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The meaning and origin of the expression: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

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Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio

Meaning

A meditation on the fragility of life.

yorickHamlet says this in a graveyard as he looks at the skull of Yorick, a court jester he had known as a child, and grieves for him. In this complex speech, which is one of the best known in all dramatic works, Hamlet goes on to consider the fate of us all when he compares the skull to those still living: "let her paint [her face] an inch thick, to this favour [state] she must come”

As a child Hamlet found the jester Yorick amusing and entertaining. They used to play and frolic in an intimate but innocent way. Now that Yorick is a stinking corpse the memory of touching him seems revolting and makes Hamlet feel ill.

Origin

From Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1602. Often misquoted for some reason as 'Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well'.

HAMLET:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.