Notable Quotes in Hamlet [To see the quotation in the full text, click on it.]
This bodes some strange eruption to our state.
Horatio tells Marcellus and Barnardo that he's pretty sure that the appearance of the ghost in the form of their previous king signals that something is seriously wrong in their country.
- What might be toward, that this sweaty haste
Doth make the night joint-laborer with the day:
Who is't that can inform me?
Weapons of war are being imported daily, shipbuilders are working around the clock, and Marcellus wants to know what all this haste means.
A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
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.
Horatio compares the ghost's appearance to the irritation of having something in your eye (your mind's eye) and goes on to compare the ghost's presence to the horrifying clamor made by the undead in Rome just before Julius Caesar was assassinated.
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
Horatio continues to compare the ghost's appearance to the portents of Caesar's assassination, which included strange behavior of the sun and the moon (which is the "moist star" because it rules the tides). The moon was darkened for a scary length of time, so that people thought doomsday was upon them.
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons.
After the Ghost disappears for the second time, Horatio observes that it was startled by the rooster crowing at dawn.
- It faded on the crowing of the cock.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.
Marcellus also comments on the Ghost's disappearance at dawn, saying that during Christmastime the rooster ("the bird of dawning") crows all night long, so spirits (including fairies or witches) cannot appear because the time is too holy. As with Horatio's comment, there is an implication that the Ghost is somehow a "guilty thing."
- But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill . . . .
- The bitterly cold night of the Ghost ends with a metaphorical dash of warm color.
- Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death
The memory be green and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
Yet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him,
Together with remembrance of ourselves.
The king acknowledges that he is aware that the memory of the death of his brother, King Hamlet, is still fresh, and that it's appropriate for himself ("us") and the entire kingdom to be in a state of deep grief, but then goes on to say that he is taking the wisest course in getting on with business of taking care of his people and his country ("ourselves").
- With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole,
The king justifies his quick marriage to his brother's widow by saying that he and all of his countrymen both celebrate a marriage and grieve a death
- A little more than kin, and less than kind.
Punning, Hamlet says that the king is doubly "kin," as the king is both his uncle and his stepfather, but not "kind," that is, not his kind of person or one for whom he feels any real kinship.
- Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
Trying to lift Hamlet's melancholy over his father's death, the queen tries to convince him that his father's death was not unexpected, as all that lives must die.
- Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not "seems."
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
Hamlet is differentiating between appearance and reality: he lists some of the usual outward rituals of bereavement, such as black clothing, noisy sighs, depressed behavior and tears. Hamlet implies that anyone can fake these outward signs of grief, but that what he feels is deeper.
- To persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; 'tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient
The king criticizes Hamlet for persisting in his grief for his father.
- O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Hamlet begins his famous soliloquy bemoaning his father's death and his mother's swift remarriage after a lifetime of thinking his mother was totally devoted to his father.
- Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month
Let me not think on't Frailty, thy name is woman!
Hamlet continues torturing himself with the memories of his mother's wifely devotion, which seemed to increase with time, yet she married her brother-in-law within a month of her husband's death. Hamlet groups his mother with all women and calls her frail, which implies inability to withstand temptation.
- Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
Hamlet tells Horatio that the leftover funeral food also supplied the wedding (because the two events were so close together) and concludes by saying he would prefer meeting his most dreaded dead enemy than witness that hasty celebration.
- 'A was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Hamlet tells Horatio that he shall never again see someone equal to his father.
- Season your admiration for a while
With an attent ear,
Horatio tells Hamlet to hold back his amazement and listen until Horatio can relate all the details of the ghost's appearances.
The chariest maid is prodigal enough,
If she unmask her beauty to the moon:
Virtue itself scapes not calumnious strokes:
The canker galls the infants of the spring,
Too oft before their buttons be disclosed,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.
Laertes is warning his sister Ophelia to guard her virginity, as it is very easy to lose just as some flowers succumb to the canker worm or contagious blights before they bloom.
- Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.
Ophelia warns her brother in return not to be like pastors who preach about the difficult path to heaven, while they themselves dally and do not take their own advice.
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man
Polonius is giving unsolicited advice to his son Laertes who is leaving for France; take Polonius' advice with a grain of salt, as he is called a fool by other characters.
- Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Polonius delivers more parting advice, admonishing his son to neither loan nor borrow, as he may lose both his friends and his money. Laertes is also advised not to be a phony, but genuine so others will find him sincere.
