Hamlet critical quotations

The Restoration period The restoration period saw a revival of ‘Hamlet’ and it was one of the very first plays to be performed when Charles II reopened the theatres.
The Restoration period ‘Hamlet’ was Shakespeare’s fourth most popular play when it was first performed, from 1609 onwards.
David Garrick, 1772 “I had sworn I would not leave the stage till I had rescued that noble play from all the rubbish of the fifth act”
Jeremy Collier, 1698OPHELIA “Since [Shakespeare] was resolv’d to drown the Lady like a kitten, he should have set her a swimming a little sooner. To keep her alive only to sully her reputation, and discover the Rankness of her Breathe, was very cruel indeed”
Jones, 1910FAMILYHAMLET “Hamlet’s long repressed desire to take his father’s place in his mother’s affection is stimulated to unconscious activity by the sight of Claudius usurping this place exactly as he himself had once longed to do so”
Samuel Johnson, 18th centuryTHOUGHT VS ACTIONHAMLET Hamlet is rather “an instrument than an agent.”
18th century GENDER ROLESHAMLET Sarah Siddons is the first actress known to have played Hamlet.
18th century, “declamatory” acting styleHAMLET David Garrick wore a hydraulic wig which made his hair stand on end when seeing the Ghost.
Freudian interpretation (Oedipus complex), early 20th centuryFAMILYHAMLET Claudius represents, in flesh and blood, the embodiment of Hamlet’s Oedipal urges. He has actually killed Hamlet’s father and is sleeping with his mother.
Jones, 1910HAMLET “[Hamlet] actually kills the King, when the Queen is already dead and lost to him forever, so that his conscience is free of an ulterior motive for the murder.”
Goethe, 19th centuryHAMLET “[Hamlet is] pure, noble and [of] most moral nature.”
UnknownACTING, LIES & DECEIT GERTRUDE “The dramatic irony that increases the poignancy of her position has to do with the fact that we are continuously aware of covert actions against Hamlet that Claudius has kept from Gertrude: […] It is, in fact, one of these covert actions (as usual kept from Gertrude) that causes her undoing.”
Linda Bamber, 1982FAMILYSEXGERTRUDE “Although Hamlet sees his mother as a disgustingly sensual creature, the relationship that we see between Gertrude and Claudius is domestic and ceremonial, never sexual at all… The Gertrude that we see — as opposed to the one that Hamlet imagines — is her son’s mother and a worried, affectionate partner to her husband, who happens to be going through a period of political danger.”
GF Bradby, 1928APPEARANCE VS REALITYGERTRUDE “A character of ambiguous morality whom we can never fully know”
TS Eliot, 1920GERTRUDE “Negative and insignificant”
Bradley, 1904GERTRUDE “Hamlet’s chief desire… is to save Gertrude’s soul”
Richard D Altick, 20th century POWER & CORRUPTIONCLAUDIUS “The cunning and lecherousness of Claudius’ evil has corrupted the whole kingdom of Denmark”
G Wilson Knight, 20th centuryAPPEARANCE VS REALITYCLAUDIUS “[Claudius is a] good and gentle king”
Joseph Addison (1672-1719)POLONIUS Polonius “is a man of most excellent understanding and great knowledge of the world”
Michael Pennington, 1980 (actor who played the role of Hamlet)FAMILYPOLONIUS Polonius is “a bad parent”
STRUCTURE OPHELIA Ophelia only appears in 5 of the 20 scenes in Hamlet
John Dover Wilson, 20th centuryGENDER ROLESFAMILYSPYINGOPHELIA “Most critics have completely misunderstood [the nunnery episode] because in their sympathy with Ophelia they have forgotten that it is not Hamlet who has “repelled” her but she him.”
Lee Edwards, 20th centuryGENDER ROLESOPHELIA “We can imagine Hamlet’s story without Ophelia, but Ophelia literally has no story without Hamlet”.
Carol Thomas Neely, 21st centuryMADNESS GENDER ROLESOPHELIA Ophelia’s madness is “her liberation from silence, obedience, and constraint or her absolute victimization by patriarchal oppression”
Anna Brownell Murphy Jameson, 1967DEATH & DISEASEGENDER ROLESOPHELIA “Ophelia — poor Ophelia! Oh, far too soft, too good, too fair, to be cast among the briers of this working-day world, and fall and bleed upon the thorns of life!”
Francis Jacox, 1877HORATIOHAMLET “[Hamlet and Horatio] are, in all respects, except common love and reverence, the opposites of each other.”
Francis Jacox, 1877HORATIOHAMLET “Inferior to his princely friend in intellect, Horatio is superior to him in will”
John Dover Wilson, 1951STRUCTURE “The first act is a little play in itself, and the Ghost the hero of it: 550 out of 850 lines are concerned with him… The Ghost is the linchpin of ‘Hamlet’; remove it and the play falls to pieces”
Sydney Bolt, 1985STRUCTUREREVENGEACTINGTHOUGHT VS ACTIONHAMLET “The soliloquies in ‘Hamlet’ can be read as involving three different speakers: a passionate revenger, an ironical critic and an actor considering his part”
Sigmund Freud (explaining Hamlet’s hesitation to kill Claudius), 20th centuryREVENGETHOUGHT VS ACTIONFAMILY (oedipus complex)CLAUDIUSHAMLET “[Claudius is] the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realised. Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish.”
Peter Mercer, 1987FAMILYSPYINGPOLONIUS “Certainly this family [Polonius’] is much addicted to the giving of earnest advice”
Michael Hattaway, 1987SEX “She and hamlet had presumably been intimate”
Nicholas Marsh, 1998STRUCTURE “These orderly movements and the strong military structure [in the final scenes] contrast with the frightened stumbling movements of Act 1 Scene 1”.
Samuel Johnson, 1765REVENGE HAMLET “Hamlet, represented as a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood for blood, but contrives damnation for the man he would punish.” This is “too horrible to be read to be uttered”, which is why many 18th and 19th century productions cut this soliloquy
Michael Davies, 2008REVENGE HAMLET “Only by postponing murder in the name of revenge – only by refusing to kill Claudius at prayer can Hamlet become a proper revenge hero”
Michael Davies, 2008THOUGHT VS ACTION CLAUDIUS HAMLET “Claudius becomes more fully a figure of depth, complexity, and dividedness, as he speaks in his soliloquy of delay and procrastination […] Claudius thus becomes startlingly more like Hamlet than we were expecting”.
Andrew Speed (stage manager), 2010POLITICS STATE OF DENMARK “Hamlet is a very political play. Domestic politics and state politics are both very important”

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