Hamlet

by: William Shakespeare

Doubt

1
l’ll have grounds
More relative than this
(II.ii.538-9)

For the whole of the second act, Hamlet delays his revenge: although he trusted the Ghost at first, he has begun to wonder whether the Ghost might actually be a devil trying to tempt him into committing a terrible sin. It’s too great a risk to murder Claudius on the evidence of the Ghost’s testimony: Hamlet needs more proof of Claudius’s guilt. Throughout the play, Hamlet struggles with the impossibility of being absolutely certain about anything.

2
You should not have believed me
(III.i.116)

In the space of five lines Hamlet tells Ophelia that “I did love you once” (III.i.) and also that “I loved you not” (III.i.). The audience finds itself in the same position as Ophelia: we don’t know what to believe. Hamlet reveals more of his innermost thoughts than any of Shakespeare’s characters, but he still remains in many ways a mystery. We never learn whether he really loved Ophelia, or why he decides to treat her so badly as he pursues his revenge. It may even be that Hamlet himself does not know the answer to these questions. At the heart of Hamlet lies profound uncertainty and doubt.

3
The rest is silence
(V.ii.342)

These are Hamlet’s last words. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Hamlet never resigns himself to death or embraces it. He spends his final moments imagining the world after his death and begging Horatio to ‘report me and my cause aright’ (V.ii.323). When death finally catches up to him, Hamlet’s greatest regret is that he must stop talking. Despite the thousands of dazzling words Hamlet has poured out, he has gotten no closer to understanding the truth or purpose of his life.