An Analysis and Explanation of Famous Quotes from Hamlet

An Analysis and Explanation of Famous Quotes from Hamlet
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These famous quotes from Hamlet do not include any of Hamlet’s famous soliloquies. They deserve a section of their own. If you are in search of Hamlet soliloquies, click on the link to the side or the bottom (the one that says “Hamlet Soliloquies”).

Famous Quotes from Hamlet, Act I

Use these famous quotes from Hamlet, Act I to help you understand, discuss, and write about the play.

Quote: Marcellus: “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I, iv, 90).

Analysis: If by rotten you mean the dead king’s ghost showing up to inform his son that he was murdered by his brother and that he wants revenge, then, indeed, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The rottenness goes beyond the murder of the king: it emanates from the queen who marries so quickly after the king’s death. It also infects Prince Hamlet who has gone mad at the death of his father and quick marriage of his mother. Hamlet’s dithering and lack of strong leadership during the crisis does little to heal the rot. Because the rottenness exists at the head of government, the entire state must suffer unless a stronger leader (Fortinbras, for example) arrives.

Quote: Polonius: Give thy thoughts no tongue, / Nor any unproportion’d thought his act… Beware / Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in, / Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee. / Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice: / Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment… / Neither a borrower nor a lender be: / For loan oft loses both itself and friend; / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. / This above all,—to thine own self be true; / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man (Act I, scene iii).

Analysis: Shakespeare often gives his most profound lines to the plays biggest fools. Polonius offers sound advice…which he doesn’t follow. He warns his son Laertes to hold his tongue, not act rashly, and to not enter quarrels that are not his. Polonius death ironically results from speaking too much, acting rashly, and entering the quarrel between Hamlet and his father. Polonius is not true to himself and dies because of it. Polonius' contradictory/conniving nature is further demonstrated by his profession of love and trust to Laertes, followed by sending Reynaldo to spy on him.

Act II

Quote: Polonius: Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit / And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, ? I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. (II, 2, 90-92).

Analysis: Polonius asserts that clever and intelligent speech is brief. He then spends several more lines discussing irrelevancies, demonstrating once again that he is a fool and that Shakespeare is a master of irony.

Quote: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form how 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…

Analysis: Romeo contrasts his opinion of man with the opinion commonly held. If you’re at a party, Hamlet is exactly the person you don’t want to talk to. He sees only the negative in life. he has allowed the misdeeds of his family taint his picture of mankind. His opinion of man (and woman) combined with his constant pondering of suicide establishes a tragic mood. Note that Hamlet addresses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in prose, indicating they are not his equal.


Quote: Hamlet: Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery…do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe? (Act III, scene ii).

Analysis: Hamlet chastises Guildenstern through the deft use of metaphor after encouraging Guildenstern to play the flute to which he claimed to be unable. Hamlet demonstrates cunning in his tongue-lashing of Guildenstern.

Quote: King: Forgive me my foul murder? / That cannot be since I am still possessed / Of those effects for which I did the murder, / My crown, mine own ambition, and my Queen. / May one be pardoned and retain th’offense. (Act III, scene iii).

Analysis: The king realizes that his repentance is false and that his cry for forgiveness is useless insomuch that he would have to give up his crown and his wife in order to show true contrition.

Queen Gertrude

Quote: Hamlet: Look here upon this picture, and on this, / The counterfeit presentment of two brothers. / See, what a grace was seated on this brow; / Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself; / An eye like Mars, to threaten and command; / A station like the herald Mercury / New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill; / A combination and a form indeed, / Where every god did seem to set his seal, / To give the world assurance of a man: / This was your husband. Look you now, what follows: / Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear, / Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes? / Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed, / And batten on this moor? (III, iv, 53-67).

Analysis: Hamlet chides his mother by comparing his father to the man whom she has married. He uses allusion–Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself, eyes like Mars, Mercury–to emphasize the nobility of his father. In comparison, Claudius is a “mildew’d ear.” He finishes his chastisement by accusing the Queen of leaving a fair mountain to reside on a moor.

Quote: Hamlet: Refrain tonight, / And that shall lend a kind of easiness / To the next abstinence, the next more easy; / For use can almost change the stamp of nature, and either lodge the devil, or throw him out / With wondrous potency. (III, iv, 165-70)

Analysis: Despite his apparent madness, Hamlet demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature as he counsels his wife to abstain from relations with the new king.

Act IV

Quote: Hamlet: In heaven; send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him i' the other place yourself. But, indeed, if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby. (Act IV, scene iii).

Analysis: Hamlet responds to the King’s question as to the whereabouts of Polonius in an insulting (and humorous) fashion. He instructs Claudius to send a messenger to find Polonius in heaven and if he be not there to go to hell himself to find him. He then transfers the conversation from the spiritual world to the physical world by informing the king that in about a month he’ll be able to smell Polonius near the stairs in the lobby.

Quote: Hamlet: O! from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (Act IV, scene iv).

Analysis: Hamlet understands the cowardice in his delay. He’s evidence enough of Claudius' guilt yet refuses to exact revenge. He vows to himself that from this moment forth he is committed to killing the king.

Act V

King, Queen, Laertes, and Ophelia

Quote: Hamlet: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel? (Act V, scene i).

Analysis: Hamlet philosophizes the end of all humans, theorizing that the greatest of kings are nothing more than hole pluggers after they die. Hamlet has no faith that anything exists after death, a belief that stays him from taking his own life, a life he feels is full of sorrow and pain.

Quote: Hamlet: I lov’d Ophelia: forty thousand brothers / Could not, with all their quantity of love, / Make up my sum. (Act V, scene i).

Analysis: Hamlet’s behavior toward Ophelia throughout the play leads one to believe he truly is mad. He praises her, insults her (commanding her to a nunnery), kills her father, jumps in her grave and hyperbolically expresses his love.

Better Hamlet with Skull

Quote: Let me see. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now how abhorred in my imagination it is–my gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Act V, scene i).

Analysis: Just in case you doubted whether or not Hamlet were mad, his conversation with dead Yorrick’s skull in the graveyard should help you decide. This apostrophe is a sober reminder that all will die.

Quote: Hamlet: There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will. (Act V, scene ii).

Analysis: Hamlet philosophizes that there are forces beyond our control that shape our lives.

This post is part of the series: Hamlet Study Guide

Review Shakespeare’s greatest play with the Hamlet Study Guide.

  1. Study Guide for Hamlet Characters
  2. Famous Quotes from Hamlet with Analysis
  3. Two Famous Soliloquies from Hamlet with Commentary
  4. Basic Summary of Hamlet
  5. Exploring Major Themes in Hamlet