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Quotes in Hamlet

Quotes Examples in Hamlet:

Act I - Scene II

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"I have that within which passeth show,..."   (Act I - Scene II)

The Queen is annoyed that Hamlet is still grieving his dead father. She suspects his mourning is a ploy for attention. Hamlet concedes that sorrow can be fabricated, but he has "that within which passeth show:" genuine feelings, which cannot be seen.

"A countenance more in sorrow than in anger...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Horatio's description of Hamlet's father's ghost here clashes with the ghost that Hamlet meets later in the play. Hamlet's father's ghost is enraged when he speaks to Hamlet about his murder. That Hamlet assumes his father's ghost is angry tells us something about the man's countenance when he was living.

"In my mind's eye, Horatio...."   (Act I - Scene II)

The "mind's eye" is a human's ability to visualize or otherwise experience things within their mind. While Horatio actually did see Hamlet's father's ghost in the previous scene, Hamlet is only imagining his father here. The play can be seen as occurring mostly in Hamlet's "mind's eye" as it explores his internal landscape as he attempts to understand the external world. Shakespeare did not coin this term but he did make it a popular expression.

"O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,..."   (Act I - Scene II)

When something is "sullied," it is soiled, tarnished, or defiled. Thus, Hamlet's flesh, once pure and innocent, has become defiled and impure because his mother has married her husband's brother and made his uncle into the King. In this, we also find a question of paternity, as it's possible (though never confirmed) that Claudius and Gertrude were having an affair even before King Hamlet's death, and that Prince Hamlet may well be Claudius' son instead.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be..."   (Act I - Scene III)

One of the most famous lines in the play, this sentiment stems from Shakespeare's belief that usurers (people who lend money) are in some way morally bankrupt and that one should never become indebted to someone of poor moral character. There's also an element of anti-Semitism in this sentiment, since most money lenders were Jewish in Shakespeare's time. Notice that Polonius relies on these stock aphorisms rather than offering genuine advice.

"the primrose path of dalliance..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Since the 15th Century, "primrose" has been used metaphorically to refer to the first or best of something (primrose is popularly but erroneously thought to derive from prima rosa, "first rose"); so a "primrose path" is not necessarily one lined with primroses, but can be understood as a description of perfect loveliness or, in this case, a pleasant path to destruction characterized by romantic "dalliances" and acts far from righteous. Ophelia is calling out the double standard that allows Laertes to lecture her about virtue while he misbehaves in France.

"More honour'd in the breach..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Hamlet thinks that native customs should bring honor to the people, and the King's drunken toasts are hardly honorable. Hamlet thinks it's more honorable to break (rather than observe) the tradition of drunkenness.

"The time is out of joint..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hamlet thinks the state of affairs ("time") in Denmark resembles a shoulder that is "out of joint." He thinks of himself as the physician who must restore the crippled kingdom to health.

"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hamlet is outraged because the Ghost of his recently-deceased father has revealed that he (the late King) was murdered by his own brother, the new King Claudius.

"To put an antic disposition..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Hamlet reveals something of his plan in this line. Madness or the appearance of madness has already been established in the play through the acts of grieving, which accounts for Hamlet's strange, unsettling behavior. Hamlet will play on this established aspect of his character in enacting his revenge. But madness, like evil, can corrupt a person, and it remains to be seen if in performing madness he won't become genuinely mad.

"There are more things in heaven and earth..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Keep in mind that Hamlet is only one step ahead of Horatio here, and that, before Hamlet met with the Ghost, he was in the same position as Horatio is now: unaware of how ignorant he is of the real world and of people's true intentions. His words, then, reveal him as both eloquent and arrogant, and we'll see these two aspects of his personality battle as the play progresses.

"That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain..."   (Act I - Scene V)

This line retroactively serves as stage direction for the actor playing Claudius, who hasn't been instructed to smile and yet must do so throughout the play. This act of guile on his part may be the most powerful representation of the theme of deceit. It characterizes him not just as a villain, but as a charismatic, emotionally manipulative, violently envious man who would stop at nothing to consolidate his power and ensure his own safety.

"A serpent stung me..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Here the serpent, who nows "wears [the] crown," is Claudius. However, the fact that he is called a "serpent" should also be taken as a symbol of evil and cunning. King Hamlet's orchard alludes to the Biblical Garden of Eden, where the devil in the form of a serpent tricked Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (often depicted as an apple). Again, the analogy positions King Hamlet as a holy character (in this case Eve) and Claudius as the devil.

