Mirrors in "Hamlet"?I would like to write an essay on how the reoccurring image of a mirror is used in Hamlet, and have a good idea about what to write about. However, I can't remember which...

Mirrors in "Hamlet"?

I would like to write an essay on how the reoccurring image of a mirror is used in Hamlet, and have a good idea about what to write about. However, I can't remember which scenes a mirror appears in. I was thinking of a mirror in the sense of the experiences and encounters that make Hamlet reflect upon himself. But I think I will have to mention where an actual physical mirror appears in the play in my essay


Expert Answers
robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though there are several places where a director could introduce a mirror as a prop, the text of the play doesn't actually ever call for one.

You're absolutely right though, the mirror is a potent symbol within the play itself.

Hamlet, particularly, is interested in mirrors as a way of showing people the truth (compare the modern saying 'Go and take a look in the mirror'). In the closet scene with Gertrude, he wants to set up a 'glass' (an Elizabethan word for mirror) in which he wants her to see the 'inmost part' of herself. The mirror, therefore, is the means by which Gertrude (so Hamlet thinks) can attain self-knowledge.

Hamlet says to the players that the purpose (i.e. the point) of acting is to 'hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature'. The stage is a mirror of the world: it reflects the audience who watches it by showing them their own vices and virtues (this logic, of course, underlies Hamlet's 'trap' for Claudius in the middle of the play). You might argue that the whole play, therefore, is in one sense, a 'mirror'.

monkstir75 | Student

Hamlet also mentions the mirror in Act III, scene IV, when he is scolding his mother right before he kills Polonius.  He yells at her when she tries to leave and Hamlet basically commands her to look in the mirror before she leaves and see what she has become.

babi | Student

Thank you, that's exactly what I was looking for!

a-b | Student

In act III, Scene 2, Hamlet says:

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature's journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

Later, in Act V, Scene 2, Hamlet says:

Sir, his definement suffers no perdition in you;
though, I know, to divide him inventorially would
dizzy the arithmetic of memory, and yet but yaw
neither, in respect of his quick sail. But, in the
verity of extolment, I take him to be a soul of
great article; and his infusion of such dearth and
rareness, as, to make true diction of him, his
semblable is his mirror; and who else would trace
him, his umbrage, nothing more.