Title Background

<i>Hamlet</i> and <i>Piers Plowman</i>: A Matter of Conscience.’

Hamlet and Piers Plowman: A Matter of Conscience.’

Several expressions in Hamlet, expressions that have been questioned by many editors, derive from the B version of PPl. Specifically, Hamlet’s mystifying justification for refusing to kill Claudius at prayer, ‘this is hire and salary, not revenge’, comes from a discussion in passus 14 on the difficulty of the rich getting into heaven. Hamlet’s ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ are drawn from a battle scene in passus 20. And modern debate over which definition of ‘conscience’ Hamlet intends when he concludes that ‘conscience does make cowards of us all’ is illuminated by a confrontation in passus 3 between both forms of conscience. These and other individual examples of Shakespeare’s borrowings from L lead, however, to the realization that the ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy integrates three descriptions of the human conscience from PPl, which, in turn, permits a deeper exploration of the meaning of Hamlet’s most famous speech.