Act III - Scene I

[Elsinore. A room in the Castle.]

Enter King, Queen, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Lords.

And can you by no drift of conference
Get from him why he puts on this confusion,
Grating so harshly all his days of quiet
With turbulent and dangerous lunacy?
He does confess he feels himself distracted,(5)
But from what cause he will by no means speak.
Nor do we find him forward to be sounded,
But with a crafty madness keeps aloof
When we would bring him on to some confession
Of his true state.(10)
Did he receive you well?
Most like a gentleman.
But with much forcing of his disposition.
Niggard of question, but of our demands
Most free in his reply.(15)
Did you assay him
To any pastime?
Madam, it so fell out that certain players
We o'erraught on the way. Of these we told him,
And there did seem in him a kind of joy(20)
To hear of it. They are here about the court,
And, as I think, they have already order
This night to play before him.
'tis most true;
And he beseech'd me to entreat your Majesties(25)
To hear and see the matter.
With all my heart, and it doth much content me
To hear him so inclin'd.
Good gentlemen, give him a further edge
And drive his purpose on to these delights.(30)
We shall, my lord.

Exeunt Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Sweet Gertrude, leave us too;
For we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,
That he, as 'twere by accident, may here
Affront Ophelia.(35)
Her father and myself, lawful espials,
Will so bestow ourselves that, seeing unseen,
We may of their encounter frankly judge
And gather by him, as he is behaved,
If't be the affliction of his love or no,(40)
That thus he suffers for.
I shall obey you;
And for your part, Ophelia, I do wish
That your good beauties be the happy cause
Of Hamlet's wildness. So shall I hope your virtues(45)
Will bring him to his wonted way again,
To both your honours.
Madam, I wish it may.
Ophelia, walk you here. Gracious, so please you,
We will bestow ourselves. Read on this book,(50)
That show of such an exercise may colour
Your loneliness. We are oft to blame in this—
'tis too much proved—that with devotion's visage
And pious action we do sugar o'er
The Devil himself.(55)
O, 'tis too true!
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!
The harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word.(60)
O heavy burden!

Enter Hamlet.

I hear him coming. Let's withdraw, my lord.


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(65)
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'tis a consummation(70)
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(75)
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 disprized love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns(80)
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(85)
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,(90)
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. Soft you now!(95)
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
Good my lord,
How does your honour for this many a day?
I humbly thank you; well, well, well.(100)
My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to redeliver.
I pray you, now receive them.
No, not I!
I never gave you aught.(105)
My honour'd lord, you know right well you did,
And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd
As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.(110)
There, my lord.
Ha, ha! Are you honest?
My lord?
Are you fair?
What means your lordship?(115)
That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should
admit no discourse to your beauty.
Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than
with honesty?
Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform(120)
honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of
honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was
sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did
love you once.
Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.(125)
You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I
loved you not.
I was the more deceived.
Get thee to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a(130)
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. I am very proud, revengeful,
ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have
thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape,(135)
or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do,
crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves
all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where's
your father?
At home, my lord.(140)
Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the
fool nowhere but in's own house. Farewell.
O, help him, you sweet heavens!
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(145)
not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery. Go, farewell. Or
if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know
well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery,
go; and quickly too. Farewell.
O heavenly powers, restore him!(150)
I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God
hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.
You jig, you amble, and you lisp; and nickname 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(155)
more marriages. Those that are married already—all but
one—shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery,


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,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That suck'd the honey of his music vows,(165)
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!(170)


Enter King and Polonius.

Love? His affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack'd form a little,
Was not like madness. There's something in his soul
O'er which his melancholy sits on brood;
And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose(175)
Will be some danger; which for to prevent,
I have in quick determination
Thus set it down: he shall with speed to England
For the demand of our neglected tribute.
Haply the seas, and countries different,(180)
With variable objects shall expel
This something-settled matter in his heart,
Whereon his brains still beating puts him thus
From fashion of himself. What think you on't?
It shall do well. But yet do I believe(185)
The origin and commencement of his grief
Sprung from neglected love. How now, Ophelia?
You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said.
We heard it all. My lord, do as you please;
But, if you hold it fit, after the play,(190)
Let his queen mother all alone entreat him
To show his grief. Let her be round with him;
And I'll be placed, so please you, in the ear
Of all their conference. If she find him not,
To England send him; or confine him where(195)
Your wisdom best shall think.
It shall be so.
Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go.




