Context: Hamlet, the meditative, melancholy Prince of Denmark, finds himself with a father dead and a mother taken in an incestuous marriage by his uncle, declared by the Ghost of his father to be the murderer. In his most famous soliloquy, Hamlet, faced with the necessity for revenge, considers his course of action. The idea of the cessation of life through suicide pleases him, but the consequences of the act do not.
HAMLETTo be, or not to be, that is the question–Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–No more; and by a sleep to say we endThe heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocksThat flesh is heir to; 'tis a consummationDevoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,For in that sleep of death what dreams may comeWhen we have shuffled off this mortal coil,Must give us pause; . . .
Context: As Hamlet probes further the story told him by his father's ghost–that his father was murdered by his Uncle Claudius, the present king, and that his mother had committed adultery with Claudius–the young prince feigns madness and is himself probed by others eager to discover the cause of his madness. The king and queen send for two of Hamlet's youthful companions, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who agree to scout the melancholy Dane. The quick-witted Hamlet spars with his old friends–who wonder whether ambition may be at the root of his trouble, that is, disappointment at not being made king after his father's death–and manages to keep them interested while avoiding any definite commitment. Hamlet calls Denmark a prison; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern protest:
HAMLETWhy then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.ROSENCRANTZWhy then your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind.HAMLETO God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.GUILDENSTERNWhich dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.HAMLETA dream itself is but a shadow.
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark is informed by his father's ghost that he, his father, was murdered by his brother Claudius, who is now king, and that Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, was adulterous with Claudius. Hamlet swears to avenge his father's murder. Before he does, he arranges to have actors play, in the presence of his uncle and mother, a scene depicting his father's murder. Claudius' reactions prove to Hamlet that the king is indeed guilty. His mother is upset by the play and summons Hamlet to her chamber to upbraid him. Instead, he shakes her to her very soul by reminding her of her adulterous past, and contrasting the virtues and nobility of her first husband to the evil and villainy of Claudius. The phrase "shreds and patches" is a famous line in a song from The Mikado (1885) by W. S. Gilbert. It is there used in a warmly human, and humorous, sense, and not as Shakespeare employed it.
HAMLETA murderer and a villain,A slave that is not twentieth part the titheOf your precedent lord, a vice of kings,A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,That from a shelf the precious diadem stoleAnd put it in his pocket.GERTRUDENo more.HAMLETA king of shreds and patches–
Context: Claudius, brother to King Hamlet, has secretly murdered his brother, usurped the throne from its rightful owner, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and married immediately his former sister-in-law, Queen Gertrude. Young Hamlet, unaware of the fact that Claudius has killed the noble king, but feeling deeply the difference between the two kings, and the hasty marriage of his mother to his uncle, broods about the court. On his first appearance in the play, Claudius acts the role of the good king by attending to the affairs of state and to the personal affairs of Laertes, the son of his Lord Chamberlain. Then he turns to Hamlet and attempts to show fatherly concern for the unhappy prince, who cannot accept the low Claudius as replacing his own noble father. He replies to the words of Claudius, in an aside, in words that may be paraphrased as "I am more closely related to you than cousin (step-son), but little like you in nature." However, he may mean in the second part of the phrase that he cannot be kind to his uncle, that he hates the usurper.
CLAUDIUSTake thy fair hour Laertes, time be thine,And thy best graces spend it at thy will.But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son.HAMLET [aside]A little more than kin, and less than kind.
Context: This phrase is often used, in the misquoted form given above, when anyone obtains sensible results by means not readily understood, or by means which strike the viewer as odd, strange, or eccentric. In the play, Prince Hamlet learns that his father was murdered by his father's brother, the present King Claudius of Denmark. In order to screen his own thoughts and actions and to disarm his well-guarded uncle, Hamlet pretends to be demented. Polonius, the king's chief councilor, believes him to be so and tries to get further confirmation of his belief. Hamlet, aware of Polonius' intentions, and, under cover of his pretended madness, makes game of the tedious old fool. Hamlet is reading as he walks. Polonius asks him what he is reading.
HAMLETWords, words, words.. . .POLONIUSI mean the matter that you read, my lord.HAMLETSlanders sir, for the satirical rogue says here, that old men have grey beards [and] that their faces are wrinkled, . . . I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for yourself sir shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.POLONIUS [aside]Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.. . .
Context: Together, Claudius and Laertes plot the death of Hamlet–Claudius because he fears the prince may know that he, Claudius, killed Hamlet's father; Laertes because Hamlet mistakenly killed Polonius, Laertes' father. They plan a friendly fencing-match in which Laertes' rapier will not be blunted, as a practice rapier should be, and will be touched with poison. Claudius is quite certain he can get Hamlet to agree to the match because Hamlet envies Laertes' reputation for swordsmanship and has desired to match himself against his rival. Swordplay, according to Claudius, is a mere ornament, like the ribbons courtiers sometimes wear in their caps, and yet it is as becoming to youth as furs and dignified attire are to the more aged, who must look after their health and dignity:
KINGA very riband in the cap of youth;Yet needful too, for youth no less becomesThe light and careless livery that it wearsThan settled age his sables and his weedsImporting health and graveness.. . .
Context: King Claudius of Denmark seeks the death of his nephew, Prince Hamlet. He hits upon a fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes. Laertes wants Hamlet dead to avenge his father, whom the prince accidentally killed. During the fencing bout, Laertes uses a rapier dipped in poison and wounds Hamlet. In the following scuffle, they exchange rapiers, and Laertes is hit with his own envenomed blade. Dying, he tells Hamlet that the king is to blame. Meanwhile, the queen unknowingly drinks from a poisoned cup, and is another victim of the king's machinations. In revenge, Hamlet kills Claudius. Now, expiring, Hamlet wrests the poisoned cup from his friend Horatio's lips and bids him live.
HAMLETAs th'art a man,Give me the cup–let go, by heaven I'll ha't.O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me.If thou dids't ever hold me in thy heart,Absent thee from felicity awhile,And in this harsh world draw thy breath in painTo tell my story.. . .
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark has been at sea. Now he is back home, still seeking to avenge his murdered father. He is with his close friend and schoolfellow, Horatio, and they pause at a graveyard near Elsinore Castle. They talk to a sexton who is digging a grave.
SEXTON. . . Here's a skull now hath lien you i' th' earth three and twenty years.HAMLETWhose was it?. . .SEXTONA pestilence on him for a mad rogue, 'a poured a flagon of Rhenish on my head once; this same skull sir; was sir, Yorick's skull, the King's jester.. . .HAMLETLet me see [Takes the skull.] Alas poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio, a felloim Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; . . .
Context: Young Prince Hamlet of Denmark is in mourning for his dead father both in spirit and apparel. Amid the fresh brightness of new King Claudius' court at Elsinore, he, dressed in black and with brooding countenance, is like a living reproach. Claudius, ascending the throne after a short mourning period for his dead brother King Hamlet, announces to the court his recent and too hasty marriage to the late king's widow, Gertrude. This marriage adds to Prince Hamlet's smoldering anger, for he considers it incestuous. Now, when Claudius completes his announcement and finishes some court business, he speaks to young Hamlet and is sharply rebuffed. Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, quickly intervenes, eager to reconcile the recalcitrant young prince to her new, if irregular, alliance.
GERTRUDEGood Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.Do not forever with thy vailed lidsSeek for thy noble father in the dust.Thou know'st 'tis common, all that lives must die,Passing through nature to eternity.
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, robbed by his uncle of a father by murder, of a mother by an incestuous marriage, and a throne by usurpation, confronts his mother and reproaches her in her chamber. Inviting her to compare pictures of her noble first husband and her base second husband, he assesses the two men.
HAMLETLook here upon this picture, and on this,The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.See what a grace was seated on this brow,Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself,An eye like Mars, to threaten and command,A station like the herald Mercury,New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill,A combination and a form indeed,Where every god did seem to set his sealTo give the world assurance of a man.This was your husband, look you now what follows.Here is your husband like a mildewed ear,Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes,Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,And batten on this moor? Ha, have you eyes? . . .
