What a piece of work is a man


What a piece of work is a man

The phrase "What a piece of work is a man!" comes from Shakespeare's "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark", Act II, scene II, and it is often used in reference to the whole speech containing the line.

The speech

The monologue, spoken in the play by the title character, follows in its entirety; rather than appearing in blank verse, the typical mode of composition of Shakespeare's playsFact|date=July 2008, the speech appears in straight prose:

cquote|I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

ources

Scholars have pointed out this section's similarities to lines written by Montaigne:

However, rather than being a direct influence on Shakespeare, Montaigne may have merely been reacting to the same general atmosphere of the time, making the source of these lines one of context rather than direct influence. [Knowles, Ronald. "Hamlet and Counter-Humanism." Renaissance Quarterly 52.4 (1999): 1046-69.]

References in later works of fiction and music

In the Reduced Shakespeare Company's production The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), the more famous solliloquy, "To be, or not to be," is omitted from the Hamlet portion of the production, not for time constraints, or because the speech is so well known, but because the group states that they dislike the speech for momentum and motivation reasons. The What a piece of work is a man speech is delivered in its stead.

* In the film "Grosse Pointe Blank", Mr. Newberry says to Martin: "What a piece of work is man! How noble... oh, fuck it, let's have a drink and forget the whole damn thing."
* An episode of the television show "Babylon 5" aptly named "The Paragon of Animals", had one of the characters, Byron, recite "Hamlet"'s "how noble is man..." speech.
* In the "" episode “Hide and Q” Captain Jean-Luc Picard says to “Q”: “What Hamlet said with "irony" I say with "conviction": ‘What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!’ ” (II.ii.304-308).
*In "Gettysburg" (1993), Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain recites from the speech while discussing slavery. To which Sergeant Kilrain responds "Well, if he's an angel, all right then... But he damn well must be a killer angel."
* The lines appear at the close of Handmade Films' 1986 cult classic "Withnail & I", spoken by Richard E. Grant's Withnail to the wolves at London Zoo in the rain.
*In the Rock-Musical Hair, numerous lyrics are derived from Hamlet, most notably a song titled "What a Piece of Work is Man".

ee also

References


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