In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, we hear from the tragic hero expose his inner conflicts and reveal his intellectual thought process involving death, hate, suffering, fear and honor. Each soliloquy divulges his motivations, or lack thereof, as well as his mental state at the time of each one.
His first soliloquy sets the stage and reveals Hamlet’s contempt and anger at the world and those
around him. He starts out in this soliloquy contemplating suicide: “O that this too sullied 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.129-134). He begins grieving over the untimely death of his father, whom he idolized as a king and a father. Then Gertrude, his mother, marries his uncle, Claudius, only months after his father’s sudden death, which compounds Hamlet’s pain. He loathes her and laments: “Let me not think on’t! Frailty, Thy name is woman” (i.ii.146). He retreats into a spiral of misery and suicidal thoughts and is unable to separate his emotions from any semblance of rational thought. He does not reveal his feelings to anyone, which again, sets the stage for what is to come.
In Hamlet’s second soliloquy, he becomes disillusioned after his encounter with a ghost haunting the castle: “My father’s spirit in arms. All is not well; I doubt some foul play” (i.ii.260-261). He feels there is good reason why his father’s ghost is still walking around and begins to become increasingly suspicious of Claudius. He suspects his father was murdered. After seeing and talking with his father’s ghost, we hear Hamlet’s third soliloquy and we start to see his fury increase over the revelation that it was Claudius who murdered his father. This discovery causes Hamlet to vow revenge upon Claudius.
During his fourth soliloquy, we start to see more of Hamlet’s mental decline. He realizes he has procrastinated in the murder plot on Claudius and feels ashamed. He begins to wonder if the ghost was really his father or the devil reincarnate. He admonishes his cowardly inaction to retaliate for his father’s death. He believes he has reason to kill Claudius but knows he does not have the fortitude to follow through with it: “Why, what an ass I am! 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” (ii.ii.515-518). Hamlet is furious with himself that he has acted so cowardly but believes if he undoubtedly proves Claudius murdered his father, he will be justified in taking revenge upon his uncle. He makes a plan to expose Claudius’ guilt by having the actors in his play reenact his father’s murder. Then, he will observe Claudius’ reaction to confirm his guilt once and for all.
During the fifth soliloquy, we see Hamlet evaluate the choice of man to accept society at face value or to wage war against it. Again, he contemplates suicide as a means to escape his misery: “To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub! For in that sleep what dreams may come…” (iii.i.65-67). If Hamlet could just sleep without dreaming, he would like to take his own life but the mystery of what comes next keeps him from acting on it. He also questions his own honor in living with the hardships of life opposed to dying young and eluding life’s ill -fated events. He speculates that perhaps we all choose life because of the uncertainty and mystery of death.
In the final soliloquy, Hamlet ponders his purpose in life which he now believes is to avenge his father’s murder. “How all occasions do inform against me, and spur my dull revenge” (iv.iv.34-35). Now he is self-loathing for his procrastination and questions his manhood for letting his opportunity to kill Claudius slip away. He is consumed with getting his revenge. He promises himself to only have “bloody” thoughts but he comes full circle once more to his thinking ways. He decides that his conscience will not allow him the vengeance he secretly wishes he could muster.
In each soliloquy, Hamlet laments his failure to take action against his father’s murderer. Each one gives us insight into his ability to think and his failure to act on it. His psychological struggles with death and honor and self-loathing evoke sympathy for his inherent goodness. And although each soliloquy takes us on a different journey into Hamlet’s psyche, his fundamental nature and character remain intact.
The soliloquy is an essential means in the story of Hamlet. It brings the audience into the character’s consciousness and gives us reflection into the most profound thoughts and emotions of the characters. I think without the soliloquy, Hamlet would lose vital meaning.