Context: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, former friends of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, are instructed by King Claudius to cheer up the brooding prince and, if possible, to determine the cause of his melancholy. They fail to learn the real cause of his state of mind, but they are able to inform him of the approach of some traveling actors, whom Hamlet greets with delight. When Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain, who is tedious, naïve, and knowledgeable in the obvious, enters, Hamlet ridicules the old man, and Rosencrantz generalizes on age.
POLONIUSWell be with you, gentlemen.HAMLETHark you Guildenstern, and you too, at each ear a hearer–that great baby you see there is not yet out of his swaddling-clouts.ROSENCRANTZHappily he is the second time come to them, for they say an old man is twice a child.HAMLETI will prophesy, he comes to tell me of the players; . . .. . .POLONIUSThe actors are come hither my lord.
Context: King Hamlet of Denmark is only recently dead. Thrice has his ghost been seen on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. The most recent visitation was witnessed not only by Bernardo and Marcellus, officers of the watch who saw it earlier, but also, at their insistence, by Horatio, a friend of the late king's son, Prince Hamlet. Prince Hamlet is with them on the ramparts late the following night to see and speak with the ghost should he again appear. As Hamlet and Horatio are conversing about some local customs, the apparition of the dead king suddenly appears.
HORATIOLook my lord, it comes.HAMLETAngels and ministers of grace defend us.Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned,Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,Be thy intents wicked, or charitable,Thou com'st in such a questionable shape,That I will speak to thee.. . .
Context: In the frosty night before the castle at Elsinore, Hamlet encounters the ghost of his father. He is bursting with impatience to know what the purpose of the apparition is: "What may this mean. . . . What should we do?" But the ghost wishes to speak to Hamlet in private, and since others are present–the sentinels and Hamlet's friend, Horatio–the spirit beckons Hamlet away. However, no one knows, at this point, whether the spirit is the ghost of Hamlet's father or a demon in his father's shape; therefore, the prince's companions warn Hamlet against following. But Hamlet insists that he will follow. He hears his destiny calling, and every artery in his body feels as bold as the great lion whose slaying was the first of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, and he insists that he will create another ghost of anyone who hinders–"lets"–him:
HAMLETIt waves me still.Go on; I'll follow thee.MARCELLUSYou shall not go my lord.HAMLETHold off your hands.HORATIOBe ruled, you shall not go.HAMLETMy fate cries out,And makes each petty artery in this bodyAs hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.Still am I called. Unhand me gentlemen–By heaven I'll make a ghost of him that lets me.I say, away!–Go on, I'll follow thee.[Exeunt GHOST and HAMLET.]
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark learns that his father was murdered by Claudius, his father's brother who is now king and that Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, was adulterous with Claudius. Hamlet, already heartsick at his mother's hasty and incestuous marriage with Claudius, and knowing that Claudius has usurped the throne that should have been his, is horrified and distracted at this double blow. He swears to avenge his father's murder. But how? Claudius is king, well-guarded, powerful. Hamlet feigns madness to screen himself and possibly to disarm Claudius, and in addition plans to test the accuracy of the ghost's accusation by having the visiting players enact a scene like the murder of his father in the king's presence. Now, despondent, and hating his life and the corruption about him, he plays with the idea of death.
HAMLET. . .To die, to sleep–To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,For in that sleep of death what dreams may comeWhen we have shuffled off this mortal coil,Must give us pause; there's the respectThat makes calamity of so long life.. . .
Context: This pithy saying has become a proverb around the world. In the play, young Prince Hamlet of Denmark is informed by his dead father's ghost that he was murdered in his sleep by his brother Claudius, the present king, and that Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, was adulterous with Claudius. Hamlet swears to avenge his father. But how will he accomplish the revenge against the well-guarded king? As a beginning, Hamlet pretends madness, which ruse, if he is convincing, may disarm Claudius. The prince behaves oddly in the presence of Ophelia, daughter of the king's chief councilor, Polonius. Ophelia tells her father, and he concludes that Hamlet is mad. The tedious Polonius reports Hamlet's strange behavior to the king and queen:
POLONIUSMy liege, and madam, to expostulateWhat majesty should be, what duty is,Why day is day, night night, and time is time,Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.Therefore since brevity is the soul of wit,And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,I will be brief–your noble son is mad.. . .
Context: Caviar, the roe of the sturgeon, which is pickled, salted, and prepared as a relish, requires for its appreciation a cultivated palate. Ordinary people, in Shakespeare's day, did not have this acquired appetite. Therefore, if they ate caviar they would not like or appreciate it. By extension, the saying means above or beyond the comprehension or taste of ordinary people. In the play, Prince Hamlet greets a band of strolling players who come to Elsinore Castle. He asks their leader to give a speech, a passionate speech, and the leader replies:
FIRST PLAYERWhat speech my good lord?HAMLETI heard thee speak me a speech once, but it was never acted, or if it was, not above once, for the play I remember pleased not the million, 'twas caviar to the general; but it was, as I received it, . . . an excellent play, . . .
Context: Queen Gertrude of Denmark witnesses a play, managed by her son, Prince Hamlet, in which the Player Queen protests overly much that she loves the Player King before he is murdered. The play and Hamlet's commentary parallel the actual events, in which Gertrude loved King Hamlet, was seduced by his brother, was widowed, and then married the seducer-murderer, Claudius, who is now king. The play is abruptly halted. The King is frightened and the Queen insulted. She summons Hamlet to her chamber to upbraid him. Hidden in the room behind the arras is Polonius, the king's chief councilor, to overhear Hamlet's words. Hamlet, distracted and angry, handles his mother roughly. Her cries for help are echoed by Polonius. Hamlet thinks the voice is that of Claudius and seizes the opportunity to avenge his murdered father.
HAMLET [draws].How now! A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead.[Makes a pass through the arras.]POLONIUS [behind].O I am slain.GERTRUDEO me, what hast thou done?HAMLETNay I know not. Is it the King?
Context: The outstanding attitude voiced by Hamlet in his first soliloquy, of which this saying is a part, is disgust with his mother's unseemly marriage to her dead husband's brother and hence Hamlet's uncle, Claudius. The too-short period of mourning for the dead king is over; Claudius has ascended the throne, and he has announced his marriage to Queen Gertrude, Prince Hamlet's mother. Everything has been done hastily. Hamlet considers his mother's re-marriage as incestuous and, therefore, abhorrent to him. His ideals about her are shattered.
HAMLETThat it should come to this–But two months dead, nay not so much, not two–So excellent a King, that was to thisHyperion to a satyr,. . .Heaven and earth,Must I remember? Why she would hang on himAs if increase of appetite had grownBy what it fed on, and yet within a month–Let me not think on't–frailty, thy name is woman.A little month or e'er those shoes were oldWith which she followed my poor father's body,Like Niobe all tears, why she, even she–O God, a beast that wants discourse of reasonWould have mourned longer–married with my uncle,. . .
Context: This saying has a double meaning. In Shakespeare's day, "nunnery" was a vulgar, cant word meaning "brothel." Thus, the quotation has the obvious, denotative meaning as well as the vulgar connotative interpretation. In Hamlet, the prince thinks about death as a way out of his troubled life as he walks in the great hall of Elsinore Castle. He sees Ophelia, daughter of the king's chief councilor, Polonius. Hamlet knows King Claudius, his usurping, murderous uncle, is with Polonius somewhere about, spying upon him, trying to determine if he is indeed insane. He knows that Ophelia is planted in his way. The plot angers him, and any relationship that existed between Ophelia and Hamlet is shattered. He is cold and harsh to her. She is lending herself to duplicity, and he is very sensitive about such behavior.
HAMLETIf thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry–be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery; go, farewell. Or if thou will needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery go, and quickly too. Farewell.OPHELIAO heavenly powers, restore him.
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark learns that his father was murdered by Claudius, his father's brother who is now king. Hamlet swears to avenge his father's murder. But before he does so, he must confirm the new king's guilt. When a band of players come to Elsinore Castle, he plans that they play before his uncle a scene like the murder of his father. How Claudius reacts will indicate his guilty or innocent conscience. But Hamlet must have someone he trusts observe his uncle during the play. His old friend Horatio is that man. Hamlet intimates how much he trusts him.
