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"Once" here means "ever", so Hamlet is asking, "Would the heart of man ever think it or imagine it / this?" The phrase "the heart of man" may refer to a conception of the heart as "the seat of intelligence, motion, and sensation", which goes back to Aristotle [1]. (Aristotle also held that "the heart as ...


C.S. Lewis's Studies in Words has more on this, but basically this point in time was when it was turning toward a pure insult and dropping the social implication entirely -- but not quite. It was a lengthy process, taking over centuries. As an insult, it still meant "someone who acts like a villain rather than in noble manner expected of nobles."


Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy was immensely popular; not only was it printed ten times between 1592 and 1633 (although only one copy of the 1592 edition has survived), it was also quoted, alluded to and reworked by other authors. Thomas Kyd is also attributed an Ur-Hamlet, which is now lost. The Spanish Tragedy borrowed certain elements from Seneca's ...

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