Who is the giver/taker of an action?

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Hi everyone,

In the most famous soliloquy, the protagonist Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be…”

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

1. “the whips and scorns” - This is a “whole” concept, and we need not say “the whips and ‘the’ scorns” as two separate ones? Or just an omission?
2. “the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes” - Doesn't it mean the unworthy are the suffering party of other’s spurns and they at times have to be ‘patient’ in order to receive someone’s help (like a bum does, perhaps)? And it shouldn't be translated as “the insults that worthy fortitude receives from the unworthy”, because thus the unworthy become the perpetrators?

Any comment?
Million thanks in advance.

Atom 2013-09-06
  • idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    1) It is not necessary to repeat the definite article for a succession of nouns.

    "The boys and girls were very surprised when their teacher dropped dead of a heart attack." (It sounds odd to say, "The boys and the girls...", unless you want to emphasize the fact that both the boys and the girls were surprised.)

    "Add the sugar, butter and salt, and put in the oven for four hours." (You could also say, "Add the sugar, the butter, and the salt...", but it is not necessary. It also implies that you should add them in precisely that order, whereas the first way implies that you can throw all the ingredients together in any order.)

    2) The meaning is that those people who are patient and deserving must suffer the insults (spurns) that unworthy people inflict upon them.
    Hi idialegre,
    But didn't Shakespeare try to say here even the unworthy can be inflicted spurns by more unworthy or eviler bullies? For saving their skin in such dire situations they might have to behave patiently (not to confront the big guys); therefore, they also had a merit (of patience). He'd mean that all walks of life are suffering thru life, and the unworthy are no exception. So, my question is “can it be safe to say the unworthy are the sufferers, not the perpetrators, of spurns” in this context?
    Atom (same day)


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Why ever should Loafaway not analyse poetry in terms of contemporary prose? (Parla's post #3) The meaning of the text is only one aspect, granted, but a close analysis of the meaning may be an essential first step for a non-native reader to get to grips with the poetry. Of course, many passages in Shakespeare are not clear today, but that isn't an excuse for just skipping over what isn't immediately intelligible.
    Well, it is a truth universally acknowledged that one man in his time could fall victim to "spurns"! A rover needs bread, A jobless guy needs money, a failed stock trader needs it more desperately, and a former billionaire needs it the most desperately. When they are required to borrow money from others, the first thing for them is to put up a smiling face (how shameful), ain't I speaking a fact? They all might not get the money they asked for. C'est la vie! It is part of life for us that we learn to live with rejections after all.

    The way that Shakespeare brought up "spurns" and related it to only "the unworthy" is to imply that no man, even a base churl, could escape being rejected and sometimes he had to accept it in a "patient" manner. Therefore, I believe that the answer to my question is: the unworthy are the suffering party in this context.

    Atom 2013-09-07
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I read it as "The spurns that patient merit takes of the unworthy", so "The spurns that a person of merit, who waits patiently for his due, receives from the unworthy." The unworthy are the perpetrators.
    Now I get much closer to Shakespeare's intention in this context. I ought not to reason from my own perspective and stretch his words. His 'patient merit' is a sharp contrast to 'the unworthy (men of no merits)', two personified entities. The pain of injustice and unfairness in life makes a man suffer, and yet he bears it.
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