HAMLET. . .Dost thou hear–Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice,And could of men distinguish, her electionHath sealed thee for herself, for thou hast beenAs one in suffering all that suffers nothing,. . .Whose blood and judgment are so well comedled,That they are not a pipe for Fortune's fingerTo sound what stop she please. Give me that manThat is not passion's slave, and I will wear himIn my heart's core, ay in my heart of heartAs I do thee.. . .
Context: This poignant farewell, spoken by Horatio at the death of Hamlet, is in fitting contrast to the violence just witnessed; and the line that follows is one of the most beautiful single lines in all Shakespeare. Hamlet and Laertes have just fought a duel in which each has been fatally wounded by a rapier point to which King Claudius has ordered poison applied; Queen Gertrude has died from drinking poison intended for Hamlet by Claudius; and Hamlet has at last avenged his murdered father by stabbing Claudius with the poisoned rapier. With his waning strength Hamlet urges his faithful friend Horatio to tell all the world the sordid details of Claudius' treachery. Then with his dying breath he concerns himself with affairs of state.
HAMLETO I die Horatio,The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit.I cannot live to hear the news from England,But I do prophesy th' election lightsOn Fortinbras, he has my dying voice;So tell him, with th' occurrents more and lessWhich have solicited–the rest is silence. [Dies.]HORATIONow cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet Prince,And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.. . .
Context: "Hair stand on end" is the usual form this saying takes today as in the sentence, "The scream was enough to make your hair stand on end!" The phrase connotes a physical reaction to any frightful or harrowing experience and is a synonym for excessive fear. In Hamlet, the ghost of Denmark's late King Hamlet has appeared three successive nights on the ramparts of Elsinore Castle. This night, Prince Hamlet is on the battlements with his friend Horatio and an officer of the guard, Marcellus, when the ghost again appears. The apparition does not answer Hamlet's queries but beckons the prince to follow him. Hamlet shakes off his friends and does so. The ghost begins its discourse by hinting at the horrors of purgatory.
GHOSTI am thy father's spirit,. . .But that I am forbidTo tell the secrets of my prison-house,I could a tale unfold whose lightest wordWould harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,Thy knotted and combined locks to part,And each particular hair to stand an end,Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.. . .
Context: This saying is often heard, usually in the form, "hoist on his own petard," and means, literally, "blown up by one's own torpedo." We use it whenever a trick, trap, or device backfires and victimizes its perpetrator. In the play, Prince Hamlet of Denmark is to be sent to England by his uncle, King Claudius, because he is considered dangerous to the crown. The king secretly plans to have Hamlet summarily executed once he reaches his destination. Two of Hamlet's erstwhile friends, who know the king's intent, are to accompany him. Hamlet is aware of the plot and plans countermeasures. He is speaking to his mother, Queen Gertrude.
HAMLETI must to England, you know that.GERTRUDEAlack,I had forgot. 'Tis so concluded on.HAMLETThere's letters sealed, and my two schoolfellows,Whom I will trust as I will adders fanged,They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way,And marshal me to knavery. Let it work,For 'tis the sport to have the enginerHoist with his own petar;. . .
Context: "Not worth a pin" would seem to be a natural derivation from this line in Hamlet. However, one suspects that Shakespeare here used a comparison that was current in his time. In the play, King Hamlet of Denmark has only recently died. His ghost has been seen three times on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. The most recent visitation, the night before, was witnessed by Horatio, a good friend of the late king's son, Prince Hamlet. Now, late the following night, Hamlet is with his friend and a guard when the ghost materializes. Hamlet speaks to it, but it will not answer. Instead, the ghost beckons Hamlet to follow it. He starts to go, but one of the officers and Horatio try to dissuade him from doing so.
MARCELLUS. . .But do not go with it.HORATIONo, by no means.HAMLETIt will not speak; then I will follow it.HORATIODo not my lord.HAMLETWhy, what should be the fear?I do not set my life at a pin's fee,And for my soul, what can it do to thatBeing a thing immortal as itself?It waves me forth again. I'll follow it.
Context: Hamlet is playing a very dangerous game. After having been told by his father's ghost that his Uncle Claudius, the present king, is the murderer of his father, Hamlet feigns madness while he feels his way. Two old schoolmates, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have been set the task of determining the cause of Hamlet's madness. Hamlet lures them on, teasingly suggesting a number of possibilities. Finally, he almost, but not quite, admits his sanity. The proverb, "I know a hawk from a handsaw," means simply that he still has sense enough to distinguish obvious dissimilarities, and may be intended as an ironic attack on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who pretend loyalty and friendship. "Handsaw" is usually explained as a North Country word meaning "heron."
HAMLET. . .You are welcome; but my uncle-father, and aunt-mother, are deceiv'd.GUILDENSTERNIn what, my dear lord?HAMLETI am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerlyI know a hawk from a handsaw.
Context: Confronting his mother, Queen Gertrude, who has joined in an incestuous marriage with his uncle, Hamlet kills the evesdropping Polonius and reproaches his mother for the bestiality of her nature and begs her to repent. For his quickness to kill and his harshness with her, he asks forgiveness and explains the reason for his cruelty.
HAMLET. . . Once more good night,And when you are desirous to be blessed,I'll blessing beg of you. For this same lord,I do repent; but heaven hath pleased it soTo punish me with this, and this with me,That I must be their scourge and minister.I will bestow him, and will answer wellThe death I gave him. So again good night.I must be cruel only to be kind.Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind. . . .
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark is informed that his uncle, King Claudius, murdered his father and that his mother, Queen Gertrude, was adulterous with Claudius. He swears to avenge his father. First, however, he must confirm his uncle's guilt by having actors play before Claudius a scene depicting the murder of his father. The royal couple and the court see the play. In it the Player Queen makes a great show of love for her first husband before he is murdered. The play is abruptly stopped by Claudius, who leaves the hall, followed by his startled court. The play is a grave insult to Gertrude, which the alarmed Claudius makes her feel more acutely. She sends for Hamlet. He is on his way to her.
HAMLET. . .'Tis now the very witching time of night,When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes outContagion to this world.. . .Soft, now to my mother. . .Let me be cruel, not unnatural,I will speak daggers to her, but use none;My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites,How in my words somever she be shent,To give them seals never my soul consent.
Context: The ghost of Hamlet's father appears twice in the opening scene of the play. After the first appearance, Hamlet's friend, Horatio, wonders what the apparition might mean–"This bodes some strange eruption to our state"–and notes that "In the most high and palmy state of Rome,/ A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,/ The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead/ Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets." When the ghost reappears, Horatio performs the dangerous act of moving directly into the path of the spirit. In calling upon the ghost to speak, Horatio lists the causes that may force a spirit to return to earth; he seems about to get a response when the cock crows and the ghost stalks away, for, according to ancient belief, ghosts and other walkers in darkness cannot endure the sunlight. The entire scene is extraordinarily dramatic:
HORATIO. . .[Re-enter GHOST.]But soft, behold, lo where it comes again.[GHOST spreads its arms.]I'll cross it, though it blast me. Stay illusion,If thou hast any sound or use of voice,Speak to me.If there be any good thing to be doneThat may to thee do ease, and grace to me,Speak to me.If thou art privy to any country's fateWhich happily foreknowing may avoid,O speak.Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy lifeExtorted treasure in the womb of earth,For which they say you spirits oft walk in death,[Cock crows.]Speak of it; stay and speak. Stop it Marcellus.
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark has been at sea. Now he is back home, still seeking to avenge his murdered father. He is with his close friend and schoolfellow, Horatio. They pause to talk to a sexton who is digging a grave in a churchyard near Elsinore Castle. The gravedigger shows them the skull of Yorick, who was the king's jester. Hamlet jokes grimly about the leveling effect of death.
HAMLETDost thou think Alexander looked a this fashion i' the' earth?HORATIOE'en so.. . .HAMLETTo what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander, till 'a find it stopping a bunghole?. . .Alexander died, . . . was buried, . . . [and] returneth to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,Might stop a hole, to keep the wind away.. . .
