Saturday, February 17, 2018

Soliloquy in Hamlet

Soliloquy, a dramatic device used by playwrights to reveal characters’ innermost thoughts, is used in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, show Hamlet's feelings, thoughts and the changes of his mind that undergoes throughout the play. As the play progresses, the audience witnesses Hamlet in a vast range of emotions and much of these are revealed in his soliloquies. Without these “Hamlet’s character would have even less incomprehensible, and the audience and audience would be less able to experience the tension of the play and to gain insight into its problems.”(Wolfgang)

Hamlet's initial soliloquy is found in Act 1, scene 2. His speech portrays his disgust, anger, sorrow, and grief over his mother's sudden re- marriage so soon after his father's death. This soliloquy gives ’his own side of matter, expressing disgust at Claudius, venting at his anguished disappointment at his mother” (Maher) Hamlet is lost and locked in his own mind. He starts his soliloquy-

"O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into dew."

He does not want to think about all the events happening around, but he can't help doing so. He is very upset and does not know what to do. He feels disillusioned with the world.-

"How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable'

Seem to me all the uses of this world!"

Hamlet goes on to complain about his mother for not mourning long enough. He deplores his mother's character. Not even two months have passed and she has married a man who is much inferior to her old husband. Her over hasty marriage, which he considers "an incestuous affair" makes him believe that women are weak and inconsistent creatures, he generalizes-

" Frailty thy name is woman!

Hamlet's second soliloquy comes just after the Ghost leaves him, after charging him with the duty of taking revenge upon the murderer of his father. Hamlet resolves to wipe out everything else from his memory and to remember only the Ghost's command.-

"from the table of my memory

I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,

And thy commandment all alone shall live."

The manner in which Hamlet here speaks of never forgetting the Ghost's words makes us think that Hamlet will soon plunge into action and carry out the behest of the Ghost” (Arora)

In act 2, scene 2, Hamlet's third soliloquy is seen which reveals Hamlet's views and feelings. Hamlet starts this soliloquy with "now I am alone", in a tone that he's had enough of it and that he needs to get away from other people.  “Hamlet is so full of conflicting . . . in avenging his father’s murder that he is virtually puzzled by the inner turmoil. His soliloquies reveal his dilemma” (Ron Cameron) In this soliloquy he also bitterly scolds himself for having failed to execute his revenge so far. He calls himself

"a dull and muddy melted rascal, peak

…And can say nothing- no, not for a king,’’

But again he castigates himself not for taking action to avenge his father's death-

"Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,

That I, the son of a dead father museder'd,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,"

Thus at the end of the soliloquy we see him planning to enact the Mouse trap play

"The play is the thing

wherein I'llcatch the conscience of the King."

In the 4th soliloquy, Hamlet hits upon a mental nadir. "To be or not to be "can arguably be Shakespeare's most recognizable quote in all of his works. Hamlet attempts to reason with himself on whether or not death is the only solution to end all life suffering portrays him as both confused and cowardly. In this monologue, Hamlet goes into tough debate over whether he should end his own suffering by committing suicide or to step it up and revenge for his father. This soliloquy partly explains Hamlet's delay in carrying out his purpose.

Hamlet's mental status shows some promise in his 5th soliloquy. Hamlet describes his mood as one in which he could "drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on". In this mood he can even kill his mother. He resolves to "speak daggers to her, but use none."

This soliloquy occurs on his way to meet his mother in the closet. He sees the King at prayer and gets an opportunity to kill him, an opportunity for which he has been longing so far. And yet he does not act because-

Now might I do it pat,now  he is praying.

And now I will do it, and so he goes to heaven

Hamlet decides to wait for an opportunity when his uncle is

"drunk asleep, or in his rage,

…or about some act

That has no relish of salvation in't . . .

This soliloquy emphasizes his delay and procrastinating nature.

Hamlet finally gains the courage to avenge his father.. Hamlet then feels ashamed of his unwillingness to go after Claudius. It dawned on Hamlet that he had been thinking too much and acting too little. With his new determination to avenge his father's murder he vows,

"o, from this time forth,

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"

This soliloquy once again emphasizes Hamlet's irresolution and his meditative temperament. His temperament pricks him and urges him but as a natural deficiency always obstructs him.

In addition to that various scholars and authors have shown the importance of the soliloquies of Hamlet. For example, Rolf Soellner says, “Hamlet’s soliloques. . . are fascinating and perplexing exercises in self analysis”

Ralph Berry argues that a principal function of Hamlet's soliloquies is to impose "his viewpoints upon the audience."

In act 3, scene1, there is a soliloquy by Ophelia in which her grief over what she thinks over what she thinks to be Hamlet's loss of reason. This soliloquy gives her idea of the great qualities of Hamlet- scholar, soldier, and ‘the observer of all observers

To conclude we can say that each soliloquy gives us insight into his ability to think and his failure to act in it. It brings the audience into his consciousness and gives us reflection into the most profound thoughts and emotions of the character. Each soliloquy divulges his motivations, or lack thereof, as well as his mental state of the time of each one.


01. Wolfgang Clemen(2005), Shakespeare's Soliloquies. Retrived from

02. Ron Cameron[1999]:Acting Skills for Life, Dundurn Press Ltd
03. Mary Zenet Maher[1992]Modern Hamlets and their soliloquies, University of Iowa Press
04. Arora P.N, Dwivedi A.M, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Anmol Publications PVT. LTD.
05. Rolf Soellner (1972) Shakespeare's patterns of self-knowledge, Ohio State University Press.

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