What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o'er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form,
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness? Think of it:
The very place puts toys of desperation,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears it roar beneath.
It waves me still. Go on; I'll follow thee.
You shall not go, my lord.
Hold off your hands.
Be ruled; you shall not go.
My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion's nerve.
Still am I called. Unhand me, gentlemen.
By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!
I say away! Go on! I'll follow thee.
Exeunt Ghost and HAMLET
He waxes desperate with imagination.
Let's follow; 'tis not fit thus to obey him.
Have after. To what issue will this come?
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Heaven will direct it.
Nay, let's follow him.
Whether Hamlet is mad or just playing the part is a question that has generated millions and millions of words over the centuries. We will have plenty to say on the matter - but it's worth marking here that Horatio's mention is the first time in the play that the idea has surfaced.
Cliffs appear often in Shakespeare - often with the epithet 'chalky' attached. In Horatio's worry about Hamlet getting giddy and falling off the edge, Shakespeare gives voice to a peculiar human habit of fantasising about the dangers while standing on a cliff. In King Lear, the startling scene between Gloucester and Edgar likewise plays on the human imagination and the fear of being on the edge.
The Nemean Lion was the first of the Twelve Labours of Hercules - and it became the hero's personal signature garment. Because the lion's skin was impermeable and his claws invincible, the story goes that Hercules (Herakles in Greek) had to strangle the beast to death. A variant suggests that he shot an arrow into its mouth. When he was trying to skin the beast's corpse, he likewise had difficulty making any impact, until the thought struck him that he should use the animal's own claws for the job!