I am not alone in my adoration for Hamlet – love for William Shakespeare‘s works has never been in short supply. Shakespeare’s plays have endured centuries of criticism and remain etched on the hearts and minds of scholars and spectators. Why? That’s easy; behind the iambic pentameter and intricate language there sits something everyone can relate to: anxiety about our place in the world.
If you’re as uncertain as I am about life and love, get your teeth in to some of Bill’s scripts. They’re filled with remarkable, ageless moral insight. Below are just a few of my favourite quotes from Hamlet. Shakespeare’s Sweet Prince himself has a few corkers, as do Gertrude, Polonius and Ophelia. Enjoy:
‘…all that lives must die’
(Gertrude, Hamlet, Act I Scene II)
After King Hamlet’s death, Queen Gertrude marries his Brother, Claudius, in order to secure her position in the monarchy. Her son, Prince Hamlet, is repulsed by her decision; but it shows how practical and forward-thinking she is. Lines like this can be simultaneously applied to mortality and romantic relationships; Gertrude knows that all good things must come to an end.
‘More matter with less art’
(Gertrude, Hamlet, Act II Scene II)
What did I tell you? Gertrude’s a practical woman. She wants it short and sweet, don’t mess her about.
‘The Lady doth protest too much methinks’
(Gertrude, Hamlet, Act III Scene II)
The Lady Gertrude doth get it right every time, methinks.
‘Do not as some ungracious pastors do / Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, / Whiles like a puffed and reckless libertine / Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads’
(Ophelia, Hamlet, Act I Scene III)
This is Ophelia’s cracking comeback to her brother Laertes. She graciously calls out his sexist, double standards with some delightful floral imagery. It’s a shame Shakespeare drowned her so early in the play – she had so many patriarchal values to dismantle!
‘Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind’
(Ophelia, Hamlet, Act III Scene I)
What did I tell you? Ophelia had some cracking comebacks. If someone seems too good to be true, they might have an ulterior motive, so be cautious; think like Ophelia. (She does eventually drown from sorrow, so exercise more emotional/physical caution than she does. Or purchase a lilo?)
‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice’
(Polonius, Hamlet, Act I Scene III)
This is part of Polonius’ lengthy, fatherly advice to his only son Laertes; but his words can extend to daughters too. Basically, absorb a multitude of ideas before you start to spit out all your own good stuff.
‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’
(Polonius, Hamlet, Act I Scene III)
A sensible financial and emotional outlook from Polonius here!
‘A dream itself is but a shadow’
(Hamlet, Hamlet, Act II Scene II)
Oh Hamlet, you are a dream! It’s important to have aspirations and to dream big, but don’t let the shadow of that dream blind you to the smaller, potentially more precious things in your life. Shadows can stretch far and wide, but they can also disappear within an instant. Make sure you’re prepared for when the sun goes in.
‘What should fellows such as I do crawling between earth and heaven?’
(Hamlet, Hamlet, Act III Scene I)
Oh Hamlet! This is the question most twenty-something’s ask themselves on a daily basis (I imagine most 30/40/50/60 year olds ask it too). There’s no concrete answer to this internal quarrel, but I wouldn’t recommend ‘doing a Hamlet’ (aka feigning madness, procrastinating all the time, and ultimately, committing murder.) You don’t have to know the answer to everything. You just need to keep an open mind.
‘I must be cruel only to be kind’
(Hamlet, Hamlet, Act III Scene IIII)
Oh Hamlet! How accurate you are! I was recently dumped on a train by an ex-boyfriend, in front of half a carriage of strangers (apologies for the pity-party here, but I think that’s a good example of a ‘cruel’ situation). However, there’s nothing quite like public humiliation to help a girl get her life in order! Some cruelties are kind because ultimately, they allow the casualties to reassess their options. I would advocate kindness above cruelty any day (and definitely don’t dump someone you’ve been with for 3+ years ON A TRAIN), but cruel actions often benefit the casualty, not the inflictor.
‘…What is a man / If his chief good and market of his time / Be but to sleep and feed? / A beast, no more.’
(Hamlet, Hamlet, Act IIII Scene IIII)
Oh Hamlet! You’re right! There is much more to life than what we do on a daily basis. Yes, we have to work the 9-5 to keep us steady, but from 5:00pm onwards: BE WHOEVER OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE. LET THE BEAST OUT OF THE CAGE. EMBRACE BEING HUMAN. It might be great, it might be horrific; but you won’t know until you’ve tried it!