HAMLET key quotes

“Who’s there?”-1.1.1 Barnardo. Opening line of play evokes an uneasy atmosphere.. foreshadowing play? Likely to be performed as short, staccato exchanges which add to nervous, gripping mood.
“And then [the ghost] started like a guilty thing upon a fearful summons.”-1.1.148 Horatio. The Ghost disappears after it is startled by a cockerel. The sentence basically translates to ‘an evildoer caught redhanded’. Perhaps evidence that the Ghost isn’t a reliable source?
“With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage”-1.2.12 Claudius. Claudius explaining that he and Gertrude had mixed feelings about Old King’s death. However, quote makes Claudius seem inappropriately confused… “mirth in funeral”??! Claudius’s speech seems slimy and rehearsed- insincere? ALT= Claudius is confidently and honestly addressing an issue in a mature way.
“A little more than kin, and less than kind.”-1.2.65 Hamlet. Speaks in riddles and wordplay. “more than kin” highlights incestuous nature of marriage. “Less than kind” could be interpreted as Hamlet admitting to being rude to Claudius OR he does not even consider them the same “kind” of species due to Claudius’s actions. Shakespeare fond of puns.
“’tis an unweeded garden … things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.”1.2.135 Hamlet describing Denmark. “Merely” = completely. Adds to theme of corruption and disease. Weeds are unwanted and hard to get rid of- roots are deep, like corruption in court.
“Frailty, thy name is woman”-1.2.146 Hamlet. He is so disgusted by his mother’s behaviour that he loses faith in all women. Similar to the way Vindice loses hope in women after his mother essentially prostitutes his sister.
“Tender yourself more dearly”-1.3.107 Polonious to Ophelia. He is literally saying she should sell herself at the highest price. Similar to Gratiana. Enforces the idea that women are directly linked to monetary worth.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”-1.4.90 Marcellus. “Rotten” holds connotations of being rotten to the core. Suggests corruption is at the very heart of the play. Perhaps implies that the country cannot grow or become great until the rot is cut out.
“Heaven will direct it.”-1.4.96 Horatio. Expressed his simple and uncomplicated faith in God’s ability to oversee the ‘divine plan’. ‘what will be will be’ etc. Symbolic of Horatio’s balanced and steady philosophy.
“With wings as swift as meditation”-1.5.29 Hamlet. Vows to take revenge… but “swift” and “meditation” juxtapose. This statement basically embodies Hamlet’s hamartia: his chronic inability to act.
“The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.”-1.5.38 Ghost. Serpent has Biblical connotations of deception. One of the only animals in the Bible that can speak, uses it’s voice to persuade Eve to eat apple against God’s will. Snake represents Claudius persuading Gertrude to marry him and tricking Denmark about nature of Old King’s death? “Wears his crown”- power struggle?
“Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust, All my smooth body”-1.5.72 Ghost. ‘lazar-like’ implies Old Hamlet’s demise as a continuous strain (of poison) that tore his organs from mortal life with piercing agony. Alternative interpretation = that of Lazarus thus foreshadowing the Old King’s stay in purgatory – sins of Ghost unable to repent sins during his life.”loathsome crust” ugly effects of the poison, perhaps reinforces earthly, rough texture of the “crust” corrupting Old Hamlet’s skin
“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain”-1.5.108 Hamlet. Shakespeare often used smiles to express the theme of deceptive appearances (AO4: e.g. in King Henry VI, part 3 “I can smile, and murder whiles I smile”). Repetition of smile = exacerbate natureof Claudius’s deception?
“Put an antic disposition on”-1.5.172 Hamlet. Warning his friends/officers on watch that he is going to act mad. But does the madness encompass him? Is the task of vengeance too great for his character?
“Our o’erhasty marriage”-2.2.57 Gertrude. Expressing unease about how quickly her and Claudius married and moved on after Old King Hamlet’s death. Suggest private tensions in the relationship which are not displayed publicly.
“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”-2.2.177 Hamlet. Is he criticising Claudius’s court or acknowledging that he is being dishonest by feigning madness?
“What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?”-2.2.511 Hamlet. He is amazed by the actor’s ability to show grief/anger for someone he has never met, indeed someone who isn’t real. This prompts Hamlet to question “Am I a coward?” because he feels that he is not avenging as the player would if the player were in Hamlet’s position.
