Final Exam Passages
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Act 2 Scene 2 Lines 304-310
"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty
of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights
not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so."
"What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking,
how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding!
There's nothing more beautiful. We surpass all other animals. And yet to me, what are we but dust?
Men don't interest me. No-women neither, but you're smiling, so you must think they do."
In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, this passage is spoken by Hamlet in Act 2 with
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In these lines, Hamlet speaks to Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern in Act II, scene ii (287–298), explaining the melancholy that has afflicted him
since his father’s death. Perhaps moved by the presence of his former university companions,
Hamlet essentially engages in a rhetorical exercise, building up an elaborate and glorified
picture of the earth and humanity before declaring it all merely a “quintessence of dust.” He
examines the earth, the air, and the sun, and rejects them as “a sterile promontory” and “a
foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.” He then describes human beings from several
perspectives, each one adding to his glorification of them. Human beings’ reason is noble,
their faculties infinite, their forms and movements fast and admirable, their actions angelic,
and their understanding godlike. But, to Hamlet, humankind is merely dust. This motif, an
expression of his obsession with the physicality of death, recurs throughout the play,
reaching its height in his speech over Yorick’s skull. Finally, it is also telling that Hamlet
makes humankind more impressive in “apprehension” (meaning understanding) than in
“action.” Hamlet himself is more prone to apprehension than to action, which is why he delays
so long before seeking his revenge on Claudius.
Act 3 Scene 1 Lines 57-89
""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,
Or to take arms against a sea of trobles,
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