughts of love", but both. But if he had said "and" instead of "or", he would have mixed two different metaphors. But the meaning is essentially the same.

- Tue Sorensen

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed. Your clarification and explanation gave me a better understanding of the lines.
But regarding no. 2, I'm still in doubt. There's a simile in this extract, isn't there? What is the TOPIC exactly? I mean what is like "Some ore among a mineral of metals base"?
In addition, regarding part B -questions 4, 5, 6 and 7- I think I didn't make myself clear. Here's the point: In no.4, if we consider it as a simile, which one is the TOPIC and which one is the VEHICLE? "You cannot be false to others" is like "there cannot be a day without being followed by a night"?
In no.5, if we consider it as a simile, which one do we consider as the TOPIC of the simile; "to cast beyond ourselves in our opinion" or "to lack discretion"?
In no.6, if we consider there's a simile here, which is the TOPIC? Is 'it' the TOPIC of the simile? I think 'it' refers to "Claudius's guiltless".
And, finally, in no. 7, what is the TOPIC if there's a simile? Is 'Thou (Horatio)' is the TOPIC?

Hello again,

As for no. 2; ah yes, the lines "his very madness, like some ore Among a mineral of metals base, Shows itself pure" is an inserted clause inside the main sentence. Here, "madness" is the TOPIC, and his "pure madness" is compared to "ore [gold] among metals base" (which comprises the VEHICLE), but the exact meaning is obscure. My guess is that Gertrude says that Hamlet's madness is pure (i.e. not crazed, but controlled, which may mean that she does not consider him mad at all, as he has just been trying to explain to her that he isn't) because he weeps over Polonius' body - the problem being that she is lying; Hamlet is not weeping. But she may just be embellishing the truth; Hamlet is sincerely sorry that he killed Polonius.

As for no. 4; all right, the meaning is this: the state of *both* "being true to oneself" *and* "not being false to any man" follows the same internal logic as that night follows day. In other words: just as night follows day, it is equally logical that being true to oneself will lead to being true and honest with other people. The logic of being true to both oneself and others is compared with the logic of night following day. So as far as I can see, the TOPIC of the metaphor is split in two: "to thine own self be true" and "thou canst not then be false to any man", while the VEHICLE is "it must follow, as the night the day". (Strictly speaking, there is no SIMILE here, as that would require comparison to some concrete object or image, while all that is compared here are really just abstract principles. But we can call it a metaphor.)

No. 5 is not even a metaphor, because the comparisons are between actual phenomena; there is no VEHICLE made up of pure imagery to describe the TOPIC. He simply states that one thing is just as common as another. It is the similar degrees of *commonness* that is compared there!!

As for no. 6; no, the "it" refers to "your father's death". What is being compared is the (alleged) logic of Claudius' innocence (his guiltlessness) and grief to the clarity of day. What Clausius says is this: That I am innocent shall turn out to be just as logical as that daylight is entering your eyes. So I guess the TOPIC would be "guiltless" and "grief" while the VEHICLE would be "as level to your judgment pierce as day does to your eye."

No. 7: Again, I wouldn't call this a simile, but a metaphor. The way I understand it, the TOPIC is "haste" and the VEHICLE is "fly death".

Was this better?

- Tue Sorensen


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

©2016 All rights reserved.