- When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows.
Polonius imparts his advice to his daughter Ophelia next, warning her against Hamlet's advances, saying that sexual desire can overtake the soul and cause men to speak carelessly.
- Why, 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 that,
Being a thing immortal as itself?
Horatio is trying to talk Hamlet out of following his father's ghost, but Hamlet is fearless, saying that he sets almost no value on his own life and that he has no concern for his soul which cannot be damaged, as it is immortal, just like the apparition itself.
- Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Marcellus and Horatio decide to follow Hamlet even though he has warned them both not to try to stop him; they are worried for the prince's safety when Marcellus exclaims that something is amiss in their country, as the appearance of the dead king's beckoning ghost implies.
- I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would 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 on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood.
The dead king's ghost tells Hamlet that he could horrify him with tales of purgatory, but that this information is not for the living.
- I find thee apt;
And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf
The ghost is surprised that Hamlet is catching on so quickly when he expected him to be like weeds along the bank of the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Hades.
- But virtue, as it never will be moved,
Though lewdness court it in a shape of heaven,
- The ghost tells Hamlet that true virtue (which he thought belonged to his queen) cannot be seduced.
- Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head
His father's ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered and sent to eternity without the benefit of the sacrament, unannointed, without extreme unction or spiritual preparation of any kind.
- If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not;
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught: leave her to heaven
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,
To prick and sting her.
The ghosts says if Hamlet has the natural affection of a son he will seek revenge to remove lust and incest from the royal bed, but recommends that he not punish his mother, but leave her penalty to heaven and her own conscience.
- Ay, thou poor Ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records
Hamlet swears to himself that not only will he remember the ghost's words, but he will erase former memories and think of nothing else.
O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark
Hamlet curses his uncle and his smiles (which give the impression that nothing is wrong). Hamlet then tells himself it is appropriate to write about his uncle's villainous smiles in tables (tablets), not just the table of his mind.
- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet tells Horatio that science (natural philosophy) does not explain, nor come close to recounting all phenomena.
- The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Hamlet, speaking to Horatio, Marcellus and himself, acknowledges the wrongness of the time and curses the spite of fate itself that he was born to bring justice.
- Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out
Polonius has been advising Reynaldo in devious conversational strategies to find out what Laertes is up to while he is out of the country. Polonius concludes his directions by telling Reynaldo that any lies he may tell about Laertes will only enhance the likelihood that others will reveal truths about Laertes, assuring him that wise and powerful men like himself use these roundabout tactics.
- This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
Ophelia has come to her father to relate Hamlet's strange behavior and Polonius attributes the strangeness to the madness of love and not to disillusionment with women in general because of his mother's hasty marriage.
- Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
Polonius has rushed to the king's side to attribute Hamlet's strange behavior to the madness induced by love. Polonius says brevity is the soul of eloquence even though Polonius himself is never brief in his pronunciations.
- More matter, with less art.
The queen urges Polonius to come to the point he is trying to make about the source of Hamlet's madness.
- Madam, I swear I use no art at all.
That he is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis 'tis true
Polonius swears to the queen he will use no art although he immediately begins to play with his own words instead of getting to the point.
- Though this be madness, yet there is method
in 't. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
Polonius has been talking with Hamlet and makes this comment about the underlying rationality of his madness in an aside that Hamlet cannot hear, similar to a note to oneself.
- These tedious old fools!
As soon as Polonius leaves, Hamlet calls him a fool and groups him with other old fools he has known.
- Rosencranz: As the indifferent children of the earth.
Guildenstern: Happy, in that we are not over-happy, on
Fortune's cap we are not the very button.
Hamlet asks how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have been and Rosencrantz replies for them both saying they have been so-so. Then Guildenstern also answers Hamlet saying he is glad that he and Rosencrantz are not exuberant.
- Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me
it is a prison.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have disagreed with Hamlet who has just called Denmark a prison, when Hamlet makes this enigmatic declaration that thinking itself determines the goodness or badness of circumstances.
- O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.
Hamlet says that he could fool himself into thinking that infinite space existed in a nutshell where he ruled as king were it not for his bad dreams.
- I have of latebut wherefore
I know notlost 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 appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent
congregation of vapors. 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 meno, nor woman neither, though by
your smiling you seem to say so.