“The spirit that I have seen may be a devil… and perhaps, out of my weakness… abuses me to damn me.”-2.2.550 Hamlet. Fears that the Ghost may be the devil telling lies in order to tempt him into killing Claudius, thus condemning Hamlet to eternal damnation. Suggestive of Hamlet’s madness/suspicion- he feels he cannot trust anything or anyone. He also seems to overthink everything and consider every possibility.
“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”-2.2.557 Hamlet. The arrival of the players gives Hamlet a new lease of life. Indeed, this particular soliloquy end with a rhyming couplet which could reflect Hamlets regained momentum on his quest. He wants to test Claudius’s (and Gertrude’s?) guilt.
“To be, or not to be, that is the question” – 3.1.56 Hamlet. Typical of Hamlet’s fickle nature. His fatal flaw (hamartia (AO1)) as a protagonist is his tendency to agonise over every decision. Surprisingly bleak soliloquy in comparison to previous soliloquies which are full of nervous energy.
“Conscience does make cowards of us all” -3.1.83 Hamlet. The more we think and reflect on the human nature, the less we actually do. Is this true? Is it cowardly to consider consequences? Hamlet doesn’t use words ‘I’ or ‘we’ in this speech, instead he explores general truths
“Get thee to a nunnery – why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?”-3.1.119 Hamlet. He is so disgusted by women that he doesn’t want her to have children… She has betrayed him and it is likely that he knows other people are listening. Although he could also be saying that he thinks she is a wh0re. Either way, he humiliates and insults Ophelia with apparent ease. Is it truly part of his act? Breeder = objectifying?
“God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another.”-3.1.137 Hamlet. Criticising Ophelia/women in general for wearing makeup. Has this behaviour been prompted by the feelings of betrayal which he gets from his mother? Seems harsh.. ALT is he disappointed with Ophelia? Genuinely dismayed? Something to analyse via stagecraft?
“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”-3.1.185 Claudius. Is he calling Hamlet great? Interesting as it is the last line of the scene… reinforces idea of surveillance and suspicion. Claudius concerned that Hamlet is plotting to overthrow him?
“Lady, shall I lie in your lap?”-3.2.99 Hamlet. Shakespeare portrays Ophelia as a pure character, so Hamlet’s mocking is likely to make her uncomfortable/objectified. By sexualising Ophelia like this in front of her father the audience may begin to feel animosity towards Hamlet… has his ‘act’ gone too far?
“Wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them”-3.2.134 Hamlet. Shows how his opinion of women is changed by his mother’s actions. He is repulsed by women.
“The lady doth protest too much methinks.”-3.2.211 Gertrude. She thinks the Player Queen is too rash with her promises of everlasting love. Seems that Gertrude recognises herself in the queen character and is trying to excuse her own behaviour. Perhaps she feels uncomfortable.. aware that marrying Claudius is immoral.
“I will speak daggers to her but use none.”-3.2.357 Hamlet. Doesn’t actually use a dagger when speaking to Gertrude, is this because the ghost said that she will be punished enough in the afterlife? CONTRASTS with Vindice who actually uses a dagger to convey his anger at his mother.
“Do you think I am easier to be played on that a pipe? …you cannot play upon me.”-3.2.335 Hamlet. Telling Guildenstern that he knows he is being spied on.
“Oh my offence is rank… Pray can I not”-3.3.36 Claudius. Hamlet (the play) is full of surprises; he allows the villain to open up in a way never seen before. The soliloquy gives Claudius a new dimension. Confession is clear and frank. It also reveals his uneasy awareness of religion. Knows he cannot escape divine judgement. After life perceived as sharply as present one.
“Up sword, and know thou a more horrid hent, when he is… about some act that has no salvation in’t”-3.3.88 Hamlet. Doesn’t kill Claudius in a Church because he wants Claudius to die in sin, not repentance so that he goes to hell. Particularly disturbing as England was a V religious country. Shows pre-meditation. Could say that Hamlet’s quest for revenge has driven him insane, or is this just another example of his inability to act?
“Mother, thou hast thy Father much offended”-3.4.10 Hamlet. He loves playing with people’s words- particularly when he feels he can get away with it because of his ‘mad act’. When Gertrude reprimands Hamlet for offending his ‘Father’ (Claudius) Hamlet replies that she has offended his Father (Old King Hamlet). Hamlet + Gertrude’s to and fro dialogue = stichomythia. His way of mocking her.