  1. According to David Crystal and Ben Crystal, authors of The Shakespeare Miscellany, any scene divisions after Act II, Scene II are artificial. In the First Folio, six plays open with "Actus Primus -- Scoena Prima," [but then] contain no further divisions...In these plays, the only way we know a new scene begins is when the stage has been left empty. In Hamlet, the divisions stop after Act 2, Scene 2." Crystal, David and Ben Crystal. The Shakespeare Miscellany. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2005.

    — Marissa, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Both Polonius and Claudius feel that Hamlet is "lost" to himself, forgetting his manners and not behaving as a prince should. Polonius hopes that Gertrude will "find" Hamlet and set him straight, but realizes that Claudius should have a back-up plan in case she doesn't.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. These "variable objects" could be anything from mountains and grass to swords and daggers. Claudius hopes that getting out of Denmark and essentially going on vacation will ease Hamlet's mind. However, what he ultimately wants is to get Hamlet out of the way by any means necessary, even if it means "expelling" Hamlet's melancholy from his heart by force.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. This image is of a chicken or a bird sitting on its eggs, or its brood of chicks. Hamlet's melancholy appears to be weighing on him, as Ophelia noted when she said Hamlet was "quite, quite down," as in depressed. Claudius thinks that by sitting on this brood, Hamlet is also hatching a plot against Claudius. Realizing this, Claudius decides to take action against the prince.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Hamlet's deliberate mistreatment of Ophelia has convinced Claudius that Hamlet isn't in love with her. This ploy on Hamlet's part backfires in the sense that it only makes Claudius more suspicious of his intentions and makes the king more determined to get him out of the way by any means necessary.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Ophelia knows that Hamlet was once a kind, considerate, intelligent scholar with a honeyed tongue and a strong sense of morality. She characterizes him as an "observer," a student of human nature, and says that of all observers he was most observed, because his mind and person were so interesting. Now, of course, he's lost his way, and she doesn't think he'll ever be the same again.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. In other words, Ophelia has used makeup to make herself a "new" face unlike the one God gave her at birth. Metaphorically speaking, this new face is a kind of performance, and Hamlet looks down on it as a kind of purposeless deceit that has no real cause other than to catch and deceive a man. He doesn't think nearly so critically of his own performance, of course, which makes this judgment hypocritical.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. This one is his mother, Gertrude. Recall that in Act I, Scene V, the Ghost of Hamlet's father asked him to spare Gertrude, because she's innocent. Hamlet intends to obey this commend, but nevertheless blames her for marrying Claudius, which he finds to be a revolting and incestuous act. Their relationship will be strained until the very end.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Here, Hamlet uses the plural "you" to refer to all women, who make men into "monsters" or cuckolds (men whose wives have cheated on them). Hamlet may also be speaking metaphorically, saying that women make men into monsters or terrible people with their dishonest ways and their deceptive beauty.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. A dowry was a gift of money, livestock, goods, etc. that a father put up for his daughter to take to her husband's house upon their wedding. Hamlet wouldn't have any reason or right to give Ophelia a dowry, but promises a terrible one in the form of an icy chastity that will ruin her marriage. This is especially cruel, and will effectively end their relationship.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. "Our old stock" should here be understood as sin, which we all carry with us as if it's our heritage. Hamlet believes that virtue can't erase this weight or stock of sin, and that regardless of whether or not he intended to love Ophelia, all he really wanted was to "relish" in his sins, or have sex with her.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. A "bawd" is someone who trades in the sex industry, such as a pimp or a madam of a whorehouse. Hamlet thinks that beauty can more easily transform an honest person into a dishonest one than honesty can transform a beautiful person into a good one. In other words, he doesn't think beautiful people are necessarily good or honest people and is questioning whether Ophelia is really worth his love.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. Shakespeare never established how much time passed between Act I and Act II and here implies that it's been a number of days, perhaps even weeks. Ophelia hasn't been talking to Hamlet, per her father's instruction, and wants to know how he (his "honour" because he's the prince) has been. She may also be wondering if he's been honorable or faithful to her since they last spoke.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. In her prayers. Remember that Ophelia has been ordered to read a religious book and that she's pretending to be praying, or perhaps praying that this encounter with Hamlet goes well. Hamlet wants Ophelia to remember him in her prayers (presumably so that God will hear them and forgive him).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. This is all to say: Hamlet's conscience has made him hesitate, and his great enterprise or plan has lost its momentum ("pitch and moment"). He's afraid, and that has made him look paler (and therefore sicklier). His self-esteem has fallen to the point that he can't see how brilliant his plan is.