Hamlet has just succeeded in extracting the truth from Guildenstern that both he and Rosencrantz have been sent for by the crown. Hamlet immediately confesses to an excess of despondency yet maintains its source mystifies him, although the audience is already privy to his issues with his mother and uncle. Hamlet continues to characterize his own state of mind, saying that he has lost his sense of humor, that he no longer exercises, that the earth and sky have lost their wonder, and that man himself, who he lauds excessively, and women too have lost their charm.
- I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is
southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.
Guildenstern asks Hamlet what he means when he says that his mother and uncle are deceived. Hamlet replies that he is only partially mad, that he knows what is what most of the time (north by northwest is only one of eight possible directions of the compass).
- Happily he's the second time come to them; for they
say an old man is twice a child.
Rosencrantz joins Hamlet in making fun of Polonius, by calling Polonius a child, as sometimes the elderly need as much care as they did as babies.
- Do you hear, let them be well us'd; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.
Hamlet tells Polonius he wants the players treated well, as they have the ability to characterize the individual and the times, although the individual is better off getting a bad epitaph, rather than a bad reputation while alive.
- Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
Polonius has just told Hamlet that he will use the players according to their desert and Hamlet replies that if men were treated the way they deserved, all would be whipped.
- Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
As soon as the others leave, Hamlet begins to castigate himself for not taking revenge upon King Claudius sooner.
- But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter
Hamlet continues to denigrate himself for not taking his revenge against the king sooner, comparing himself to the pigeon (dove) who is incapable of resenting wrongs.
- We are oft to blame in this
'Tis too much provedthat with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The devil himself.
Polonius has convinced the king to eavesdrop upon Ophelia's next conversation with Hamlet, so they advise Ophelia to read a book to give her an excuse for being alone until Hamlet appears. Then Polonius reflects about how often people who appear pious (innocently reading a book) are providing a cover for their true intentions.
- To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The 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 moreand by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly 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 come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Hamlet is engaged in the deepest introspection, wondering whether life or death is preferable, and whether it is nobler to endure troubles or better to take action and end them. Hamlet then compares death to sleep in a complicated analogy which seems, at times, to make death and sleep interchangeable terms. Hamlet reflects upon the heartache of life and shocks to the flesh which make death seem a desirable outcome. Death looks good until Hamlet considers the possible dreams during the "sleep of death" which make a person stop and think. He returns to considering the long list of negatives long life must tolerate, which he calls "the whips and scorns of time." Hamlet asks himself why people put up with political oppression, the proud man's arrogance, unrequited love, and other problems, when a knife would end one's suffering in a second. Hamlet concludes that people would not bear all the burdens of life, the grunting and the sweating, if they did not dread what comes after death more. Death is a total unknown, since no one who dies returns; therefore, people continue to bear their familiar burdens instead of rushing to the unknown. Thinking about death makes us all cowards, and paralyses our resolve and plans.
- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd. .
Ophelia appears which ends Hamlet's soliloquy; his first word of greeting to Ophelia is nymph which has sexual overtones and is roughly equivalent to his calling her a beautiful maiden. Hamlet immediately asks her to intercede upon his behalf by contemplating his sins and praying for him.
- Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.
There, my lord.
Ha, ha! are you honest?
Ophelia is practicing the ancient relationship breakup ritual of returning the gifts received in happier times, saying that expensive gifts from him only remind her of his recent meanness. Hamlet asks Ophelia if she is honest, as she is the one returning the giftsinitiating the breakup. In addition to truthfulness, honesty can also mean virginity, so a great play and replay of associations with the word honesty follow, during which Hamlet seems to be referring to Ophelia personally and sometimes addressing all of womankind.
- Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder
of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I
could accuse me of such things that it were better my
mother had not borne me.
Hamlet is ratcheting up his depression by thinking gloomily about all men and women, identifying himself an average man while simultaneously condemning himself and all men as low-lifes and questioning why women would want to breed with such men.
- If 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.
Angry at Ophelia's apparent deceitfulness, Hamlet tells her that no matter who she marries and however chaste she remains, she will not escape the lies and accusations of others.
- I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God
has given you one face, and you make yourselves
another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nick-name
God's creatures, and make your wantonness your
ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad.
I say, we will have no moe marriages: those that are
married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall
keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.
Hamlet continues heedlessly on, throwing Ophelia in with all womankind, and castigating all as a bad lotoccupied with deceitful occupations such as applying makeup, using pet names for animals, and generally disguising their true motives (sexual attraction) as ignorance. Hamlet is getting worked up just thinking about the duplicity of women, saying there should be no more marriages, and that Ophelia should go to a nunnery.
