’s Soliloquies Essay, Research Paper
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the tragic hero reveals his inner conflicts and introspective attitude in each of the lengthy soliloquies in the play. Hamlet is a static character whose thoughts never dramatically change. Each soliloquy delves further into Hamlet’s motivations, or lack thereof, and psyche. Each soliloquy, each slightly different, is all united by vivid imagery, introspective language, and discussion of Hamlet’s delay of action.
The first soliloquy serves to ’set the stage’ for the rest of Hamlet’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is here that Hamlet first reveals his hatred for his mother’s incestuous marriage to his uncle, Claudius, his low self-image, and his great reverence for his father. Each aspect of this soliloquy has an integral and conflicting part in Hamlet’s role. While he hates Claudius and immensely idolizes his father, Hamlet will be plagued by his low self-image, thus taking no action and contributing even more to his existing problems.
In the beginning lines of this soliloquy Hamlet is already considering suicide.
O that this too too solid flesh would melt,?
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world (I, ii, 135-140).
Through these lines it is obvious that Hamlet is in the midst of a deep depression. He has no control over the “uses of the world.” Hamlet compares Denmark to an “unweeded garden” to symbolize the corruption within his country, that is seeded within Claudius and his incestuous marriage to Gertrude.
Hamlet goes on to compare his father to Claudius and comment on the relationship between King Hamlet and Gertrude.
So excellent a King that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly (I, ii, 145-148).
In Hamlet’s eyes Claudius is a beast in comparison to the god-like features of his father. This lays the foundation for Hamlet’s vengeful intentions. Hamlet’s also comments on the loving relationship enjoyed by his parents, in disbelief of Gertrude’s actions. He does not understand why his mother married Claudius in such haste, causing such internal torment for Hamlet. This leads Hamlet to make a generalization about all women. “Frailty, thy name is woman”(I, ii, 146)! Hamlet displays his inability to separate his emotions from his rational being.
Hamlet ends this soliloquy by resolving to do nothing for the time being. He has laid the foundation for the rest of the play, but he has also made a decision that will cause him more pain. His resolution to do nothing will be the source of his problems in following speeches.
The second soliloquy concerns Hamlet’s delay of action. He feels ashamed that he has not avenged his father’s death with the speed and expression exhibited by the actors in the play. Hamlet compares his inaction to the dramatic expression the actor exhibits for the death of his character’s father. “What would he do, / Had he the motive and cue for passion/ That I have”(II, ii, 566-68)? Hamlet is amazed that the actor can conjure such emotions without a real impetus, while he is incapable of doing anything in response to his father’s murder.
Hamlet then calls himself a coward for his inability to say anything in defense of his father. “Am I a coward”(II, ii, 578)? This is ironic because he is concentrating on the actor’s expression of grief, not a proactive response, which will only inhibit one’s action. Hamlet never discusses the act of vengeance, only the actor’s ability to “cleave the general ear with horrid speech”(II, ii, 569).
Hamlet also displays his low self-esteem in this soliloquy as he sarcastically describes his inaction.
This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must (like a whore) unpack my heart with words
And fall a-cursing like a very drab?(II, ii, 590-594).
Hamlet is his own worst critic throughout the play. Through this statement, Hamlet incites himself to the point that he plans some action. “The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”(II, ii, 611-12). He plans to put on a play that will
mirror his father’s murder in order to see Claudius’ guilty reaction. Finally, Hamlet makes a plan.
The third soliloquy shows Hamlet reverting back to the depressed mood of the first soliloquy. As soon as he made a plan of action, his thoughts regress. Hamlet’s thoughts are about more than contemplation of suicide. He is questioning whether one should suffer the burdens of society or take action against it. “Whether ’tis nobler?to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or take arms against a sea of troubles?”(III, I, 65-68). These “slings and arrows” are the conflicts faced by Hamlet and the rest of the world.
Next Hamlet considers suicide as a solution to his problems. “To die-/ to sleep-perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub! / For in that sleep what dreams may come?”(III, i, 72-74). Hamlet would like to die only if he can enter a state of oblivion in which he would not be able to dream. The mystery of what comes after death is what keeps Hamlet from committing suicide. He says that people go through life with all of its problems because of “dread of something after death”(III, I, 86).
At the conclusion of this speech it seems that Hamlet is torn by his morals and his desire for revenge.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard turn awry
And lose the name of action (III, I, 91-96).
With this quote in mind, it is no wonder that Hamlet has been incapable of action, thus far. He is still struggling with the righteousness of revenge. Hamlet’s conscience is making him a coward by not allowing him to kill Claudius without knowing that he is justified without a doubt. Hamlet’s “pale cast of thoughts” has continuously undermined his resolution, resulting in his inaction, which, in turn, causes him deep turmoil. This is the point in the play where Hamlet seems very noble. His inaction, for which he considers himself a coward, is revealed to be derived from a deeper source of morality and goodness.
In the last soliloquy Hamlet concentrates more on action. First, Hamlet accuses himself of thinking too much, resulting with no action. He wishes to cast aside his “bestial oblivion.” Hamlet also reveals that he does not know why he has yet to take advantage of the opportunity he has had to kill Claudius. The irony lies in that he continues to ponder why he has not done anything, as he concludes that he ponders too much.
Hamlet relates to Fortinbras because of the similarities in their situations, but envies him because of the drastically different approach he takes to honor his father. Hamlet refers to Fortinbras as a “divine prince” because he respects what Fortinbras is doing to honor his father. However, Hamlet also exhibits self-loathing in the process.
Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor’s at stake (IV, iv, 55-58).
Hamlet despises the fact that he has not defended his family’s honor. Thus, he decides to have only “bloody” thoughts, but, yet again, he comes back to his thoughts. Throughout this last soliloquy he concentrated on action, but in the end his resolution is nothing more than to think. Hamlet reveals, again, that his subconscious conscience has not yet concluded that revenge is the answer, while he externally wishes for the bravery to commit to some action.
In each of his soliloquies, Hamlet laments on his inability to act in response to his father’s death. When he finally does take action, it is because he is forced to, as a result of plans that Claudius has made. These soliloquies suggest that Hamlet is more of a scholar than a soldier. He would much rather think about the metaphysical questions of life than fight for anything. However, he is still able to retain honor. As he compares himself to Fortinbras, he invokes pity from the audience because of his deep self-loathing and his innate goodness, which is why he takes so long to take action. Although each soliloquy takes a slightly different approach to Hamlet’s problem, Hamlet’s essence and character never changes.