Hamlet Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line) according to the Norton edition
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit—and all for nothing!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?
If the player can conjure up such intensity and "passion" for a fictional character, why can't Hamlet move himself to action against the man who killed his father? By the end of the passage, Hamlet tries to place himself in the position of this stage actor and wonders what the player would do if he had Hamlet's "motive" and "cue for passion" (that is, the knowledge that Claudius has killed his father). In other words, maybe we could all benefit from a few acting lessons.
I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have, by the very cunning of the scene,
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaimed their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
Hamlet wants the traveling players to put on a play, so when King Claudius watches a murder take place on stage, his emotional response will reveal whether or not he's guilty of murdering Old King Hamlet. This may sound a bit wacky to us, but Elizabethans believed that theater was a very powerful place. (If you've ever cried all the way through a Nicholas Sparks movie, you probably agree.)
It could also be dangerous. In 1601, the Earl of Essex's rebel faction asked Shakespeare's theater company to perform Richard II (a play in which Henry Bolingbroke usurps the throne from the corrupt King Richard II). The very next day, Essex stormed the queen's court. Okay, sure, he failed. But the point is that the play seems to have gotten them riled up enough to actually move.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth
it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and
beget a temperance that may give it smoothness (3.2.1-8).
Everyone—we mean, no one—loves an armchair director. Here, Hamlet "helps" the actors prep by telling them to hold back. More cable drama, and less daytime soap.