In Act III of Hamlet, Hamlet says, "My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites." What does he mean?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It's act 3, scene 2 and Hamlet's been playing up his feigned madness, or his "antic disposition" as Polonius calls it. Polonius informs Hamlet that his mother wishes to see him at once. She, like everyone else at court, is growing concerned over Hamlet's increasingly disturbed behavior. Hamlet doesn't go to see Gertrude immediately, however; he still has to keep up his mad act, which he does by claiming to spot the shapes of animals in the clouds. But once he's dismissed Polonius and he's all alone, he prepares himself for the forthcoming showdown with his mother.

He psyches himself up for the encounter, urging himself to be like the Roman Emperor Nero: cruel, but not inhuman. When he meets Gertrude, he'll give her a piece of his mind alright, or as Hamlet puts it, he will "speak daggers to her." But although his words will be like daggers, he won't actually use one on her. So his words and his actions will be at odds, or as Hamlet says:

My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To understand the quotation, it must be considered in context. Hamlet is sickened by his mother's marriage to Claudius, viewing their relationship as incestuous. His rage has grown, and he plans to confront her about her betrayal of her love for Old Hamlet and her sinful behavior with Claudius. Before entering her chamber, Hamlet anticipates what will occur--and must not occur:

O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever

The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.

Let me be cruel, not unnatural;

I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

My tongue and soul in this will be hypocrites.

Hamlet intends to speak with cruelty to his mother, but he loves her. He must not lose control and harm her. To do so would violate the natural love between them. He will "speak daggers," but he will use no weapon against her. His words and actions (his "tongue and soul") will be hypocritical, therefore, since they will not reflect his deep love for his mother; he will not mean everything he is about to say.

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