Internet Shakespeare Editions


"Incestuous sheets"

Why does Hamlet make such a fuss about his mother remarrying his father's brother? Gertrude's hasty remarriage to anyone would be disturbing, but is it incest, as Hamlet keeps saying? After he has killed Polonius, Hamlet confronts Claudius, and needles him by calling him his mother (4.3.50-53).

If they are one flesh*, then to marry your dead husband's brother is to marry your brother. And it was not just a technicality: Henry VIII broke from Rome because he wanted a divorce from Catherine--who had earlier been married to his elder brother.

A transcription of the passage.*


  1. "One flesh"

    Hamlet is referring to Ephesians 5:31: "For this cause [matrimony] shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh."

    The passage was well known to the audience, since it was quoted in the marriage service in the Book of CommonPrayer.

  2. Hamlet taunts Claudius

    The passage is recorded here in its original spelling:

    Ham. I see a Cherube that see's him: but come, for England. Farewell deere Mother.
    King. Thy louing father Hamlet.
    Hamlet. My mother: Father and Mother is man and wife: man & wife is one flesh, and so my mother. Come, for England. Exit.