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark is alone, brooding on his father's recent death and his mother's subsequent hasty and unseemly marriage to her dead husband's brother. Into his bitter reverie come his school friend from Wittenberg, Horatio, and Bernardo and Marcellus, officers of the night watch, with news that they have seen the ghost of King Hamlet on the battlements. First the two friends greet each other warmly: Horatio is still at Elsinore following the late king's funeral. Horatio's mention of his father again induces bitterness in Hamlet.
HAMLETThrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meatsDid coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.Would I had met my dearest foe in heavenOr ever I had seen that day Horatio.My father–methinks I see my father.HORATIOWhere my lord?HAMLETIn my mind's eye Horatio.
Context: One of Hamlet's basic problems is that of the identity of the ghost who nightly walks at Elsinore. Is it the ghost of his father or a tempting demon in disguise? The problem is stated most clearly at the end of Act II: "The spirit that I have seen/ May be a devil, and the devil hath power/ T' assume a pleasing shape; . . ." The question is raised at the first sighting of the ghost by Horatio and the watchmen, and it is reasserted by Hamlet at his first encounter, when he insists that he will speak to it, "Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned." But after the ghost tells Hamlet, in private, that he is his father's spirit, that he was murdered by Hamlet's uncle, Claudius, the present king, and that Claudius and Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, had earlier committed adultery, Hamlet concludes–though only for the moment–that the ghost is genuine–"honest"–and tells Horatio and the guard as much, though he refuses to disclose anything further:
HAMLET. . .Touching this vision here–It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you–For your desire to know what is between us,O'ermaster't as you may.. . .
Context: King Claudius of Denmark murdered his brother, the late King Hamlet, and usurped the throne. He seduced Queen Gertrude and won her. Now, aware that his nephew, Prince Hamlet, suspects him of his evil deeds, he is shaken and apprehensive. To soothe his conscience he tries to pray but cannot. His guilt will not allow it. He speaks his thoughts.
CLAUDIUSO my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,A brother's murder. Pray can I notThough inclination be as sharp as will.My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,. . .
Context: The ghost of Denmark's late King Hamlet has been seen three nights on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. It would not talk to anyone but young Prince Hamlet, who, tonight, is present when the apparition again appears. The prince follows the ghost when it will not speak in the presence of his companions, Horatio, a friend, and Marcellus, an officer of the watch. Now, in a deserted place at the foot of the battlements, the ghost tells young Hamlet that he, his father, was murdered in his sleep by his brother, the present king Claudius; and worse, that young Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, was adulterous with Claudius. The ghost demands revenge on Claudius but enjoins Hamlet to harm not his mother.
GHOST. . .Let not the royal bed of Denmark beA couch for luxury and damned incest.But howsoever thou pursues this act,Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contriveAgainst thy mother aught; leave her to heaven,And to those thorns that in her bosom lodgeTo prick and sting her.. . .
Context: Queen Gertrude of Denmark witnesses a play, managed by her son, Prince Hamlet, which, with Hamlet's commentary, closely parallels her own history. She loved her first husband (Hamlet's father), was seduced by Claudius (her brother-in-law), was widowed, and then married the seducer-murderer, who is now king. The play is abruptly halted. The king is frightened and the queen insulted. She summons Hamlet to her chamber to upbraid him, unaware that the play was meant to confirm Hamlet's belief that Claudius murdered his father. Hidden in the queen's chamber to overhear Hamlet's words, is Polonius, the king's chief councilor. Hamlet, distracted and angry, handles Gertrude roughly. Her cries for help are echoed by Polonius. Hamlet believes Claudius is behind the curtain, seizes the opportunity to avenge his murdered father, and kills Polonius by mistake. He then turns to his mother, who is distraught.
HAMLET. . .Leave wringing of your hands; peace sit you down,And let me wring your heart, for so I shall,If it be made of penetrable stuff;. . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, bemoans his noble father's death, the usurpation of the throne by Claudius, his base uncle, and the hasty marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to that same uncle. In his first soliloquy, he laments his mother's frailty and notes that although she wept at the funeral like Niobe whose fourteen children were slain by Apollo, she accepted Claudius in a marriage, which, in Hamlet's eyes, is an incestuous relationship.
HAMLET. . . That it should come to this–But two months dead, nay not so much, not two–So excellent a King, that was to thisHyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother,That he might not beteem the winds of heavenVisit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth,Must I remember? Why she would hang on himAs if increase of appetite had grownBy what it fed on, and yet within a month–Let me not think on't–frailty, thy name is woman.A little month or e'er those shoes were oldWith which she followed my poor father's body,Like Niobe all tears, why she, even she–O God, a beast that wants discourse of reasonWould have mourned longer–married with my uncle,. . .
Context: To assure Hamlet's death, Claudius and Laertes plan a fencing match in which Laertes is to use an unblunted and poisoned sword against Hamlet. To make doubly sure of the death, Claudius prepares a poisoned cup which the prince will take during a respite in the seemingly friendly fight. After Queen Gertrude drinks from the cup and Claudius and Laertes die from the poisoned sword, Hamlet, mortally wounded by the same sword, asks Horatio, his friend, to explain to the world the rightness of his actions. Horatio seeks to follow his prince through suicide into death, as would a Roman, with the poisoned cup, but Hamlet urges him to live.
HAMLET. . . Horatio, I am dead,Thou livest; report me and my cause arightTo the unsatisfied.HORATIO. . .I am more an antique Roman than a Dane.Here's yet some liquor left.HAMLETAs th' art a man,Give me the cup–let go, by heaven I'll ha't.O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me.If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,Absent thee from felicity awhile,And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,To tell my story. . . .
Context: This line is usually heard in the contracted form given, but its meaning is precisely the same as Shakespeare meant it in Hamlet. In the play, Horatio, a school friend of Prince Hamlet of Denmark, and two officers of the watch, Bernardo and Marcellus, have seen the ghost of the recently dead King Hamlet on the battlements of the castle. They come to tell the prince their news. Hamlet has been brooding on his father's death and is thus receptive to their words. He questions them closely about the apparition:
HAMLET. . .Hold you the watch tonight?MARCELLUS AND BERNARDOWe do my lord.HAMLETArmed say you?. . .MARCELLUS AND BERNARDOMy lord, from head to foot.. . .HAMLETWhat, looked he frowningly?HORATIOA countenance more in sorrow than in anger.
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is informed by his dead father's ghost that he was murdered in his sleep by his brother Claudius, the present Danish King, and that Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, was adulterous with Claudius. Hamlet swears to avenge his father by murdering the well-guarded king. As a start, and hoping to relax the king's guard, Hamlet pretends to be mad by behaving oddly in the presence of Ophelia, daughter of the king's chief councilor, Polonius. Ophelia tells her father, and Polonius concludes that the prince is insane. He hurries to report Hamlet's strange behavior to the royal couple. But he talks around the subject, is foolish, and longwinded.
POLONIUS. . .Mad call I it, for to define true madness,What is't but to be nothing else but mad?But let that go.GERTRUDEMore matter with less art.POLONIUSMadam, I swear I use no art at all.That he's mad 'tis true; 'tis true, 'tis pity,And pity 'tis 'tis true–a foolish figure,But farewell it, for I will use no art.. . .
Context: Minted by Shakespeare, this saying has, like many of his lines, achieved the status of a proverb. Specifically, Polonius, the chief councilor to King Claudius of Denmark, gives his son Laertes much advice as he bids him farewell just before the young man embarks from Elsinore for France. Polonius is rich in old saws and sage counsel, which the young man patiently hears.
POLONIUS. . .Neither a borrower nor a lender be,For loan oft loses both itself and friend,And borrowing dulleth edge of husbandry.. . .
Context: These words are perhaps more often remembered from their rearrangement in A Visit from St. Nicholas (1823) by Clement Clark Moore: ". . . Not a creature was stirring,–not even a mouse. . . ." There can be little doubt, however, that Moore remembered his Shakespeare. As the opening scene of Hamlet begins late on a chilly night, Francisco is standing guard on the ramparts of the Danish castle of Elsinore. Another guard, Bernardo, comes to relieve him. As they identify each other in the murk, they are jumpy and nervous because an apparition resembling the late King Hamlet has appeared on the battlements the last two nights. They expect it to appear again, as they converse quietly.
