Hamlet quotes: speaker, situation, significance

“A little more than kin, and less than kind.” * Hamlet, about Claudius, at the opening party.* Foreshadows Claudius’ shady moral character, as well as establishing the Hamlet-Claudius tension that drives the rest of the play.
“And then it started, like a guilty thing upon a summons.” * Horatio, opening scene, after the ghost’s first visit and departure, describing the Ghost.* Sets play atmosphere–dark, dismal, creepy. Describing the Ghost’s disposition to the audience (guilty, frightful) also foreshadows the truth we come to learn about how Hamlet’s father was murdered and seeks revenge.
“…our QueenTh’ imperial jointress of our warlike state,Have we, as ’twere, with a defeated joy,With an auspicious and a dropping eye,With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage,In equal scale weighing delight and dole,Taken to wife.” * Claudius, opening speech of opening party.* Lays out to the reader another of the central conflicts of the play: Claudius’s marriage to Gertrude, or more specifically, allows Hamlet to express his anger and depression at it.
“These indeed seem, / For they are the actions which a man might play.” * Hamlet, at opening party, when asked by his mother what’s got him down.* Establishes Hamlet’s current depressed emotional state. Also somewhat ironic, since here he vows that his actions may seem like an act but are in fact genuine, while the opposite is true throughout the rest of the play.
“But to a persever/ In obstinate condolement is a course/ Of impious stubbornness, ’tis unmanly grief,/ It shows a will most incorrect to heaven.” * Claudius, to Hamlet, at opening party, telling him to get over it.* Ironic: Claudius is telling Hamlet that his actions show “a will most incorrect to heaven,” when in fact nothing is more “incorrect to heaven” than killing your own brother for power and greed.
“Frailty, thy name is woman!” * Hamlet, in his first soliloquy (after opening party), about Gertrude.* Establishes the common attitude of the times toward women, as well as the way that women act and are treated–as helpless and weak-willed puppets, with no agency–throughout the rest of the play.
“Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/ Against thy mother aught.” * Ghost, to Hamlet.* Ironic, since Hamlet’s mind ends up becoming quite tainted (somewhat at his own will). The commandment not to let his soul contrive against his mother he somewhat maintains, however.
“His will is not his own,/ For he himself is subject to his birth.” * Laertes, warning Ophelia about getting involved with Hamlet.* Sets in motion one of the driving conflicts of the story–Ophelia’s breaking up with Hamlet. Also could be foreshadowing, since “his will is not his own” (although used here to refer to the fact that Hamlet has political obligations) could also foreshadow his future madness.
“A truant disposition.” * Horatio, when asked by Ham what brings him back to Denmark.* Ironic, since Horatio is responsible, loyal, and dutiful–anything but a truant. Hamlet responds exactly this, revealing Horatio’s actual disposition as a means of character development.
“…though I am native here/ and to the manner born, it is a custom/ More honored in the breach than the observance.” * Hamlet, to Horatio on the ghost stakeout, about the fanfare.* Leads into a commentary about politics, and how good men are often corrupted by the excesses of power “by breaking down the pales and forts of reason” or “by some habit that too much overleavens the form of plausive manners.” Again with the disease metaphor, ties between political decay and his own decay.
“Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d,/ Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin.” * Ghost to Hamlet, describing his murder at Claudius’ hands.* This is the first time that the true nature of Hamlet Sr.’s death, and Claudius’ wrongdoings, is revealed to the audience.
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” * Marcellus, after Ghost’s first visit.* Foreshadows the events of the rest of the play. Also, “rotting” as a disease metaphor ties Hamlet’s mental decay to political decay in Denmark.
“The time is out of joint.” * Hamlet, after Ghost makes them swear.* Lamenting that everything is all wrong–wrong time for Hamlet Sr.’s death, wrong for Claudius to get his throne, etc. Like the “rotten Denmark” comment, another hint that things will only go downhill from here.
“…there put on him/ what forgeries you may please: marry, none so rank/ As may dishonor him, take heed of that.” * Polonius, to Reynaldo about Laertes.* Emphasizes Polonius’ scheming nature, the variety of secret plots going around court that drive the events of the rest of the play.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” * Polonius, after V/C have returned, warning Gertrude/Claudius about Hamlet’s madness.* Irony–Polonius contradicts this every time he speaks, going on and on in a fluffy way. Character development for Polonius as well.