- O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
Ophelia concludes that Hamlet has lost touch with his sanity.
- And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
Ophelia too begins to roll rapidly into a downward spiral of negativity ("To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!") and self pity ("O, woe is me"), when she compares the current state of Hamlet's reasoning powers to his past. Ophelia says Hamlet is "blasted with ecstasy," meaning that he seems possessed and overtaken by his twisted reason.
- Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of our players do, I had as lief the town-crier
spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with
your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very
torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, the whirlwind of
passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance
that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the
soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear
a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the
groundlings, who for the most part are capable of
nothing but inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would
have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant;
it out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.
Hamlet is instructing the actors in his preferred way of acting, which is closer to reality than the melodramatic speeches and gestures often witnessed on stage from the likes of Termagant and Herod, well-known melodramatic actors of the time. Hamlet implies that he understands why players resort to melodramatic tactics to engage the groundlings (the part of the audience who paid the cheapest admission) who understand only "dumbshows and noise," but urges the players to avoid such obvious tactics, saying that such actors deserve whipping.
- 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 any thing so
overdone 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.
Hamlet continues to instruct the players, waxing philosophical about the original purpose of playacting, which was then and is now holding "the mirror up to nature." Overacting scorns the original purpose of plays, scorns nature herself and finally scorns the impression of the times in history.
- Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter'd?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning.
Hamlet is letting Horatio know how much he values him as a friend, assuring him that he has no reason to flatter him as Horatio has no fortune. False tongues (flattery) and knee bends (bows) appear when there is something to gain by the lying and submission.
- A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commeddled,
That they are not a pipe for Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
Hamlet continues to praise Horatio, saying that those who have had to deal with both the good and bad in life are somehow more worthy than those who have been blessed by "Fortune's finger." Ironically, Hamlet proclaims that what he values most is a man who is "not passion's slave," which is what Hamlet himself seems to be, through and through, passion's slave.
- Observe mine uncle. If his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan's stithy.
Hamlet is telling Horatio to observe the king closely during the play (which Hamlet has ensured will imitate life) for signs of guilt, swearing that if his uncle shows no reaction, then Hamlet's own imagination is as black as Vulcan's forge, the workplace of the Roman god of fire and arms, where metals are melted and formed into arms, which coats the entire smithy (stithy) and the surrounding area in a thick black soot.
- So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I'll
have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two months ago,
and not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's
memory may outlive his life half a year
Hamlet has just urged Ophelia to observe how happy his mother is, even though his father has been dead only two hours, so Ophelia corrects him, saying the former king has been dead four months. Hamlet's reply deliberately cuts the four months to two and declares that the devil may wear his usual black as he will wear "a suit of sables," which is also black and usual for mourning. He is being sarcastic when he declares that there is hope a great man's memory may last six months after his death.
- Marry, this' miching mallecho; it means
After the dumbshow, a wordless acting out of a king's poisoning, Ophelia asks its meaning and the reply that there is mischief afoot is all the information she gets, as Hamlet continues to be evasive and oblique.
- HAMLET: Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
OPHELIA: 'Tis brief, my lord.
HAMLET: As woman's love.
Hamlet asks if he has just heard a prologue or the inscription on a ring, when Ophelia affirms that it was brief and Hamlet compares the length to a woman's love.
- Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
The player queen has been telling her king she is worried about him, assuring him that he should have no worries about her, as her fears are commensurate with her love for him.
- Wormwood, wormwood.
Hamlet's subtle way of commenting on the content of the play he is watching, in which the Player Queen says to her current king that she must be involved in his potential murder to consider taking a second husband, as the extract of the plant wormwood is bitter and harsh. Hamlet is saying to himself that bitterness is all.
- The lady protests too much, methinks.
This is the Queen's response to Hamlet when he asks how she likes the play. Queen Gertrude says the Player Queen belabors her protestations of love too much, sounding like a liar who needs desperately to convince others of her virtue.
- Your Majesty and we that have free souls, it
touches us not. Let the galled jade winch, our
withers are unwrung.
The king asks Hamlet how he likes the play and Hamlet replies that he and all others who are innocent are untouched by its import.
- "Why, let the strucken deer go weep,
The hart ungalled play;
For some must watch, while some must sleep:
So runs the world away."
