disney_skin
Advertisement
© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

Intro

Cruel to be kind

I'm Hamlet. I'm a smart aleck with a penchant for delivering long speeches about the meaning of life. Truth be told, I'm pretty depressed since my dad died and my mom married my uncle. And you know what I think?

I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel, only to be kind:
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
One word more, good lady. (3.4.174-181)

Who Said It and Where

Oh, Gertrude. We've got a lot of questions about Hamlet's mommy dearest. She's obviously a central figure in the play—Hamlet spends a whole lot of time dwelling on her incestuous marriage to Claudius—but we know practically nothing about her motivations or feelings. And neither does Hamlet. So he goes to her closet (read: secret chamber) one night to see what's up. Which is what brings us to this quotation.

We bet you're wondering what he wants to talk to her about. Well, he has a bunch of questions for her, but his two biggest ones are:

  • Was she stepping out with Claudius while his dad was still alive?
  • Did she know her late husband was murdered by her new man?

The play gives us loads of contradictory evidence about both of these, so take your pick about what you believe.

Hamlet's not really sure what to believe either. In this scene, he accuses his mom of being married to a crown stealer and a murderer. And he says she's slick with the nasty sweat of a greasy bed. Um, ew? Just then, the ghost shows up, and things get really messy.

Hamlet and the ghost have a little chat in which the ghost reminds Hamlet that he's got some revenge to attend to, and should probably get on that. After all, the ghost suggests, Gertrude's probably imagining the worst right now, as her insane son talks to her dead husband, who, as far as she can tell, isn't really there. Who can blame her?

Yep, Gertrude now thinks her son is totally cuckoo. So Hamlet decides to make thing even more awkward and begs Gertrude to realize that her remarriage was a sin. He tells her that she should stop having sex with Claudius. Kind of gross that he's discussing her sex life with her, don't you think?

Next up, Hamlet makes a veiled threat against her, slipping in a conditional: "If you tell your husband that I'm only pretending to be crazy, your neck might break, which would be most unfortunate." Rough translation is that Hamlet has more murder and mayhem up his sleeve. Then, he wishes his mom a good night, because he's nothing if not polite.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
back to top