BERNARDO'Tis now struck twelve, get thee to bed Francisco.FRANCISCOFor this relief much thanks, 'tis bitter cold,And I am sick at heart.BERNARDOHave you had quiet guard?FRANCISCONot a mouse stirring.BERNARDOWell, good night.. . .
Context: A combination of factors gives this opening line of Hamlet's first soliloquy great poignancy. His uncle Claudius, new King of Denmark, has just ascended the throne and announced his marriage to Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet, a sensitive, introspective person, is shattered by these events. Not only is his mother's hasty marriage unseemly and incestuous, not only does he dislike his uncle Claudius on personal terms, but also he now has even more reason to detest him because Claudius has usurped his rightful inheritance, the throne itself. Now Hamlet is alone. He feels drained, disgusted, miserable, and betrayed. His thoughts are on death. (Most scholars are now agreed that the line should read "sullied flesh," but "solid" is fixed in the popular memory.)
HAMLETO that this too too solid flesh would melt,Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,Or that the Everlasting had not fixedHis canon 'gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitableSeem to me all the uses of this world!. . .
Context: Informed by his father's ghost that he, his father, was murdered by his brother, Claudius, and that his wife and Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude, was adulterous with him, Hamlet's mind teeters. Horrified and distracted, he swears to avenge his father's death. But how? Claudius is well guarded. Hamlet pretends madness in Ophelia's presence. She, in love with Hamlet, reports his strange behavior to her father, Polonius, chief councilor of the king. He in turn tells the king that Hamlet has lost his mind over love of Ophelia. The councilor and king determine to test Hamlet by putting Ophelia in his way. Hamlet is aware of the plot. He is angry at Ophelia for lending herself to duplicity, as did his mother, and he rails at her. The phrase "all but one" is for the hidden king's benefit.
HAMLET. . . I say we will have no moe marriage. Those that are married already, all but one, shall live, the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery go. [Exit.]OPHELIAO what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,. . .Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down,. . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, charged by the Ghost of his murdered father with the duty of avenging the murder, senses the web of intrigue in the court. When Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, returns his love tokens, he sees her as a part of the conspiracy against him and brutally berates her. She can only believe that madness has overtaken her lover because of her rejection, and laments his condition.
OPHELIAO what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down,And I of ladies most deject and wretched,That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;That unmatched form and feature of blown youthBlasted with ecstasy. O woe is meT' have seen what I save seen, see what I see.
Context: The ghost of Denmark's late King Hamlet for three previous nights has been seen on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. The young Prince Hamlet, accompanied by friends, waits, tonight, to see and talk to the apparition. It appears, and Hamlet shakes off his protesting, fearful companions and follows where it beckons. In a deserted area at the foot of the battlements, the ghost reveals to Hamlet that he, his father, was murdered in his sleep by his brother, the present King Claudius, and that Hamlet's mother was adulterous with Claudius. The ghost demands revenge on his murderer. Hamlet, horrified and distracted, calms himself only after he writes his fearful and damnable discovery in his notebook. He remembers how Claudius smiled at him when he called him his son.
HAMLET. . .O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!My tables–meet it is I set it downThat one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark.[Writes.]So uncle, there you are. Now to my word;It is, adieu, adieu, remember me.I have sworn't.
Context: Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, chief councilor of King Claudius of Denmark. She has some reason to believe Prince Hamlet loves her, but when she allows herself to be a tool of her father and the king, Hamlet turns on her. Shortly, Hamlet accidentally kills her father and is sent to England as a result. Ophelia loses her mind. Laertes, her brother who has been in France, returns home to avenge his father's death and is talking with the king when Queen Gertrude brings them news of Ophelia's death.
GERTRUDEOne woe doth tread upon another's heel,So fast they follow; your sister's drowned, Laertes.. . .There is a willow grows askant the brook,There on the pendent boughs her coronet weedClamb'ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,When down her weedy trophies and herselfFell in the weeping brook.. . .The idea of this quotation was expressed somewhat differently nearly half a century after Shakespeare when Robert Herrick wrote: "Thus woe succeeds a woe, as wave a wave" in Sorrows Succeed (1648). Edward Young, in Night Thoughts (1742-1745), returned to Shakespeare's image:Woes cluster; rare are solitary woes;They love a train, they tread each other's heel.
Context: This pithy saying is usually heard as "rich but not gaudy" and implies the person or thing referred to has or reflects good taste and quiet costliness, or an avoidance of the earmarks of a parvenu. In a letter to his friend William Wordsworth in 1806, Charles Lamb coined the phrase, "neat, not gaudy" which conveys the same sense of discrimination but in a slightly modified form. It does not imply wealth or riches in the connotation. In Hamlet, Polonius, the chief councilor to King Claudius of Denmark, bids his son Laertes farewell just before the young man embarks from Elsinore for France. The father continues at length, with much advice:
POLONIUS. . .BewareOf entrance to a quarrel, but being in,Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,For the apparel oft proclaims the man;. . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, urged by the Ghost of his murdered father to take revenge against the murderer, his uncle and father's brother, considers his course of action. A meditative rather than an active man, he weighs the delight of suicide against the consequences of the act after the earthly body has been uncoiled from about the immortal part of man. The word "coil" also meant "bustle" or "turmoil" in Shakespeare's day.
HAMLETTo be, or not to be, that is the question–Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–No more; and by a sleep to say we endThe heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocksThat flesh is heir to; 'tis a consummationDevoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,For in that sleep of death what dreams may comeWhen we have shuffled off this mortal coil,Must give us pause; there's the respectThat makes calamity of so long life. . . .
Context: This famous saying is universally known in the English-speaking world. It connotes the suspicion that all is not as it appears in a given situation; that something, indefinite and vague, is disturbingly amiss. The colloquialisms "something smells," "it stinks," and the like are probably logical derivations from Shakespeare's line. In the play, the ghost of Denmark's late King Hamlet has been seen three successive nights on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. The most recent visitation, the night before, was witnessed by Horatio, good friend of the late king's son, Prince Hamlet. Now, late the following night, Hamlet is on the ramparts with his friend and an officer, Marcellus, when the ghost materializes. The ghost refuses to speak but beckons Hamlet to follow it. Despite the strenuous objections of his friends, Hamlet does so.
HORATIOHave after. To what issue will this come?MARCELLUSSomething is rotten in the state of Denmark.HORATIOHeaven will direct it.MARCELLUSNay let's follow him.
Context: In Scene Two, Hamlet learns that his father's ghost has appeared at Elsinore. In Scene Four, he encounters the ghost. Between these highly charged passages, there is an interlude of semi-comic sententiousness. Laertes, son of the ancient Lord Chamberlain, Polonius, is about to embark for Paris, but first warns his sister, Ophelia, against taking Hamlet's protestations of love too seriously: "Hold it a fashion, and a toy in blood." Polonius picks up the theme and, despite Ophelia's protestations, insists that Hamlet's love vows are snares–"springes"–to catch woodcocks like Ophelia, the woodcock being so proverbially foolish a bird that it was sometimes supposed to have no brains at all:
OPHELIAMy lord, he hath importun'd me with loveIn honourable fashion.POLONIUSAy, fashion you may call it; go to, go to.OPHELIAAnd hath given countenance to his speech, my lord,With almost all the holy vows of heaven.POLONIUSAy, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know,When the blood burns, how prodigal the soulLends the tongue vows. These blazes daughter,Giving more light than heat, extinct in both,Even in their promise, as it is a-making,You must not take for fire. From this timeBe something scanter of your maiden presence.. . .OPHELIAI shall obey, my lord.