"Though this be madness, yet there is a method in't.—..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Polonius is starting to suspect that Hamlet is being intentionally antagonistic—that there is a method to his madness. This is where the famous expression, "There is a method to my madness," comes from.

"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..."   (Act II - Scene II)

With this famous quote, Hamlet moves the space, Denmark, into his mind; it metaphorically ceases to be a place and instead becomes a state of mind. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can only fathom that Hamlet is upset for tangible, shallow reasons, like his uncle's rise to power or a problem with the physical space he is in, Hamlet demonstrates one of the plays main themes by using the tangible to explore his psychological interior. The kingdom, Kingship, prison, and paradise are all merely ideas that are effected by changes within the mind.

"'twas caviary to the general..."   (Act II - Scene II)

In general, "caviary" (often spelled caviar or caviare) refers to the roe of the sturgeon or another large fish. In this case, "caviary" refers to the unpleasant experience of eating caviar for someone who hasn't yet acquired a taste for it, implying that the players are too good for the "general" public to appreciate. Shakespeare appears to have been the first to use the word "caviary" in this sense.

"brevity is the soul of wit..."   (Act II - Scene II)

In other words, "A wise speech uses few words." Given Hamlet's tendency toward soliloquy and elevated language, this may be a dig on Polonius' part against the prince and any educated men like him.

"there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Like many of Shakespeare's heroes, Hamlet feels tortured not just by his thoughts but his ability to think, which demands that he examine his uncle's intentions in a way that no one else does. If he weren't so wrapped up in his own thoughts, Elisinore would seem like a nice place, except that his uncle would still be plotting against him.

"O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown! The courtier's, scholar's, soldier's, eye, tongue, sword,(160) The expectancy and rose of the fair state, The glass of fashion and the mould of form,..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Here, Ophelia mourns not only the loss of her love but the loss of Hamlet's example for the rest of the men in Denmark. Courtiers and noblemen would model their behavior on that of the royal family. In going insane, Hamlet robs the courtier his eye, or perception, the scholar his tongue, or discourse, and the soldier his sword, or prowess. He is no longer the paragon, or glass of fashion, on which others can model their behavior, but a fallen man. Ophelia mourns both for herself and for all of Denmark.

"Get thee to a nunnery..."   (Act III - Scene I)

In Shakespeare's time, a "nunnery" could be either a convent for nuns or a brothel for prostitutes. Either way, Hamlet tells Ophelia she shouldn't have children (she couldn't be a mother if she's in a nunnery) because she would only breed sinners. The double-meaning of "nunnery" suggests that Hamlet's anger centers upon seemingly virtuous people (nuns) who ultimately become sinful and debased (prostitutes).

" trippingly..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Trippingly" here means to speak liltingly or nimbly, with the tongue instead of the throat. Hamlet directs his actors to speak "trippingly" because it will be more like real speech.

"my heart of heart..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Hamlet tells Horatio that he will hold any man who is "not passion's slave"—meaning a man who isn't easily overcome by strong emotions—not just in his heart, but the heart of his heart. Hamlet might value emotional constancy because he tends to get carried away by strong emotions.

"to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Hamlet claims that the whole point of acting or putting on a show is to reveal something about human nature (or to hold it up to a mirror). This emphasizes the complexity of human interactions and the psychological depth of Shakespeare's characters, who can be held up to a mirror without appearing flat or one-dimensional.

"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go...."   (Act III - Scene III)

Here, Claudius kneels and prays to God. Though he has just recognized his damnation and "rank offence," Claudius does not pray for forgiveness but rather prays that he will get away with his crime. He does not see Hamlet, who enters and decides not to kill him. With these lines Claudius recognizes that prayers without thought, or words without repentance, will not reach God or sway his judgement. They are invalid.

"O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;..."   (Act III - Scene III)

Just as Hamlet had hoped, the play did expose the conscience of the King. Claudius confesses to his deed and uses this metaphor to explain the stain that his deed has placed upon his kingship. The murder was so evil, so vile, that it has created a rank oder that wafts up to heaven where God himself can smell it. In imagining the smell reaching heaven, Claudius recognizes that he will be punished in the afterlife. However, he refuses to repent because it would mean giving up his earthly spoils. This soliloquy represents the moment at which Claudius recognizes what he has done and chooses his sin over repentance.

