Upon reading Hamlet, you may have found a few quotes inexplicable or less crucial than they are. Indeed, Shakespeare paid close attention to phrasing and wording, so plenty of lines in the play have a double meaning. That’s why our experts collected and explained the most vital and/or ambiguous Hamlet quotes.
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“O most wicked speed, to postHamlet, Act 1 Scene 2
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.“
This is one of the most critical of Hamlet’s madness quotes in the play. He proclaims these words after getting to know about Gertrude’s marriage with Claudius. Being too concerned about his mother’s decision to marry his uncle, Prince gets furious.
The main reason for Hamlet’s concerns is Gertrude’s instant engagement after her husband’s demise. Prince accuses his mother of not being loyal to Old Hamlet and not murmuring enough. His despair peaks when he starts perceiving all women as deceptive and two-faced creatures who cannot be trusted.
In addition to being worried about Gertrude’s quick remarriage, Hamlet also accuses her of committing incest. And, in fact, he has a right to do so!
In Shakespeare’s time, incest had a different meaning. It did not include only marrying your blood members of a family. Having any sexual relationships with in-law relatives was also considered incest. Gertrude and Claudius break the church’s laws of affinity by marrying each other. Hence, Hamlet’s frustration results from his mother’s quick remarriage and her involvement in incest.
“All that lives must die,Gertrude, Act 1 Scene 2
Passing through nature to eternity.“
As Prince gets furious because of his mother’s quick marriage with Claudius, Gertrude tries to justify her actions. She claims that death is inevitable. So, it is essential to accept this fact.
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After Old Hamlet’s demise, Gertrude quickly gets into a relationship with Claudius. She agrees that life is harsh sometimes. However, we need to move forward, overcoming all the obstacles on our way.
In the play, Gertrude takes an uncertain position. On the one hand, it seems that she is an unfaithful wife since she moves on after Old Hamlet’s death too quickly. On the other hand, marriage with Claudius opens a lot of opportunities for the Queen.
Since women’s status in society in Shakspeare’s time was insignificant, Gertrude would suffer a lot from being without a man’s protection. Hence, marriage with Claudius provides her with social security and appropriate status in society.
Did marrying Claudius was Gertrude’s only option? Probably, yes. Thus, moving on too quickly after Old Hamlet’s death was a necessity for her.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.“Marcellus, Act 1 Scene 4
These words of Marcellus set the general tone of the play. After Old Hamlet’s death, a new ruler, Claudius, takes the throne. But is he an indeed wise monarch? Or maybe he is a great manipulator who only pretends to be a caring King while searching for benefits only for himself? He definitely fits the second characteristic.
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Thus, as soon as Claudius becomes the new King of Denmark, the entire state immediately starts decaying.
Let’s explore the following Hamlet’s corruption quote in the context of the play. Marcellus says this phrase after he notices the Ghost of the dead King. Yet, the spirit is only a visible symptom of Denmark’s decay. If we dig deeper, we will understand that the whole state is suffering from Claudius’s villainy. People are manipulating others and spying upon each other. Everyone’s becoming the victim of corruption and deception.
Thus, this quote about decay accurately reflects the depressive and pessimistic atmosphere of the play.
“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.“The Ghost, Act 1 Scene 5
The Ghost does not say too much in the play. It only speaks when it stays one on one with Prince, to whom addressed this quote. Therefore, every Ghost’s phrase has value.
This quote of the Ghost reflects the general theme of revenge in the tragedy. The spirit orders Hamlet to avenge Claudius for his merciless murder. However, Prince hesitates. Should he believe the Ghost? Or should he make sure of Claudius’s villainy himself? Therefore, the quote is the root of Hamlet’s indecisiveness that progresses as the play unfolds.
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“There are more things in heaven and earth, HoratioHamlet, Act 1 Scene 5
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Prince said these words during one of his conversations with Horatio. Here Hamlet claims that people must believe in what they see with their eyes.
When the news about the Ghost appeared, Prince did not believe in its existence. However, once he saw it himself, he changed his mind. Hamlet realized that the Ghost is the evidence of the afterlife, so it would be unreasonable to deny its existence.
If we explore the following quote from a broader perspective, we can connect it to skepticism. Being skeptical about something doesn’t mean denying everything if there is no proof. In fact, skepticism should provoke the desire to explore the things around and seek new experiences. Only by being curious, people have an opportunity to expand their horizons. In the other case, skepticism will have a destructive effect on human growth and development.
“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of witPolonius, Act 2 Scene 2
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad.“
This phrase “brevity is the soul of wit” became a proverb after Shakspeare used it in Hamlet.
In general, it highlights the importance of being clear and concise while conveying a message. A long, nonsense chattering will never attract the listener’s attention. Therefore, while sharing a crucial piece of information, it is essential to be brief and straightforward.