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. Shakespeare uses a familiar metaphor where the afterlife is a place that people can travel to, and from which no traveler returns. Many writers have written of this "undiscover'd country," including Dante in his Inferno, where the narrator travels through the underworld, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. "Fardels" means bundles, parcels, or baggage (of the literal and emotional kind). Hamlet answers his question with another question, asking if anyone would bother to work so hard or "bear" the "fardels" of life if they weren't afraid of what would happen to them after they die.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  19. A bare bodkin is an unsheathed dagger or blade. Hamlet wonders why anyone would suffer the injustices of the world or the reproach ("contumely," scorn, derision) of a proud man when he could simply take his own life ("might his quietus make"). Of course, Hamlet has been doing just that, so one answer to that question is revenge.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  20. Death's uncertainty rightly gives Hamlet pause and forces him to rethink death and treat it with respect (or caution). This caution towards and fear of death makes life into a "calamity," or a disastrous misery, and makes many people avoid committing sins for fear of the afterlife and what it has in store for them.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  21. In bowling, "rub" is a term and refers to anything that gets in the way or slows down the ball (by rubbing its surface the wrong way). In this context, "rub" means the most problematic thing or the problem with his otherwise perfect theories about death. If death isn't really what he wants, then his revenge plan could end horribly for him.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  22. "Perchance" means perhaps or possibly, whereas "dream" has been defined in Hamlet's conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as "ambition." Thus, this line reads that sleep (or death) might just be a dream (or an ambition), and that it might not be as peaceful or as easy as he hopes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  23. In Christian theology, humans are born with original sin: the residual guilt of Eve eating the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Thus, we become her "heirs," and our flesh is subject to that sin and to the thousand "natural shocks," or painful experiences, that all humans experience in their lifetimes.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  24. That is, nothing more. In this context, Hamlet isn't saying "to exist no more" but rather that death is just another kind of sleep, and nothing more than that. He's trying to minimize the horror of death by turning it into something restful and common, framing it as a relief from the sea of troubles.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  25. Shakespeare may be using a mixed metaphor here: one cannot take arms against (or fight with) the sea. But if we assume that the "sea" of troubles is actually an onslaught against which he has to defend himself, the image becomes clearer, and we can see that Hamlet is at war with himself and the world.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  26. This soliloquy can be seen as an extension of Hamlet's closing speech from Act II, Scene 2, in which he wonders whether or not he's a coward because he isn't acting in a passionate or melodramatic way by weeping for his father and murdering the king. To suffer "nobly" is to suffer in silence, without melodrama, trapped inside his own mind.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  27. One of Shakespeare's more famous lines, and the one that most eloquently encapsulates Hamlet's predicament: "to be, or not to be" asks whether it is better to live or die, and whether or not to commit suicide even though it's a mortal sin. In this play, suicide could also be seen as the act of challenging Claudius despite knowing it could result in death.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  28. Prostitues were often pockmarked by general diseases and forced to wear heavy layers of makeup ("plastering art") to hide the scars. With these lines, Claudius implies that the harlot's makeup is just as ugly as her face because we know what's underneath, just as we know Claudius' true intentions.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  29. Polonius admits that they're sugarcoating "the Devil himself," or rather their devilish actions. This suggests that Polonius knows that spying on Hamlet is wrong, but that he does it anyway because he wants to and because this sugaring over is second nature to him.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  30. In this context, a devotional exercise, as from a religious book which Ophelia has here been instructed to read. Notice that Polonius uses the word "show" to reinforce that this is a performance. Her loneliness, then, is twofold: she's technically alone and also spiritually lonely, because she's faking her connection with God and has ruined her relationship with Hamlet.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  31. Gertrude wants Hamlet's love for Ophelia to be the only cause of his madness. This would at once make Claudius' spying unnecessary (thus forcing him to be clandestine in these efforts from then on) and assure Gertrude that Hamlet's unhappiness is only temporary, which, as we see in this scene, is her primary concern.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  32. Notice that Claudius seems pleased to hear that Hamlet wants to engage in a social activity like seeing a play. For him to ask the king and queen to join him suggests to Claudius that Hamlet is reaching out or wants to courteously repair some of their relationship. This alleviates some of his suspicion, but not all.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  33. In other words, Rosencrantz says that they were interrupted by the group of players (actors) that arrived in the middle of the scene. If not for them, he suggests, they would've made plans with Hamlet, but as it stands, he seemed happy enough to make plans for himself, without his "friends."

