What does Hamlet mean by "I do not set . . . immortal as itself" in Act 1, Scene 4?

Quick answer:

Hamlet thinks that his soul is immortal and therefore cannot be harmed. He says it can't harm him, but in fact Hamlet is harming himself by being so apathetic and depressed. Although he may not fear physical death, he is still going to die (and go to Heaven or Hell) one day.

Expert Answers

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The full quote is as follows:

Why, what should I fear?

I do not set my life in a pin's fee

And for my soul—what can it do to that

Being a thing as immortal as itself?

It waves me forth again. I'll follow it.

In the scene, the ghost of Hamlet's father is beckoning him to follow. Horatio and Marcellus advise him against it, saying that it may lead him to the sea or to the "dreadful summit of the cliff," but Hamlet says he has nothing to fear. Even if the ghost could do damage to his soul, which as an immortal Hamlet says it can't, Hamlet doesn't put enough value on his own life to feel afraid of it. From this we can gather he is saying he is still numb from the death of his father and what he sees as his mother's betrayal. For him, his life has become worthless.

Hamlet shows further disregard for the potential consequences of his actions when he draws his sword and threatens to kill anyone who attempts to stop him from following the ghost.

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This is Hamlet's response to Horatio, who is begging Hamlet not to follow the ghost of his father (Horatio fears for Hamlet's safety and sanity, in case this is an evil spirit).  Hamlet's response is as follows:

"Why, what should be the fear?/I do not set my life in a pin's fee;/And for my soul, what can it do to that,/Being a thing immortal as itself?/It waves me forth again: I'll follow it."

Hamlet is saying that he has no reason to fear - right now, his life doesn't feel like it's worth much, since he's so broken up over his father's death and mother's remarriage, so why worry about this ghost?  And since the ghost is immortal, like his soul, it couldn't possibly do his soul any harm.

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