In The Iliad
, Hecuba is the wife of the King of Troy, Priam, and the mother of Hector. When Achilles kills Hector, Hecuba suffers great grief, a contrast to the lack of grief Gertrude
shows over the death of her husband, the late King Hamlet
. However, Hamlet
's grief over his father's death is very similar in its depth to Hecuba's grief over Hector.
But while the parallels between Hecuba's situation and his own are apparent to Hamlet, the chief importance of the speech lies elsewhere. When Hamlet dwells on the speech in his soliloquy
, he is primarily amazed that the actor can display such grief for someone who died thousands of years ago. Hamlet contrasts this display of fake grief to the grief he feels inside for his father. Hamlet says that if the actor had Hamlet's grief, he would flood the stage with tears:
What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears . . .
Hamlet is wondering about the disjunction between appearance and reality, a theme that runs throughout the play. The actor can pour out fake grief, but, ironically, Hamlet is not capable of expressing the much more intense sadness he really feels inside. This seems odd to him, and so he talks about the grief he has bottled up within, trying to describe it in words.