Hamlet Quotation Commentaries ACT 1

“. . . with mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage”(1.2.12) is the way that Claudius describes the mixed emotions of those few days in which King Hamlet was buried and Claudius and Gertrude (Hamlet’s widow) married. The central rhetorical device here is paradox (contradictory yet true statement), but Claudius is not merely being clever in his word play. He is trying to convey to the public his awareness of the complex balancing act in the duties a king must perform. What he also reveals inadvertently, however, is his truly conflicted character. He is many things at once, and the public view of him is often a false one.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosphy”(1.5.166-167) As Hamlet and Horatio are scholars in the University at Wittenberg (Germany), we might imagine that they are part of the new humanist school of thought during the Renaissance. Such “modern” thinking was dismissive of “old-fashioned” superstitions, and in fact, Horatio when we first meet him is skeptical that the soldiers have really seen a ghost (he “says ’tis but . . . fantasy”(1.1.22). So Shakespeare, himself a modern man for his day, presents us with a story that validates medieval thinking. Hmmmm. . .
“But howsoever thou persues this act/Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contive/Against thy mother aught.”(1.5.84-86) As the Ghost describes to Hamlet how he came about his horrible death so that he may revenge it in the near future, he also lets Hamlet know that he may not do two things in the process; go crazy to the point of mental unstableness, or mess with his mother. By telling him not to do these things, we know that they will occur later in the book due to the literary principle known as Chekhov’s gun.
“And with a sudden vigour it doth posset/And curd, like eager droppings into milk/The thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine,/And a most instant tetter barked about,/Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust,” (1.5.68-72) This thorough and vivid description of the ghost’s death angers Hamlet immensely because of the way it came about. The ghost was killed in his sleep, by his own brother, without having the chance to rid himself of his sins, known as the last rights, leading to his stay in purgatory. The ghost is suffering indefinitely, in a hellish in between, until his wrongs can be righted, or he purges all of his former sins. This provides motivation for Hamlet to revenge his murder with a plan just as painful and gruesome.
“I shall obey, my lord” (1.3.136) When Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, is ordered by her father to never see Prince Hamlet as her lover again, she replies simply with this line. In this phrase, Shakespeare conveys that while Ophelia says that she will do as she is told, she does not necessarily believe what Polonius is telling her about Hamlet not being able to marry her due to his high political status. In this sentence Shakespeare also explains that Ophelia only obeys Polonius because he is her superior and her father, because in Shakespeare’s time, unlike in the modern world, disobeying your parents was almost unthinkable.
“[This heavy-headed revel east and west/Makes us traduced and taxed of other nations./They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase/Soil our addition” (1.4.17-20) In this quote, where Hamlet is speaking to Horatio and Marcellus, he explains that above all, his kinsman, the Danes, love to drink, feast, and generally make merry. Because of this, Hamlet accounts, other countries label the Danes as drunk swines, and that no matter how many great feats of politics and war the Danes accomplish, they will never be respected for their actions. Also in this quote, Hamlet describes how one quality of a person or a group of people can completely influence how people think of them.
“These are but wild and whirling words, my lord” (1.5.133) Horatio describes Hamlets speech as such just after he has met the Ghost. Horatio claims that he is acting crazy. Clearly, Hamlet is frazzled after this encounter. He feels a great deal of pressure in this moment. After being told such important and traumatizing information, Hamlet must pretend that he is unaffected, and must not tell others of his newfound knowledge of his father’s death. Most importantly, he cannot let anyone know of his plan for revenge. This quote then shows how Hamlet deals with pressure; he deflects his friends’ curiosity and goes a bit wild.
“This above all, to thine own self be true,’ and it must follow, as the night the day,/ though canst not then be false to any man” (1.3.78-80) The first part of this quote, “to thine own self be true”, has become quite famous nowadays, for it provides a great piece of advice for children. Polonius tells this to his children, indicating that his most important value is that they uphold their personal morals and stay true to themselves. In order to do this, they must keep their word and tell the truth. This shows us that Polonius possesses a strong sense of moral righteousness, as well as fatherly love, and that he gives good advice. In fact, giving advice is his job; he is an advisor to the king.
