Q. What is the importance of the Soliloquies in Hamlet? Do they show any development of his character? A soliloquy is a dramatic speech spoken by a character alone on stage or believes themselves to be alone. This device allows a character in a play to speak directly to the audience about their motives, feelings and decisions. They reveal the character’s innermost thoughts and traditionally contain no lies or deception as the character reveals their true thoughts and emotions. Hamlet’s soliloquies give the impression of a man discovering himself as he speaks. The importance of the soliloquies in Hamlet is crucial to the development of his character and, of course, the development of the play.
Hamlet’s first soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 2 reveals that Hamlet is depressed to such an extent that he does not wish to live; these feelings emerge following the death of his father and the indecent swiftness of the remarriage of his mother to his uncle and, the new King, Claudius. ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew…’ Act 1-2-129/130 The word ‘too’ is repeated to emphasize what Hamlet is saying; here the prince wants to vanish, he wants his body to melt away which provides the audience with a weak initial portrayal of Hamlet’s character. This is how dreadful Hamlet’s psychological state is at the beginning of the play.
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Hamlet finds the vision of suicide tempting: ‘Or that the Everlasting had not fixed his Canon ‘gainst self-slaughter’ Act 1-2-131/132. Here Hamlet wishes God had not disallowed suicide as he desires to commit it. I believe the audience at this stage would truly believe Hamlet is a feeble character as he is supposed to be a Prince, who are traditionally seen as brave. This could prove that Hamlet is frail, but we must view Hamlet under ethical light; he is held up by Christian conscience, which is why he decides against suicide as a cure for his desolation. Hamlet believes the world has deteriorated and become dreary and foul; it is solely occupied by ‘things rank and gross in nature.’ Shakespeare’s powerful imagery displays Hamlet under pessimistic light; Hamlet is telling the audience that the world is corrupted and has lost his faith in the world.
He believes this due to his mother having betrayed the model relationship of his parents by an in-stand and unethical marriage; ‘With such dexterity to incestuous sheets’. The use of caesura in the lines allows Shakespeare to break down Hamlet’s language and possibly his state of mind and suggests the intensity of emotion: ‘It is not, nor it cannot come to good. But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue’ Act 1-2-158/159. The alliteration produces a controlled tone in this sentence; the Prince knows he must hold back his feelings and shows his morality to the audience as he suggests he will not speak badly about his mother. After the first soliloquy, I believe the audience may be confused about Hamlet’s character: a feeble, depressing, yet moral one. The second soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 5 begins just after the ghost of Hamlet’s father and previous King meets and tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother Claudius.
At this stage, the audience’s mood and the atmosphere are created by eerie language such as ‘strange,’ ‘foul,’ and ‘unnatural’. Hamlet, understandably, is in immense shock, ‘Hold, hold, my heart,’ after what the ghost has just told him. With this use of alliteration, Hamlet is trying to keep himself together. Hamlet feels on the brink of madness; the expression ‘In this distracted globe..’ suggests to the audience that Hamlet is referring to his head, globular shaped and the sidetracked world or Denmark in which he finds himself. The audience will feel that Hamlet’s character is developing; he is perplexed and extremely abstracted with these events.
The ethical component of Hamlet’s character is brought out again; the word ‘commandment,’ which is a part of Biblical connotations, is referred to as the Prince’s guarantee to avenge the murder of his father and draws attention to the ethical predicament Hamlet finds himself in. Undoubtedly, the soliloquy before the re-entry of his friends Horatio and Marcellus makes Hamlet appear unhinged: ‘O most pernicious woman! O villain, villain, smiling damned villain!’ Act 1-5-105/106. Hamlet is calling his mother Gertrude an evil woman who suggests that the incest still troubles him as much as the murder of his father. Hamlet also names Claudius as a villain, which is repeated to emphasize his true hatred for his murderous uncle. Hamlet’s enthusiasm for the actor playing ‘Hecuba’ makes him reassess his present state of mind in the third soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 2.
The mood in which Hamlet opens his third soliloquy is set by disparaging terms such as ‘rogue,’ a corrupt person, and ‘peasant slave,’ which contradicts himself as he is a Prince and therefore has an important position in the Kingdom of Denmark. I believe this would display just how shallow Hamlet thinks of himself. Hamlet presents himself emotionally using words that describe the player’s acting that appeal to emotions, ‘passion’ and ‘tears’. Hamlet feels insufficient and ashamed of his delay in avenging his father’s murder and asks himself if he is feeble; ‘Am I a coward?’. I believe the rhetorical question would make the audience feel he is a coward; furthermore, Hamlet describes himself as ‘muddy-mettled’, ‘cowardly’ and ‘sluggish’. The audience will also feel that Hamlet’s mind is at its most distracted when he thinks of himself and what he has failed to do.
Hamlet also articulates doubts about the Ghost’s honesty and purpose; ‘The spirit that I have seen may be a devil.’ He prepares to test the Ghost’s truth at the end of the third soliloquy by setting up a play re-acting the murder of his father. He hopes Claudius will be stunned into a declaration of his guilt so he can kill Claudius purposely: ‘…The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’ Act 2-2-557/558 The rhyming couplet cements his focus and purpose. Hamlet’s tone is much more philosophical in the fourth soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1. Hamlet is not alone on stage in this soliloquy, Ophelia is present; Hamlet is unaware of her presence however, which is why it is still a soliloquy. Therefore, the tone and the development of Hamlet’s true character are much calmer and reflective than its predecessors.
