Let Hercules Himself Do What He May

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"Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew and dog will have its day", says Hamlet at the end of the Graveyard scene. There are several interpretations of this strange line that I have read. None are entirely satisfactory. What do we all make of it? Perhaps the "mewing" cat is Laertes and the Dog is Claudius? Give me some ideas, everyone!

-- Patrick Walker (the_right_hand_of_doom@msn.com), April 27, 2003


As you say, it could be read as, no matter what Hamlet does, Laertes will keep mewing and Claudius will have his day; but I don't think so, because that would be akin to Hamlet admitting defeat, but as we see in V.ii., he certainly plans to go ahead with ridding the world of Claudius. The meaning could work if Hamlet meant Hercules to parallel his own father - ie, no matter what King Hamlet did, Claudius was going to kill him and Laertes was going to end up as he has. But that might be a bit far off the present topic, even for Hamlet.

It can have a two specific meanings I think, neither of which actually need be exclusive. No matter how Hamlet objects, he cannot stop Laertes whining and ranting over Ophelia's grave. No matter how much of a tawdry and showy fuss Laertes makes over Ophelia's grave, sounding off against Hamlet whom he blames for Ophelia's death, Hamlet will stilll keep on tenaciously and do what he feels he must do, and will succeed.

In general, though, it is a statement on the nature of fate. Hercules was a demi- god, a hero. But if something is fated to happen, no matter how Hercules fights against it, it will happen. Thus, specifically here, it was inevitable that Laertes and Hamlet would fall out with each other and become opponents. But, it is a more general philosophy that Hamlet has come to accept, as we see further in V.ii. with 'There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will', and the sparrow speech.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), April 30, 2003.

My interpretation of this line (one of my favourites actually) is quite different to that. "Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew and dog will have its day" to me is slightly different. I do believe that the cat mewing is symbolising Laertes - and the whinging about Ophelia's death. The mewing I think is the lines directed at Hamlet, blaming him for his sister's death.

What I believe is that Hercules is a representative of Claudius. Now before you bite my head off, let me explain. Hercules was a demi-god. A King in those times had been elevated to the rank of a diety by Queen Elizabeth I (who happened to be an influentical sovereign during the time Shakespeare wrote the play). As such, Claudius was almost a demi-god himself.

Hamlet's statement about 'let Hercules himself do what he may' I think runs directly along the lines of Claudius trying to control both Laertes and Hamlet. Halmet here is stating that Claudius can do whatever he wants, it will not change Laertes' opinion of Hamlet and how he voices it.

As such, the dog in the statement is Hamlet. Now please don't bite my head off on this one either. A dog is the perfect symbol of loyalty. Who is Hamlet loyal to? His father. Hamlet is waiting for his moment to strike. Hamlet is awaiting for his day.

As such the statement, I believe reads as follows : "No matter what Claudius does, Laertes will still despise me, but I shall have my revenge/my time will come."

-- Rachel Hatton (hattonhead@aol.com), August 02, 2003.

Let us not forget Hamlet's line in I:ii "No more like my father than I to Hercules"

-- Jim (jim@yahoo.com), August 03, 2003.

As the first reference to Hercules, I feel it is VERY important to consider the line in I:ii where Hamlet says "No more like my father than I to Hercules". He says he is not a hero, and almost seems to feel like an ass for thinking it. In this case, my interpretation is more along the lines of Hamlet referring to himself as a dog. He isn't Hercules, and he knows that, but he still believes that he will "have [his] day". He doesn't need the strength of a demi- god..they can do what they want. He's going to get his regardless. The mewing cat could very possibly be Laeretes, considering the fact that Hamlet has already belittled Laertes' greif by comparing it to his own. After all, a cat's mew doen't strike me as the strongest of voices, and seems more inconsequential than anything else.

-- Melissa Johnson (johnsohu@bc.edu), November 20, 2003.

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