Let’s get the famous quote right, please?

I am so tired of people misquoting this famous phrase from Hamlet.

When Hamlet asks his mother Queen Gertrude how she like his play, The Mousetrap, obviously tweeked, she says:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
  – Hamlet III, ii, 230

Also, let’s try to use it correctly.  

Say it a few times outloud to yourself, to get it into your ears.

Also, that "protest," here, doesn’t mean "object to".  It means "make a strong claim" about something.  We still have that meaning in English "protestation".

What Gertrude means is not that the lady in Hamlet’s play within the play, is objecting to something or denying something.  Rather, that she is making far too enthusiastic positive statements.

And don’t add useless syllables like "protestest" or "methinketh" or other stupidities. 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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48 Responses to Let’s get the famous quote right, please?

  1. Melchior Cano says:

    Here, here Father! Give em…well, not hell but something quite akin to it. Too many people put on airs and attempt to quote something that for them, is not natural. Its part of their patrimony, but quite lost to them.

  2. Tom says:

    Yes, I think even that great literary scholar Bill O’Reilly misquoted this today.
    What a bloviater

  3. Ioannes says:

    Great catch on the meaning of protest! The OED has the quote listed under meaning 3b of “protest,” with the definition: “To make a formal or emphatic declaration or statement.” In Othello, the Iago’s epithet “honest” plays on the two meanings of “honest” prevalent at the time, honorable and truth-telling.

    The phrase from Hamlet that seems to me most missquoted is, “Hoist with his owne petar.” Most people remember it as, “Hoisted on…,” which fails to take into account that the verb used is “to hoise” and that a petar(d) is a small explosive devise.

  4. Bill says:

    What is not to like in a priest who defends the Bard’s words?

    Well done!

  5. Another great post! I’m a fan!

  6. elizabeth mckernan says:

    Another common misquote is ‘Money is the root of all evil’ which I believe should really be ‘The love of money is the root of all evil.’ Biblical misquotes probably rival those of the bard!

  7. Yes! I am joining a traditional monastery and get asked all kinds of questions.

    A lady(who seemed to know a lot) asked: “Do they still have a nine year novitiate?”

    Me:[racking mind for any history of such a novitiate]”Um.. No, it’s only two years”

    She replied with something to the effect of, “Well they must have changed it then! Novice, you see comes from the latin word meaning nine”

    Me: “Really? And all this time I thought it was from the word meaning new.”

    :)

    Other ones I find funny are:
    “One fell swoop” into “One foul sweep”.
    “Faux pas” into “Fox Pass”.

    I want you to be more pacific(specific)!
    What are you incinerating(insinuating)?

  8. PNP, OP says:

    My fav from years of teaching writing…a freshmen, noting the messier bits of Girard’s theory of religion, names the who is sacrificed for the benefit of the many an “escape goat.” Now, though technically incorrect, you have to appreciate the unintentional pun, i.e. “the goat that allows others to escape their sins.” Fr. Philip, OP

  9. Cliff says:

    You know Fr. Z, I wonder what you look like when you’re angry. But I’d like to be at least 20 feet away from that site.

  10. Jon says:

    I see Father hath wasted no time in cracking open his new Joseph Pearce.

  11. Chironomo says:

    One of my Doctoral advisors let us know that he would immediately reject any thesis that began with a “Forward”….

  12. Chironomo says:

    I’m not sure how my previous post relates to ANYTHING else here… I just thought it was an interesting twist on the “mistaken identity” of certain words… I’m kinda tired so cut me a break….

  13. Tom says:

    “I degree wit Fodda. And dat is perversely da vernacular of da situation.”
    –Slip Mahoney

  14. Patrick says:

    Can we also ask that people stop saying “relator” and “jewlery”?

    And there is no such thing as a “mute” point.

  15. “methinketh” is in my King James Hamlet.

  16. Romulus says:

    Can we also agree that the expression of approval is: “Hear, hear”?

  17. Father is righteous in his indignation on this point, which has annoyed me for some years as well.

    However, in a spirit of Ember Day penance, I will confess that Shakespeare has never been one of my favorite authors. For drama, give me Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides…but Shakespeare always left me feeling cold and unmoved. Literary blasphemy, I know, but try as I might, I have never been able to be enchanted by the Bard’s magic.

