“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare is a drama performed between 1599 and 1601. “Hamlet” is a fusion of many themes, which bond together to form a complex, ambiguous play. “Hamlet”, simplified, is the story of a man brimming with vengeance, trying to avenge his father’s death which was caused by his uncle, Claudius who then marries Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. The death of his father is a tragedy in itself. Perceptions of tragedies differ from individuals perspectives; anything can be a tragic as long as it takes the right composition or form.
Calamitous situations weaved with anguish and despair in addition to the possibility of destruction and heartbreak are some of the most common elements employed by tragic writers. Dominant features of a tragedy also include the protagonist’s downfall, usually a consequence of their hamartia. This is evident in “Hamlet”. Hamlet, the protagonist encounters anagnorisis due to his hamartia, ultimately leading to death of most of the cast. The complexity of Hamlet’s character is a mystery to the audience but through soliloquy’s, William Shakespeare shows the audience Hamlet’s feelings and thoughts and how they develop.
Soliloquies give the audience a chance to connect with the character as it gives the audience a chance to see the character unleashing their inner thoughts. This will lead to the audience being aware of the true identity of the character making it easier for them to comprehend and understand the true depths of both the story and character. Soliloquies are a vital tool used in “Hamlet” to understand the true insight on Hamlet’s character.
Hamlet freely expresses his inner thoughts through soliloquies, this is the only real time the audience are aware of Hamlet’s feelings.
Also, it gives the audience a chance to try to understand Hamlet’s complex character. This dramatic device is a key value in understanding the character of Hamlet and how he develops. Hamlet is portrayed by Shakespeare as a complicated individual. He is an enigma wrapped in a paradox. He is a walking contradiction, full of strong emotions just waiting to be unleashed. He is both melancholic but strong willed, even though his greatest weakness is his indecisiveness. He wallows in his grief wanting to take action but never seems to be able to.
He is an incredibly articulate and genius character full of wit and intelligence. He is the definition of Aristotle’s tragic hero. His ambiguity is a conundrum. His personality develops as the play goes on, making his character traits more apparent. We first become aware of the true thoughts of Hamlet’s character in his first soliloquy. In Act 1 Scene 2 we are met with his mental state. Hamlet is full of grief; he is trying to come to terms with his father’s death but is met with more difficulties. His mother has re-married; she has re-married to his uncle.
In this first soliloquy, Hamlet shows signs that can be applied to the aspects of the oedipal complex as part of his character. These soliloquies’s aid us in understanding the true depths of Hamlet’s mind and thought process. The dominant cause of Hamlet’s grief is his mother re-marrying. He is disgusted that his mother has moved on so quickly and he believes the relationship is incestuous. “With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not, nor it cannot come to good. / But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue. ” (1. 2 . 157-9). However, Hamlet feels he shouldn’t intervene and must hold his tongue.
Hamlet at this point seems to be more concerned over his mother’s affairs rather then his father’s death. Hamlet doesn’t discuss how he is feeling about his father’s death. This fits the traits of the oedipal complex. Hamlet is aware his father is dead, subconsciously Hamlet believes now that his father is gone he can have his mother all to himself. However, he is met with a difficulty: Claudius. Hamlet feels great anger and towards Claudius which also fits in with the oedipal complex; hating the father, in this case hating the spouse of his mother.
In this soliloquy Hamlet is full of negative emotions, he is showing melancholia, along with anger and frustration and grief too. Now that his father has died he sees no point in living, the world around him seems meaningless. He states ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, / Seem to me all the uses of this world! ‘ the world around him no longer has a use to him. Nothing has a purpose to him. He compares the world with a weeded garden. ’tis an unweeded garden, /That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature’. The words are showing that Hamlet feels the world is corrupt and rotting, and it is also a gross place.
He realises that everything in the end will turn bad, and rank. He seems to think everything around him has decayed and nothing will really flourish anymore, everything he was comfortable with has just been taken away from him instantaneously and he doesn’t seem to think anything will get better. Hamlet in contrast to Claudius sees his father as amazing. He thinks his father was ‘excellent’ and now that Claudius is taking his place so quickly and his mother hasn’t even had time to grieve, he finds that unbearable.
‘O, God! beast, that wants discourse of reason, / Would have mourn’d longer–married with my uncle’ Hamlet think that even an animal would have mourned longer then what his mother did. He feels as though she is moving on too quickly. Hamlet seems to be trapped in the memory of his father, he doesn’t seem to be completely grief ridden but it seems like he wants to reminisce his father’s existence. He wants to be close to his mother too, and he feels like it’s her duty to mourn. Going into another relationship so abruptly leaves Hamlet feeling as though she felt nothing towards her father.