King Claudius has just interrupted the play and dismissed the company when Hamlet quotes an old ballad to Horatio, which seems to imply that the king is the "stricken deer;" a wounded deer, once injured, was thought to seek solace in solitude, or a place to die away from the herd. Hamlet appears to be exulting in the injury inflicted by the play.
- Why, 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
Hamlet has just had a lively exchange with Guildenstern who has refused to try playing one of the simplest musical instruments, protesting that he has not the skill, when Hamlet compares himself unfavorably to the recorder.
- HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape
of a camel?
POLONIUS: By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it is like a weasel.
POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET: Or like a whale?
POLONIUS: Very like a whale.
Hamlet is playing with Polonius, seeing how far he will go in agreeing to his every opinion.
- [Aside.] They fool me to the top of my bent.
Hamlet is tiring of games and says he is about to his breaking point.
- "By and by" is easily said.
Hamlet agrees to go to his mother "by and by," which is easily said because it is an approximate period of time and therefore a difficult promise to break.
- 'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.
Hamlet is talking to himself, acknowledging that his feelings coincide with "the witching time of night," when evil spirits are afoot, when the graves in the churchyard open by themselves, and when contagious diseases come from "hell itself."
- I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
Hamlet is preparing to talk to his mother, reminding himself that he will hurt her only with words, not physical force.
- O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't,
A brother's murder.
King Claudius is reproaching himself for killing his brother, acknowledging that the act itself has the ancient, primal biblical curse of Cain slaying Abel.
- Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged.
Hamlet happens upon the king, who is all alone, and therefore an easy target (pat), but changes his mind when he realizes he is praying. Sending King Claudius to heaven is not the revenge he planned.
- He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May.
Hamlet really wants to kill the king when he thinks of his father's murder; he was murdered in his sleep and did not have the opportunity for a final prayer to pave his way to heaven.
- My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.
King Claudius gives up on praying, as he is too focused on earthly matters.
- How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!
Queen Gertrude has just called for help, as Hamlet's disrespect scares her, while Polonius is eavesdropping by hiding behind her bedroom curtains and he cries out for help also. This one line is Hamlet's war cry as he stabs Polonius through the curtains without ascertaining who he is stabbing.
- Makes marriage-vows
As false as dicers' oaths
- The queen has just asked her son what she has done to provoke such verbal attacks, and this is part of Hamlet's reply: that the queen makes marriage vows as reliable as gamblers' pledges to repay debts.
- 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 seal,
To give the world assurance of a man.
- Hamlet is talking to his mother, beginning his comparison of the likenesses of his father and uncle, when he rhapsodizes over his father's resemblance to the gods.
- You cannot call it love; for at your age
The heyday in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment
- Hamlet continues to excoriate his mother for her hasty marriage, saying that she cannot use the excuse of lust, as she is too old to be controlled by sexual desire.
- O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardor gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn
And reason panders will.
- Hamlet continues to condemn his mother, saying that if "rebellious hell" can infect a matron's bones, then fiery youths cannot be faulted for submitting to lust, since his mother's supposedly cold virtue turns to fire and her reason (which should lead her on the path of virtue) acts as an enabler to her sexual desires.
- A king of shreds and patches
- Hamlet denigrates King Claudius to his mother by comparing him to a clown who dresses in "shreds and patches."
- Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass, but my madness speaks
- Hamlet has just seen and spoken to his father's ghost (who the queen cannot see or hear) in the queen's presence, yet warns her not to chalk up his words to madness: Hamlet declares that her sin is the cause of his diatribe, not his madness.
- Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg.
- Hamlet is demanding that his mother confess her sin (to God), repent and change the path that she is on now to avoid spreading more rottenness ("compost"). He asks his mother to forgive him his virtue (the virtue of pointing out her errors), for in the fatness of current time, things are the reverse of what they should be, which causes honesty to ask wrongdoing's pardon instead of vice versa.
- Good night: but go not to mine uncle's bed;
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
- Hamlet commands his mother to avoid her husband's bed even if she wants to sleep with him so she will be virtuous once again, despite her feelings.
- Refrain tonight,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature
- Hamlet instructs his mother to refrain from sleeping with her husband tonight, which will make the next night's bedding easier to resist, and concludes that habit over time can alter natural instinct.
- I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel, only to be kind:
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
- Hamlet regrets Polonius' murder, yet out of nowhere ascribes its cause to heaven, declaring the murder a mutual punishment ("To punish me with this and this with me"), so he has acted as heaven's agent, nonetheless realizing that he still has man's punishment to face ("Will answer well the death I gave him"). Hamlet bids his mother good night, saying that the disrespect he showed her was cruel, but necessary to show her the error of her choices. Hamlet's thoughts return to what's to happen next it will be bad, but worse has happened in the past.
