What effect does the Player's speech about Hecuba have on Hamlet?

The Player's speech about Hecuba makes Hamlet feel inadequate, shameful, and timid. Hamlet compares the passionate actor's performance to his own reaction regarding his father's death and is ashamed that he cannot evoke similar emotions or accurately depict his conflicted feelings.

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In act 2, scene 2, Hamlet listens to a talented actor recite a moving speech about the death of King Priam, which fills him with a sense of shame and inadequacy. In Hamlet's soliloquy, he harshly criticizes himself for his inability to appropriately express his conflicted emotions and compares his response to his father's assassination with the actor's passionate portrayal of Hecuba. Hamlet refers to himself as a "rogue and peasant slave" and finds it absurd that an actor can evoke more emotion during a fictional performance than he can about the actual death of his beloved father. Hamlet is astonished that a performer can exhibit such signs of grief while he acts listless and struggles to avenge his father's unjust death by assassinating King Claudius.

Hamlet then wonders how the talented performer would react if he was in his same position and concludes that the actor would surely "drown the stage with tears," fill the audience's ears with "horrid speech," and amaze everyone in the crowd. Hamlet then refers to himself as a "dull and muddy-mettled rascal" who wanders around like a mute daydreamer and cannot even express his true emotions. He then begins to question his masculinity and asks himself if he is a coward. In comparison to the emotional actor's performance, Hamlet is a timid, speechless fool who has every reason to react violently but simply roams around aimlessly without taking action.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 22, 2020
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The actor's speech about Hecuba makes Hamlet feel like "a rogue and peasant slave" for not having exacted some revenge on his uncle sooner. The actor only feels a "fiction, a dream of passion," and yet he can force himself to exhibit such signs of grief and sadness that he grows pale and his voice breaks. Hamlet, on the other hand, feels that he has exhibited even less passion, despite the fact that he actually feels more; the actor appears to be more active and passionate regarding a story than Hamlet appears in his own real life. He asks himself, "Am I a coward?" It seems during the speech at the end of act 2, scene 2 that he feels he is a coward, that he is "pigeon-livered" and lacks "gall." He thinks that, if he were truly brave, he would already have killed Claudius, his uncle, and fed the man's innards to the birds of the region. This pondering seems to result in a renewed resolve to pursue his uncle, ascertain the man's guilt, and then punish him.

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Like the scene with the Norwegian troops going off to fight over a worthless patch of ground, this is another episode which shames Hamlet over his chronic indecision. He knows what needs to be done; he knows that he must avenge the death of his father. Despite all his bold talk, in actuality, he's done absolutely nothing about it, so Claudius still lives.

The player is able to put his heart and soul into giving a convincing performance. He's such a good actor that it appears for all the world as if the emotions he displays are completely real. The player may be only be acting out a part, but his response—in his role of Hecuba—to the death of King Priam is so much more convincing than Hamlet's own response to his father's death. Hamlet knows this, and the guilt and the shame caused by this uncomfortable realization are eating him up inside.

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Hamlet feels inadequate and frustrated with his own lack of action. The Player is able to generate and convey passion and emotion in his speech about Hecuba's grief over the death of Priam, yet this situation is not a real one; the Player is just acting. Hamlet, on the other hand, has real cause to feel grief and to act, yet he has done nothing. He asks what would the Player do "Had he the motive and the cue for passion/That I have?" So he questions himself: "Am I a coward?"  And he declares that so far all he done to achieve the vengeance the Ghost wants is to use words.

Ah, but words! That fact gives him the idea of using the play-within-a-play to reenact the murder scene and watch Claudius' response. If the king even flinches, Hamlet will know that Claudius is guilty and thus have the evidence he's been seeking that the Ghost speaks truth. Hamlet will use words "to catch the conscience of the king" and lay a trap for Claudius.

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Hamlet is surprised that the Player can produce such emotions over something that has not really happened. He chides himself for experiencing his father's death and mother's remarriage and not doing anything. He says, "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?" In other words, the Player cried over an imaginary person he can't know, yet Hamlet can't convince himself to take action for someone he loved. 

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