Hamlet

by

William Shakespeare

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Hamlet: Verbal Irony 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Verbal Irony
Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. When there's a hurricane raging outside and someone remarks "what... read full definition
Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. When there's a hurricane raging... read full definition
Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Too Much in the Sun:

In Act 1, Scene 2, Hamlet and Claudius have an interaction that reveals the rising  tension between them. The new king has made a speech to his subjects about the joy and sadness he feels in equal measure, having recently lost his brother but gained the throne and his brother’s widow. Claudius’s desire to move on from his brother’s death, as the audience will eventually discover, is motivated by his guilt over murdering for personal gain. He advises the assembled party to move into an atmosphere of celebration instead. As an extension of this attitude, he then criticizes Hamlet specifically for being overly mournful. Claudius says: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” Hamlet, in his response, makes a pun about the weather, saying: 

“Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun.”

Hamlet’s response uses verbal irony to push back against Claudius. His retort functions on multiple levels. Firstly, he seems to imply that the sunny disposition of those around him so soon after the death of his father is chafing at him. Hamlet is arguing that no one has seemed to mourn his father properly, and their cheeriness beats down on him as if he's standing in the blazing hot sun. His mother has remarried quickly, and the wedding has invoked a cheerful disposition in the subjects around him. More importantly, though, his response also seems to reject the idea that he is now Claudius’s "son." Hamlet uses the homophone "sun" to ironically comment on the fact that the King has called him "son" too frequently. This double response pushes back against Claudius’s initial comment and makes the tension between these two men clear even before the real source of animosity is revealed.