- My two schoolfellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,
They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way,
And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
For 'tis the sport to have the engineer
Hoist with his own petard: and 't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines,
And blow them at the moon
- Hamlet is still talking to his mother, but has changed the subject to his imminent trip to England, saying that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have their orders (from the king) which probably involve some knavish scheme against him. Hamlet says "Let it work," which is equivalent to the current faddish phrase "Bring it" or "Bring it on," which lets others know you are ready for the challenge at hand. Hamlet is convinced that his old friends will somehow use his being the prince or his being Hamlet against him, just as it is sport to see the engineer blown up by his own creation, but Hamlet declares himself ready to match their plans with his own cunning and blow them up first.
- There's matter in these sighs, these profound heaves:
You must translate: 'tis fit we understand them.
Where is your son?
- The king is asking his queen the meaning of her heavy sighs; he wants her to tell him (we) what is wrong, as it is appropriate that he (we), as king, understand. The king immediately guesses Hamlet is the cause of his mother's distress.
- O heavy deed!
It had been so with us, had we been there:
His liberty is full of threats to all
To you yourself, to us, to everyone.
- Gertrude has just told her husband how Hamlet murdered Polonius blindlywithout first verifying identity. The king says that this murder is a serious matter, especially serious because the victim could just as well been himself (us). The king tells his queen that her son being on the loose is a potential threat to both of them and everyone else too.
- I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a
- Rosencrantz tells Hamlet he does not understand what he is talking about; (he gets lost in Hamlet's extended sponge metaphor even though Rosencrantz himself is the king's sponge). Hamlet is glad his insult is not understood, as it confirms his sponge analogy.
- To bear all smooth and even,
This sudden sending him away must seem
Deliberate pause: diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all.
- King Claudius tells members of his court that if normalcy (the "smooth and even") is to be maintained, Hamlet's imminent and sudden trip abroad (i.e. expulsion from Denmark) must seem to be a decision that took long and considered deliberation to disguise its hasty, desperate nature. The king then compares his tactics to the extreme nature of solutions applied to the desperately ill, declaring that extreme solutions are the only ones which work.
- Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that's the end.
- The king has just asked Hamlet where Polonius is and Hamlet has replied that Polonius is at supper, news which startles the king. Hamlet clarifies his reply, "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten." The maggot is "emperor for diet" because he eats humans, who are (in modern terminology) the top of the food chain. For everyone, rich ("your fat king") or poor ("your lean beggar"), the final destination ("the end") is the same: food for worms.
- A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
- Hamlet expands on the topic of the diet of worms. [This bit of apparent looniness lures the king into asking him what he means, giving Hamlet an opening to answer with a witty insult: "Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar."
- In heaven; send thither to see: if your messenger
find him not there, seek him i' the other place
- The king has again asked Hamlet where Polonius is; this is Hamlet's clever reply, in which he invites the king to go to hell.
- Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
- Hamlet is questioning a captain in the Norwegian army about their mission and enemy (Poland) when the captain confesses that conquering a small, valueless patch of ground is their goal. Their only reward will be to say that they conquered such and such named ground.
- How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused.
Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say "This thing's to do,"
- After Hamlet's conversation with the Norwegian captain, he contemplates his situation in a soliloquy. Everything that happens (all occasions do inform against me) serves only to remind Hamlet of what he has yet to do, revenge his father's murder by killing the king. His dissatisfaction with his own lack of action causes him to question the nature of man, who, due to his superior ability to reason ("large discourse") and plan ("looking before and after") must have been created by God for some higher purpose than eating and sleeping like mere beasts. Hamlet confesses to himself that he does not know why he has not taken action ("whether it be / Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple"), but thinks that cowardice must be the largest factor, seventy-five percent ("A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom / And ever three parts coward").
