Hamlet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet | Quotes


O ... that the Everlasting had not fix'd/His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2

Hamlet has just discovered his mother's remarriage to her brother-in-law, a relationship Hamlet believes is incestuous and a betrayal of his father. This is the first time of many that Hamlet considers suicide, but notes that religion forbids it.


Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Marcellus, Act 1, Scene 4

After seeing King Hamlet's ghost, Marcellus notes that something terrible must be happening if the king's ghost has come back to haunt the land. It's unclear at this point whether the king's ghost (which is dressed in full armor) has come back for personal or political reasons.


One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

In this soliloquy, Hamlet places blame for his current situation on both Claudius (for killing his father) and his mother (for betraying King Hamlet by marrying so soon).


How strange or odd some'er I bear myself.

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

In this line, Hamlet plans to pretend to have gone mad so he won't be suspected of killing his uncle. This line raises one of the play's main questions: Has Hamlet actually gone mad, or is he just pretending?


Why, what an ass am I. ... That I/ ... must like a whore unpack my heart with words.

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Hamlet's fatal flaw is his inability to act decisively to avenge his father's death. He would rather analyze and theorize than act boldly. He recognizes this flaw and chastises himself for it, but it will take him the entire play to reconcile it into action.


The spirit that I have seen may be a devil.

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Hamlet describes the reasoning behind his inaction—he is not sure whether the ghost he's seen is actually his father, or if he is being tricked. Hamlet enjoys analysis and is always looking for reasons to sit and think rather than to act.


To be or not to be, that is the question.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

In this, the most famous line from the play, Hamlet questions whether it would be better to live in suffering or simply die. This gives the audience great insight into his emotional struggles in the play.


You go not till I set you up a glass/Where you may see the inmost part of you.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4

During an altercation with his mother, Hamlet wants Gertrude to look at herself in the mirror and account for her sins, but Gertrude misinterprets his outburst and believes he is going to kill her. Immediately after this, Polonius reacts to save her, and Hamlet (mistakenly believing he is Claudius) kills him. This is the point of no return for Hamlet's character.


Sith, I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do't.

Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 4

After being banished to England, Hamlet undergoes the transformation he has been waiting for. He recognizes that a man's purpose in life is to act—and he is finally filled with enough motivation to stop dithering and avenge his father's death.


The rest is silence.

Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

These are Hamlet's last words before death. He has just explained all to his friend, Horatio, and accepts the inevitability of his death, which he has mused about being the great equalizer. For a man as wavering and introspective as Hamlet, his final words are particularly astute.

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