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark learns that his father was murdered by Claudius, his father's brother, who is now king. Hamlet, horrified and distracted by this news, swears to avenge his father's murder. But before he does so, he must confirm the new king's guilt. When a band of players comes to Elsinore Castle, he arranges for the actors to play before his uncle a scene like the murder of his father. The king's reactions will indicate his guilt or innocence. Now, he gives the players last-minute instructions:
HAMLETSpeak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; . . .FIRST PLAYERI warrant your honour.HAMLETBe not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, . . . For anything . . . o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end both at the first, and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. . . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is in profound melancholia over the sudden death of his father, King Hamlet, and the hasty marriage of his mother to Claudius, brother of the late king and usurper of the crown. In an interview with his father's ghost, the prince learns that the king's death was not a natural one, but that he was murdered by Claudius. The ghost makes Hamlet swear to avenge this "foul and most unnatural murder." In order to protect himself against suspicion while planning his revenge, Hamlet feigns madness. Claudius suspects that the madness is not genuine but has no proof. Polonius, Lord Chamberlain, is convinced that the prince's insanity is real and is caused by unrequited love for his daughter, Ophelia, to whom Hamlet has paid court. In order to prove his point, he suggests that he and Claudius, hidden behind a tapestry, spy on an interview between the two lovers. Hamlet, knowing that he and Ophelia are being overheard and furious with her for lying to him by saying that her father is at home, treats her brutally; so that when he has left the stage, the bewildered young girl, who believes that he is really mad, gives in a soliloquy a description of the prince as he was before the death of his father.
OPHELIAO what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,Th' observed of all observers, quite, quite down,And I of ladies most deject and wretched,That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;That unmatched form and feature of blown youthBlasted with ecstasy. O woe is meT' have seen what I have seen, see what I see.
Context: Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, the late chief councilor of King Claudius of Denmark, and who was once the beloved of Prince Hamlet, lost her senses after her father was killed. Shortly, she drowned accidentally, and now is being buried in a churchyard near Elsinore Castle. Her body is laid in the grave, and Queen Gertrude comes to the graveside to say farewell.
GERTRUDESweets to the sweet. Farewell. [Scatters flowers.]I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife.I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,And not have strewed thy grave.
Context: With much fatherly advice, Polonius, Lord Chamberlain in the court of Denmark and a tedious old man, sends his son Laertes, returned to Denmark for the coronation of the king, back to Paris, where he has been in school. The main body of the speech follows:
POLONIUS. . . There–my blessing with thee.And these few precepts in thy memoryLook thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,Nor any unproportioned thought his act.Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.. . .Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,For the apparel oft proclaims the man;And they in France of the best rank and station,Or of the most select and generous, chief in that.. . .This above all, to thine own self be true,And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in the position of having to avenge the death of his murdered father, feels himself oppressed by the whole court. Even Ophelia, his love, seems to be a part of the plot against him. Consequently, he berates her in such a vicious manner that when he leaves she can only think that he, the very mirror of the ideal, is mad. Her description of Hamlet as he was before the death of his father is the picture of the idealized Renaissance Prince.
OPHELIAO what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword,Th' expectancy and rose of the fair state,The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,The observed of all observers, quite, quite down,And I of ladies most deject and wretched,That sucked the honey of his musicked vows,Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;That unmatched form and feature of blown youthBlasted with ecstasy. O woe is meT' have seen what I have seen, see what I see.
Context: Sometimes heard as "methinks the lady doth protest too much" or "methinks thou protest too much," this saying is used whenever anyone is suspected of camouflaging an ulterior purpose behind effusive protestation or denial. In the play, Prince Hamlet of Denmark learns that his father was murdered by Claudius, his father's brother, who is now king. Hamlet swears to avenge his father's murder. But first he must confirm the new king's guilt by having a band of players play before his uncle a scene like the murder of his father. How his uncle reacts, not knowing he is observed, will indicate his guilty or innocent conscience. Royalty and courtiers assemble and the play begins. The Player Queen affirms, reaffirms, and vows that she will love none but her first husband. Queen Gertrude, watching, is unaware that she too is being tested for guilt or innocence.
HAMLETIf she should break it now!. . .Madam, how like you this play?GERTRUDEThe lady doth protest too much methinks.HAMLETO but she'll keep her word.
Context: The sense of this saying, more often conveyed as "fresh in memory" or "the memory is fresh," is quite current. Thomas Moore, the famous Irish poet, used a similar phrase in Stanza 2 of his poem Oh Breathe Not His Name (published in Irish Melodies, 1807-1834): And the tear that we shed, though in secret it rolls, Shall long keep his memory green in our souls. In Hamlet, the newly crowned King Claudius of Denmark, brother and secret murderer of the dead King Hamlet, announces to the court his marriage to the late king's widow, Gertrude. By using this phrase, Claudius is acknowledging the brevity of the mourning period for the dead king, and then tries to explain it away.
CLAUDIUSThough yet of Hamlet our dear brother's deathThe memory be green, and that it us befittedTo bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdomTo be contracted in one brow of woe,Yet so far hath discretion fought with natureThat we with wisest sorrow think on him,Together with remembrance of ourselves.. . .
Context: The opening scene of Hamlet occurs on the ramparts of the Danish castle of Elsinore. The guard is changed at midnight and, by prearrangement, the relieving officer, Bernardo, is joined by fellow officer Marcellus and Horatio, a friend of young Prince Hamlet. Horatio is present to confirm a report of a ghost which has appeared twice previously on the battlements. Horatio is skeptical of the reports, but soon the apparition appears and is recognized as the ghost of the dead King Hamlet. It will not stay or speak at Horatio's demand but disappears. The three men discuss the unsettled conditions in the kingdom since King Hamlet died and decide the appearance of his ghost is an omen of evil. The ghost reappears, is about to speak, when, at the crow of a cock, he once more vanishes. Following a subdued discussion of it, the worried Horatio realizes day is dawning.
HORATIO. . .But look the morn in russet mantle cladWalks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill.Break we our watch up, and by my adviceLet us impart what we have seen to-nightUnto young Hamlet, for upon my lifeThis spirit dumb to us will speak to him.. . .
Context: The ghost of Hamlet, late King of Denmark, has appeared on the battlements of Elsinore Castle to inform his son, Prince Hamlet, that he was murdered by his brother, Claudius, who has since married the widowed Queen Gertrude and usurped the crown. The ghost makes his son swear to avenge his murder, a vow that young Hamlet willingly takes. But after this emotion-charged scene is over, the Prince is assailed by doubts: is the ghost really that of his father or is it the Devil who has assumed his shape? He must have further evidence before he proceeds with his vengeance. Luckily, a troupe of strolling players stops at the castle. Quickly young Hamlet plans to have them produce a tragedy, the story of which resembles the Ghost's description of the murder. The reaction of Claudius to the play will demonstrate whether he is guilty or innocent, and then Hamlet will know what to do. In his soliloquy the Prince says:
. . . the devil hath powerT' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhapsOut of my weakness and my melancholy,As he is very potent with such spirits,Abuses me to damn me: I'll have groundsMore relative than this: the play's the thingWherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
Context: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, friends of Hamlet's youth, have, at the request of the king and queen, made one unsuccessful attempt to discover the cause of Hamlet's "distemper." Now that Hamlet has, by watching King Claudius' reaction to a play within the play, satisfied himself that Claudius did indeed kill his father (though only Hamlet and his friend, Horatio, know of the king's guilt), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make another attempt, which is again fended off by Hamlet's turning the conversation to the fact that his uncle was given the throne rather than he. Rosencrantz reminds him that Claudius has already suggested Hamlet as his heir, whereupon Hamlet, playing with fire, but scarcely caring at this point, recalls an old proverb, "While the grass is growing, the horse starves," implying that he is hungry for the throne:
ROSENCRANTZGood my lord, what is the cause of your distemper? You do surely bar the door upon your own liberty, if you deny your griefs to your friend.HAMLETSir, I lack advancement.ROSENCRANTZHow can that be, when you have the voice of the King himself for your succession in Denmark?HAMLETAy, sir, but while the grass grows–the proverb is something musty.
Context: With Queen Gertrude, King Claudius, and Laertes victims of violent deaths in the last scene of the play, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, fatally wounded, passes the rights of the throne of Denmark to Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, who has a claim to the throne. All matters being settled, Hamlet speaks his last line and dies. Horatio bids him farewell.
HAMLETO I die Horatio,The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit.I cannot live to hear the news from England,But I do prophesy th' election lightsOn Fortinbras, he has my dying voice;So tell him, with th' occurrents more and lessWhich have solicited–the rest is silence. [Dies.]HORATIONow cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet Prince,And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. . . .
