The quote is commonly debated among Shakespeare scholars and casual readers as to what exactly Hamlet thinks when he speaks these lines. Some readers believe Hamlet is thinking about the sum of all human knowledge when he says “your philosophy” or that he’s thinking about Horatio’s beliefs specifically.
Meaning of “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…” Quote
The phrase “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” is commonly defined as a reference to what exists in reality. Before speaking with the Ghost, Hamlet likely held the same understanding of the world as Horatio (one guided mainly by common sense).
But, after hearing from the ghost claiming to be his dead father, his mind has been opened. He now believes that there are more wondrous and strange things out there than are imagined or dreamt of in the average person’s understanding of life and death.
Important Vocabulary to Know
- Philosophy: the study of fundamental questions about life and existence. In this case, Shakespeare may be referring to Horatio’s specific philosophy on life or on humanity’s general understanding of what’s possible. This was challenged by his encounter with the Ghost.
- Things: the “things” Hamlet refers to here are occurrences that fall outside one’s expectations from life. He just finished speaking with a ghost claiming to be his deceased father and he feels as though his mind has been opened.
- Dreamt: the word “dreamt” is used here instead of “imagined” or “considered.” Even when dreaming, there is more to the world than human beings usually think is possible.
- Heaven and earth: The use of “heaven and earth” in this quote refers to all of existence. There is more to both than human beings usually believe.
Where Does Shakespeare Use this Quote?
Shakespeare uses this quote in Hamlet. It appears in Act I, Scene 5 of the play and is spoken by the title character, Hamlet. He uses the words after he has spoken with the Ghost (who informs Hamlet that he is the prince’s father). The quote is preceded by Horatio saying: “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange.”
Here is the quote in context:
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
But come. Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on)
That you, at such times seeing me, never shall,
With arms encumbered thus, or this headshake,
Throughout the next lines, Hamlet describes his plan. He’s going to pretend to be mad so that he can investigate what the Ghost claimed, that his uncle, Claudius, killed his father in order to take over the throne of Denmark and marry the widowed queen. He doesn’t know if the Ghost is who he claimed to be or if he’s a demon who is trying to mess with Hamlet’s life and cause mischief.
When Hamlet uses the phrase, “There are more things in heaven and earth… / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” readers have taken it in different ways. One might wonder if Hamlet thinks that ghosts and other supernatural occurrences shouldn’t be dismissed? Or is he specifically addressing Horatio’s understanding of the world? Is there something in Horatio’s outlook he disagrees with, or humanity’s in general?
Why Does Shakespeare Use this Quote?
Shakespeare uses this quote to show readers how Hamlet’s mind has been opened after his encounter with the Ghost. He’s ready to take a risk, based on what the ghost told him, and try to figure out what happened to his father. He now believes that it’s possible that ghosts and demons (and other “things”) exist in the world than he was prepared to believe before.
This quote is also another great example of Hamlet’s enigmatic style of speech. He often refers to things obliquely and leaves room for interpretation in his statements.
He is suggesting that human understanding of the world is limited. There is more out there than most people realize. This quotation was spurned on by his encounter with the Ghost claiming to be his father.
It’s likely Horatio and hamlet shared the same “philosophy” or understanding of the world prior to Hamlet seeing the Ghost. Now that he has, his understanding of what is possible has changed. He believes that more is possible than rational human beings can account for.
This quote is used in Act I, Scene 5 of Hamlet. It occurs after Hamlet has spoken with the Ghost and is telling Horatio what his plan is—to act mad and figure out whether or not the Ghost’s claims are true.
Hamlet’s last words in the play Hamlet are “The rest is silence.” They allude to Hamlet’s interest in death and the importance that death has to the play as a whole.