“That for some vicious mole of nature in them,/As in their birth, whereign they are not guilty…/As infinite as man may undergo,/Shall in the general censure take corruption/From that particular fault” (1.4.24-25,34-36) Although Hamlet is preaching about the undoing of men, he begins this monologue by explaining that the Danes are known for their drinking. In this quote, he states that men are sometimes born with something inside them, something that they could not have chosen, that will fester inside them until it ruins them. This might be foreshadowing on Shakespeare’s part; Hamlet may have some characteristic that causes him to behave a certain way that leads to his own death or destruction.
“A little more than kin and less than kind.” Shakespeare seems to be foreshadowing Hamlet’s lash-out to Claudius overstepping his role as his step-father, and King. Claudius repeatedly reminds the court of the nature of his relationship with Hamlet, which enrages Hamlet. Hamlet said this quote quietly to himself after Claudius emphasized his position as Hamlet’s father. Soon after the death of King Hamlet, Claudius jumps into power, and marries Hamlet’s mother. This also represents an intrusion on Hamlet’s interpretation of kin-ship, because Claudius functionally squeezed himself into Hamlet’s father’s position. The play on words in using “kin” and “kind” within the same sentence shows Hamlet’s quick-wit, and ability to morph words delicately, to communicate more effectively.
“Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin/Unhouseled, disappointed, unanled;/No reckoning made, but sent to my account/With all my imperfections on my head” (1.5.76-79) The Ghost of Hamlet speaks this quote during his conversation with his son. One of the 7 Catholic sacraments is Last Rites or Extreme Unction. During this sacrament, the priest uses oil to anoint the sick or dying person’s head and recites certain prayers over them. The sacrament is also used to pardon the sins of the living before they die. When Hamlet’s Ghost was murdered, he did not have the chance to have his sins forgiven, so he is in a state of purgatory. What’s interesting is that the Protestants did not perform Extreme Unction as a holy sacrament, so this idea plays in to the religious conflicts that will occur in Hamlet.
“The serpeant that did sting thy father’s life/Now wears his crown.” As the ghost describes his murder, he compares Claudius to the Serpent from the story of Adam and Eve. Being a devout Christian, King Hamlet, in life, likely would have often compared wrong-doings and sins to the work of the Devil. This quote also foreshadows a bit to the consequences Claudius must face for murdering King Hamlet. In the story of Adam and Eve, the Serpent pays the price for tempting Eve into biting the apple; he must slide on his belly on the ground for his life, and eat dust. Although Claudius has yet to experience the negative repercussions of murdering King Hamlet, Shakespeare seems to be alluding to the inevitability of Hamlet’s revenge.
“And still your fingers on your lips, I pray. The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite that ever I was born to set it right!” (1.5.209-211) Despite the fact that Hamlet has recently been able to confirm his suspicions of his uncle, and has desplayed excitement about being able to carry out his revenge on the man who stole the throne, he is fighting a personal battle. The only restriction he’s been given by his father would be to take care of his mother and keep his mind straight, leaving Hamlet to figure out how, and when he will do the deed. We can tell based on the early mention of this dilemma, that Hamlet will revisit this subject later.
“Sleeping within my orchard/My custom always of the afternoon/Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole/With juice of cursèd hebona in a vial/And in the porches of my ears did pour/The leprous distilment, whose effect/holds such an emity with blood of man” (1.5.66-72) This is the point at which Hamlet becomes most passionate about getting his revenge on his uncle. His father’s ghost gives him a detailed description of how the former king was poisoned in his sleep, only making Hamlet angrier. This passage goes on to add on to the description of a killing with no remorse.
