If you have hitherto conceal'd this sight,
Let it be tenable in your silence still,
And whatsoever else shall hap to-night,
Give it an understanding, but no tongue:

Tenable seems a strange word. I don't know if it means any of the following:

a) told outright
b) explained quietly
c) remain intact
d) kept secret

What did Shakespeare mean by tenable in this passage?

  • 2
    Alexander Schmidt, Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary (1902) has this comment on the rather unusual sense of tenable in this passage: "Tenable, probably = capable to be retained, not let out, not uttered." Does that help you figure out the probable correct answer to the multiple-choice question you ask about?
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 4, 2020 at 4:47
  • The modern sense of tenable is somewhat different, although you can see the connection to Shakespeare's usage if you look at it just right. Merriam-Webster says that tenable means "capable of being held, maintained, or defended : DEFENSIBLE, REASONABLE." That, however, is the stuff of general-reference resources and, for that reason, is off-topic at this site.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 4, 2020 at 4:56
  • @AerolVin Welcome to ELU. You could improve this question further by adding in what you've found in your own research, probably between (d) and the last question.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 4, 2020 at 8:02

1 Answer 1


According to A Shakespeare Glossary by C. T. Onions, revised by Robert D. Eagleson (Oxford University Press, 1986), "tenable" means

Capable of being held, that may be kept back or held secret

The adjective has the same stem as the French verb "tenir" (and the Spanish verb "tener"), which can mean both "to hold" and "to keep". Hamlet is asking Horatio to keep the apparition of the old king's ghost secret (or "to himself") forever ("still").

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