- I do not know
Why yet I live to say "This thing's to do,"
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth
- Hamlet is struggling, in a soliloquy, to understand his own reasons for the delay in avenging his father's murder, and has just attributed his inaction mostly to cowardice, yet seems to return to the beginning of his thoughts, saying once again that he does not understand why he has not acted: he has "cause and will and strength and means / To do't." He compares himself unfavorably with the army he just witnessed and its leader, a delicate appearing man who makes faces ("mouths") at the upcoming battle ("invisible event"). Thousands of men are willing to expose themselves to injury and death and fate itself ("Exposing what is mortal and unsure / To all that fortune, death and danger dare") for what purpose? For a worthless patch of land ("an egg-shell") that is not big enough to hold the graves of the combatants, while Hamlet himself has far better motive ("a father kill'd, a mother stain'd"). Hamlet resolves to concentrate on exacting his revenge ("My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth").
- To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is,
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:
So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.
- The queen has reluctantly agreed to see Ophelia (who is reported to be in great distress over her father's death). As she waits for Ophelia to be ushered in, her thoughts return to her guilty conscience ("my sick soul") and the effect ("nature") of sin which causes every trifle ("toy") to seem a foreboding of some great calamity. She suspects others of suspecting her and her guilt is so great that attempts to hide it result only in greater suspicion ("artless jealousy").
- Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of
infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me
on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred
in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it. Here hung
those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where
be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your
flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on
a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite
chop-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell
her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come;
make her laugh at that.
The gravedigger has just informed Hamlet that the skull he holds was Yorick's skull, the king's jester who died twenty-three years ago when Hamlet was a boy. Hamlet takes the skull and laments Yorick's passing to Horatio, saying that he remembers his unlimited wit, his fine imagination and the innumerable piggy-back rides, but thinking about those rides now makes him feel like throwing up ("my gorge rises at it"). Hamlet addresses Yorick's skull directly, asking him where his witty insults ("gibes"), his frolicking ("gambols"), his songs, and his merriment which got a whole table full of people roaring with laughter are now. Hamlet asks Yorick if he has a joke to mock his own grinning, as skulls do seem to be grinning with the teeth exposed, most especially when they are missing the jawbone with the lower teeth, like Yorick's. Hamlet then jokes with the jester, asking him if he is "quite chop-fallen" which means disheartened, but also means literally that his lower chop is hanging low (so low that it is now missing). Hamlet continues to jest, commanding Yorick to "get you to my lady's chamber" and tell her to use makeup an inch thick to make herself look as much like Yorick does now as she can and to make her laugh at that chore.
- To what base uses we may return, Horatio!
Why may not imagination trace the noble dust
of Alexander, till he find it stopping a bung-hole?
Hamlet asks Horatio what low and repugnant uses our bodies might employ once we die. He suggests that Alexander the Great's dust might be put to no better use than stopping up the opening in a barrel or cask of liquid.
- Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Hamlet then suggests that imperial Caesar himself, once turned to clay might be used to stop a gap in a dwelling to keep out the wind.
- Lay her i' the earth:
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be,
When thou liest howling.
The priest has just told Laertes (Ophelia's brother) that they can do no more for his sister, that "her death was doubtful" (a possible suicide) and that she really should be buried in "ground unsanctified," yet she is to rest in the churchyard, so singing a requiem for her would "profane the service of the dead." Laertes tells off the priest by declaring that violets will grow from her pure flesh. Violets symbolize faithfulness, which for Ophelia may represent her faithfulness, as a maiden, to virginity and purity. Laertes concludes by asserting that his sister will become a "ministering angel" while the priest will lie in the earth "howling" when he dies, (howling in hell).
- Sweets to the sweet: farewell!
I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife.
I thought thy bride-bed to have deck'd, sweet maid,
And not have strew'd thy grave.
Queen Gertrude bids farewell to Ophelia with "Sweets to the sweet" (sweet flowers for sweet Ophelia) and says that she had hoped to strew flowers on her and Hamlet's wedding bed, not on her grave.
- Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made
Laertes has just cursed Hamlet for depriving his sister of her sanity by killing their father and jumped into Ophelia's grave with her, commanding that dirt be piled upon both the "quick and dead," (the living and the dead).
- I prithee, take thy fingers from my throat;
For, though I am not splenitive and rash,
Yet have I something in me dangerous,
Which let thy wisdom fear: hold off thy hand.
Hamlet has just come out of hiding, where he and Horatio have been monitoring the proceedings, and jumped into Ophelia's grave also, grappling with Laertes. Hamlet asks Laertes to remove his fingers from his throat, declaring that he is not full of spleen or quick-tempered, "Yet have I something in me dangerous," so Laertes had better act wisely and remove his hand from his throat.
- I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum.