Context: On the battlements of the Castle of Elsinore, young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has just encountered the ghost of his father, the late King, who has told him the terrible story of his murder by his brother, Claudius. Furthermore, the murderer has usurped the crown of Denmark and has married the widowed Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The marriage was not only performed with unseemly haste but was incestuous. These crimes young Hamlet has promised to avenge. Quickly forming his plans, he tells his friends, who also have seen the ghost, that he will pretend madness in order to hide from Claudius his real intentions. He then demands that his friends swear on his sword to keep his pretense a secret. They swear and all prepare to leave the battlements. His final remark refers to his grief at having the terrible duty of revenge thrust upon him.
Rest, rest perturbed spirit! So, gentlemen,With all my love I do commend me to you.. . .. . . Let us go in together;And still your fingers on your lips, I pray.The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,That ever I was born to set it right!
Context: In a mistaken attempt to prove that Hamlet's assumed madness is the result of love for his daughter, Ophelia, Polonius has placed her in Hamlet's path while Polonius and King Claudius hide themselves and listen. Hamlet enters and delivers the most famous speech in the entire Shakespearian canon, a discourse on the merits of life and death, life seen as a "sea of troubles," man as groaning under burdens–"fardels." Death would be preferable if only one could be certain that it involved nothing more than sleep, but death is for the living an unexplored country, and fear of it forces one to put up with the calamity of life:
HAMLETTo be, or not to be, that is the question–Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–No more; and by a sleep to say we endThe heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocksThat flesh is heir to; 'tis a consummationDevoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep–To sleep, perchance to dream, ay there's the rub,For in that sleep of death what dreams may comeWhen we have shuffled off this mortal coil,Must give us pause; there's the respectThat makes calamity of so long life.For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,The insolence of office, and the spurnsThat patient merit of th' unworthy takes,When he himself might his quietus makeWith a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,To grunt and sweat under a weary life,But that the dread of something after death,The undiscovered country, from whose bournNo traveller returns, puzzles the will,And makes us rather bear those ills we have,Than fly to others that we know not of?. . .
Context: Polonius, Lord Chamberlain to King Claudius, has warned his daughter, Ophelia, not to waste her time in hearing the declared love of Hamlet, that she can only be hurt by what must be false attention. When the dutiful daughter rejects Hamlet, he bursts in on her as she is sewing in her closet. His action may be part of his pretended madness to entrap Claudius, but Polonius sees it only as madness for love of his daughter.
OPHELIAHe took me by the wrist, and held me hard;Then goes he to the length of all his arm,And with his other hand thus o'er his brow,He falls to such perusal of my faceAs 'a would draw it. . . .. . .. . . he lets me go,And with his head over his shoulder turned,He seemed to find his way without his eyes,For out a doors he went without their helps,And to the last bended their light on me.POLONIUSCome, go with me, I will go seek the King.This is the very ecstasy of love,Whose violent property fordoes itself, And leads the will to desperate undertakingsAs oft as any passion under heavenThat does afflict our natures. . . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is led by Horatio and the guards to the part of Elsinore Castle where the prince confronts the Ghost of his father, murdered by Claudius, brother to the former king and now king himself. The Ghost explains the murder and demands vengeance through Hamlet. Shocked but determined not to reveal what he knows, Hamlet jests with Horatio and the guards and calls on them to swear that they will not tell of the happenings of the night.
HAMLET. . .Come hither gentlemen,And lay your hands again upon my sword.Swear by my sword,Never to speak of this that you have heard.GHOST [beneath.]Swear by his sword.HAMLETWell said old mole, canst work i' th' earth so fast?A worthy pioneer. Once more remove, good friends.HORATIOO day and night, but this is wondrous strange.HAMLETAnd therefore as a stranger give it welcome.There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Context: Prince Hamlet swears revenge for his father's murder. The murderer is Hamlet's uncle Claudius, his father's brother and present King of Denmark. To disarm his well-guarded uncle and to screen his own thoughts and actions, Hamlet pretends to be crazy. Polonius, the king's chief councilor, believes the prince to be mad and so reports to the king. The king is not convinced, however, and sets two young courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, erstwhile friends of Hamlet, to spy upon him and learn the truth.
HAMLET. . . What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither? . . . Denmark's a prison.ROSENCRANTZThen is the world one.HAMLETA goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.ROSENCRANTZWe think not so my lord.HAMLETWhy then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark accidentally kills Polonius, the chief councilor of King Claudius, thinking him to be the king. The latter, alarmed, sends Hamlet to England, and plans to have him summarily executed upon his arrival. Now Hamlet, returned to Denmark, tells his friend, Horatio, of the premonition he experienced on board ship that allowed him to thwart this plot on his life.
HAMLETSir, in my heart there was a kind of fightingThat would not let me sleep;. . .Rashly–And praised be rashness for it; let us know,Our indiscretion sometime serves us wellWhen our deep plots do pall, and that should learn usThere's a divinity that shapes our ends,Rough-hew them how we will–HORATIOThat is most certain.
Context: Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, chief councilor of King Claudius of Denmark. Prince Hamlet, the king's nephew, has been behaving erratically. To determine if he is indeed mad, she allows herself to be used by her father and the king as a decoy. Hamlet sees through the device and turns on her. She, who believed he loved her, is unsettled. Shortly afterwards, her father is killed accidentally by Hamlet, who is then sent to England. This event proves too great a blow, and she loses her mind. Later, her brother, who has had news of his father's death, returns to Elsinore Castle from France. He, Queen Gertrude, and the king witness Ophelia's mad behavior. She speaks to Laertes without recognizing him and gives him a sprig of flowers from her hair.
OPHELIA [to Laertes]There's rosemary, that's for remembrance–pray you love, remember–and there is pansies, that's for thoughts.LAERTESA document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.OPHELIA[To Claudius.] There's fennel for you, and columbines.[To Gertrude.] There's rue for you, and here's some for me; . . .
Context: Hamlet has mistakenly killed the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius. Polonius' son, Laertes, knowing little of the circumstances of his father's death, but lusting for revenge, comes roaring back from France to Denmark, and leads a mob to the castle. There he is faced down by King Claudius, who asserts that "divine right" will throw a hedge of safety around him. The idea, of course, is a commonplace. In the play it serves to show Claudius as the shrewd and brave man he is, a worthy opponent to Hamlet. It also is ironic, for "divine right" has, in this case, descended to a murderer and an adulterer, who seeks Hamlet's death and who shortly makes Laertes an accomplice to his plan for the slaying of Hamlet:
KINGWhat is the cause, Laertes,That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?Let him go Gertrude, do not fear our person.There's such divinity doth hedge a kingThat treason can but peep to what it would,Act little of his will. Tell me Laertes,Why thou art thus incensed–let him go, Gertrude–Speak man.
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has learned from the Ghost of his father the terrible story of the latter's murder by his brother, Claudius, who has usurped the crown and married the murdered King's widow, Hamlet's mother. The Ghost has made Hamlet swear to avenge the crime, and Hamlet has undertaken to assassinate Claudius. But now, conscious of the terrible duty that he, a scholar rather than a man of action, has taken upon himself, he muses on the possibility of suicide as an escape from his task. Is it better to endure quietly what fortune brings or to contend against it? Or is it better still to end one's life and thus to evade the problem altogether? The famous soliloquy begins:
To be, or not to be: that is the question:Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep. . . .
Context: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, urged by the Ghost of his dead father to avenge his murder, is uncertain of the nature of the Ghost. To determine whether the Ghost is good or evil and whether it tells the truth of his father's death at the hands of King Claudius, he plans to insert into a play a few lines which will indicate, by the reaction of Claudius, the guilt or innocence of the accused. In his famous speech to the actors, Hamlet (and Shakespeare) directs them in the method of acting:
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end both at the first, and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure. . . .
Context: Claudius, Denmark's new king, is a usurper, for the throne should have been Hamlet's by right of succession. Recently, the latter has seen and talked to the ghost of his dead father on the battlements of Elsinore Castle. The ghost tells him that Claudius murdered him, his father, in his sleep, and that his mother was adulterous with the murderer. As a result, Hamlet swears vengeance on Claudius. After his initial shock, Hamlet realizes he must swear his companions to silence, and he also must establish some readymade excuse for any future peculiar behavior on his part. He fears he may truly go mad, or, if not, he may well feign madness to accomplish his pledge of revenge against the well-guarded Claudius.