“More matter with less art.” * Gertrude, wanting Polonius to get to it already and tell her what’s up with Hamlet* Rare comedic moment–poking fun at court manners, customs, and floweriness in speaking
“What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving, how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god! So as a painted tyrant Pyrrhus stood/ And, like a neutral to his will and matter, / Did nothing.” * Hamlet, to R&G* Hamlet expresses symptoms similar to depression (“how great everything is, but I feel nothing but crushing despair”), showing that his mental deterioration is somewhat genuine and not just an act
“The play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” * Hamlet, in soliloquy, while planning to reveal Claudius’ guilt using the play* Reveals Hamlet’s intention in hiring the players, sets up the suspense for the next scene in the play
“The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plast’ring art, / Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it/ Than is my deed to my most painted word.” * Claudius, requesting that Ophelia talk to Hamlet to find the cause of his madness* First admittance of his guilt, his self-awareness of his own wrongdoings
“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” * Hamlet, in the “to be or not to be,” soliloquy* It is the fear of what comes after death that keeps us from killing ourselves, keeps us suffering through life’s misery* Another true peek into Hamlet’s honest actual mental state, suicidal attitude
“…the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness.” *Hamlet, to Ophelia, on his anti-woman rant* His misogyny and ad hominem attack here either exemplify how crazy he’s gotten, how crazy he’s ACTING, or the typical sexism of the time. Also a remark on (political?) corruption: nice appearances corrupt a good center more easily than a good center purifies nice appearances.
“But yet I do believe/ The origin and commencement of his grief/ Spring from neglected love.” *Polonius takeaway from the Ham/Oph interaction* Shows that Polonius has fallen for Hamlet’s act
“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” * Ophelia, commiserating after her interaction with Hamlet* One of the few times that Ophelia gets to express her own emotion about the situation, not just “I don’t know/sure/whatever you say”
“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” * Hamlet to players* Ironic: Hamlet’s not very good at that.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” * Gertrude, about the Player Queen while watching the play* Evidence that Gertrude may not know about Claudius’s guilt, since she seems to be innocently watching the play with no idea that it reflects anything in real life.
“…blest are those/ Whose blood and judgement are so well co-meddled,/ That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger/ To sound what stop she pleases.” * Hamlet, to Horatio, admiring/puzzled at Horatio’s ability to avoid being a slave to passion* Hamlet’s own admission that he’s not exactly in a calm state of mind. Also establishes sensible Horatio as a foil for impassioned Hamlet.
“Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” * Claudius, just after Hamlet misses his opportunity to kill him and kills Polonius instead.* Commenting on how he won’t go to heaven – even though he was just praying – because his heavenly words don’t match his sinful thoughts.
“O speak to me no more! / These words like daggers enter my ears.” * Gertrude, to Hamlet, in her chambers with Hamlet just before he kills Polonius.* The first sign of anguish or guilt that she has shown during the play
“This is the very coinage of your brain,/ This bodiless creation ecstasy is very cunning in.” * Gertrude, to Hamlet, about the Ghost (which Hamlet sees and she doesn’t).* Telling him that he’s crazy, hallucinating the ghost* Reveals that by this point, Hamlet’s craziness is no longer just an act but starting to become real, if he’s hallucinating
“Let it work; / for ’tis the sport to have the engineer/ Hoist with his own petar.” * Hamlet, to Gertrude, just after killing Polonius* Discussing his intent to catch R&G in their plan, have it blow up in their faces (petar = bomb)* Another marker of his true craziness: violence and murderessness, lack of caring about R&G
“But like the owner of a foul disease,/ To keep it from divulging, let if feed/ Even on the pith of life.” * Claudius, about Hamlet, lamenting that he’s let him get this far* Continues the disease metaphor–perhaps shows that any affection Claudius ever showed for Hamlet was fake, if he now dismisses him as a disgusting disease
“For like a hectic in my blood he rages,/ And thou must cure me.” * Claudius, about Hamlet, begging England to kill the “disease” that is Hamlet* Same significance as above
“…poor Ophelia/ Divided from herself and her fair judgement,/ Without the which we are pictures of mere beasts.” * Claudius, after his first interaction with Ophelia-gone-crazy, commenting on how Hamlet’s temper has really screwed everything up* The comment on madness also applies to Hamlet, brings up the question of whether Hamlet is still “in there” somewhere or has completely lost it by this point
“To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!/ Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation.” * Laertes, to Claudius, upon first coming back to the castle and hearing of his father’s death* Declares his intent to avenge his father–sets up the rest of the events in the play and everybody’s eventual death
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,/ Rough-hew them how we will.” * Hamlet, to Horatio, shortly after arriving back in Denmark after the pirate attack* Saying that it was God who guided him in his sleepless wandering to discover the orders for his execution, and to change them out* Exemplifies Hamlet’s change from skepticism (at the beginning) to belief in the supernatural, both the Ghost and this “divinity”
“Such a sight as this/ Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.” * Fortinbras, in the last line of the play* Describing the sight of everybody dead* Fortinbras gets to have the last word–gives the audience a bit of what will presumably come to pass under Fortinbras’s rule of Denmark, instead of giving Horatio the last word (which would probably be more satisfying).

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