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Hamlet Art and Culture Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line) according to the Norton edition

Quote #1

Why seems it so particular with thee?
'Seems,' madam? Nay it is. I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed 'seem,'
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

When Gertrude asks Hamlet why he "seems" to be taking the death of his father so personally, he responds that no outward behavior on his part (wearing an "inky cloak," sighing, shedding tears, and so on) can "show" what he truly feels inside. If the "trappings" of grief are like a theatrical performance, as Hamlet suggests here, then performance is ultimately ineffective – an actor could never truly capture the kind of anguish Hamlet feels inside. Of course, this inevitably draws our attention to the fact that Hamlet's lines are being spoken by a stage actor, which makes the entire passage seem self-conscious. Just how powerful is performance? Is it possible for an actor to reproduce a feeling like grief in a realistic way?

Quote #2

How strange or odd some'er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on)

When Hamlet warns his friends that he's going to "put an antic disposition on," he's literally referring to a "clown" or a performer who plays the role of a "grotesque." That means he gets verbal freedom. Like the fool, he can say whatever he wants without getting in trouble. No one holds a crazy man responsible, right?

Quote #3

Nay, their endeavor keeps in the wonted
pace. But there is, sir, an aerie of children, little
eyases, that cry out on the top of question and are
most tyrannically clapped for 't. These are now the
fashion and so berattle the common stages (so they
call them) that many wearing rapiers are afraid
of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.

Time for Shakespeare to get in a little contemporary dig at the fashion for children's acting companies, which posed a pretty significant threat to adult theater groups. Rosencrantz calls child actors "eyases" (young hawks), suggesting that these kid actors were threatening the livelihood of the adults. (Just wait ten years, guys: they'll be racking up DUIs and checking into rehab, like all child stars.)

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