A line from the play I couldn't understand

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

I didn't quite understand a specific line from Act 3, Scene 1, where Hamlet meets Ophelia. After she wants to return him his gifts, he says: "I did love you once." And she says: "Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so." So he answers: "You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not." What did he mean by that??? :)

-- Anat (dayag@hotmail.com), November 03, 2000


As I recall, the inoculate/stock reference is a botanical thing about the grafting of a branch onto a tree. Here, virtue is the new graft which cannot "inoculate" (i.e. change for the better via strength or immunity) Hamlet's "old stock", his nature as obtained by his familial background. So, because his mum never really loved his dad (in Hamlet's mind), he is incapable of truly loving Ophelia. I guess the "once" was before Old Hamlet's death when he believed that his mum was deeply in love with his dad, but now that he believes her love was false, his must have been also ("we shall relish of it").

-- mikken (mikken@neo.rr.com), November 07, 2000.

I like Mikken's take. The fn. from THE NORTON SHAKESPEARE by Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 1997) is "Virtue grafted onto fallen human nature cannot eradicate completely the taste ("relish") of original si

-- catherine england (catherineamer@hotmail.com), October 01, 2001.

another angle on this is, imagine the "to be or not to be" soliloquey right before. I don't really understant this but sombody at this site said that at the end of that speech hamlet is think that it's a lose lose situation. He is going to sin no matter what he does. He doesn't really want ophelia to have to put up with this mess he's in. He would rather she remember him as a sinful evil person. The a good man plauged by ghosts and revenge and plotting for murder. That's what half of his madness is about, driving those close to him away so they don't realize what he's up to.

Soft you now, The fair ophelia! Nymph in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered.

-- crystal (dickinsone@kent-school.edu), October 16, 2002.

I did a teensy bit of hunting on this one, and came up with the following, from something else I've written:

'Inoculate' means to impregnate (like with a vaccination for a disease), or to graft, with plants. 'Old stock' is the hardy root stock of a plant that is used for a new breed to be grafted onto and grow from. Here, the ‘old stock’ is sinfulness. The ‘it’ refers to the ‘old stock’, not to ‘virtue’ (ie, 'we shall relish of' the old stock). Hamlet is saying that as a man he is, inevitably, sinful and that it is impossible for him to be anything else at base, even if virtue is grafted in. (Ie, as a sinner he lied when he made Ophelia believe he loved her, and she ‘should not have believed’ him.) The implication may be, too, that he recognizes Ophelia as virue.

THE OXFORD COMPANION TO THE BIBLE, "The Fall", p. 223: ‘[St] Paul’s view that Adam’s fall introduced sin and death (Romans 5:12) led [St] Augustine (fifth century CE) to develop the doctrine of original sin: that Adam’s fall perverted all humanity and that its effects were passed by hereditary transmission from generation to generation. The belief [was] that Adam, as a corporate personality, was responsible for the sins of humanity’.

So the sin, which led to the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden are described as being Adam's, the man's, fault, not Eve's.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), October 16, 2002.

I am doing this scene at a competition, and that same line gave me a lot of trouble, too.

The "Shakespeare-Made-Easy" edition of the script has this line translated as "You shouldn't have believed me: a leopard cannot change its spots. That wasn't love."

I love a lot of the answers that you all have come up with, though, it's really very helpful.

As far as Hamlet stating "I did love you once" at line 124, and then contradicting himself at line 128 with "I loved you not," I always just thought that was part of the whole "Hamlet's-playing-crazy" thing.

Anyway, I'm glad that I happened upon this site. Thank you all, again.


-- Sean Mabrey (jjpeachum@hotmail.com), February 16, 2004.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