QUOTES ON HAMLET
'If some man haue committed murder, hee that will combate with him, must
not doe it to this ende, onely to wreake the death of him that is murdered,
in respect that he was his freend or kinsman, but he ought to call to
minde what a noble and excellent creature man is, who being taken away
and brought to naught by murder or slaughter, the fairest and noblest
worke which almightie God hath framed, is marred, and spoiled.... And
for that God in his sacred law hath ordeined, that manslayers should be
carryed from his alter and put to death, the partie that will combate....
ought not to undertake the combate because he would kill him, but because
hee might be as it were, the minister to execute Gods ... most holy commaundement.'
Vincentio Saviolo, Practise, 1595
'What should we account of death to be resembled to anything better than sleep... Most assured it is that such sleeps be
most sweet as be most sound, for those are best wherein like unto dead men we dream nothing... there is nothing that doth
better or more truly prophesy the end of life, than when a man dreameth that he doth travel and wander into far countries...
and that he traveleth in countries unknown without hope of return... We are assured not only to sleep, but also to die... only a
cowardly and corrupt conscience do cause thine unhappiness.'
Cardan, De Consolatione, translated in 1573.
'To be, or not to be, I there's the point, To Die, to sleepe, is that
all? I all: No, to sleepe to dreame, I mary there it goes, For in that
dreame of death, when wee awake, And borne before an everlasting judge,
From whence no passenger euer retur'nd, The vndiscouered country, at whose
sight The happy smile, and the accursed damn'd.'
First Quarto, 1603.
'To the man of action, life frequently appears as a circle to be completed
by the addition of one last point. In contrast, the life of an artist
or philosopher appears as an accumulation of gradually widening concentric
circles around himself. But when death finally arrives, who will have
the greater sense of fulfilment, the man of action, or the artist? I should
think that a death which in an instant completes one's world by the addition
of a single point would afford a more intense feeling of fulfilment by
far. The greatest calamity for the man of action is that he fail to die
even after that last unmistakable point has been added.'
Mishima, On Hagakure, 1967.
'The Dionysian man resembles Hamlet; both have once looked truly into
the essence of things, they have gained knowledge and knowledge inhibits
action; for their action could not change anything in the eternal nature
of things; they feel it to be ridiculous or humiliating that they should
be asked to set right a world that is out of joint. Knowledge kills action;
action requires the veils of illusion: that is the doctrine of Hamlet,
not that cheap wisdom of jack the Dreamer who reflects too much, and,
as it were, from excess of possibilities, does not get around to action.
Not reflection no - true knowledge, an insight into the horrible truth,
outweighs any motive for action.'
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1872.
'... the most successful Hamlet of my day was Barry Sullivan, an actor of superb physical vigour, who excelled in the
impersonation of proud, noble and violent characters, All the sentimental Hamlets have been bores.'
George Bernard Shaw, 1918.
'...a miserable and mighty Poet of the human Heart. The middle age of
Shakespeare was all clouded over; his days were not more happy than Hamlet's
who is perhaps more like Shakespeare himself in his common every day Life
that any other of his Characters... Hamlet's heart was full of such Misery
as mine is when he said to Ophelia 'go to a Nunnery, go, go!' Indeed
I should like to give up the matter at once - I should like to die, I
am sickened at the brute world which you are smiling with. I hate men
and women more.'
John Keats, 1819.
'I had always felt an aversion from Hamlet: a creeping, unclean thing
he seems, on stage.... his nasty poking and sniffing at his mother, his
setting traps for the king, his conceited perversion with Ophelia make
him always intolerable. The character is repulsive in its conception,
based on a self-dislike and a spirit of disintegration.'
D H Lawrence, Twilight in Italy, 1913.
'May one not consider the tragedy of Hamlet as a play in which
the tears are glimpsed through a series of traditional theatrical pranks?
Should we not forget once and for all the arguments of scholars about
the strength or weakness of Hamlet's will, ignore all the various intentions
which are attributed willy-nilly to the author? The same may be said of
Shakespeare's age as of the theatre which preceded him: 'The whole gamut
of artistic expression was played on two notes - the merry and the sad;
moreover, the sad was frequently intermingled with the horrific and the
merry with the caricatured; the intermediate notes expressing the more
refined emotions were of little significance. Of music, singing, plays,
etc. the public demanded that it be either deeply moved or made to laugh
until it cried; if one and the same song or play achieved both ends, so
much the better.'
'Situation is the mechanism that grabs the attention of the audience
and keeps them on the edge of their seats. Blasetti used a more colourful
expression when he said; 'It is the nail sticking out of the stool
which keeps the spectator's bottom in the right place.' In Hamlet
there are at least fifteen situations, one after the other... it continues
in a satanic crescendo: corpses, sudden shifts in direction and the situation
right up to the final slaughter, which represents the point of conciliation
of all the coordinates and of all the twists and turns of the situations.
From these the closing catharsis is released, It is a proof of the sheer
genius of the complex of situations which is Hamlet that I once
sat through a performance of this tragedy given by a bunch of the worst
kind of hams, and yet I realised that I was still gripped by the story.
Even though I knew the script by heart, the situations held me and were
more than enough to overcome the vexation of that amateurism.'
Dario Fo, Tricks of the Trade, 1989.
'For our decade, I think the play will be about the disillusionment which
produces an apathy of the will so deep that commitment to politics, to
religion or to life is impossible; there is a sense of what-the-hell anyway,
over us looms the Mushroom Cloud.'
Peter Hall, Programme Note, 1963.
'Hamlet is the posturing, self-pitying egotistical baby-cum-adolescent in us all, and the play is the prototype of western
literature's most deplorable and most formless form, autobiographical fiction.'
Brigid Brophy, 1968.
This article first appeared in the programme for George Dillon's production of Hamlet in 1995. Other pages from that programme are also available:
Interpretation of Hamlet
Hamlet's Stage History
Hamlet - Story, Dates, Sources, Texts, Cuts
George Dillon's Tour Dates
(as of Sunday, 17 November 2019)