The lady doth protest too much, methinks
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks" is a quotation from the 1602 play Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It has been used as a figure of speech, in various phrasings, to indicate that a person's overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive.
In rhetorical terms, the phrase can be thought of as indicating an unintentional apophasis—where the speaker who "protests too much" in favor of some assertion puts into others' minds the idea that the assertion is false, something that they may not have considered before.
The line, like most of Shakespeare's works, is in iambic pentameter.
The quotation is found in Act III, Scene II of Hamlet, where it is spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. Hamlet believes that his father, the king, was murdered by his uncle Claudius (who then married Gertrude). Hamlet decides to stage a play, the Murder of Gonzago, that matches Hamlet's theory in its basic storyline, in order to test whether viewing it will trigger a guilty conscience on the part of Claudius. As Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius and others watch the play-within-the-play, the Player Queen, representing Gertrude, declares in flowery language that she will never remarry if her husband dies. Hamlet then turns to his mother and asks her, "Madam, how like you this play?", to which she replies "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Gertrude (who may or may not be aware that the queen in the play is a stand-in for her) is saying that the Player Queen is being too effusive. Hamlet replies, "O, but she'll keep her word."
The quotation's meaning has changed somewhat since it was first written: whereas in modern parlance "protest" in this context often means a denial, in Shakespeare's time to "protest" meant to "vow" or "declare solemnly", and thus the phrase referred to a positive affirmation.
Andrew Klavan wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times in 2006 headlined "Clinton Doth Protest Too Much." Alanis Morissette wrote a song titled "Doth I Protest Too Much" [sic] for her album So-Called Chaos. In the David Ives play Venus In Fur, Vanda proclaims, "Methinks the lady doth protest too much," as she pries for information regarding Thomas' defensiveness about his sexual past.
- GoEnglish.com Idioms = "Protest Too Much" = Today's English Idioms
- "Clinton Doth Protest Too Much", LA Times
- Even in the Middle Ages, this should simply have been "Do I"