QUOTATION: "I have of late but wherefore I know not - lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestic al roof fretted with golden fire - why, it appear eth no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" Hamlet, Act II, Scene II, lines 300-308. ESSAY: The character of Hamlet is indeed a very complex one that has brought many disagreements among critics.
While some critics believe that Hamlet is mad, others believe that he is completely sane. Hamlet is so upset by the recent events in his life that he is obviously not in a normal state of mind. This quotation comes from a confrontation between Hamlet and two of his courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet speaks very expressively about very important subjects in the play: the death of King Claudius, Hamlet's father, the meaningless of life, and how superb both man and earth are. Hamlet is unable to deal with the death of his father, especially since the ghost of his father revealed that Hamlet's uncle killed his own brother, Hamlet's father. To add to the shock of the murder of his father, Hamlet is hurt by the fact that his mother remarried so soon, and most surprising, to Hamlet's uncle.
Two of Hamlet's courtiers have been sent by Hamlet's uncle to investigate the reasons for Hamlet's grief and sorrow. Because Hamlet is so sharp, he is able to guess that they are spying on him, so he doesn't answer them directly. Instead, he confronts them in a way that they are forced to confess that they have been sent by Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet soon begins speaking of how empty and meaningless his life has become.
He claims to have lost all of his happiness without even knowing the reason for it: "I have of late but wherefore I know not - lost all my mirth... ". Although Hamlet claims that he does not know the real reason why he has gone through a change in character, it later becomes clear that he really does know, but he just does not want to reveal it to the two spies his uncle has sent. Even Hamlet himself realizes that his disposition is not what it used to be and that he has undergone a sort of change in character and attitude, but he is just not willing to tell his two courtiers. The last topic that Hamlet speaks of is that of man and earth. Hamlet begins speaking in a very rhetorical manner, creating an elaborate and glorified picture of the earth and humanity.
Eventually, he shatters the image he himself has created by calling it all a "quintessence of dust". He rejects the earth, air, and sun as "a sterile promontory" and "a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors". He continues his speech to speak of man and how much glory he possesses until he finally reduces man to dust. This speech shows how truly wise Hamlet and how he deeply understands what he speaks about. The main purpose of this quotation is to describe the unhappiness and depression that has come upon Hamlet since the death of his father. By this speech, Hamlet has shown how sharp and witty his character is, as well as having shown what a profound understanding he has of man.
Not only was Hamlet able to discover that the two courtiers were sent on behalf of his uncle, but he also wisely expressed his view on life, man, and earth. To a great extent, this is a reflection of Shakespeare's own creativity to express his own beliefs and his own character through Hamlet, a character in one of his plays.