Hamlet believes all the tears she cried for him must therefore be fake. ‘Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears/ Had left the flushing in her galled eyes’ She doesn’t deserve to mourn, in Hamlet’s eyes. Hamlet at this point in the play is experiencing melancholia. He is grieving and is faced with more problems. This soliloquy helps us understand what Hamlet is feeling about the situation. Hamlet at this point is still an enigmatic character although he is showing his frustration quite clearly; he is yet to act upon his feelings and is trapped within his mind.
Although he is feeling great annoyance towards the whole situation he hasn’t confronted his mother about it yet. As the play progresses Hamlet’s character traits become more apparent. His indecisiveness is demonstrated in this soliloquy. He is confused about life and is contemplating suicide in Act 3 Scene 1 (lines 56-89). He is debating two possible scenarios; to live or to die. ‘To be or not to be’. This soliloquy unlike his other soliloquies is quite a thorough, thought out one. He is not in complete despair or anger, he is calm. Hamlet starts a philosophical speech on the good and bad sides of living.
Hamlet’s predicament is that he is so unhappy with living; he just doesn’t see the point of existing anymore. He is speculating whether death would actually be better then living. However, Hamlet is also acknowledging the fact that as he hasn’t experienced death before he doesn’t know how it is going to be like; he is not sure if he wants to take the chance and die; it could be a lot worse then living. If Hamlet does commit suicide there is no coming back. Shakespeare uses interesting phrases to create a vivid image in the audiences mind. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,’ by comparing his situation to a sea of troubles creates an image in the audiences mind. This line can also demonstrate the physical representation of his mind. Like a sea of troubles everything is crashing inside him, nothing is going the right way. He wants to fight his despair but he doesn’t see the point. He is thinking to maybe take the risk of suicide ‘To sleep: perchance to dream”. Perhaps if he died, he would take the chance of falling into an eternal slumber, to dream to be at peace.
However, he does realise that no-one can come back once they have taken their lives. ‘The undiscover’d country from whose bourn/ No traveller returns’. He is not willing to take the risk at this point. Hamlet associates death as a peaceful concept. He uses positive words to describe it. ‘To sleep, to dream’. As his life is filled with torment he sees death as an escape, to fall asleep and never wake, to live in a fantasy and dream. This soliloquy is showing us the paradox of Hamlet’s situation. He is required to kill Claudius because his father has told him to do so.
But he also has his mind bent towards suicide. The 6th commandment prevents Hamlet from killing Claudius. Killing ones self is also going against the commandment. Also, Hamlet realises that if he does kill Claudius his outcome may be sentenced to a life time in hell. He doesn’t really take this into consideration and really wants to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death. He is stuck between two things, to listen to his father and kill Claudius and end up going to hell or let his father’s death go unpunished in this life. This is mentally eating up Hamlet.
Since Hamlet is a firm believer in Christianity he should realise that Claudius’s crime won’t go un punishable but he still feels obliged to avenge his fathers death. He is stuck in the situation. Hamlets mental state is not stable. He is always changing his moods abruptly and his soliloquies show his instability. His character at this point is reaching a climax. So far he hasn’t acted upon filling his fathers wish although he really wants to do so. His indecisiveness has prevented him to do so. Although opportunities to do so have arised, he didn’t take them. Hamlet finds a perfect chance to kill Claudius.
But he thinks Claudius is praying. In the fourth soliloquy he expresses his thoughts on this (Act 3, scene 3 lines 73-97). Claudius is praying for forgiveness for what he has done. Hamlet believes if he kills Claudius now he will be forgiven and sent to heaven. Hamlet does not think this is the right moment to kill him now because his heinous crime will go unpunished, he wants Claudius o suffer for what he did. ‘A villain kills my father; and for that / I, his sole son, do the same villain send / to heaven’. Hamlet feels like it’s his duty to avenge his father’s death as he is the only son.
He thinks if he kills Claudius now, his crime will go unpunished. Hamlet wants to ensure Claudius gets what he deserves: damnation. He feels like it is his duty to fulfil this. ‘Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, / And that his soul may be as damn’d and black / As hell, whereto it goes. ‘ He wants to make sure there is no way Claudius will go to heaven. ‘O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. ‘ This is not something Hamlet sees as revenge, but something he must do, something compulsory. These three soliloquies demonstrate Hamlet’s character and it shows his character development also.
They portray his indecisiveness; he doesn’t know when to kill Claudius. As he leaves it to the very end to take action the play ends in tragedy, naturally. He becomes more and more aware of his “duty” and feels the need to have to take Claudius’s life. Although Hamlet’s character seems to feign insanity by the end of the play Hamlet’s negative mind is definitely over powering him which leads to his mental breakdown. The soliloquies are successful in showing this as the audience get to see the slow progression of his insanity and how his character fully develops.