“A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother.”-3.4.28 Hamlet’s reply to Gertrude after he ‘accidentally’ kills Polonius. Juxtaposition between “bad” and “good mother”. “Good mother” = sarcastic, another way Shakespeare portrays Hamlet’s anger. Bitterness furthered by rhyming which falls on the words “mother” and “brother”… Shakespeare drawing attention to the incestuous nature of the situation?
“To live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stewed in corruption”-3.4.92 Hamlet. He is truly disgusted by the idea of Gertrude and Claudius in bed. The discussion of age and sexuality could be seen to reflect the nation’s concerns that Queen Elizabeth was no longer beautiful and young.
“I essentially am not in madness”-3.4.188 Hamlet. Trying to convince Gertrude he isn’t mad. “Essentially” hmm…. does she believe him? Does the audience believe him? His claim not helped by the fact he has just seen the ghost (which Gertrude can’t see).
“Now whether it be bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’event”-4.4.40 Hamlet. Unsure whether he is prolonging the revenge act because he is forgetful, or cowardly. Unlikely to be forgetfulness since he reflects on it ALL the time.
“There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered”-4.5.173 Ophelia. Daisy=love violets=sweetness. Ophelia’s madness is very obvious on the surface, like Hamlet’s. However, Hamlet’s madness is all about playing dumb whereas Ophelia begins to reveal uncomfortable truths (“[young men] are to blame.”). Indeed, Hamlet’s exterior madness is actually only an act… his real deterioration is internal- but does he even recognise it?
“To cut his throat i’th’ church.”-4.7.125 Laertes. Tells Claudius that he is willing to kill Hamlet in a church. The differences between Laertes and Hamlet as revenge characters are vast. Laertes confronts revenge clearly, boldly and swiftly whereas Hamlet does the opposite. Laertes is not affected by religion like Hamlet is; he seems like the only Character who harbours this trait.
“No place indeed should murder sanctuarize; Revenge should have no bounds.”-4.7.126 Claudius. Although Claudius is likely to be shocked by Laertes atheism (shown by his willingness to kill Hamlet in a church), he doesn’t hesitate to unscrupulously form a plot with Laertes. Quote links to Vindice’s lack of morals.
“As one incapable of her own distress, or like a creature native and induced unto that element.”-4.7.177 Gertrude. Describing how Ophelia drowned. Does Gertrude believe she went mad because she could deal with her grief? “Native and induced unto that element” meaning that she looked natural in the water? Or maybe in death?
“Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust, the dust is earth”-5.1.177 Hamlet. Ruminating over the certainty of death/inconsequentiality of life. Indeed, this scene is the best known example of momento mori (latin for ‘remember you are mortal’, ‘don’t forget that you, too, will die’) in the history of literature. Idea that death puts things into perspective.
“This is I, Hamlet the Dane.”-5.1.223 Hamlet. Volta? He finally seems to accept himself after learning of Ophelia’s death. A turning point in the play. ALT he is claiming the throne by asserting his dominance.
“Dost thou come here to whine” -5.1.244 Hamlet mocks Laertes’ hyperbolic show of grief at Ophelia’s funeral. But surely if anyone was to be respectful of others’ grief it should be Hamlet? In his madness has he lost his compassion? Forgotten his own struggle? Seems very hypocritical.
“Let be.”-5.2.196 Hamlet ignores the fact that he may not be ready to duel Laertes. Instead he just accepts what will happen. This is a long way from his “to be, or not to be” dilemma. He has achieved moral certainty- but is it too late?
“Sir, in this audience… free me so far in your most generous thoughts”-5.2.208 Hamlet. Asks Laertes to pardon him bc he wasn’t himself (“Who does it then? His madness.” -Hamlet). In fact he even askes forgiveness from the audience (metatheacricality?).. Seems as though Shakespeare wants to make Hamlet sincere but how can we take him seriously when he seems to pick and choose his innocence? His madness has always seemed like a convenient fiction which he has shared w/ audience.. until now
“I am justly killed with mine own treachery.”-5.2.287 Laertes. Acknowledgement that he is justly killed symbolic of his acceptance that he was immoral at times? Similar to Vindice admitting that “’tis time to die, when we are ourselves our foes.”
“Thous incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, drink off this poison” -5.2.304 Hamlet. Events coming to a climatic end.
“Wretched queen adieu.”-5; 2. 312 Hamlet. Is he regretful of her actions? Maybe what she made him do? Or is he angry? Does his three word goodbye really do her justice? Similar to his callous comments about Polonious’s death (“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell.”3; 4. 32).