Lady Doth Protest too Much

Origin of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother says this popular phrase when watching the play, The Mousetrap, staged within William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Act -III, Scene-II of the play, Queen Gertrude says, when speaking to her son, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” She is speaking about the lady queen character of the play, feeling that she came across as insincere, as she repeats dramatically that she would never marry again because of her undying love for her husband.

Meaning of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

By “protest,” the queen does not mean denial or objection. During Shakespeare’s time, the meaning of word was to “declare solemnly,” or to “vow.” So, Gertrude does not mean to “deny” or “object.” By this phrase, she meant that the woman tried too hard to convince the audience, losing her credibility. In simple words, her vows are too artful, too elaborate, or too insistent to be true. More cynically, Gertrude may imply that such affirmations are silly, and this may indirectly defend her own situation or remarriage.

Usage of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

For whatever the reason, people switch this phrase around a lot these days. Today, the “protest” refers to objection. Though it does not mean exactly what Shakespeare used this phrase for, it is used in the sense that someone is denying or objecting to something too much. In the play, Gertrude says that the lady avows so much that she loses her reliability and credibility. Today, it is said that, if someone objects too much, he loses his credibility. Thus, people generally use it ironically when somebody tries to affirm too much.

Literary Source of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

This phrase appears in line-219 of Act-III, Scene-II of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. Gertrude says that the queen of the play avows too much, which seems unrealistic. The scene goes on as:

Player Queen:
“Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife …”

Player King:
“‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here a while …”

Player Queen:
“Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain!”

“Madam, how like you this play?”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

(Hamlet, Act III, Scene II, 210-219)

In this excerpt, Queen Gertrude hints at the reality that marriage vows are unimportant, as people usually think. As she, after all, changes her marriage vows with the tide, when Claudius becomes king. She may also be saying exactly the opposite – that the marriage vows mentioned in the play are meaningless, and are not true in real life.

Literary Analysis of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

It is one of the most famous lines by Shakespeare. The main idea of this phrase is deception and dishonesty, as the queen in the play swears never to marry again after her husband’s death, but she does  the opposite. Similarly, Queen Gertrude feels uncomfortable, as she herself remarries immediately after her husband’s murder. Though it is not clear whether Gertrude has recognized this parallel situation between the play queen and herself. Yet, Hamlet certainly has felt that way. This is also the most ironic line from Queen Gertrude, and this moment recurs throughout the play.

Literary Devices

  • Irony: This phrase contains irony that the play queen vows too much for her loyalty with king, instead she remarries after king’s death.