A piece of work Introduction
I'm Hamlet. I like to talk. I've been pretty moody since my dad died and I want everyone to know about it. And you know what I think?
I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so. (2.2.293-310)
Who Said It and Where
Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark, who's pretty bummed these days because his dad, the king, is, well, dead. Except that he's also undead. Yep—the old man's been lurking around the castle battlements of late, haunting his poor, tortured son. Why? Because he's got some unfinished business to take care of. See, Hamlet's dear old dad (the ghost) was murdered by his uncle Claudius. Then, Claudius took Old Hamlet's crown and married his wife, Gertrude. So when Hamlet runs into his dad's ghost, his dad fills him in on the murder and crown stealing before ordering his son to take revenge.
Game on. Young Hamlet's master revenge plan involves him putting on an "antic disposition" (acting like a madman, or a clown). In other words, he's gonna act the crazy fool, so that he can trick Claudius and Gertrude into revealing their wrongs. Only Claudius and Gertrude are growing more than a little suspicious.
In hopes of finding out what's going on with Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrude invite two of Hamlet's school friends to Denmark: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The young gents promise to report back to the King and Queen with any information they can gather. Apparently, spying on your children is the thing to do around Denmark.
Hamlet guesses as much. He figures out pretty quickly that the king and queen arranged his buddies' trip. So he decides to mess around with them by throwing them off the tracks of what's really going on. He's not going to let them off that easily.
But that's not what he tells them. He says he'll make it easy for them. Which is precisely when Hamlet launches into this whole speech about the purpose of man. Everything sucks, Hamlet says, and neither men nor women "delight" him.
There he goes, philosophizing again.