  18. RBrown says:

    However, in a spirit of Ember Day penance, I will confess that Shakespeare has never been one of my favorite authors. For drama, give me Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides…but Shakespeare always left me feeling cold and unmoved. Literary blasphemy, I know, but try as I might, I have never been able to be enchanted by the Bard’s magic.
    Comment by Dr. Lee Fratantuono —

    For an American, Shakespeare can sound almost like another language. I have found that in order to appreciate the texts, it is often required to be exposed to them repeatedly–or memorize them.

  19. jpoppe says:

    “Irregardless” of what you think, I shall continue to protest the use of legitimate quotes to make my points seem relevant.

  20. Oh, I was exposed to them repeatedly, and I am perfectly fine with Elizabethan English (and Old, and Middle). In fact, give me Beowulf any day over Shakespeare, or Chaucer. It’s not a question for me of the familiarity of the language…as a dramatist, in comparison to other dramatists (not only Greek but also French), Shakespeare never moved me to nearly the same degree.

  21. Matthew says:

    At the risk of looking pedantic, ‘quote’ is a verb, not a noun. If you are going to post in this vein, can we please have a gramatically correct headline –

    “Let’s get the famous quotation right, please?”

    My apologies, but two of my chief irritations in language these days are the use of “quote” for “quotation” and “invite” when people mean the noun “invitation”…

  22. Tony says:

    Father –

    Is this meaning of “protest” the one to which Protestants referred originally in calling themselves as such?

  23. Tony says:

    Matthew –

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/quote

    According to Dictionary.com, using “quote” as a noun in place of “quotation” has become relatively accepted in informal speech, as an example of which I think this post qualifies.

    Anyone who is able can feel free to correct the grammar of the preceding sentence if necessary.

  24. Bill says:

    Matthew, an article online is not speech, in the manner meant in the dictionary. It might have been more appropriate for the dictionary to refer to colloquial speech.

    But in any event, given that Fr. Z was raising an issue with regard to correctness, it would have been more appropriate to use quotation than quote, regardless of your notion of what is meant by “speech”.

  25. Brandon says:

    Excellent point on “quote”! It’s one of my favorite critiques to push!

  26. jarhead462 says:

    Father has opened a can of worm, methinks!

  27. jarhead462 says:

    Father has opened a can of worms, methinks! ;)

  28. Clayton says:

    Would somebody please return father’s goat? Thanks in advance.

  29. jaykay says:

    Actually, “methinketh” would appear to be all right, at least according to this link:

    http://piptalk.com/pip/Forum32/HTML/000183.html

    If you think about it, “methinks” is of course widely used by Shakespeare, and the “eth” termination would only be a more archaic form? That said, I’ve never seen it used that way. But it appears logical, from what the author of the link says, in that it doesn’t actually mean “I think” but is a valid way of saying “it appears to me” – hence the “me” which is actually dative and doesn’t stand for “I” as in “I think”. So archaising it as “methinketh” should therefore be ok?

    But I won’t dare use it, all the same, now that it has been declared “nefas” :)

  30. bear says:

    Matthew: You beat me to the punch! Some of you have mentioned my other pet peeves, such as “irregardless.” I used to run into such things constantly when I taught Shakespeare at University

  31. jaykay: Who cares if “methinketh” is a correct form? It is not what Shakespeare wrote for Hamlet III, ii, 230, which so many people goof up when quoting.

    Seriously, it is interesting to see these archaic forms.

    Tangentially, let’s remember that forms such as “thy, thou an thee” are actually informal, rather than lofty speech, though they have changed in their connotation as they fell from use.

  32. Marcin says:

    Would somebody please return father’s goat? Thanks in advance.

    No. The goat simply escaped.

  33. Tony says:

    “But in any event, given that Fr. Z was raising an issue with regard to correctness, it would have been more appropriate to use quotation than quote, regardless of your notion of what is meant by “speech”.”

    Or irregardless.

