In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet says to Polonius, "Take from me anything...except my life." Why does he say this? "You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I more willingly part withal—except my...

In Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet says to Polonius, "Take from me anything...except my life." Why does he say this? 

"You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life" (212-14). It seems strange that he said this because Polonius doesn't want to kill him; Polonius just wants to find out why he's gone mad. He takes it for granted that Hamlet has gone mad.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius is trying to better understand what Hamlet is thinking. He is certain that the young man is insane, and he is also sure that he knows the reason for it: Hamlet loves Ophelia; his love for Ophelia has drove him "mad."  

Polonius asks Hamlet:

Will you walk out of the air, my lord? (217)

This can be translated to mean, "Will you come in out of the air?" Polonius may be asking him to come in where it is warmer. It is a polite inquiry with regard to Hamlet's comfort.

Hamlet, suspicious of Polonius (because he is loyal to the new King), and delivering double entendres under the guise of madness, sarcastically asks:

Into my grave? (218)

Polonius misses the "joke." Polonius ponders the astute reply Hamlet has delivered and is amazed how like sanity madness often seems.

Polonius, sure he has discovered something meaningful about Hamlet's madness, excuses himself:

My lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you. (224-225)

Hamlet is being sarcastic here again. And while Polonius may think he is speaking out of madness, Hamlet insults him playing with the word "leave", but is in deadly earnest when he speaks of giving away his life, as easily as giving permission for Polonius to depart: 


You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will

more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life,

except my life. (226-228)

Hamlet's response is telling Polonius (who he lumps together in line 230 with "tedious old fools") that he will happily give his permission for the old man to leave. (Remember, this is a Prince speaking to the King's adviser. They are not on equal social footing; it is proper for Polonius to ask permission to leave—as Laertes earlier asked the King for his permission to leave court.) He is not only happy to grant Polonius permission to go—there is nothing he would rather do than let the "fool" leave...except for the last segment of this quotation, in which Hamlet is now deadly serious—all sarcasm aside. Hamlet's father is dead—murdered. His mother has remarried the murderer—and with scandalous haste (one month after her husband's death).

Hamlet is fine with the idea of dying.

Before Hamlet even knew his father had been murdered, he wanted to die. In Act One, scene two, he stated...


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! (I.ii.132-135)

Hamlet wished he could just disappear: melt. Or that God had not made it a mortal sin to commit suicide. His father's death and the horror of his "new" life have robbed him of his will to live. Hamlet speaks of his death again in Act Three (in his "To be or not to be" speech). 

In Act Two, scene two—in his discussion with Polonius—Hamlet sardonically says he could wish for nothing more than Polonius' departure. But in all seriousness, the only thing he would give as easily would be his life. 

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To understand this quotation from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, it is important to look at it in context. In this scene, Hamlet is feigning madness in part because he (correctly) suspects that if Claudius discovers that Hamlet is considering murdering Claudius, Hamlet's life will be in danger. Polonius is an ally of Claudius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are introduced in this act, will eventually be assigned by Cladius to kill Hamlet.

In this particular dialogue, Hamlet, under the cover of madness, is insulting Polonius, and Polonius is actually aware that there is a "method" in Hamlet's madness. The final bit of dialogue runs:

POLONIUS: …My honorable lord, I will most humbly take my leave of you.

HAMLET: You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal—except my life, except my life, except my life.

Thus Hamlet says that leaving is the second best thing Polonius could do; the best would be killing Hamlet. This suggests (as we see in the "To be or not to be" soliloquy) that Hamlet is so unhappy in his current circumstances that he would actually prefer death to life.

rienzi | Student

Hamlet is not saying that the best thing Polonius could do is take Hamlet's life. Quite the opposite. The key word here is "take", in response to Polonius' statement, " I will take my leave of you." Hamlet's response is saying: "You don't need to take anything that I would gladly give you, except my life." And this latter phrase goes back to Polonius's statement about walking out of the air. Polonius clearly is inviting Hamlet inside "out of the air." Hamlet though is mocking Polonius and in doing so interprets Polonius's statement literally as in out of air like in a grave.