Explore the best Hamlet quotes that are famous and important for Shakespeare students and enthusiasts to read. It may even surprise you how many we still use colloquially in our speech today!

I read Hamlet as part of my challenge to read from the list of 500+ books referenced on Gilmore Girls. While I’ve loved Shakespeare in the past (and thought Macbeth was my favorite), this dramatic family tragedy is now slowly inching its way to the top of my list, as it finally made me realize what it is that connects me to these stories: the emotions.

Shakespeare has succeeded at a lot of things, and to each, their own favorite, but for me, it’s his ability to take the deepest human emotions and turn them into the causation of real-life actions… and consequences, as many of these deep-seated emotions can lead people astray.

Hamlet is an excellent example of exactly that. The general plotline actually made me feel like I was watching an episode of Dateline.

If I offered you only this generic summary without all the Shakespearean fluff, I think you’d agree: A patriarch dies and, in the aftermath, his brother marries his widowed wife (not uncommon in families grieving after tragedy). The patriarch’s son believes his uncle/stepfather is responsible for his father’s death and, hellbent on revenge, descends into madness. The uncle/stepfather becomes fearful. Several people end up dead.

Am I right?!

While readers often think Shakespeare is hard and boring, I have to disagree. I just think it takes a bit more effort. I always read alongside guides, then also research and write posts like these to help me dig deeper into the meaning. …And, when all else fails, just pretend it’s Dateline!

These Hamlet quotes are pulled from the text both to help you focus on the most important lines (and their meaning) and to see which ones have stood the test of time and are still often used today (I just love this about Shakespearean quotes) and/or still have relevance today.

If fact, this was one of the books referenced in Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department.

Best Hamlet Quotes

person holding Hamnet by maggie o'farrell and hamlet by william shakespeare
(Hamlet with the recent historical fiction inspired by the writing of it)

Below are some of the most famous lines from Hamlet, followed by quotes on some of its most prominent themes (revenge, life, madness, death, and even Ophelia — Hamlet‘s love interest), and answers to frequently asked questions.

You’ll hear from all your favorite characters, including:

  • King Hamlet: the deceased ruler, who appears only in the form of a ghost
  • Hamlet: his son, the Prince of Denmark, who seeks to avenge his father’s death after seeing his ghost
  • Claudius: the current King of Denmark and the brother of the former King Hamlet, now married to Prince Hamlet’s mother
  • Gertrude: Hamlet’s mother, the former wife of the former King Hamlet and the current wife of the current King Claudius
  • Polonius: trust counselor of the king
  • Ophelia: daughter of Polonius and love interest of Hamlet
  • Laertes: son of Polonius, who lacks the vengeful nature of Hamlet
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Hamlet’s school friends
  • Fortinbras: the Prince of Norway
  • Horatio: Hamlet’s loyal friend

Most Famous Lines from Hamlet

This above all: to thine own self be true.

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“A fellow of infinite jest”

“There’s the rub”

“what dreams may come”


Hamlet Revenge Quotes

“Conscience doth make cowards of us all.”

“How all occasions do inform against me, and spur my dull revenge.”

“I must be cruel only to be kind; thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.”

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

“By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me!”

“I am / very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses / at my beck than I have thoughts to put them / in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act / them in.”


Hamlet Quotes About Life

“If we are true to ourselves, we can not be false to anyone.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; / Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

“That one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!”

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

“Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar but never doubt thy love.”

“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

“[W]e know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

“Listen to many, speak to a few.”

“The Devil hath power / To assume a pleasing shape.”

“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.”

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth […] than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


Hamlet Quotes About Madness

“I essentially am not in madness/ But mad in craft.”

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

“I am but mad north-north-west.  When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

“Was ‘t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet. / If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, / And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes, / Then Hamlet does it not. Hamlet denies it. / Who does it, then? His madness.”


Hamlet Quotes About Ophelia

“The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remember’d!”

“I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum.”

“Get thee to a nunnery.”


Hamlet Quotes About Death

“To die: to sleep; / No more; and by a sleep to say we end / The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wish’d.”

“To die, to sleep. / To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub, / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause. There’s the respect / That makes calamity of so long life.”

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life[.]”

“Goodnight, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

“If it be now, ’tis not to come: if it be not to come, it will be now: if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

“The rest is silence.”


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Frequently Asked Questions

NOTE: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION.

What is Hamlet’s famous line?

In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the titular character’s famous line is, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” In modern times, it has been interpreted to mean either that Hamlet is contemplating suicide or that he is contemplating revenge for the death of his father.

What does Hamlet say about revenge?

In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the titular character says many things about revenge. Perhaps the most notable is this quote, which references his procrastination in seeking revenge, which is ultimately his tragic flaw in this revenge play: “Haste me to know’t; that I, with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love,/ May sweep to my revenge.”

What does Hamlet say about madness?

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the titular character says many things about madness. Perhaps the most notable quote is the one in which he admits to madness, but that it only occurs at certain times: “I am but mad north-north-west.  When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

What do Hamlet’s last words mean?

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the titular character’s last words are “the rest is silence.” It implies that his afterlife will be a peaceful one. Though he will die, he has avenged his father’s death.

What does Horatio say when Hamlet dies?

When Hamlet dies, his friend Horatio bids him this farewell: “Good night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”


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Conclusion

These Hamlet quotes have shown both the complexity of emotions and actions in this extremely tragic family drama, as well as how relevant Shakespeare’s words remain today.

If you’ve already read and loved Hamlet, I also HIGHLY recommend that you read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which is an impeccably written, emotionally charged historical fiction account of the death of Shakespeare’s young son while he was writing this poignant play about fathers, sons, and grief. It was a five-star read for me.

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