Hamlet Character and Theme Quotes

William Shakespeare

Character and Theme Quotes

Essential Passage by Character: Hamlet

HAMLET:
O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah, fie! 'tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! Nay, not so much, not two;
So excellent a king, that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on't! Frailty, thy name is woman—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears—why she, even she—
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn'd longer—married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to, good.
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue!

Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 132-162

Summary
Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is speaking to himself. He is saddened and disheartened by recent events: his father’s death and the marriage of his mother, Gertrude the queen, to his uncle Claudius. By marrying his mother, Claudius has become king and denies his nephew the right to the crown. But losing the kingship is not what upsets Hamlet. Rather, Hamlet is depressed and angry by his mother’s betrayal of the memory of his father (she has remarried in less than two months after his death). Moreover, Hamlet does not feel that his uncle is anything like his father as a ruler or a parent. Claudius, too, has betrayed Hamlet’s father by marrying Gertrude. Despite all of their treachery, however, Hamlet does not feel he can speak out against their poor behavior and decisions. Although it saddens him, he says, “I must hold my tongue.”

This soliloquy establishes how much Hamlet blames his mother for her actions and shows how much esteem Hamlet has for...

(The entire section is 1085 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: Gertrude

HAMLET:
Here is your husband, like a mildew'd ear
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this Moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The heyday in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment; and what judgment
Would step from this to this? Sense sure you have,
Else could you not have motion; but sure that sense
Is apoplex'd; for madness would not err,
Nor sense to ecstacy was ne'er so thrall'd
But it reserv'd some quantity of choice
To serve in such a difference. What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.
O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax
And melt in her own fire. Proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn,
And reason panders will.

GERTRUDE:
O Hamlet, speak no more!
Thou turn'st mine eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.

Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 70-98

Summary
Gertrude has called Hamlet to her room, yet she is disturbed by his manic behavior. Hidden behind the arras is Polonius, trying to discover more of the cause of Hamlet’s madness. Yet, when Hamlet confronts his mother with her wickedness, Gertrude feels significantly threatened and cries out. Echoing her cry, Polonius reveals his hiding place and Hamlet, thinking that it was Claudius behind the arras, stabs and kills Polonius. Hamlet regrets his death, but he regrets that it was not Claudius even more.

Gertrude, in the face of ongoing judgment from Hamlet, asks her son what she has done to deserve his contempt. Thinking she is playing ignorant, Hamlet accuses her of an immoral marriage to her husband’s brother.

Hamlet points out to Gertrude two portraits of both her husbands. He compares them to each other, first taking note the excellent qualities of his own father. In contrast, he illuminates the wretchedness and wickedness of her second husband, Claudius. Using the Biblical allusion of the “mildewed ear / Blasting his wholesome brother” (from Genesis 41, in which the Pharaoh dreams of withered wheat consuming the wholesome wheat, prophesying the coming drought), Hamlet hints that all that was good about King Hamlet will be destroyed by King Claudius.

Hamlet questions the reason for her marriage. He states that, because she is middle-aged, it cannot be for love, for the passions have by now dried up in her. He notes that she has full use of her senses, but...

(The entire section is 1246 words.)

Essential Passage by Character: The Ghost

GHOST:
I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand an end
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love—

HAMLET:
O God!

GHOST:
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

HAMLET:
Murder?

GHOST:
Murder most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.

Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 13-32

Summary
Hamlet, Horatio, and Marcellus await the arrival of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, while Claudius drinks the night away. Though it is customary in the palace to drink to the point of excessive drunkenness, Hamlet states that, though he is to this “manner born," he does not indulge. There is too much evil in the world to willingly take more into his mouth to make what is customary become dishonorable. While Hamlet explains his position to Horatio and Marcellus, the Ghost appears, beckoning Hamlet to follow. Horatio and Marcellus try to hold Hamlet back, but Hamlet insists and goes off alone.

The Ghost proclaims that, before he is condemned to purgatory to be cleansed of his many sins, he has come to Hamlet to deliver a message. Though the Ghost would love to tell Hamlet of the pains he is to undergo in the afterlife, perhaps as a warning, he is forbidden to do so. Instead he begs Hamlet to avenge his murder.

The murder of his father is not something that Hamlet has brought himself consciously to acknowledge as a possibility, yet it has crossed his mind. To know it for a fact—as much as he has committed himself to trusting the words of the Ghost—is a shock. All murder is “foul,” but this act exceeds all others in its “most foul, strange, and unnatural” state.

Before he is condemned to suffer the eternal consequences of his misdeeds, the Ghost is bent on ensuring that the misdeeds of others have earthly consequences. It is thus that he appeals to Hamlet to carry out this duty. He says that his brother, Claudius, murdered him by...

(The entire section is 1129 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Revenge

HAMLET:
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. That would be scann'd.
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge!
He took my father grossly, full of bread,
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands, who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
'tis heavy with him; and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasoned for his passage?
No.
Up, sword, and know thou a more horrid hent.
...

(The entire section is 1332 words.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Redemption

FORTINBRAS:
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.
I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,
Which now, to claim my vantage doth invite me.

HORATIO:
Of that I shall have also cause to speak,
And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more.
But let this same be presently perform'd,
Even while men's minds are wild, lest more mischance
On plots and errors happen.

FORTINBRAS:
Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royal; and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)