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  34. In general, "assay" means to challenge or test, but in this context it means to challenge to a game or a bit of friendly sport. Gertrude wants to know whether or not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern treated Hamlet like their friend. She asks this not because it would be a more effective spying technique, but because she's worried about her son being too much alone.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  35. Notice that Gertrude doesn't want to hear about Hamlet's madness or Claudius' plan to spy on him. Instead, she distances herself from the plot, falling back on manners and decorum by asking whether or not Hamlet received (or treated) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern well. In this line, we can clearly see a mother worrying for her child.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  36. "Sound" in this case refers to the process of "sounding," or measuring the depths of a body of water or an abyss, literal or metaphorical, by means of dropping a weighted rope into the water. Guildenstern says that Hamlet refused to be "sounded" because he wouldn't reveal the true nature of his intentions or the depths of his disdain for Claudius.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  37. Without any evidence, Claudius already suspects that Hamlet's madness is performative or "put on," a tactic that he's using to confuse everyone around him. However, Claudius can't be entirely sure why and can't act until he's certain. If Hamlet were to die so soon after his father, it would call both of their deaths into question, so Claudius must be careful.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  38. "Niggard" means stingy and, in this case, means that Hamlet didn't ask any questions but answered all of theirs. Of course, the audience knows the reverse to be true, and we can see in this lie that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are trying to protect themselves, for fear that Claudius will plot against them, too.

    — William Delaney
  39. Notice that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't reveal that they had to confess to Hamlet that they'd been sent for by Claudius. The king wanted Hamlet to believe that they were just two old friends paying a visit, and now that Hamlet knows about their true purpose, their usefulness is lost to Claudius. Naturally, they don't want him to know that, so they omit their failure in that regard.

    — William Delaney
  40. Shakespeare often closes scenes with rhyming couplets, as he does here in the King's closing words. Shakespeare's intention may have been to remind the audience that the actors have been speaking in poetic verse, though usually in lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter. The effect here is to make Claudius' words seem like a nugget of real wisdom instead of a self-serving critique of Hamlet.

    — William Delaney
  41. Claudius and Polonius will be spying on Hamlet from one end of the stage while he and Ophelia speak at the other. To the audience, this will be very conspicuous and the two spies' reactions will be plainly visible, but Hamlet's back will be to them, so he won't notice. Ophelia, meanwhile, will know the spies are there and will naturally feel very self-conscious.

    — William Delaney
  42. Hamlet pretends to take Ophelia's word that Polonius is at home, but knows that she's lying. He calls Polonius a fool not for her but so that her father will hear. Neither of them seem to understand that this is a veiled threat, and that if Polonius doesn't stay at home, his foolishness will get him in trouble.

    — William Delaney
  43. 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).

    — Noelle Thompson
  44. Polonius would very much like Hamlet to be in love with his daughter, because Hamlet is the heir apparent and Ophelia would become his queen. That would put Polonius in a very strong position, and could also be of great benefit to his son Laertes. However, Polonius has lost some credit with Claudius by wrongly diagnosing Hamlet's melancholy, and it's not likely that Ophelia will become queen.

    — William Delaney
  45. According to David Crystal and Ben Crystal, authors of The Shakespeare Miscellany, any scene divisions after Act 2, Scene 2 are artificial.

    In the First Folio, six plays* *open with "Actus Primus -- Scoena Prima," [but then] contain no further divisions...In these plays, the only way we know a new scene begins is when the stage has been left empty. In *Hamlet, *the divisions stop after Act 2, Scene 2."

    Crystal, David and Ben Crystal.* The Shakespeare Miscellany*. Woodstock:  The Overlook Press, 2005. 

    — Scott Locklear, Owl Eyes Contributor