English Literature » Notes » Hamlet’s Soliloquies Reveal His Personality

Hamlet’s Soliloquies Reveal His Personality

To be or not to be? that is the question (Hamlet, III, i, 64)

The above-mentioned quotation is the opening line from Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy in which he is contemplating suicide as an end to all of his adversities.

Hamlet’s world is bleak and cold because almost no one and nothing can be trusted
– Folger Shakespeare Library

Hamlet allows his words to exhibit his emotions through the soliloquies in the play.

While dealing with the sudden loss of his father, Hamlet must now face the reality of his mother’s (Gertrude) marriage to his uncle, Claudius, only two months after his father’s death. Hamlet learns that Claudius murdered his father to become the king of Denmark. These dilemmas in Hamlet’s life are the cause of his depression and desire of revenge against his father’s killer.

Joanna Montgomery Byles states that “The concept of the superego, both individual and cultural, is important to our understanding of the dynamics of aggressive destruction in Shakespeare’s tragedies involving revenge. Tragic Alternatives 1). ” “According to the psychoanalytic perspective on human development, the superego represents a person’s conscience, incorporating distinctions between right and wrong; (“Saskatchewan Learning”)” therefore, superego may justify the reasons for Hamlet’s actions because both his father’s death, and mother’s marriage, have mentally affected him, not allowing Hamlet to know any better action to take.

All of Hamlet’s seven soliloquies in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark reveal Hamlet’s grief, indecision, insanity, and revenge; however, the three strongest soliloquies are essential to the reader’s understanding of Hamlet’s motivation leading to his tragic end. Hamlet’s first soliloquy appears in Act I of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, where he explains his feelings about his father’s death and his mother’s marriage to Claudius. Although Hamlet is feeling both grief and sorrow, he also outpours his anger and disgust of the marriage through his words.

With the quote-

O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst {self-slaughter! } (I, ii, 133-136),

Hamlet is speculating suicide as an end to his sorrow; however, Hamlet goes on to say that “the Everlasting” is against “self-slaughter,” or suicide, which would result in Hamlet’s not going to Heaven after death. “‘Tis an unweeded garden/That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature/Possess it merely (I, ii, 139-141).

Amanda Mabillard explains –

Although Hamlet accepts weeds as a natural part of the garden (and more generally a natural part of life), he feels that the weeds have grown out of control and now possess nature entirely.
– “About: Shakespeare”

Hamlet is using weeds to describe the problems in his life. He feels that his problems are out of control and in control of him, just as weeds are in a garden. After revealing the grief of his father, it seems as if his sadness changes to anger as Hamlet compares his father and Claudius by saying, “But two months dead–nay, not so much, not two. So excellent a king, that was to this/Hyperion to a satyr; (I, ii, 142-144). ” “Hyperion, the Titan god of light, represents honor, virtue, and regality–all traits belonging to Hamlet’s father, the true King of Denmark. Satyrs, the half-human and half-beast companions of the wine-god Dionysus, represent lasciviousness and overindulgence, much like Hamlet’s unsurping uncle Claudius (Mabillard). ” Claudius’ lasciviousness aspect, or having sexual desire, bothers Hamlet the most because he does not want to imagine his mother being with anyone but his father.

He feels that his mother has turned her back on both Hamlet, as well as his father because she is sexually involved with another man. Hamlet continues with anger to say, “(O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason/Would have mourned longer! ), married with my/uncle,/My father’s brother,/but no more like my father/than I to Hercules (I, ii, 154-158). ” Hamlet is declaring that a beast would have mourned longer than his mother mourned for his father. She instantly married Claudius, who is, Hamlet says, “no more like my father/Than I to Hercules (I, ii, 157-158). “Although Hamlet’s comparison of himself to the courageous Greek hero could be devoid of any deeper significance, it is more likely that the remark indicates Hamlet’s developing lack of self worth (Mabillard). ” Hamlet ends his first soliloquy by saying, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue (I, ii, 164). ” Hamlet’s heart is breaking, and he wants to confront his mother; however, he wants to stay quiet or “hold his tongue” for the present time because he knows how much his true feelings will hurt his mother.

Overall, in Hamlet’s first soliloquy, Hamlet demonstrates his true feelings of grief, sorrow, anger, and disgust. These feelings of Hamlet reveal that Hamlet cares for his family, but is easily angered and is a depressed young man. Hamlet recites seven soliloquies throughout the play; however, his fourth soliloquy is the most famous. Hamlet questions whether to live or to die by saying, “To be or not to be–that is the question (III, i, 64). ” Contemplating suicide, the fourth soliloquy “seems to be governed by reason and not frenzied emotion.

Unable to do little but wait for completion of his plan to ‘catch the conscience of the king,’ Hamlet sparks an internal philosophical debate on the advantages and disadvantages of existence, and whether it is one’s right to end his or her own life (Mabillard). ” “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death… (III, i, 78-86)” Hamlet is asking himself if it would be easier to endure a never-ending sleep, or to suffer; he asks who would tolerate the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong against us, the disrespect of proud men, the pain of rejected love, the proudness of authorities, and the advantage that the worst people take of the best when one could just release himself with a blade? Hamlet wonders who would carry this load, sweating and grunting under the burden of life if one did not have to dread of the after life.

