Hamlet Words, words, words. (2.2.190)

William Shakespeare

Words, words, words. (2.2.190)

There are many possible meanings to Hamlet's reply when the nosy Polonius asks him what he is reading. Polonius is pretty obviously a non-reader and probably thinks, like most non-readers, that anyone would rather be talking to someone than reading a book. He does not realize he is being a nuisance. When Hamlet replies, "Words, words, words," he may be implying that he cannot focus on the meaning of the words in his book because the old man is distracting him. In fact, this is a good reply that all of us could remember for those occasions when some stranger breaks into our concentration by asking an inane question such as "What's that your reading?" We might say, "I guess I'm not reading anymore. I'm talking to you." Hamlet might also mean by "Words, words, words" that he is sick and tired of doing nothing but read. He is a prisoner at Elsinore and doesn't even have the abundant choice of reading material that was available to him at Wittenberg. On a deeper philosophical level Hamlet may be saying that no book ever written could help him with his current psychological and practical problems. We have all had the experience of reading a whole page in a book, especially in a textbook, and suddenly realizing that we haven't understood a word of what we have read because we were actually thinking about something else. We have been reading a lot of words, but they may as well have been printed in a strange foreign language--or they may be pure gobbledegook.