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, 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, while calling 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, invoking 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. Their father, Polonius, himself is not stranger to the device as well, citing 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), while declaring his words to be “out of tune and harsh” (III, 1, 158). Hamlet himself does not abandon the device, continuing its use in the closet scene with his mother in instances like “frock or livery” (III, 4, 164) and “fair and good (III, 4, 163).
As we point out in the 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 and exhibits Shakespeare’s fascination with the possibilities of linguistic formation.