Like most Shakespeare’s work, this line is written in iambic pentameter. This means that the line contains five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. There are a total of ten syllables in the entire line. There are other versions of the line that don’t come from the Second Quarto, that read: “The lady protests too much, methinks,” simplifying it slightly but also disrupting the poet’s original use of iambic pentameter.
Explore The lady doth protest too much, methinks
Important Vocabulary to Know
- Lady: the term “Lady” is used to refer to the Player Queen in Hamlet’s play.
- Doth: the third-person singular version of “do.” It is archaic and uncommonly used today.
- Protest: archaically used to mean “insist.” Today used to mean argue or disapprove. In this case, the Player Queen is protesting or arguing too much.
- Thinks: the third person present version of “think.” It is used archaically when the Queen uses it to express what she thinks about the play.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” Meaning
The phrase “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” was used by Shakespeare in Hamlet. The term suggests that the “lady” the Queen is referring to is arguing too heavily for one thing.
She’s so emotional in her assertions that the Queen can’t help but think that this is evidence of the fact that she is actually going to do the opposite. It’s a way that one’s guilty conscience might show itself or what one might do when they’re trying to lie effectively.
Where did Shakespeare use “The lady doth protest too much, methinks?”
This line is spoken by Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. It appears in line 254 in Act III, Scene 2. During this act, the Queen, King (who is Hamlet’s uncle and who murdered Hamlet’s father), is watching a play that Hamlet created in order to prove that his uncle murdered his father, the former King of Denmark.
The Queen uses this line in response to an insincere and over-the-top performance. The play, Murder of Gonzago, follows a similar sequence of events to those Hamlet believed played out in real life. By having his uncle watch it, he’s testing him. He hopes that he’ll do something to reveal his guilt.
Those present watching the play include Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, and others. The Player Queen says:
Nor Earth to me give food, nor heaven light,
Sport and repose lock from me day and night,
To desperation turn my trust and hope,
An anchor’s cheer in prison be my scope.
Each opposite that blanks the face of joy
Meet what I would have well and it destroy.
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife,
If, once a widow, ever I be wife.
Then, a couple of lines later, she adds while speaking to the Player King:
Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain
She exits the scene at this point, and Hamlet asks his mother what she thinks of the player’s performance. She uses the line: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” to suggest that the Player Queen’s overly emotional protestation of another marriage is evidence that she’s not as genuine as she suggests. She’s so determined in her willingness to stay single that one can’t help but expect that she’s speaking this way to cover the fact that she, like Gertrude, is going to marry again after her husband dies.
Hamlet suggests after this that no, the Player Queen is not “protesting too much.” She’s going to “keep her word.”
Why Did Shakespeare Use “The lady doth protest too much, methinks?”
Shakespeare used this phrase as a way of suggesting, without directly stating, something about the Player Queen in Hamlet. When Queen Gertrude uses these words, she’s speaking from experience. She knows that after her own husband died, it made more sense to get remarried to the new king, her husband’s brother than it did to stay single. Her prospects as a woman were far greater if she remained married, especially in such an affluent position.
When she hears the Player Queen’s seemingly passionate assertion that she’s going to remain single, the Queen can’t help but feel as though she’s lying. She’s speaking with so much gusto on the topic that the Queen believes she’s trying to cover up the fact that she’s going to do the exact opposite.
Today, the quote has become somewhat of a cliché. It’s sometimes used when someone wants to suggest that a woman is not as chaste or pure as she seems to be. It’s used to imply that someone is hiding the truth of another nature as well.