From Table Talk

Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge  | Date: 1834


Hamlet’s character is the prevalence of the abstracting and generalizing habit over the practical. He does not want courage, skill, will, or opportunity; but every incident sets him thinking; and it is curious, and, at the same time strictly natural, that Hamlet, who all the play seems reason itself, should be impelled, at last, by mere accident to effect his object. I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so.

A maxim is a conclusion upon observation of matters of fact, and is merely retrospective: an Idea, or, if you like, a Principle, carries knowledge within itself, and is prospective. Polonius is a man of maxims. Whilst he is descanting on matters of past experience, as in that excellent speech to Laertes before he sets out on his travels, he is admirable; but when he comes to advise or project, he is a mere dotard. You see, Hamlet, as the man of ideas, despises him.

A man of maxims only is like a Cyclops with one eye, and that eye placed in the back of his head.

June 24, 1827.


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Chicago: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Hamlet," From Table Talk Original Sources, accessed December 7, 2022,

MLA: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Hamlet." From Table Talk, Original Sources. 7 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Coleridge, ST, 'Hamlet' in From Table Talk. Original Sources, retrieved 7 December 2022, from