I believe the main flaw in Hamlet’s character as could be seen by the audience is his inability to control his emotions, hind, and tendency to procrastinate over matters of importance and not take action. However, in this soliloquy, there is intelligence of Hamlet thinking through his problems without being sidetracked to revulsion which is a major development in his character up until this point. The opening line with the use of caesura, ‘To be, or not to be,’ shows the audience that Hamlet is again thinking of suicide. The metaphor in the line ‘take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them’ would create a violent image in the audience’s minds. Hamlet is expressing that he feels that trying to set the world right would be like ‘self-slaughter.’ It detains his feelings of being imbalanced to the task that has been assigned to him.
Hamlet ends his soliloquy by showing the audience the love that he has for Ophelia; ‘The fair Ophelia – Nymph, in thy orisons.’ A ‘nymph’ is acknowledged as a beautiful spirit, ‘orisons’ resembling prayers; Hamlet shows his affection towards Ophelia, which displays a loving side to his personality. The fifth soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 2, is delivered just after Hamlet gains verification that Claudius’ guilty of murdering his father; the play was performed and Claudius’ reaction was a culpable one. Hamlet begins his soliloquy in a melodramatic style: ‘ ’tis is now the very witching time of night, When Churchyards yawn…’ Act 3-2-349/350
Hamlet is building up the atmosphere, which would create an eerie and sinister effect on the audience. He is remarking that it is midnight, traditionally when graves and spirits awaken. I believe the dramatic language used here will draw the audience into the action theatrically. The dramatic imagery is extended further; ‘Now I can drink hot blood.’ Hamlet here displays his anger and builds himself up to kill Claudius; he wants to awaken his spirit and commit his lengthened vengeance. This is a major development in Hamlet’s character and the audience will surely recognise it due to tHamlet’sdramatic and uncanny atmosphere Words such as ‘soul’ and ‘unnatural’ also provide the atmosphere with a hint of the supernatural, which I believe would result in the spectator’s full attention and concentration to what Hamlet is saying.
However, his next move is not to hunt down Claudius but to visit his mother, ‘I will speak daggers to her but use none.’ The metaphor ‘speak daggers’ creates influential imagery. A dagger is a very imaginable object due to its pointed structure; it shows that Hamlet does not want to kill his mother, only verbally abuse her. This soliloquy is unusual in this play as Hamlet seems focused; there is no changing process of thought, simply the thought of killing Claudius. Act 3 Scene 3 produces Hamlet’s sixth soliloquy and is one of the most fundamental moments of the play; Hamlet has his opportunity to kill Claudius finally, but he chooses not to: ‘…now a is a – praying, And now I’ll don’t – and so a goes to heaven…’ Act 3-3-73/74
The use of caesura in the line displays Hamlet’s confused and disturbed mind and demonstrates the uncertainty of his preceding actions at this point. Hamlet believes that Claudius will go to heaven if he kills him now because he is praying, so he decides against the act. Instead, Hamlet decides to wait for a moment when Claudius is sinning: ‘When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed’ Act 3-3-89/90 Hamlet believes Claudius will go straight to hell if he is in such a mental state. Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius at this point and gives a validated reason why he chose not to; I believe the audience will feel Hamlet’s character has developed as on previous occasions, he has just delayed his revenge without justification as to why.
Hamlet’s final soliloquy is delivered in Act 4 Scene 4; Hamlet examines the action of Fortinbras and contrasts it with his own. This soliloquy contains commanding language, resulting in powerful imagery and Shakespeare gives us a great insight into Hamlet’s tormented thoughts. He begins his soliloquy with interesting imagery: ‘How all occasions do inform against me And spur my dull revenge…’ Act 4-4-32/33 He is remarking that everything he sees in life makes him want to take revenge on Claudius; but no matter how much it is prompted it will never progress, which would show the audience he is a man of words and not actions; any other man would get their revenge immediately. Hamlet believes that he thinks too much and in too much detail,’…thinking too precisely…’, which may be seen by the audience as to why he does not kill Claudius until the very last moments of the play.
He acknowledges his delay, ‘Why yet I live to say this thing’s to do,’ but also the fact that he must achieve his objective; ‘Sith I have caused…’. Hamlet is informed about Fortinbras and his bravery by a Captain, which provides Hamlet with an example of a valiant man and, more importantly, a man whose actions speak louder than his words:
- ‘Witness this army of such mass and charge,
- Led by a delicate and tender prince,
- whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
- Makes mouths at the invisible event…’ Act 4-4-47/50
Hamlet seems to envy Fortinbras, and he believes that he mocks death and ‘Makes mouths at the invisible event’; he is not afraid of death which also creates powerful imagery in the audience’s minds. He believes Fortinbras is risking his life for ‘an egg-shell,’ a small area of land, whereas he sits back and does nothing to avenge his father’s murder. He compares Fortinbras to himself: ‘How I stand then, That have a father killed, a mother stained…’ Act 4-4-55/56 He believes that he has let his father die immorally and that his mother’s reputation has been contaminated due to her marriage to Claudius.
Hamlet’s final words sound determined: ‘O from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.’ Act 4-4-65/66 Hamlet here seems to have reached a new level of realization, and it seems his revenge would take place imminently. However, the audience may feel this is ironic as so often have Hamlet’s ineffective actions contradicted his words. Hamlet is a prince sworn to take revenge for his father’s murder, but it is not until the very end of the play that he finally manages to kill Claudius. Throughout his soliloquies, he seems a confused Prince with an unbalanced mind. The assumption that he kills Claudius at the end of the play rather than before begins with Hamlet himself; he himself wonders if he is a coward.
Hamlet’s soliloquies are of immense importance as they show a large development in his character; from a bloodthirsty revenger and a self-critical performer, to a thoughtful academic. HMoreover, hamlet’ssoliloquies are so effective that they view the mounting and changing thoughts of a character capable of ending the play so early when he first has reason to; maybe that is why Shakespeare chose to make his character an apparently weak-willed one.