In Hamlet Act 3, scene 2 Hamlet says "for some must watch while some must sleep, so runs the world away." What does Hamlet mean by this? I am doing research on the Lincoln assassination...

In Hamlet Act 3, scene 2 Hamlet says "for some must watch while some must sleep, so runs the world away." What does Hamlet mean by this?

I am doing research on the Lincoln assassination and in her book about her brother John Wilkes Booth, sister Asia ends the book with the line - "So runs the world away."

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Claudius has just watched the traveling performers act out a scene very like the real one in which he participated when he murdered his brother, the old King Hamlet, by sneaking up on him while he was asleep and pouring poison into his ear. Claudius, much disturbed, leaps from his seat, calls for lights, and quickly rushes away, seeming to confirm—for Hamlet and Horatio—that the story Hamlet heard from the ghost is actually true and that Claudius did murder him. All leave the scene except for Hamlet and his best friend, and Hamlet says,

Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play.
For some must watch while some must sleep.
So runs the world away. 

In other words, the deer that's been shot can go away and cry while the unharmed deer can simply continue to play joyfully. The deer are metaphors for people: some people must keep watch and be on their guard, ever-vigilant and watching for potential wrongs, and others can simply "sleep" and not worry about being vulnerable. This is how the world works.

Hamlet associates himself with the former kind of individual. He is completely alert and on his guard regarding Claudius, and he must be very vigilant now and wait for the perfect opportunity to kill his uncle/stepfather in order to avenge his father's murder.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet's plan for "catching the conscience of the king" has worked. He has had his play performed, Claudius has freaked out, and everyone has left except Hamlet and his best friend, Horatio. 

Hamlet is saying that the way the world works is that some people must be ever vigilant, on guard against danger and evil, while some get to just "sleep" their way through life, never paying any attention to what's happening around them. He is confident now in what the ghost told him about his father's murder, and thinks he is ready now to be on guard - to right the wronged - to seek revenge on his father's murderer.

Perhaps Asia Booth was saying that she should have been like Hamlet concerning her brother - that she should have been vigilant while the world slept around him.

Good luck!