It does not matter that these words were spoken by a prattling old man, or that they were folded in to a somewhat humorous scene as a young man attempts to free himself from his father’s good natured but overbearing advice on his return to a foreign country. It also doesn’t matter that the person who speaks these words will soon be dead, his daughter will follow in death quickly thereafter, and his son – to whom the advice is directed – will be the manipulated instrument of destruction meted out on the royal family of Denmark, beyond what is planned or expected.
But while “Hamlet” remains one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, the context of these words is not all that matters. The heart of the words almost transcends their placement in a play. What matters even more deeply is that these words ring true no matter who speaks them, and they ring true no matter who embraces them; they are not heroic words spoken in a moment of passion or of revealed clarity. They are simple words, spoken by a father to his son, but they speak to all of us. No explanation needed.