Act1 Scene2, What does Hamlet mean whe he says,"But i have within which passeth show. These but the trappings and the suits of woe."Act1 Scene2

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unlike everyone else in attendance at this important assembly and celebration, Hamlet is dressed in black mourning. Both Claudius and Gertrude are trying to persuade him to stop mourning for his dead father, which would mean giving up his black clothing. Hamlet tells his mother

'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black
That can denote me truly
But I have that within which passeth show.
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

In other words, his mourning clothes are only customary and obligatory symbols of feelings of grief, but he has real feelings of grief for his dead father which he cannot show or express. One reason he cannot express them is that they are involved with what he considers his mother's adulturous and incestuous union with the new king.

Both Claudius and Gertrude seem unable to understand why Hamlet should be experiencing such strong emotions of grief for such a long time after the event. Claudius suspects that Hamlet has other reasons for being so depressed and withdrawn besides mourning for his father. Claudius will spend the rest of the play trying to figure out what is going on inside his stepson's heart and mind. He is pretty sure that Hamlet is harboring bitter resentment at having the crown snatched away while he was still at Wittenberg, and he can tolerate that resentment as long as his stepson isn't going a step further and plotting against him. That is what he wants to find out. Gertrude only thinks her son is unhappy because of his father's death and what she calls her "o'erhasty marriage." She is not suspicious of her son's political intentions, and at this point he probably has no thoughts of usurping Claudius.. He only wants to go back to school at Wittenberg, but Claudius refuses him permission because he wants to keep him where he can watch him closely and have others watch him closely as well. At this point Hamlet has not met with his father's ghost.

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