“But to persever in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubborness. ‘Tis unmanly grief … An understanding simple and unschooled.”(1.2.96) After Hamlet speaks of his sadness before the people, Claudius responds to Hamlet at first in an assertive way. Claudius insults Hamlet in front of a large audience. First, he calls Hamlet, “unmanly,” so that in result he will be seen as manly and stronger than Hamlet. He calls Hamlet “unschooled,” in order to assert the fact that he is wiser than Hamlet. Claudius does this and then proceeds to ask Hamlet to stay in Denmark. In asking this, he now appears loving. So in this speech of Claudius’, he asserts himself as both stronger and more knowledgeable than Hamlet, and appears kind and loving towards Hamlet.
“I do know, when the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat … You must not take for fire.” Polonius says this in regard to Ophelia’s relationship with Hamlet. From this scene, the personality of Polonius is instantly recognizable. This is classic fatherly advice he is giving to his daughter. He is saying, I know that you are attracted to him, so you think you love him, but you do not. He often states things as if they were fact, when he does not always know what he is talking about (as parents often do). Here, for example, he describes this phenomenon of one person being led on by another as if this were always the case. He does not listen to Ophelia when she tries to tell him that there may be something more between her and Hamlet.
“The air bites shrewdly, it is very cold (1.4.1).” Here, Hamlet opens the scene in which Horatio and the watchmen have brought him out to see the ghost of the late Hamlet for himself. While he refers to the actual temperature and wind, because the audience members would not be able to see the weather, he is also hinting at that mood of the scene. He mentions that the air is biting, but the second part, “it is very cold,” seems to be its own unit that does not refer to the weather. Instead, it seems to refer to the current state of things in Denmark and his own personal situation. He has cold relations with many people around him, especially Claudius and Gertrude, and is lost in the “cold” of grief. So while the line serves to give the setting for the scene, it also sets the mood for the scene and Hamlet’s inner emotions.
“O my prophetic soul! (1.5.40)” Here, Hamlet receives confirmation that king Hamlet was indeed murdered by his uncle Claudius. Instead of reacting in complete astonishment and overwhelming emotion, Hamlet is somewhat excited that his previous ideas have been confirmed. This moment shows how Hamlet suspected that his father was murdered, and even that it had been done by Claudius. Hamlet is relieved in this moment since he can now act on the murder of his father with justification instead of continuing to sit around sulking in grief. Hamlet is proud of himself for having predicted who king Hamlet’s murderer is, and is even excited that he knows for sure what happened to his father. After this moment, Hamlet knows that he can start forming a full plan to take down his uncle Claudius and avenge the death of his father.
“Before my God, I might not this believe Without the sensible and true avouch Of mine own eyes.” (1.1.17) Horatio has just seen a ghost. while this may seem like a simple observation, in terms who Horatio is, the viewing of the ghost is massive. Horatio is a scholarly man who has been taught to question everything. When told by his uneducated friends that a ghost is roaming around, he immediately disbelieves. And yet, his views change on an instant. Horatio can now speak with authority to Hamlet about the matter. This pushes Hamlet to truly believe that there is a ghost, and that he must see it for himself.
“The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown. O my prophetic soul!” (1.5.38-40) Are very important lines because it reveals to the reader who killed the king. Hamlets reaction to this quote is interesting as well. He says prophetic soul meaning that he always knew it. This passage shows that Hamlet only needed the slightest push to want to revolt against his uncle. This also shows how Ghost knew what buttons to push to get hamlet to do this.
“Swear by my sword. Swear.”(1.5.160-161). They say this quote a lot towards the end of scene 5. It’s interesting because Hamlet gives off the impression that he dose not trust Horatio and Marcellus even though they are is friends. It’s really important for Hamlet and the Ghost that they don’t talk to anyone. What’s going to be interesting is to see if his friends talk because that could end up with some really dire consequences.

You Might Also Like