What is the significance of the following quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: . . . let not ever / The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom / Let me be cruel,...
What is the significance of the following quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet:
. . . let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom
Let me be cruel, not unnatural.
Towards the end of Act Three, Scene 4 Polonius tells Hamlet that his mother would like to speak with him. After Polonius exits the stage, Hamlet mentions that he could do such terrible deeds that people would "quake" to witness his evil acts. Hamlet then says:
"O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural" (Shakespeare, 3.2.356-358).
Nero was an infamous Roman Emperor, who ended up murdering his mother, Agrippina. Similar to Nero, Hamlet is extremely upset with his mother and would like to harm her. However, the Ghost instructed Hamlet to not punish his mother while avenging his death. In accordance with his deceased father's ghost, Hamlet reminds himself to not be like Nero, who was responsible for his mother's death. Hamlet wishes to be cruel in order to express his displeasure with Gertrude's marriage but does not want to be completely unsympathetic to her feelings. Essentially, Hamlet is saying that he wishes to confront his mother about her actions but does not want to harm her physically.
This quotation encapsulates Hamlet's dilemma in a nutshell. On the one hand, he wants to exact a bloody, terrible revenge on all those who've wronged him—especially Claudius, the man who murdered his father. Deep down, he often wishes he could be like the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero, a man renowned for his cruelty.
On the other hand, Hamlet still takes the ideal of a Christian prince seriously enough to pull back from the brink and not let his desire for revenge consume him to the point where he becomes someone and something he isn't.
To a large extent, it's Hamlet's desire to avoid becoming another Nero that is responsible for his notorious procrastination. Instead of dashing off to the palace and killing Claudius when he finds out he was responsible for murdering his father, he bides his time for what seems like an eternity. And this is mainly because he doesn't want to be seen as a cruel and vicious tyrant like Nero.
Hamlet speaks these lines before he goes to see his mother, who is angry at him after the play he staged had so obviously offended Claudius. Nero was a Roman emperor who had famously murdered his mother, and by saying this, Hamlet is keeping true to his father's command that he not exact revenge on his mother. He does, however, plan to tell her precisely what he thinks about her marriage to Claudius, and this includes telling her about his father's murder. She is stunned by the allegation, but ultimately believes him.