Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother says this popular phrase when watching the play, The Mousetrap, staged within Hamlet. In Act -III, Scene-II of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Queen Gertrude quotes this phrase when respond to her son, Hamlet that, “Queen: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” She talks about a character, the queen of the play, and feels that she looks insincere, as she repeats dramatically that she would never marry again because of her undying love for her husband.
By protest does not mean denial or objection. During Shakespeare’s time, the meaning of this line as to “declare solemnly” or “vow.” So, Gertrude does not mean to “deny” or “object.” By this phrase, we mean that woman objects the reality too much and loses her credibility. Whereas Gertrude means that the lady affirms too much and loses 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.
For whatever the reason, people switch this phrase a lot around these days. Today, the “protests” refer “to object.” Though it does not mean exactly what Shakespeare has used this phrase for; nevertheless, it is used in the sense that someone is denying or objecting something too much. In the play, Gertrude says that the lady vows too much that she loses her reliability and credibility. Today, it is said that if someone objects too much, then he loses his credibility. Thus, people generally use it ironically when somebody tries to affirm 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 makes too much vows, which seem unrealistic in real life, the scene goes on as:
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife…
‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here a while…
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 hints at the reality that marriage vows are unimportant as people usually think. As she, after all changes her marriage vow with a tide when Claudius becomes king. She may also be saying exactly opposite that marriage vows mentioned in the play are meaningless and are not true in real life.
It is one of the most famous lines by Shakespeare. The main idea of this phrase is deception and dishonesty, as play queen swears never to marry again after her husband’s death but she does opposite. Similarly, Queen 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 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.
- Irony: This phrase contains irony that the play queen vows too much for her loyalty with king, instead she remarries after king’s death.