In the context of the play, Polonius was sharing the news about Hamlet’s madness. Trying to be as convincing as possible, he does not prepare long speeches. He just states the fact: “your noble son is mad.” And people believe him. So, Polonius’s quote about madness starts the spreading of fake information about Hamlet’s insanity.
“To be, or not to be – that is the question:Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
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 more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.“
Hamlet’s monologue “To be or not to be” is one of the most dramatic parts of the play. Being too overwhelmed with the recent events, Prince questions the essence of life. He even thinks of committing suicide to escape from problems.
From the very beginning of the soliloquy, it seems like Hamlet is in favor of death. He believes that demise will end all his internal and external sufferings. However, as Hamlet dives deeper into the topic, he realizes that death is not a solution. People do not know what the afterlife brings. The fear of uncertainty after death results in plenty of Hamlet’s doubts. The quote also reflects his indecisiveness that becomes more vivid as the play unfolds.
By the end of the play, Hamlet’s hesitation gains destructive nature. His inner suffering makes him commit impulsive and thoughtless actions that lead to fatal consequences.
“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.“Ophelia, Act 3 Scene 1
The romantic relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet is very uncertain and full of controversies. They are in love with each other. Yet, due to unfavorable circumstances, they are forced to stay apart from each other.
Ophelia’s father, Polonius, uses his daughter for his evil manipulations. He commands her to initiate a conversation with Hamlet and turn all his gifts back. Therefore, the readers aren’t sure whether Ophelia’s phrase is her sincere words. Why would she call Hamlet unkind if she loves him? Perhaps it was Polonius who prepared the speech for his daughter?
Overall, the quote means that even expensive gifts have no value if they were presented by a person who later turns out to be harsh and rude. In the case of Hamlet and Ophelia, it is difficult to identify whether they are indeed cruel towards each other. We can only assume that both of them become the victims of deception and manipulation. Therefore, they are forced to hide their feelings and mistreat each other by saying harsh words.
“God has given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble,Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
and you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures and make your wantonness your
ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on ’t. It hath made me mad.“
Hamlet proclaims this furious speech after Ophelia returns him all his gifts back. In fact, this is one of the most dynamic madness quotes in the play. Here, Prince openly expresses his open hatred toward women, accusing them of being two-faced and deceitful.
If we explore the situation from Hamlet’s perspective, we can understand his motifs. He is disgusted by Gertrude’s quick remarriage with Claudius. He claims that his mother betrayed his father by replacing him so fast after his demise. Being too frustrated by Gertrude’s choice, Hamlet starts overgeneralizing women. He assumes that all of them are unfaithful and dishonest.
What makes this quote more dramatic is the fact that Prince says these words to Ophelia. She is an innocent lady who became the victim of Polonius’s manipulation and Hamlet’s prejudices. His accusations are completely unreasonable. Yet, being a woman in Shakspeare’s time, she did not have much power to resist Hamlet.
“Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to Heaven.Claudius, Act 3 Scene 3
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t,
A brother’s murder.“
Claudius says these words while praying in a chapel after he saw the troupe’s performance that revealed his guilt. The King realizes the deepness of his crime, yet he is not sorry. He is afraid of taking responsibility for this murder.
The quote is linked to the Biblical story about Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. Knowing Cain’s guilt, God curses him. Drawing a parallel between this Biblical story and his life, Claudius realizes that the situations are very similar. Therefore, he becomes scared of God’s punishment. He desperately tries to get rid of his sins, praying in the chapel.
“O Hamlet, speak no more:Gertrude, Act 3 Scene 4
Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul;
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct.“
Gertrude addresses these words to Hamlet while they are having a private conversation in her bedroom. Prince accuses her of marrying Claudius, who murdered Old Hamlet. Under pressure, Gertrude finally admits her mistake.
However, there is a question of which fault the Queen realizes. Does she admit that marrying Claudius that quickly was a thoughtless decision? Or does she truly understand that Claudius is a murderer? Shakspeare leaves this question hidden by a veil. So, we, as readers, can only make our assumptions regarding this issue.
“Do not forget. This visitationThe Ghost, Act 3 Scene 4
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But look, amazement on thy mother sits.
O, step between her and her fighting soul.
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works.
Speak to her, Hamlet.“
The Ghost appears in Act 3 in Gertrude’s room and speaks to Hamlet. This revenge quote reveals that the spirit still cares for his wife, despite all Prince’s accusations.
The Ghost reminds Hamlet of his main aim – to seek vengeance. By appearing this time, the spirit suggests Prince stop wasting time on offenses and pushes him for revenge.
Observing Prince’s behavior, Gertrude starts questioning her son’s sanity. She does not see and hear the Ghost, so Hamlet’s actions seem very weird to her.
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,Ophelia, Act 4 Scene 5
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donned his clothes,
And dupped the chamber door.
