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 quotation from the c. 1600 play Hamlet by William Shakespeare.[1] It has been used as a figure of speech, in various phrasings, to describe someone's overly frequent and vehement attempts to convince others of some matter of which the opposite is true, thereby making themselves appear defensive and insincere.[not verified in body] 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.[2]

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.[1] 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."

Later uses[edit]

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 make protestation or solemn affirmation," [3] and thus the phrase referred to a positive affirmation.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Alanis Morissette wrote a song titled "Doth I Protest Too Much" 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.

"Me thinks the lady doth protest" is quoted by Gunther Hartog in the TV adaptation of Sidney Sheldon's If Tomorrow Comes.

"Me thinks the lady doth protest" is quoted in Channel 4 comedy Peep Show series 3 episode 1, and then again by Mark in series 8, but with the altered wording, "The lady doth eat bhajis too much, methinks."

The line is used by one of the characters in the movie (500) Days of Summer as a retort to the lead female's assertions that she doesn't believe in monogamous relationships.

In the video game Kid Icarus: Uprising, Dark Pit, a doppelganger of the hero Pit, fights Pit while referencing the line saying, "Methinks the puppet doth protest too much". This is directed at Pit as Dark Pit is something of a flipped reflection of Pit's personality and feelings, making him question Pit as to the extent of his devotion to his goddess Palutena.

The line was referenced in Spectacular Spider-Man television series. In episode 20, "Identity Crisis," the character Venom, while fighting against the show's titular character, states "The spider doth protests too much, wethinks," referencing the Shakespeare line but changed the sentence structure to fit the scene and characters.

The line was used by photography professor Mark Jefferson in the video game Life is Strange, in relation to the allegation of a rape by a female student against a wealthy, unlikeable male student, attempting to deflect attention from the hidden fact that he was responsible for what happened to her.

The line was used in season 5 episode 9 (The Ski Lift) of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry presses Richard's nurse, who formerly dated Jeff, and indicated to him that Jeff had a small penis. After Larry confronts Jeff, Jeff denies the insinuation, and insists it is the nurse, Lisa Thompson, that has a big vagina. When Larry confronts Lisa about this, she denies it, at which time Larry says, "he thinks the lady doth protest too much".

A mangled version of the line appears in season 13 episode 8 of Family Guy ("Our Idiot Brian"), when Peter tries to call attention to the fact that Brian denies claims that he is unintelligent despite proof to the contrary (his low SAT score), by spouting off the line, "Methinks the Hoff protest a month."[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Delaney, Bill (30 March 2010). "Shakespeare's Hamlet". The Explicator. 
  2. ^ Rogers, Lance J. (30 September 2015). "Exigency Created by Pot Odor and Door Slam". Bloomberg Criminal Law Reporter. 
  3. ^ OED, "protest" 1b
  4. ^ "Transcripts from TV Shows at Subzin". 21 February 2017.