HAMLET. . .But come–Here as before, never, so help you mercy,How strange or odd some'er I bear myself–As perchance hereafter shall think meetTo put an antic disposition on–That you at such times seeing me never shall,With arms encumbered thus, or this head-shake,Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,. . .Or such ambiguous giving out, to noteThat you know aught of me–this do swear,. . .
Context: This saying has, by usage, become associated with good society, and is used to explain any distinction or striking discrimination in behavior. Although here "manner" means "custom" or "behavior," the saying is sometimes given as "to the manor born," which implies definite association with wealth, class distinction, or gentility. The difference is not readily discernible in speech, since the two words sound identical and the context probably has a double sense–a play on the two words, as Shakespeare was fond of doing. In Hamlet, the prince and Horatio, while waiting late at night for the ghost of Hamlet's father to appear on the battlements, hear trumpet flourishes and peels of cannon. Hamlet explains to Horatio that, the new king, Claudius, is indulging in a drinking bout, and each toast the king proposes is celebrated thus noisily. Horatio asks:
HORATIOIs it a custom?HAMLETAy marry is't,But to my mind, though I am native here,And to the manner born, it is a customMore honoured in the breach than the observance.. . .
Context: Of all the lines in a great and famous speech from Hamlet, the line beginning "This above all" is perhaps the most commonly recalled and used. The opening phrase is employed widely in itself, to convey the sense of "this is most important" or "be sure to remember (or) do this" and is also contracted to simply "above all." It is, in addition, quoted widely with the remainder of the line of which it is a part–"This above all, to thine own self be true," which has entered the English language as a proverb. In Hamlet, Polonius, chief councilor of Denmark's King Claudius, gives his son Laertes much sage advice as the latter patiently waits for his father's farewell and blessing before he embarks from Elsinore for France.
POLONIUS. . .This above all, to thine own self be true,And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.Farewell, my blessing season this in thee.LAERTESMost humbly do I take my leave my lord.POLONIUSThe time invites you; go, your servants tend.
Context: Ophelia has gone mad–in contrast to Hamlet's feigning madness–upon learning that her former lover, Hamlet, has mistakenly slain her father, Polonius. Her brother, Laertes, and Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius, have just plotted the death of Hamlet (Laertes, because he wishes to revenge the death of his father; Claudius, because, with the death of Hamlet's father on his conscience, he fears the son) when news is brought of the drowning of Ophelia. According to the queen, Ophelia fell into a stream while hanging garlands on a willow tree: "Her clothes spread wide,/ And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,/ Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,/ as one incapable of her own distress,/ . . . but long it could not be. . . ." Momentarily, the news of Ophelia's death by water puts out–drowns–the fires of Laertes' fierce resolution, and he rushes from the stage in tears, although, he promises, afterward the tearful woman in him will be gone and he will be ready to take his revenge:
LAERTESToo much of water hast thou poor Ophelia,And therefore I forbid my tears; but yetIt is our trick, nature her custom holds,Let shame say what it will; when these are gone,The woman will be out. Adieu my lord.I have a speech of fire that fain would blazeBut that this folly drowns it.
Context: Hamlet, shocked by his kingly father's death and his mother's hasty marriage to his uncle, who, so the Ghost of his father informs him, has murdered the noble king, broods about the court. Alarmed over Hamlet's suspicious behavior, his uncle Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, former friends of Hamlet, to seek out the reason for the prince's melancholy. Hamlet fends off their entreaties, delivers his estimate of the world and mankind, and comments on his own feelings.
HAMLET. . . I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition, that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god–the beauty of the world; the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; . . .
Context: Hamlet has devised a stratagem to determine finally whether the Ghost who has appeared to him is really his father's spirit or a tempting demon. He has asked a group of traveling actors to perform a play, The Murther of Gonzago, in which he will insert some lines, the performance closely parallelling the story of his father's murder as told him by the Ghost: "The play's the thing/ Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King," Hamlet asserts at the close of Act II. During the performance itself, Hamlet speaks of the play as "The Mousetrap." When one of the actors pours poison into the ears of another who is asleep–the way, according to the Ghost, that Claudius killed Hamlet's father–Claudius reacts, rising and leaving the throneroom. His conscience has been caught, and Hamlet is now convinced. Hamlet's first, quite characteristic, comment is ironic: can the king be so overwrought by a mere play, by "false fire," the discharge of a gun loaded with powder only?
OPHELIAThe King rises.HAMLETWhat, frighted with false fire!GERTRUDEHow fares my lord?POLONIUSGive o'er the play.KINGGive me some light–Away!
Context: Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius, chief councilor to King Claudius of Denmark. Her brother Laertes is abroad. To determine if Prince Hamlet, the King's nephew, who has been behaving erratically, is indeed mad, she allows herself to be used by her father and the king as a plant. Hamlet sees through the device and turns on her. She, who believed he loved her, is unsettled. Shortly after this event, her father is killed accidentally by Hamlet, who is then sent to England. This death is too much for Ophelia. With Laertes absent, and with no one to turn to for support, she loses her mind. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude witness her mad behavior; then Claudius turns to Gertrude, saying
CLAUDIUSO this is the poison of deep grief, it springsAll from her father's death. And now behold,O Gertrude, Gertrude–When sorrows come, they come not single spies,But in battalions. . . .
Context: Prince Hamlet of Denmark accidentally slays Polonius, chief councilor of King Claudius, thinking him to be the king. Claudius, alarmed, sends Hamlet to England and plots to have him executed upon his arrival. One night on board ship en route to England, Hamlet cannot sleep. He has a premonition of evil. He rises in the dark, goes to the cabin of his traveling companions who know the king's intent, and steals their royal commission to deliver him to death. Hamlet returns to his own cabin and prepares a fake commission, consigning his false companions to that death. He tells Horatio how he performed the trick.
HAMLETBeing thus benetted round with villainies–. . .I sat me down,Devised a new commission, wrote it fair–I once did hold it as our statists do,A baseness to write fair, and labored muchHow to forget that learning, but sir, nowIt did me yeoman's service–. . .
Context: Twice the ghost of Hamlet's father has appeared an hour past midnight before the castle at Elsinore. He will, however, not speak to the guardsmen, who have invited Hamlet's friend, the scholar Horatio, "to watch the minutes of this night." Horatio, we learn shortly, is rather skeptical of the story, an attitude that contrasts sharply with his reaction to the arrival of the Ghost: "It harrows me with fear and wonder." Leading up to the appearance of the Ghost, Shakespeare carefully creates a mood of anticipation and suspense out of the changing of the guard. The sentinel Francisco is delighted to leave. His replacement, Bernardo, wishes that Horatio and the soldier Marcellus, who will be "rivals," partners, of his watch, would arrive:
BERNARDOWho's there?FRANCISCONay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.BERNARDOLong live the king.FRANCISCOBernardo?BERNARDOHe.FRANCISCOYou come most carefully upon your hour.BERNARDO'Tis now struck twelve, get thee to bed Francisco.FRANCISCOFor this relief much thanks, 'tis bitter cold,And I am sick at heart.. . .BERNARDOWell, good night,If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.
Context: Prince Hamlet learns that his father was murdered by his father's brother Claudius, who is now king, and that his mother, Queen Gertrude, was adulterous with him. Hamlet swears to avenge his father's murder. First he must confirm his uncle's guilt. Hamlet arranges to have some actors play a scene like the murder of his father before Claudius and the court. Claudius betrays his guilt when he abruptly stops the play and leaves the hall, followed by his startled and confused court. Both Claudius and Gertrude are conscience-stricken and disturbed by the play. Now Gertrude sends two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to summon Hamlet to her chamber. Hamlet has only contempt for these false friends. He snatches up a recorder from a passing musician.
HAMLET. . . Will you play upon this pipe?It is as easy as lying; . . . these are the stops.GUILDENSTERNBut these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I have not the skill.HAMLETWhy look you now how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me. . . .