    Anyway, Fr. Z wasn’t taking issue with the finer points of Shakespeare’s grammar but with the tendency of people to misquote and corrupt famous sayings. So I think it was fairly pedantic, although probably correct, to correct the good Father.

  34. John Enright says:

    My personal pet peeve (alliteration!) is “Play it again, Sam” which is attributed to Bogart. The actual line is “Play it Sam, for old times’ sake, play ‘As Time Goes By'” said by Ingrid Bergman. Bogart’s line is somewhat similar: “You played it for her, you can play it for me. … If she can stand it, I can! Play it!”

  35. John Enright says:

    Patrick:
    Relator is a real word. I suspect that you mean “stop using this word to designate a real estate salesman.” In that sense, you’re right. In the proper sense, relator is a legal term identifying the real party in interest in a case being prosecuted by a governmental body. If you’ve ever seen a case caption like Commonwealth ex rel Smith v. Jones, Smith would be the relator.

  36. Patrick says:

    Mr. Enright,

    Yes, that is what I meant. Thanks, I didn’t know there was such a word!

  37. bear says:

    Just for the sake of pointless pedentry, I checked the Enfolded Hamlet website to see the original versions of the lines from the two main original sources for Hamlet. The variants of that line are as follows:

    The Lady protests too much mee thinks.

    and

    The Lady doth protest too much mee thinks.

    Not too much of a difference, but there is a little wiggle room when quoting.

  38. Marcin says:

    The Lady protests too much mee thinks.
    and
    The Lady doth protest too much mee thinks.

    Doesn’t the insertion mess up the meter?

  39. David O'Rourke says:

    Far worse is the way “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting” has become “The proof is in the pudding.” I say far worse because this shortened form makes absolutely no sense and yet it is used constantly.

  40. bear says:

    “The Lady doth…” has the better meter, but the meter in that scene is pretty much all over the map, at least in modern pronunciations.

  41. Franzjosf says:

    Fr. Z: I guess the word ‘quote’ has now entered the language as a noun, whereas my high school English teacher would only allow it as a verb, insisting on ‘quotation’ as a noun. I suppose that it is an example of a lost cause, which causes I am not against fighting.

    Glad to be reminded of the original wording and meaning of the Hamelt quotation. Many quotations mutate in usage, and it is good to know the original. Here in American we often hear ‘rose-colored glasses’ whereas in England it is ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ I believe. Wonder what the original is and where from.

    One of my favorite quotations from the Bard is addressed to Horatio. Something about his being ignorant of whole unseen worlds that exist. Anyone know it?

  42. Tomás López says:

    Bear: I didn’t know Shakespeare went to University. Was he a good student?

  43. rcesq says:

    Franzjosf:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Act 1, scene 5.

    And Fr.Z, if your posts are going to be a bit, well, pedantic about language use it might be wise to double check your typing because it’s guaranteed that readers are going to go over the post with a fine toothed comb: the correct spelling is “tweaked” not “tweeked” and outloud is two words, not one!

  44. bear says:

    Tomas:

    Alright, you got me on that one.

  45. bear says:

    rcesq,

    You hit on another interesting variation from the two sources of Hamlet. One version has Hamlet say: “…in your philosophie.” The other has Hamlet say “…in our philosophie.” The difference is of but a single letter, yet it resonates loudly with the play. Personally, I prefer Hamlet saying “our,” and can’t explain why every editor has chosen “your” as the proper word here, but there you have it.

  46. RBrown says:

    Oh, I was exposed to them repeatedly, and I am perfectly fine with Elizabethan English (and Old, and Middle). In fact, give me Beowulf any day over Shakespeare, or Chaucer. It’s not a question for me of the familiarity of the language…as a dramatist, in comparison to other dramatists (not only Greek but also French), Shakespeare never moved me to nearly the same degree.
    Comment by Dr. Lee Fratantuono

    I wasn’t implying that you were not familiar with Elizabethan English, and I don’t disagree that other dramatists or poets might be superior. But Shakespeare is as much about the language as about the drama. In fact, it’s almost as if the drama exists for the language rather than the other way around.

  47. Carolina Geo says:

    Two beers or not two beers!

    What was the question?

  48. Franzjosf says:

    rcesq: Thank you.