The lady doth protest too much, methinks

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The Queen in "Hamlet" by Edwin Austin Abbey

The lady doth protest too much, methinks is a figure of speech originally found as a quotation from the c. 1600 play Hamlet by William Shakespeare.[1] It is used in everyday speech to indicate doubt in someone's sincerity.

Original usage[edit]

The line, like most of Shakespeare's works, is in iambic pentameter.[1] It 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."[1] Gertrude (who seems to at least suspect that the queen in the play is a stand-in for her) is saying that the Player Queen is being too effusive.[1] Hamlet replies, "O, but she'll keep her word." Gertrude uses the line in response to the insincere overacting of the Player Queen stating her love for her husband.[2][3]

The quotation comes from the Second Quarto edition of the play. Other versions contain the simpler line, "The lady protests too much, methinks".[4]

Contemporary usage[edit]

The line is typically quoted (or misquoted, as in methinks the lady doth protest too much) to suggest that someone who is strongly denying something is hiding the truth,[2] or to imply doubt in a person's sincerity.[4] The phrase can be used this way even when the subject is male.[3]

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.[5][original research?]

The quotation's meaning has changed somewhat since it was first written:[original research?] whereas in modern parlance "protest" in this context often means a denial, in Shakespeare's time to "protest" meant "to make protestation or solemn affirmation".[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Delaney, Bill (30 March 2010). "Shakespeare's Hamlet". The Explicator. 
  2. ^ a b Delahunty, Andrew; Dignen, Sheila (2012). Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion. OUP Oxford. p. 238. ISBN 0199567468. 
  3. ^ a b Garber, Marjorie (2008). Shakespeare After All. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 40. ISBN 9780307490810. 
  4. ^ a b Garber, Marjorie (2008). Profiling Shakespeare. Routledge. pp. 280–281. ISBN 9781135891893. 
  5. ^ Rogers, Lance J. (30 September 2015). "Exigency Created by Pot Odor and Door Slam". Bloomberg Criminal Law Reporter. 
  6. ^ OED, "protest" 1b