Let in the maid that out a maid
Never departed more.“
This is one of the most dynamic of Ophelia’s madness quotes in the play. The storyline has an impressive number of challenges upon Ophelia’s slender shoulders.
Being too pressured by the suffering caused to her by Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius, Ophelia weakens throughout the play. As the action unfolds, the readers can notice her insanity. This quote reflects Ophelia’s concerns about her maiden’s honor.
Polonius and Laertes stress the importance of protecting Ophelia’s virginity several times. But is she a virgin indeed? Judging from Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet, we can assume that they had an intimate connection. After Polonius forbid his daughter to communicate with Prince, Hamlet insults Ophelia. As a result, the lady feels unwanted and cheap.
Father’s death, Hamlet’s involvement in it, and constant insults become too challenging for Ophelia. She starts losing her mind and ends up singing this song that represents her broken heart and lost virtue.
“When sorrows come, they come not single spiesClaudius, Act 4 Scene 5
But in battalions.“
Claudius’s words can resonate in the hearts of many people. Saying this, Hamlet’s antagonist quotes a well-known proverb: misfortune never comes singly.
Does not it seem like the whole world turns against us once we get in trouble? Claudius ascertains the veracity of this belief after Gertrude shares that Hamlet has gone nuts and killed Polonius. The King is afraid that his nephew’s shaky mental state and inadequate behavior may interfere with him ruling the country.
This possible and unfortunate outcome for him urges Claudius to take a more proactive approach. He decides to send his nephew out of Denmark.
“Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!“
As we all have probably understood, Hamlet heavily explores themes of death, fate, and free will. He utters these words when he finally concludes that life is an extremely short term-concept. We, humans, come out of the dust of the earth and someday return to it.
The dilemma of life’s value accompanies Hamlet throughout the play. It keeps him reminiscing about it till his very death. He cannot comprehend how humble and honorable people can be killed at the hands of foul and hypocritical ones. He constantly questions if it is even worth trying to resist the fate plans if all people sooner or later end up just breathless bodies of flesh and bones.
Hamlet’s philosophical reflections unleash a discussion that may interest people till the end of time. Yet, they constrain the actions he takes.
“I am justly killed with mine own treachery.“Laertes, Act 5 Scene 2
This quote is of special significance. Laertes de-facto acknowledges guilt for his dishonorable plans regarding Hamlet’s slaughter.
Laertes gets stabbed with his own poisoned rapier. It is relatively ironic, considering that the poison was intended for Hamlet. Being pissed off with the cut he received from Laertes, Hamlet takes the sword from him and sticks it in his opponent. In the end, all the guilty and at least somehow involved in treason get their rightful retribution.
Nevertheless, the fact that Laertes has the courage to confess demonstrates that he is not entirely corrupted. It was the bloodthirsty desire to avenge his father that blindfolded his sanity.
“I do prophesy th’ election lightsHamlet, Act 5 Scene 2
On Fortinbras. He has my dying voice…the rest is silence“
“The rest is silence” are the last words that Hamlet said before his death. This line is so iconic that it has become a catchphrase often used to define a fatal end.
Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2 fulfills the promise of the hero set in the beginning. After all, such a pitiful outcome was intended already in the first scenes. Hamlet considered dying whether through committing suicide or at the hands of ill-wishes. Hamlet dies from the poisoned rapier that Laertes struck him with. The final line embodies his readiness to go aloft.
The word rest stands for death, to which Hamlet finally resigns himself. The way he calls death, silence sounds both nihilistic but promising. It is nihilistic because Hamlet denies the potential afterlife (in short and simple, heaven or hell) that he may pursue. It is promising because the character eventually finds peace after the hard times of insecurity and suffering.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,Horatio, Act 5 Scene 2
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!…“
This quote is Horatio’s farewell tribute to Hamlet. In the turmoil of Fontibras’ invasion, a lot of people, including Prince, perish. He dies in the arms of his only devoted friend.
Horatio mourns the approaching death and wishes him to have an enchanted afterlife with angels signing to him there. From these words, it becomes clear that he sees Hamlet not only as a full-fledged heir to the throne or a rebel head. Horatio views him as a flesh and blood man that succumbed to the brutality of the situation. He sings the last lullaby that should immerse his dear friend in eternal sleep.
These specific lines convey the apotheosis of the tragedy developed in the play. Hamlet dies, unable to inherit the throne or continue a regular life on the other side of the veil. He cannot even tell the story of his suffering life to the greater audience. Hamlet assigns Horatio to complete this mission. This element differs the Shakespearean tragedy from the Greek tragedies where heroes oftentimes stay alive but writhe in agony to the end of their days.
Thanks for reading the article! We hope our explanations cleared up a few things about Hamlet. If you’re looking for more info about the play, check other articles below.