Hamlet's "Man delights not me" speech (Act II Scene II)

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I have a problem with Hamlet's speech to Rosencrantz and Guldenstern in Act II Scene II. He has just found out that they are spying on him, and tells them that he will tell them what is wrong with him, to save them from finding out themselves. Thus he breaks in to "I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth...". Is he here playing up his madness? Or is this speech a sincere confession? I cannot believe that it would be, seeing the way that he feels towards the two. How is this speech to be read/delivered? If it is not totally sincere, then why does it end with the annoyed/embarrassed remark: "Though by your smiling you seem to say so"? This is one of the most beautiful and, at first glance, seems almost obvious, parts of the play, but I find it troubling...

-- Patrick Walker (criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), September 24, 2002


Is he here playing up his madness?

I think that it *is* a half-honest confession. ("But wherefore I know not" is the lie). These people *were* his friends, but he is deeply disappointed with their choosing the king's account of his mental health over just *asking* him what's wrong. How differently would they have been received if they had come to him and said, "The king called us in because he thinks that you're nutty and he wants us to find out why. We think that you are up to something and want to support you - tell us what's really happening here so that we can help."? That's the difference between R&G and Horatio - Horatio didn't run to the king to tell him what he saw - he went to Hamlet. R&G went to the king and then weren't honest with Hamlet about why they were there until he practically beat it out of them. Sides have been chosen.

If it is not totally sincere, then why does it end with the annoyed/embarrassed remark: "Though by your smiling you seem to say so"?

Because here he is, pouring out his heart about his depression, and one of these idiots is smirking. He has just told his "friends" that nothing holds any joy for him anymore and one of them is actually smiling like a fool.

As for how it is to be read, did you see Branagh's version? That was a quite nice rendition....

-- Casey (mikken@neo.rr.com), September 29, 2002.

Ooh, Patrick, you do ask nice nitty gritty questions. As always, context is so important, as is plot and narrative progression. They aren't yet fully against Hamlet, nor he against them. Yes, Hamlet's suspicious of them, and yes, they have gone behind his back with the King, and probably even hope to be rewarded for it. But it is also true that they have just under pressure confessed something of this to Hamlet. To Hamlet this would mean that the King hasn't quite yet won his old friends away from him. And his 'I will tell you why. So shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and Queen moult no feather' seems almost good-humouredly to recognize that they can have little choice in obeying the King as far as they so far have. (They were 'sent for', Horatio was not.) It's only later that they become obviously, completely sycophantic. So they confess, Hamlet sees the King hasn't completely got his old friends, and is relieved and pleased with them. And he no doubt sees that they are really a bit silly, and not clever enough to be a danger to him. He can't trust them with the truth as he does Horatio, but he doesn't yet dislike them. So he gives them a tit-bit of half-truth.

None of it goes against his feigning of madness: it all amounts to standard symptoms of depressant melancholy. We see immediately after with the players that he hasn't entirely lost quite all his mirth. We find out in V.ii.206-207 that he has been doing 'exercise', sword practice, constantly since Laertes left for France during Act I. Above all, as Casey has said, he lies about the 'wherefore' which would of course make everything plain - that his bastard uncle killed his father and married his mother. He doesn't give them that kernel.

Nevertheless, he probably does feel that lousy quite often, as, for eg., the next day when he enters the hall and says 'To be ...'. It isn't the whole truth in respect of facts, but it is stripping back a little of the cover from his inner, emotinal soul for them. So he is naturally hurt, or annoyed, or embarrassed, or simply bloody exhausted with people's injurious stupidity when Rosencrantz, by laughing, seems to show that he has no empathy with or even comprehension of what Hamlet is saying.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), October 04, 2002.

Just about the last line....it seems to me that his statement "man delights not me" provokes the smile....and his response is "no, nor woman either"....and the very last line is his explanation to the pair of his response...the smile is probably a nervous response to the situation, trying to make light of it with a filthy mind....

-- Dhugal Fletcher (d.fletcher@bom.gov.au), October 14, 2002.

i think the speech is a reflection of his increasingly depressed state exacerbated by chronic haemorrhoids...this much is clear from the subtext

-- Ant Richards (an2knee@hotmail.com), March 14, 2003.

You're all moron's, probably on drugs, what he's saying is, he feels he thinks and feels differently to all those around him, and therefore is inconpatable with them (males), he then relises he has no female friends, so adds then as and after thought " no, nor women neither, nor women neither". I feel like him too, all alone and f**ked in the head, with no hope of change.

-- rob strong (strongrob@hotmail.com), December 02, 2003.

Great question. It most certainly is troubling. But it is a troubling play!

I enjoyed other answers. This is my simple short answer.

Hamlet does not trust R&G, and rightly so. Therefore, he is lying! Hamlet lies. Quite a lot. As Catherine says (and others have said as well), he feigns madness. He lies because there are spies everywhere (R&G are two, but they are not the only ones -- hint: Hamlet kills one of them). However, in Hamlet's lies are great truths. This is part of what makes the play so brilliant.

Regarding "Though by your smiling you seem to say so," I strongly agree with the person who said Hamlet had a filthy mind. They are smiling because of course Hamlet doesn't delight in "man," -- he's straight! So they smile or smirk, so Hamlet follows this up with the nor women neither line. It's a joke!

Hamlet lies. Hamlet jokes. Re-read the play and figure out when and why. You might find a few surprises! I know I continue to. Anyway, hope that's helpful to you Patrick if you're out there in cyberspace!

-- J (jfreeforever@hotmail.com), June 13, 2004.

The speech is about existentialist angst. Hamlet is alone in a hostile, meaningless universe. Though he cannot deny the undoubted beauty of this world (eg- "fretted with golden fire"), Hamlet cannot appreciate that because he is surrounded by falseness and superficiality - much like we are today. As for the smirk, well, who hasn't made an intelligent, insightful comment on a serious matter to have some idiot smirk or pun at some insignificant word such as 'climax' or 'gay'? The play truly is a classic as its themes are seemingly endlessly appropriate to human society and discourse.

-- Chrs O'Connor (blacbuddha@btintrenet.com), June 30, 2004.

When Hamlet says "Man delights me not ... no, nor woman neither, though by your smilingyou seem to say so" yes, the Elizabethan audience would have laughed at a dirty joke. Shakespeare is FULL of double entendres, and it's silly and anachronistic to be shocked at this. The Elizabethans were a lusty bunch. The first joke the audience would 'understand' is that Hamlet's friends are thinking "Well of course we know MAN delights you not ... sooo, How's Ophelia these days?" and when he says "No, nor woman neither...." we find out that they're smirking NOT because of an unintentional dirty joke, but because they have invited Hamlet's favorite travelling acting troupe to Elsinore, and they reply that they're afraid that if "man delights him not" the players will receive "Lenten entertainment" (i.e., during Lent all playful activities and yummy food were off the menu).

-- jenny raja (jsc03@garnet.acns.fsu.edu), February 15, 2005.

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