"To flaming youth let virtue be as wax(90) And melt in her own fire...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Hamlet refers to the flames of youthful passion. He criticizes his mother for marrying her brother-in-law, whom Hamlet considers a very low specimen of humanity. Hamlet argues that, to be tempted into marrying such a person, his mother's virtue must "be as wax;" it melts in the presence of fiery passion.

"Hoist with his own petar..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A "petar" or petard is a bomb made of a small box filled with powder, which is then used to blow a hole in a door or a wall. To be "hoisted" by a petard would mean to be lifted up by the force of the blast, or to have the explosion backfire on you. Hamlet wants this to happen to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and, eventually, to Claudius.

"I must be cruel, only to be kind..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Hamlet thinks his cruelty (in demanding that Gertrude abstain from sleeping in her marital bed and in frightening her so) is another form of kindness, because he's cleansing her soul, like a minister. From his perspective, he's doing it for her benefit. To the audience, he's trying to get his way by any means necessary.

"Of thinking too precisely on the event..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

Hamlet worries that he is over-thinking avenging his father's murder. He refers to lingering over objections, the interference of conscience, etc., to the extent that the action itself (killing King Claudius) is put off or missed altogether.

" Sweets to the sweet..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Readers will recall that this scene takes place in a graveyard and that the queen is scattering flowers on Ophelia's grave. The expression "sweets to the sweet" has a much more somber meaning in its original context than the more romantically sentimental meaning that the expression has taken on today.

"Cudgel thy brains no more about it..."   (Act V - Scene I)

This insult underpins the main action of the scene so far: the clowns mock death as they dig graves in order to push thoughts of mortality away. The Second Clown cannot think of the answer to this riddle, even though he is in the process of digging graves, because his mind suspends thoughts of his own death.

"Alas, poor Yorick!..."   (Act V - Scene I)

One of the most famous moments in Shakespearian tragedy, Hamlet takes this encounter with Yorick's skull to contemplate fate and mortality — inescapable for kings and court jesters alike. Hamlet is disturbed by how the rotting skull contradicts the happy memories he has of Yorick. Critics have also noted that Yorick seems to be a surrogate father figure for Hamlet. Therefore, this moment serves as a reminder to Hamlet of his own immanent demise and the ephemerality of all things.

" Lay her i' the earth; And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,(235) A ministering angel shall my sister be When thou liest howling..."   (Act V - Scene I)

While the Priest refuses to say Christian burial rites for Ophelia because she appears to have committed suicide, Laertes is indignant, insisting that his sister's purity will turn her into an angel. A "ministering angel" is one thought to help individuals find salvation. With this rhetoric, Laertes swaps Ophelia and the Priest's roles: Ophelia will become an angel and save souls while the Priest howls in hell as punishment for his sins on earth. Ironically, this outburst of emotion calls attention to the reality that Ophelia would be the one "howling" in hell because of her suicide.

"Not a whit, we defy augury; there's a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow..."   (Act V - Scene II)

While Horatio cautions Hamlet not to fight Laertes when the King so obviously wants him dead, Hamlet uses these lines to dismiss Horatio's worries and accept the challenge anyway. He declares that omens mean nothing to him and that God will decide his fate. This is the final change in Hamlet's character. Whereas at the beginning of the play Hamlet might have over thought this decision and weighed the options through a psychoanalytic soliloquy, here he recognizes his fate is out of his hands and accepts it for whatever it might be.

"palpable..."   (Act V - Scene II)

"Palpable" here means obvious. Osric agrees that Hamlet scored the first touch by implying that anyone could have seen it—it was easily perceived.

"A hit, a very palpable hit...."   (Act V - Scene II)

Hamlet has declared that he scored a touch, but Laertes denies it. Hamlet appeals to Osric, the usually sycophantic judge, who confirms Hamlet's "very palpable hit." Laertes concedes.

"Why, man, they did make love to this employment!..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Hamlet doesn't feel remorse for sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths. He accuses them of complying with King Claudius's plot against him. We do not know, however, whether Rosencrantz or Guildenstern were ever aware of the plot. They may not have realized that they were taking Hamlet to England for execution.

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