What are lines in Shakespeare's Hamlet that have hyperbole, syllepsis or litotes?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are two notable instances in which Hamlet uses hyperbole. One occurs in the emotional scene with his mother in Act 3, Scene 4. Hamlet calls Claudius:

A murderer and a villain,
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of thy precedent lord

It would appear that he changes his mind in mid-sentence--that he intended to say that Claudius was not worth one-twentieth of her former husband--but then by adding the words "the tithe" he changes the ratio to one-twentieth of one-tenth, which would make it one-two hundredth part of her precedent lord. This is definitely hyperbole, since Hamlet has never really calculated the difference between his father and his uncle but is speaking from emotion and not from reason. Hamlet's father would have to be almost infinitely great or his uncle almost infinitesimally small to merit such a comparison.

Then there is Hamlet's confrontation with Laertes inside Ophelia's grave in Act 5, Scene 1. Hamlet tells Laertes:

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum.

And a bit later in the same speech he says:

And if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us

Hamlet obviously tends to lapse into hyperbole when he is experiencing strong emotions. This suggests that he represses his feelings much of the time and then loses control when he releases them.


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