By Hamlet’s in-depth thoughts of suicide, it is apparent that Hamlet is depressed and does not enjoy his life. “Repetition of words such as calamity, scorns, oppressor, despised, dread and weary emphasize the mental trauma he is portraying (“Passage analysis of Hamlet”). ” “Hamlet’s speech contains obsessive concerns with suicide and death. His representation of himself as mentally unstable is an attempt to accomplish his super-objective of avoiding avenging his father’s death while still revealing the truth. Moreover, Hamlet’s speech perhaps contributes to the line of action ? o witness’: by leading the King to think he is suicidal, Hamlet may get a chance to witness him unexpectedly in his guilt (“Passage analysis of Hamlet”). ” Hamlet ends his soliloquy with, “Thus conscience makes 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 pitch and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action (III, I, 91-96). ” In his closing lines, Hamlet truthfully explains that thinking about suicide will make a coward of anyone.

One will ruin their first thoughts of suicide by thinking on the thought of killing oneself. All important plans are weakened until one does not take action. Hamlet’s analysis of suicide is one aspect of the play that reveals that he may be suffering a mental instability, causing his characteristics of depression and anger. Hamlet’s extreme indecisiveness is greatly displayed in this famous soliloquy. Finally gaining the nerve to kill King Claudius, Hamlet enters the room where Claudius is praying, when he says, “And now I’ll do’t (III, iii, 78). However, Hamlet realizes that if he kills Claudius while he is at prayer, Claudius will go to Heaven. Hamlet’s retaining of killing Claudius reveals his religiousness and belief of God. Hamlet knows that there is a Heaven and that it is an honorable place in which he does not want Claudius to go. Hamlet says, “And so he goes to heaven; And so am I revenged. That would be scanned: A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven (III, iii, 80-84). ” Hamlet’s reason for delay is that Claudius is in the midst of praying, and in order for revenge to be complete, the King must be engaged in some sinful act such as sex, gambling, or drinking, and thus be condemned to eternal damnation (Mabillard). ” The reader learns that Hamlet wants to catch Claudius in an immoral act when he says, “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in th’incestuous pleasure of his bed, At game a-swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in ? t (III, iv, 94-97). ” Hamlet does not want to send his father’s killer to go to Heaven; he wants the worst possible revenge for him.

Amanda Mabillard states-

Many critics believe that Hamlet uses Claudius’ prayer as an excuse for further delay because his conscience will not allow him to commit premeditated murder. Others claim that it is not Hamlet’s altruism which saves Claudius in this scene, but his own paralyzing habit of ? thinking too precisely on th’event (IV, iv, 43).

If Hamlet is using Claudius’ prayer as an excuse, his reasoning relates to the “to be or not to be” soliloquy. The two correspond because in the famous soliloquy, Hamlet explains to the audience that one’s conscience can make a coward of anyone, given the chance.

If one thinks too much on a harmful situation, his/hers conscience will begin to react, making him feel guilty and retiring his plans. Hamlet’s rage and possible insanity becomes apparent as he ends his soliloquy with these harsh words –

Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damned and black As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays, This physic but prolongs thy sickly days (III, iv, 98-101).

Hamlet’s anger arises and he says that he will trip Claudius so that his heels kick at Heaven, but his soul will be blackened and damned to hell.

Hamlet’s words in this soliloquy greatly reveal his personality because his expression allows the reader to understand his evil traits and hunger of revenge. If he had killed his uncle at his prayer, he would have gotten rid of Claudius, but he would know that his uncle was not suffering, which is what he wants for Claudius. These aspects of the soliloquy reveal his mental instability and evilness. Because of Hamlet’s soliloquies, his personality is revealed to the reader through his actions and innermost thoughts. These soliloquies allow Hamlet to become a well-rounded character; otherwise, his character would have been rather flat. According to E. M. Forster, round characters ‘are dynamic–capable of surprising the reader in a convincing way. ‘ Round characters recognize, change with, and adjust to circumstances (WSU Literary Terms). ” Hamlet is capable of surprising the reader, being an inconsistent character beginning with Act One; his unpredictable personality keeps the reader in suspense. Also, Hamlet’s soliloquies help to set the mood of the acts in which his soliloquies exist, whether it is anger, indecisiveness, or rage, as in the above soliloquies.

Hamlet’s soliloquies help to lead the reader to his tragic end, as he eventually is killed by Laertes’ poisonous sword. The soliloquies set the mood, tone, and foreshadow that the ending of Hamlet will be tragic. Overall, the reader learns that Hamlet has changing characteristics throughout Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His diverse characteristics include grief, indecision, insanity, revenge, anger, and mental instability; all directly result from the use of Hamlet’s seven soliloquies, especially the three strongest mentioned previously.

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