William Shakespeare is unavoidable. He’s everywhere you look. For a first, you can’t get through GCSEs without encountering him. If you continue English Literature for A Levels or even University, he might as well be stalking you. But Shakespeare’s not that bad! In fact, he’s kind of hilarious. Keep reading to see our ranking of the best key quotes in Hamlet (and see if you agree). Who knows, you might even have a little chuckle to yourself!
1. “Tis bitter cold, / And I am sick at heart”
When: Act 1 Scene 1
Let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start. Here, we have a minor character immediately establishing the political climate of Hamlet’s Denmark. To have some random guy we never see again know the country is unstable says a lot. Without any prior knowledge, we know something is off. This is a great quote to throw into your essays, after all, who doesn’t love a bit of pathetic fallacy!
2. “Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew”
When: Act 1 Scene 2
So, Hamlet’s a bit of drama queen. He doesn’t even know his father was murdered by his uncle and he’s already having a breakdown. Like Denmark, Hamlet isn’t exactly a stable individual…
3. “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life / Now wears his crown”
Who: The Ghost of Old Hamlet
When: Act 1 Scene 5
Who doesn’t love a wee biblical allusion? Here, Hamlet’s father (or the ghost of his father) tells him the truth behind his death. Use this quote to bring up the problem of the ghost: whether he’s really there or Hamlet is just losing his mind.
4. “The time is out of joint: O, cursed spite / That ever I was born to set it right!”
When: Act 1 Scene 5
Here, we see the beginnings of Hamlet’s antic disposition (aka his bizarre behaviour). Warning: it’s all downhill from here… His comment on time and destiny here is especially interesting; don’t forget to discuss why Hamlet feels it is his responsibility in the first place.
5. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
When: Act 2 Scene 2
Hot damn! Polonius knows! We’ve all been there: your father was murdered by your uncle so, to avenge his death, you pretend you’re crazy. Classic dilemma. But what do you do when your kinda girlfriend’s dad finds out…When you’re discussing Polonius it’s always good to bring in the revenge sub-plot of Laertes. After all, Laertes is just Hamlet if he actually did what he talked about.
6. “To be, or not to be, that is the question (…) To die to sleep: / To sleep, perchance to dream”
When: Act 3 Scene 1
We’ve all heard of this soliloquy but what does it really mean? Well, it all goes back to Hamlet being a drama queen: in this soliloquy he’s wondering whether or not he wants to live. Top tip: discuss the iambic pentameter in this soliloquy. Especially where he stick to it and where he strays from it.
7. “What if this cursed hand / Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood, / Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens / To wash it white as snow?”
When: Act 3 Scene 3
Similar to Lady Macbeth’s speech in Macbeth, here we see a glimpse into the psychological consequences of murder on Claudius’ psyche. Interested in our best key quotes for Macbeth? Check them out here.
8.“Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose / From the fair forehead of an innocent love / And sets a blister there (…) In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stewed in corruption, honeying, making love / Over the nasty sty”
When: Act 3 Scene 4
Here, Hamlet makes a yo-mama joke…about his own mum. It’s controversial, but Freud may have been a bit right about Hamlet and his mother. The Oedipus complex is strong in this one.
9. “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew it.”
When: Act 5 Scene 1
Talk about foreshadowing your own death! Also isn’t holding the skull of someone you used to know a little gross? Just me? Anyway, like the first quote on this list, we see the effects of the conflict within the royal court affecting the common population. After all, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.
10. “The rest is silence.”
When: Act 5 Scene 2
And with that, he dies and we’re free from his flare for the dramatic. There’s a lovely moment right before with Horatio where we get to see Hamlet for what he truly is: a university student with too much responsibility.
So there we have it, the best key quotes in Hamlet. Of course, there’s millions more, Hamlet is full of spectacular quotes. Which one’s your favourite? Missing one you think should be on this list? Comment below to let us know. For more Shakespeare related content, read on for an analysis of the best key quotes from Macbeth.