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Why did Shakespeare make "the rest is silence" Hamlet's final words?

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swimchick4193 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 29, 2008 at 7:01 AM via web

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Why did Shakespeare make "the rest is silence" Hamlet's final words?

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:42 AM (Answer #3)

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"O, I die, Horatio;
The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit:
I cannot live to hear the news from England,
But I do prophesy the election lights
On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice;
So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited—The rest is silence".

The reference you mention is part of Hamlet's final speech in which he observes the fact that he is dying and reflects that he will not be a part of anything more in life. The rest of his life is to be silence.  His life ended, too soon, leaving a wide gap of silence where years of living should be. 

Hamlet realizes he needs to rely on Horatio to tell Fortinbras that he has Hamlet's "dying voice" for succession to the throne of Denmark. He also asks Horatio to tell the story of his uncle, his father, his mother, of how Ophelia died, and finally of how Hamlet's promising life was cut short when he says:

HAMLET. So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited ...

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robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted August 16, 2008 at 9:29 AM (Answer #4)

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Hamlet, who speaks the majority of the lines in the play, is about to die and stop speaking for ever. He has avenged his father's murder, been cut with the poisoned rapier, and, as he has just reflected to Horatio, is about to pass the crown of Denmark (he is, at this moment, effectively the only candidate to be king) to Fortinbras. There will be no familial succession. In that sense, the rest is silence for the line of the Hamlets.

Yet there is (as with so many other things in Hamlet) a meta-theatrical element. Hamlet has just asked Horatio not to commit suicide (Horatio's line 'Here's yet some liquor left' refers to a drop of poison left and his desire to kill himself) but to stay alive and to 'report' Hamlet's story to Fortinbras.

Hamlet cannot voice his choice for succession nor can he tell his own story: he is about to die; there can only be silence from him. But when the play--itself a version of Hamlet's story--comes to an end, part of Horatio's project, even after the curtain has come down, is to re-tell that same story:

So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited.

Paraphrase: So tell Fortinbras, with the events and results that came to pass, more or less, which wrongdoing was provoked and incited.

So, perhaps, as we come to the end of a performance of Hamlet in the theatre, we confront Hamlet. Yet, in an odd sort of way, we simply come to the end of a cycle. There is silence at the end of each performance, but every time the play itself is performed, Hamlet's dying wish for his story to be told 'aright' is fulfilled.

HAMLET
Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest. Report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.
[...]
O good Horatio, ...
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.

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amymc | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:13 AM (Answer #9)

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I would ask you to consider the "noise" that Hamlet has been experiencing since his father died.  Because Hamlet is a sensitive, philosophical young man, he thinks rather than acts.  However, his father has been murdered and demands revenge from his only son.  Therefore, Hamlet experiences a lot of emotional "noise" and it tends to be introverted psychologically rather than extroverted (inward, not outward).  His erratic thoughts create additional "noise"  as does his thwarted love for Ophelia and the deceptions of his two friends. 

As Act V concludes, he realizes his end may be near and does not seem afraid.  In fact, he seems to have resolved his life to the hand of fate, as the following quotation implies:

If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave  betimes?

After this decision, the "noise" in his head subsides.  He seems to think more clearly.  The final quote--"the rest is silence"--could represent the true peace that Hamlet feels as both external and internal noise are gone.

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted May 29, 2008 at 8:39 AM (Answer #2)

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The obvious answer is probably the right one here: It was the end of the play.  Hamlet dies with these words.  For nearly the entire play, Hamlet wrestled with the words of his father's Ghost asking him to take revenge against Claudius for having killed King Hamlet.  Now, Claudius is dead by Hamlet's hand.  Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and the one the Ghost wanted left alone, is also dead.  There is no one left to carry on the family line, Hamlet has named his successor as Fortinbras, so there is silence.

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frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted August 18, 2008 at 10:24 PM (Answer #5)

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The Rest is Silence.

In Shakespeare's day, most people unquestioningly believed in heaven (and hell). But Hamlet is a child of the new, philosophical Renaissance, his final line questions the old certainty of Heaven.

Hamlet has talked of death throughout the play and stared into the eyes of a freshly-unearthed, dead skull, looking for meaning. Now he is dying and he says, 'the rest is silence'

There is a double-wordplay on 'rest' :-

1) Rest could mean "...the remainder..." as in "...we watched the rest of the movie..." or "...the dog had the rest of the meatloaf...". So Hamlet's saying, "You will hear no more words from me for the rest of time, 'cos I'll be dead."

2) Or 'rest' could mean sleep... eternal rest, the sleep of death. He asked himself a question in the 'to be or not to be' speech, "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?". Now he can see over Death's shoulder and he has his answer. What dreams may come? None, the rest is silence. There is no heaven. There is no hell. No 'undiscovered country'. There is just the silence of the grave. Scary Stuff!

(Plus, theatrically speaking, it is the end of the play, there is a little 'wrapping up' afterwards by the minor characters, but basically it is the final line, 'The End'. 'The Rest is Silence, Thanks For Coming, and Goodnight.)

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geof | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 8, 2010 at 12:14 AM (Answer #8)

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Because the man lived and died with the pun (and I mean this in a good way), and he couldn't help but close his greatest play with one.  And what a good pun it is, since it supports at least three or four interpretations, including: a) rest can either mean 'that which is remaining' or, in Hamlet's case, death; b) silence can simply refer to the fact that the play is over--there are no words--or to a description of the state of death; c) a comment on the fact that every other major character is dead and might more grammatically be written 'the rest are silenced."

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sunheri101 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:16 PM (Answer #10)

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hmm.m, well i personally think that he says that to show that it is all over. from the beginning of the play,Hamlet is troubled and later he has to deal with the voice of his fafther's ghos in his head telling to revenge but in that moment he was finally free of that voic and all the worry.

he tell Horatio to tell his story...about all tha had occured in his family but now that he was about to die like everyone else what else could be there but silence? and in Horatio's case it could be taken as a sign of the last order from his prince. he was never going to hear Hamlet's voice again

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