Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Important Quotes

The following important quotes convey information about themes, symbols and motifs or the characters of the play. Act, Scene and line numbers are indicated.

Act I, Scene 2. Lines 129-130:

“O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!”
- Hamlet

These lines, the opening of Hamlet’s first soliloquy, introduce Hamlet’s obsession with suicide, his grief at his father’s death, and his anger that his mother remarried so soon. Near the end of the soliloquy, he notes that the marriage bodes ill for Denmark.

Act I, Scene 3. Lines 78-80:

“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.”
- Polonius

This is the most famous piece of fatherly advice Polonius gives Laertes at the beginning of the play. Although the list of advice and this piece in particular are regularly quoted to high school graduates and others at key turning points in their lives, the list actually amounts to a collection of nonsense clichés. The list emphasizes the normality of family life in the household, which contrasts sharply with Hamlet’s circumstances, and it serves to show that Polonius can be rather shallow and silly at times, mostly when he thinks he’s being deep and portentous.

Act I, Scene IV (line 67):

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
- Marcellus

This statement refers both to the fact that the ghost’s appearance is itself a bad omen and that there is a larger connection between the moral legitimacy of a ruler and the health of the state – a key question in Shakespeare’s works. The ghost thus introduces the metaphor of Denmark as a sick or injured body in need of doctoring.

Act III, Scene I (lines 58-62):

“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 troubles,
And by opposing end them.”
- Hamlet

These lines open what is probably the most famous speech in the English language. In it, Hamlet contemplates the moral rightness of suicide in an unbearably painful world. Hamlet poses the question of suicide as a logical or philosophical one and builds an intellectual argument around it rather than directly addressing the question: does Hamlet himself want to die, and if so, why? Hamlet’s habit of postponing action by philosophizing about it is thus summed up in this speech.