Annotate the following quote: "What a piece of work is man How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties.”

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote is from a famous speech by Hamlet in Act II, scene II.

Rosencrantz and Guilderstern arrive and after some prompting by Hamlet, they reveal that they have been sent to speak with him.  Hamlet confides in them that he has "lost all my mirth"  and "the earth seems to me a sterile promontory."  Clearly Hamlet is in a state of depression/melancholia:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reson, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god:  the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.  And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?  Man delights not me, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

His expression of man as "noble" and "infinite in faculties" seems rather ironic in view of his reaction to Claudius and Polonius--whom he perceives as anything but godlike and paragons--and his two unfaithful friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If by annotate, you mean deconstruct and take notes on, then: The first word I notice is "work". Hamlet refers to man as "work". This is significant in two ways. Firstly, work insinuates a product, so man is the product of creation, God's creation. Secondly, "work" connotes toil. It is the opposite of "play". Man, in one word, becomes a challenging product of an unknown force. He is noble. He might have infinite faculties, but he is still "a piece of work". Man is still limited by his own form.

tcheese | Student

The quote is from Act II after Hamlet has identified his melancholy, his desire for revenge against Claudius and his mother for the murder of his father, and has just prior uncovered the reality that his two friends were sent by the King and Queen to "spy" on him. On the surface, it is a continuation of Hamlet's obvious depression, suicidal ideations, and search for meaning in what he sees as a life full of despair, deceit and treachery. The quote examines "man's" connection to God and reflection of God and then is juxtaposed with Hamlet's personal conclusion that in fact, man and life is as meaningless as the dust of its origin and its return (a theme revisited in the graveyard theme in Act V). Historically, it is often seen as emphasizing Shakespeare's focus on the emergent theme of Renaissance Humanism where individuals' actions were seen as possibly noble, important and meaningful in and of themselves...not just in relation to God.

msgh | Student

It's also an ironic song in the musical Hair.

mixedtape- | Student
Hamlet is talking about mans abilities and how they have the capacity to be God-like and angel-like (ultimatley good) but instead men choose to be evil.
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