Here's from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2 (The Arden Shakeseare edited by Harold Jenkins)

Fie, 'tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd, whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried
From the first corse till he that died today,
'This must be so'.
(Emphasis added)

I understand the grammar structure of this sentence except "To reason most absurd". I guess it means "it is irrational", but I can't analyze it grammatically.

  • 1
    It is poetry you know, where anything goes. – Mitch Sep 12 '14 at 21:24
  • The question has got two downvotes so far. What's the reason for the downvotes? – ivanhoescott Sep 12 '14 at 22:30

Reason here is a noun, meaning the reasoning capacity, and is the object of the preposition to. Hamlet says that his grief appears to any rational judgment as 'most absurd'.

The ordinary sequence, most absurd to reason, is inverted to put the emphasis on absurd: -surd is the heaviest syllable in this line, led up to with the 'extra' foot -son most, which impels the rhythmic stress forward onto the third foot, absurd.

Incidentally, reason is also the referent of whose: the death of fathers is the common theme of reason.

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  • "The ordinary sequence, most absurd to reason, is inverted to put the emphasis on absurd:" I think "'tis a fault" is supposed to be placed just before "To reason most absurd". What do you think? – ivanhoescott Oct 5 '14 at 5:28
  • @ivanhoescott No, that would wreck the meter. A fault is there only in sense, not in words, just as tis is there in sense before the two preceding faults - it's ordinary ellipsis. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 5 '14 at 8:20
  • "No, that would wreck the meter." Maybe it was my English's fault. I didn't mean that "'tis a fault" was somehow dropped from the text. I meant it should be placed there in sense. If that is the case, it seems that "'tis a fault to reason most absurd" does not make sense. – ivanhoescott Oct 5 '14 at 9:06
  • @ivanhoescott The misunderstanding was mine: I thought you were proposing a textual emendation! Yes, the sense is Tis a fault to reason most absurd. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 5 '14 at 11:39
  • Then, it means "'Tis a fault most absurd to reason" in your interpretation. So "most absurd" is describing "fault", i.e. it means "'Tis a most absurd fault to reason", right? – ivanhoescott Oct 5 '14 at 17:00

There are several things that ‘it’ is a fault to or against:

  • to heaven
  • against the dead
  • to nature
  • to (the) reason (that is) most absurd

Whether it makes sense to speak of absurd reason is a different matter—this is Shakespeare, after all, who is not exactly known for holding back on the poetic licence.

But grammatically, reason most absurd is a noun phrase consisting of a head noun and a postpositioned adjectival modifier phrase, which itself consists of the adjective absurd modified by the adverb most.

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to reason

here "to" is a preposition and reason is a noun. it is not an infinitive.

most absurd - it is highly illogical. "Most" meaning "Quite" and not "The most (quantity)" .

Here is an example sentence: (To me), you are beautiful. (of course, you generally don't want to start sentences with prepositions.)

another example: (To lions), elk are prey.

He is saying that

(To reason) [it is] most absurd.

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  • 2
    On the contrary, you very often do want to start sentences with prepositions. From what deluded source did you gather that idea? For most of us, it's small letters that should be avoided there. – Tim Lymington Sep 12 '14 at 21:14

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