Hamlet: Act 3 Scene 1,2,3 key quotes

“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.” HAMLET 3:1:56 – Ambiguous – does he want to commit suicide? Or is he questioning whether to conform to the expectations and norms in a court/world where he feels isolated due to his humanist personality. However here the decision is his, he believes he can control his own destiny.- ‘Slings and arrows’ suggest he feels he is being attacked by other people/divine Providence, and this will not end until he has been fatally struck by their actions, like the trajectory of an arrow will only end when it hits the target.- He then questions whether he should ‘take arms’ against a sea of troubles instead of suffering in his mind. As taking arms is the action a traditional revenger would take, he feels uncomfortable in his humanist personality, and knows he should act. Although he seems resolved after pondering taking ‘arms’, indicated by the full stop, caesura has been employed here to show that he will not act as he yearns to because his thoughts/passion will overpower his action.
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” HAMLET 3:1:83 – Hamlet shows his philosophical nature here, and he appears to be paralysed in his thoughts. He is too cowardly to act, but also too cowardly to fully embrace his humanist personality.- He is not only overpowered by his thoughts – psychoanalytic critics would argue in light of Freudian theory that he is conscious of society’s expectations due to his superego, which is another reason he will not act.
“To die, to sleep – To sleep, perchance to dream.”HAMLET 3:1:64 – Caesura acts as an obstacle which interrupts the metre of iambic pentameter, suggesting Hamlet’s thoughts are frantic and fragmented.- Hamlet thinks of death and sleep as analogous because both allow one to escape the difficulties in life. He looks forward to this sleep as his struggles in life will cease.- Psychoanalytic critics would also argue that dreams are the only place one can have all one’s true desires, because according to Freudian theory, dreams are linked to the id which is the part of the psyche where there is nothing to prevent actions. So, perhaps Hamlet feels he can only avenge his father’s death within his dreams, as there are no constraints from the superego there.
“Get thee to a nunnery – why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?” HAMLET 3:1:119 – Double meaning of ‘nunnery’ – it could be convent, but the contemporary audience would have interpreted it as a brothel too, due to semantic derogation.- Shows the extreme Elizabethan views of women, they were either virginal or whorish. This is often how they were portrayed in literature too.- Hamlet is also using rhetoric to implore Ophelia to get to a ‘nunnery’ so she would remain chaste as a nun, to prevent her from having children, because at this stage in the play Hamlet believes mankind is made of naturally born sinners, and he wants to do anything in his power to stop this.
“Let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp” HAMLET 3:2:50 – In the speech where this line is spoken, Hamlet praises Horatio’s well-balanced character. He is stoic and never gives into passion, meaning that Hamlet sees in Horatio everything he values in a man.- Candied tongue = saying sweet things; absurd pomp = really powerful people- Here, Hamlet criticises obsequious flatterers which may suggest he believes they cause danger, especially flattery is a factor which fuels Claudius’ murderous and Machiavellian personality. However, other readers may argue that he seriously believes one must praise the powerful in order to rise in authority, which would reveal a cunning side to his personality. Either way, we can tell that he is very aware of the people who surround him in the court, as he seems to be in tune with how both the inferior and superior members think.
“For we will fetters put about this fearWhich now goes too free-footed.” CLAUDIUS 3:3:25 – Claudius saying he will put chains (‘fetters’) on fear highlights how much Denmark seems to be like a prison, especially due to the fact that the words ‘fetters’ ‘fear’ and ‘free-footed’ are emphasised with alliteration. Is Shakey saying that restriction, fear and freedom are a combination which will never work in harmony? This would certainly link to the widespread uncertainty in the Renaissance period.- The alliteration of f (fricative alliteration) also illustrates how Claudius has carefully constructed his plan, like how the phrase has been put together. This shows his Machiavellian personality. The ‘f’ sound also seems like it could be whispered, giving Claudius an even more sinister tone. – Ironically, fear cannot be chained. Instead, it will spread through the population like a disease, which is also referred to throughout the play. This highlights the lack of understanding about mental conditions in Elizabethan England – madness was attributed to being a disease, as was melancholia/depression.
“A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewardsHast tane with equal thanks.”HAMLET 3:2:57 – Horatio is reliable and stoic, he has an equilibrium which is highly respected by Hamlet. Describing Horatio in this way symbolises the strength of their relationship, which could be why Horatio doesn’t die during the tragic ending.- Or maybe Horatio doesn’t die because he is favoured by Fortune-Fortune is personified as something of a treasured being who has control to ‘buffet’ and ‘reward’ humans.- It is also worth noting that she has been personified as a woman. Shakespeare could be saying women try too much to be controlling, or that the only chance a woman has to control is if she is in a high position in society/if she is given power by God.
“The single and peculiar life is boundWith all the strength and armour of the mindTo keep itself from noyance, but much moreThat spirit upon whose weal depend and restThe lives of many.”ROSENCRANTZ 3:3:11 – ‘Single and peculiar’ could have been the upper/ruling classes hiding their feelings in fear of exposing themselves. – Also symbolises how at the time, if you were different in appearance/opinions you had to be closed off from society in order to protect yourself from ‘noyance’ (harm).- ‘That spirit’ is the monarch, who was depended on by everything and everybody. In Tudor England, the ruling class made this the official ideology.
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”CLAUDIUS 3:3:97 – Hammy bails on killing Claudius because he doesn’t want him to go to heaven, linking into the theme of decay (corporeal AND moral). But, dramatic irony means that we know he wont go to heaven anyway as Claudius struggles to connect through his prayers to God in order to seek forgiveness.- Claudius’ deceit kills him spiritually – His words will not go to heaven, and his thoughts will remain ‘below’=hell.
“Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood”HAMLET 3:2:351 – It has been argued that ‘contagion’ means evil, but it could also link to corruption and disease motifs, which could suggest Hamlet will release himself on the world and wreak havoc, like the disease he has been described to be by Claudius.- Hamlet changes completely here, he is affected by such anger that his venomous thoughts lead him to talk about drinking ‘hot blood’ which is sinister and hellish. – The hot blood foreshadows the poisonous drink in the scene where basically everyone dies.- This blood is also an allusion to the Renaissance belief that witches killed and then drank the blood of recently buried children. Hamlet isn’t really going to drink blood, but he now feels capable of perpetrating evil of another kind – murder. – Plus, in the Bible Jesus said ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’, so maybe Hamlet believes he is doing an almost saintly act by avenging his father’s death as Claudius was not put in position by the Divine Right of Kings.
“How in my words somever she be shent,To give them seals never my soul consent”HAMLET 3:3:359 – Blank verse and rhyming couplet give a perfect rhythm, and the rhyme gives the utterance a determined tone, showing how Hamlet is now focused and resolved.- However, he acknowledges how his soul has never, and will never let him act. He is battered by his tendency to delay, humanist personality and external forces so the previous lines showing traditional revenger characteristics seem false. So, we know he wont harm G, but will he get round to killing Claudius?
“What if this curs├Ęd handWere thicker than itself with brother’s blood?Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavensTo wash it white as snow?”CLAUDIUS 3:3:43 – We see Claudius’ true anguish, he does not speak with the pronoun ‘we’, and he believes that he is alone, so we can tell that he is not concealing anything.- He wonders whether he will ever be innocent of fratricide shown with ‘white as snow’. This is because fratricide is a terrible sin, first carried out when Cain killed Abel. It is clear that Claudius is consumed with the thought of being eternally condemned, as he gives the image of his hand being irrevocably covered in thick blood.- Some people might sympathise with Claudius, yet he still exposes his Machiavellian personality as he is trying to save himself.