| Quote #1
That can I;
Horatio speculates that the Ghost's appearance, in full armor, on the castle battlements is related to Denmark's troubles with Norway. (He explains here that when Old King Hamlet killed Old Fortinbras in a duel, some of Norway's lands were forfeited to Denmark. He also tells us that Young Prince Fortinbras seeks revenge for his father's death and has raised an army to recover Norway's lost territory.) It turns out that Horatio's wrong about the reason for the Ghost's appearance – we soon learn Old Hamlet's Ghost returns to ask his own son to avenge his murder. These aren't the only two revenge plots that involve a son taking action against a father's murder. Laertes will later return from France in order to kill the man responsible for murdering Polonius. While it's easy to forget the overall significance of the Fortinbras plot in Hamlet, it seems clear Shakespeare wants us to pay attention to father-son relationships in this play.
| Quote #2
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
Hamlet frequently complains that his mother didn't mourn for his dead father long enough and here, his choppy sentences reveal his anguish over the fact that Gertrude was "all tears" at Old Hamlet's funeral procession but quickly got over her seeming grief. Even animals or "beasts" grieve for longer periods of time, says Hamlet.
We're also interested in Hamlet's comparison of Gertrude to "Niobe." According to Greek mythology, Niobe grieved bitterly for her dead children. Now that's interesting. Why would Hamlet choose such a figure for comparison? After all, Hamlet's supposed to be talking about Gertrude's behavior (she was "all tears") at his father's funeral, not his, right? What to make of this? Hamlet seems to have inserted himself into the funeral procession, as though it was his funeral Gertrude attended and his death that Gertrude failed to mourn long enough. This suggests that Hamlet feels as though he personally has been betrayed by his mother's marriage to Claudius.
We also notice the way Hamlet idealizes his father here and says that uncle Claudius doesn't measure up to Old Hamlet any more than he, young Hamlet, could measure up to the god Hercules. The implication here is that young Hamlet feels inadequate and thinks that he doesn't quite measure up to his father, who is earlier compared to Hyperion, the son god.
| Quote #3
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
Hamlet not only takes issue with his mother's quick remarriage after his father's death, he's also disgusted by the fact that Gertrude is guilty of "incest." (Some critics also speculate that Hamlet secretly wants to sleep with his mother, which you can read about in our "Character Analysis" of Hamlet. But first, it's time for a history snack. Today, we typically think of incest as being limited to relationships between blood relatives. But, in Shakespeare's time, incest was considered a sin against God and the state.
Here's why: In 1563, Queen Elizabeth I asked Archbishop Parker (of the Church of England) to come up with a list of rules about marriage (just in case anyone forgot to read Leviticus 8.6-18). The Archbishop drew up something called a "Table of Kindred and Affinity, Wherein Whosoever Are Related are Forbidden in Scripture and Our Laws to Marry Together." (That just means it's a list of relatives who couldn't marry – including in-laws.) This "Table" eventually made its way into The Book of Common Prayer (a compilation of services for the Church of England that made its debut in 1549.) So, Claudius's marriage to Gertrude is a pretty big deal – they've broken the laws of affinity.
Incest also carried huge political implications. Elizabeth I, the Queen of England at the time Hamlet was written, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne of Boleyn (Henry's second wife). He divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on the grounds that she had originally been married to his (dead) older brother, Arthur. Henry asked the Catholic Church to grant a divorce on grounds that his marriage to Catherine was incestuous. And, we all know what happened when Rome balked at the idea of granting a divorce – Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. Our point? Family matters, like incest, carry huge political and religious implications in 16th century England and also in the play.