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Is Hamlet fat? The evidence in Shakespeare for a corpulent prince of Denmark.

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'The most straightforward way to figure out whether Hamlet is fat is to look at the text itself, in which Hamlet’s own mother calls him fat. During the play’s final sword duel, King Claudius turns to Queen Gertrude and says that Hamlet will win the duel, and Gertrude replies, “He’s fat and scant of breath,” before turning to Hamlet and telling him to “take my napkin, rub thy brows.” '

Hamlet's weight is a detail I missed in all the times I've read or seen Hamlet.

I had noticed that remark the first time I ever read Hamlet - but that was in (modern) Russian, so there was no mistaking the word used - yes, his own mother had called Hamlet "overweight".

Interestingly fat may not mean what we think it means. 

Even if it’s not a printer’s error or a truncation, fat might not mean what we think it means. In Elizabethan times, fat also meant sweaty. Since Gertrude offers Hamlet her napkin to wipe his face, perhaps context reveals that fat refers to his perspiring brow. This begs the question: How can anyone ever definitively say what the meaning of a word is in Shakespeare?

I decided to get to the bottom of this with some help from John-Paul Spiro, a Shakespearean scholar who teaches at Villanova. According to Spiro, investigating the meaning of specific words in Shakespeare is particularly fraught because Shakespeare was the Ornette Coleman of language. Beyond inventing more than 1,700 words, Shakespeare was “deliberately coming up with new meanings of words, and opening up new conceptual spaces,” Spiro said. The play Macbeth invents the contemporary definition of the word success, for example, and Shakespeare was the first person to use crown as a verb.

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