Hamlet

by

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet: Hyperbole 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... read full definition
Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Polonius reads part of one of Hamlet’s love letters to Claudius and Gertrude. The three are in the middle of speculating about Hamlet’s behavior and, ultimately, his sanity. Polonius means to prove that the cause of Hamlet’s behavior is Ophelia’s rejection, because Polonius advised her to refuse his advances. He uses the letter to prove the extent of Hamlet’s affection for his daughter, referring to a hyperbole that Hamlet has written to convince Ophelia of his love. He writes: 

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love. 

In this section of his letter, Hamlet maintains that his love for Ophelia is more sure than the substance of the stars or the movement of the sun through the sky. His use of hyperbole is to a specific end: he wants to ensure that Ophelia never questions his affection for her, and he lists a series of unquestionable truths she might investigate instead. His love is more sure than truth itself, he even asserts, flirting with the impossibility of his statements in order to communicate the potency of his emotion. The effect of his hyperbole may be different from his original intentions, however. When read aloud by Polonius, the intensity of his language contributes to the idea that his feelings for Ophelia have driven him to madness. The conflation of loving language and mad intensity in this scene depends on Hamlet’s use of extremity and exaggeration.