Hamlet Family Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Of unimproved mettle hot and full, Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes, For food and diet, to some enterprise That hath a stomach in't; which is no other-- As it doth well appear unto our state-- But to recover of us, by strong hand And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands So by his father lost: and this, I take it, Is the main motive of our preparations, The source of this our watch and the chief head Of this post-haste and romage in the land. (1.1.10)
Horatio speculates that the Ghost's appearance, in full armor, on the castle battlements is related to Denmark's troubles with Norway. But he's wrong: Old Hamlet's Ghost actually returns to ask his own son to avenge his murder. It seems pretty clear that Shakespeare wants us to pay attention to father-son relationships in this play.
A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow'd my poor father's body, Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she-- O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle, My father's brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules: […] (1.2.6)
Here, Hamlet is so bummed about Gertrude that he can't even speak in complete sentences. Check out how he compares her to Niobe, who grieved so bitterly for her dead children that she turned to stone—almost as if he thinks it's his funeral Gertrude attended and his death that Gertrude failed to mourn long enough.
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not nor it cannot come to good: But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue. (1.2.6)
Hamlet not only takes issue with his mother's quick remarriage after his father's death, he's also disgusted by the fact that Gertrude is guilty of "incest." (Some critics also speculate that Hamlet secretly wants to sleep with his mother, which you can read about in our "Character Analysis" of Hamlet.)
But first, it's time for a history snack. In Shakespeare's time, incest included marrying your in-laws, not just your blood relatives. So, Claudius's marriage to Gertrude is a pretty big deal —they've broken the church's laws of affinity.
And there's something more particular about the whole marrying-your-brother thing. Elizabeth I, the Queen of England at the time Hamlet was written, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne of Boleyn (Henry's second wife). Henry divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on the grounds that she had originally been married to his (dead) older brother, Arthur. Henry asked the Catholic Church to grant a divorce on grounds that his marriage to Catherine was incestuous. By making such a big deal out of Gertrude's remarriage, Shakespeare might be doing his part to assure Queen Elizabeth that her mom's marriage was legitimate.