The king has just ordered that Hamlet and Laertes be separated and removed from Ophelia's grave, yet Hamlet continues to compete with Laertes with his words, contending that he loved Ophelia better than "forty thousand brothers."
- Nay, an thou'lt mouth,
I'll rant as well as thou.
Hamlet continues to compete with Laertes, by saying that his words are pompous and that he can certainly rant as well as Laertes can.
- Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I
Hamlet accuses Laertes of trying to outface him by leaping into the grave, which is somewhat ironic, as that is exactly what Hamlet himself is trying to do, "Be buried quick with her, and so will I."
- What is the reason that you use me thus?
I loved you ever: but it is no matter;
Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.
All of a sudden Hamlet seems to calm down somewhat, asking Laertes why he uses him, as he has always loved Laertes. Hamlet then associates Laertes and people in general with domestic pets, saying that no matter what a hero (Hercules and perhaps by implication Hamlet himself, the prince) may do, his inferiors will continue on their own ignorant courses.
- Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly
And praised be rashness for it let us know,
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do pall: and that should learn us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will
Hamlet is prefacing his account of what happened during his trip to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern by telling Horatio what he learned from the experience before he describes what actually happened. Hamlet starts the story by saying that he couldn't sleep because he had contradictory feelings that kept him awake and made him feel worse than revolutionaries in shackles, so he acted on impulse. Hamlet then pauses the story to praise impulsive action in general, as "indiscretion" sometimes comes to the rescue, when well thought-out plans fail ("pall"), which should teach us ultimately that something divine guides the outcome, no matter what plans we make in advance.
- Being thus be-netted round with villanies
Or I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play 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 labour'd much
How to forget that learning, but, sir, now
It did me yeoman's service
Hamlet has just admitted to Horatio that he stole the letter from King Claudius (the impulsive action which turned out to be a good thing) which outlined the ways his continued existence was bad for both England and Denmark and ordered his beheading. Hamlet continues by saying that he felt surrounded by evil (once he read the letter), and his brain began its own plan of action without him thinking consciously that a plan was required, but it was their fault as "they" (King Claudius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) "had begun the play." So Hamlet sat down to write a replacement letter and "wrote it fair" meaning that his handwriting looked like that of a professional scribe. Hamlet then comments that he used to think (exactly like other leaders or statesmen) that it was below his station (the work of underlings) to "write fair" and tried hard to "forget that learning," but was glad that effort to forget failed, as his professional-looking cursive did him solid workman's service.
- Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The
readiness is all.
Hamlet has just told Horatio that he has a bad feeling about the upcoming duel with Laertes and Horatio has offered to make his excuses for him, when Hamlet declares that he is not tempted to decline the match ("not a whit") as he will not let omens ("we defy augury") dictate his royal ("we") actions. Since divine providence is involved in the death of an insignificant sparrow, Hamlet is unafraid, for if his own death does not happen now, it will happen in the future; if his death does not happen in the future then it will happen now, but if it does not happen now it is sure to come, so being ready for death is all important.
- this fell sergeant, death,
Is strict in his arrest O, I could tell you
But let it be. Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest. Report me and my cause aright
Hamlet has just declared, "I am dead, Horatio." He calls death a cruel sheriff's officer who "is strict in his arrest" and then starts to tell the spectators something else, but realizes that he is out of time and instructs Horatio, who is not dying, to report his actions and motive accurately.
- Never believe it:
I am more an antique Roman than a Dane:
Here's yet some liquor left.
Horatio replies that Hamlet should not believe that he will live, as he is more like a Roman from ancient times (Romans who were known to commit suicide in order to follow their masters) than a Dane. Horatio is threatening to kill himself because Hamlet is dying.
- 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.
Horatio has just threatened to kill himself out of loyalty to the dying Hamlet, who responds that if Horatio ever cherished him, he should abandon his plan to achieve bliss temporarily, and continue to live in this harsh world where each breath can bring pain in order to tell Hamlet's story.
- The rest is silence.
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Hamlet has just told Horatio that he will not live to hear the news from England, but Fortinbras has his political support, that Horatio should tell Fortinbras what has occurred. "The rest is silence" are Hamlet's last words. Horatio's goodbye tribute to Hamlet is eloquent and self-explanatory.
- This quarry cries on havoc. O proud death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell,
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?
Fortinbras addresses death itself when he sees the corpses, which are so numerous they look like prey from a hunt or a massacre. He asks death what feast he is planning in his "eternal cell" that he has bloodily murdered so much royalty at once.