In Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet, what does "wings as swift as meditation" mean?

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In this scene, Hamlet has just discovered that his father was murdered. He encourages the ghost of his father to reveal the identity of the murderer so that he, Hamlet, can "with wings as swift / As meditation . . . sweep to [his] revenge." What he means here is that he will act and take revenge as quickly as the mind can think. Of course, there is an irony here: Hamlet proves indecisive and hesitant in the play and thinks about how he will take his revenge and whether or not he should for a long time.

Later in the play, in act 3, scene 1, Hamlet reflects on his own indecision and failure to act. He reflects that "the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," meaning that his resolution, or determination to act, has been clouded and dulled because of his tendency to overthink.

Hamlet does not kill Claudius until the final scene of the play when he has little option but to do so, because he himself has been poisoned. By the end of the play, therefore, Hamlet's promise to his father at the beginning of the play—to take revenge as swiftly as the mind can think—seems nothing but empty bravado.

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In this part of the scene, Hamlet has just met his father's ghost. This is a fearful and emotionally wrought moment for our hero. The ghost of his father says that he could tell Hamlet stories that would make the hairs on his head stand up on end like porcupine quills. When Hamlet presses him, the ghost says his subject is "murder most foul ... strange and unnatural." At this point, Hamlet, very anxious to know what is going on, urges the ghost to tell him about it quickly—"haste me to know't." He then gives the ghost an incentive to tell him, saying that the faster he knows what happened, the faster he can take revenge. In the phrase "wings as swift as meditation," he is picturing himself as a bird who will swoop in and avenge his father's death as fast he can think: there will be no gap, in other words, between thought and deed.

This is one of literature's great ironic utterances because there is hardly a character in the annals of drama who meditates longer on his actions than Hamlet does. He will be anything but "swift" in avenging his father's death.

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