Hendiadys in Shakespeare

Hamlet in O.P./Hendiadys
Hendiadys

Hendiadys is a figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction (usually ‘and’) are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive, such as “gracious favor” in place of “grace and favor.” It stems from the Latin phrase “one thing by means of two” or “one through two.” While the phase is no longer cited among grammarians of ancient Greek, Medieval Latin grammarians cite it frequently. Perhaps most famously used by Shakespeare in Hamlet in the line “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I” from “Hamlet,”. Shakespeare, of course, made the device his own. He did so using an adjectival construction such as “they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time,” in reference to the Players. Instances of both substantive and adjectival construction abound in this play.

Examples of Hendiadys

The King refers to “delight and dole,” while adding “sweet and commendable”(I, 2, 87). He refers to the “cheer and comfort” of his eye. At the same time he called Hamlet’s reply, “loving and fair” (I, 2, 121), while referencing his “auspicious and dropping eye” (I, 2, 11). It is not Hamlet or the King alone that employs this rhetorical trope. Laertes uses it also, when he cautions Ophelia about her involvement with Hamlet. Laertes was making note of the state’s “safety and health” (I, 3, 20) , its “voice and yielding “(I, 3, 22), and the “morn and liquid dew.” Ophelia herself is also prone to this construction, in referring to Laertes’ “steep and thorny” (I, 3, 47) path to heaven, as well as his “puffed and reckless” (I, 3, 48) behavior.

Another example is their father, Polonius, who is not stranger to the device as well. He cited Hamlet’s “rank and station” (I, 3, 72) and “select and generous” (I, 3, 73) being. Ophelia uses this standard later when she cites Hamlet as “Th’expectancy and rose of the fair state” (III, 1, 152) and refers to his “form and feature” (III, 1, 159). At the same time, she declared his words to be “out of tune and harsh” (III, 1, 158). Hamlet himself does not abandon the device. He continued its use in the closet scene with his mother. Such instances as “frock or livery” (III, 4, 164) and “fair and good (III, 4, 163).

As we point out in the Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App, Shakespeare experiments with different poetic tropes in each play. The prevalence of Hendiadys in “Hamlet” is a feature unique to that play. It exhibits Shakespeare’s fascination with the possibilities of linguistic formation.