The word grace is closely associated with mercy, since one of its most significant meanings is the undeserved mercy of God given to sinners. Because of their frail and sinful human natures, people cannot deserve to be forgiven or earn forgiveness in any way: it is to this which Hamlet refers when he says to Polonius in Act II scene ii:

 ‘Use every man according to his deserts and who should ‘scape whipping?'


‘Grace' also has a wider meaning, signifying the blessing or favour of God.

 The term is used many times throughout Hamlet:
  • For example, Horatio asks the Ghost in Act I scene i,
    ‘If there be any good thing to be done, /That may to thee do ease and grace to me.'
  • Polonius, saying farewell to Laertes in Act I scene iii comments that
    ‘A double blessing is a double grace.'
  • Laertes, vowing revenge in Act IV scene v, consigns
    ‘vows to the blackest devil, conscience and grace to the profoundest pit!'

Thanksgiving prayer

Saying grace before a meal‘Grace' also came to be used as the term for a prayer of thanks to God before a meal. Claudius uses it to mean both this and ‘respect and favour' when, in response to Polonius' remark: ‘My news shall be the fruit to that great meal',

Claudius puns:
‘Thyself do grace to them and bring them in.'

Other meanings

The meaning is extended further to mean ‘an attractive human quality', as when Claudius says that the people would see Hamlet's offences (he uses the word ‘gyves' — literally ‘fetters', ‘shackles') as ‘graces' (‘noble acts').

It is also used as a polite address to a person of noble birth, so that (ironically, given his evil deeds) Claudius is addressed as ‘your grace' by Hamlet in Act V scene ii at the start of the fencing match:

‘Your Grace hath laid the odds o' th' weaker side.'

For further detail see Big ideas: Forgiveness, mercy and grace

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