‘Dearest’ in Hamlet

Definitions of Dearest:

a. Glorious, noble, honourable, worthy. Obs.

b. Regarded with personal feelings of high estimation and affection; held in deep and tender esteem; beloved, loved.

c. The attribute is sometimes transferred to the subject of the feeling: Affectionate, loving, fond

d. The preceding passed gradually into a sense in which personal affection or attachment became the predominant notion. Precious in one’s regard, of which one is fond, to which one is greatly attached.





This unprevailing woe and think of us

As of a father; for let the world take note,

You are the most immediate to our throne,

And with no less nobility of love

Than that which dearest father bears his son

Do I impart toward you. For your intent

In going back to school in Wittenberg,

It is most retrograde to our desire,

And we beseech you, bend you to remain

Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye,

Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.


1.2. 180-184


Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked-meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Would I have met my dearest foe in heaven

Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!

My father! – methinks I see my father.


With the help of the OED, we realize that the definition of ‘dearest’ hasn’t strayed at all from the original meaning. With this knowledge, we can better understand Shakespeare’s writing style and thus understand the messages he tries to portray in Hamlet.

While Shakespeare uses ‘dearest’ in it’s normal definition in the first passage, he strays far from it and even means the exact opposite in the second passage. The footnote states the the line means “bitterest foe”. This shows an instance where Shakespeare uses sarcasm to emphasize a point. For me personally, this would have been completely overlooked if it hadn’t been for the footnote drawing my attention to the word. By understanding that Shakespeare uses techniques like sarcasm in his writing, we get a better grasp of his “voice” and what he hoped to invoke to his readers.

At the same time, we understand Hamlet’s character a bit more. Through his use of sarcasm and even irony, Hamlet is commenting on how fast his mother got married to his uncle, making him the king.

About Delsy Espinoza

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One Response to ‘Dearest’ in Hamlet

  1. c.chen8 says:

    Hi Delsey,

    That’s a really cool observation! I think it’s really interesting how Shakespeare was able to, like you said, craft the personalities of characters through Hamlet through the use of diction.

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