How Do Hamlet's Seven Soliloquies Reveal His Character?

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The soliloquies of Hamlet have drama and theatrics elements that indicate to the audience that he is performing a ‘play within a play.’ Shakespeare uses the soliloquies to reveal his character to the audience, giving them the ability to understand Hamlet’s inner thoughts (Arrington 105). Some elements in Hamlet such as the scene where he entertains the thought of using the play to kill his uncle and King, Claudius show the audience that whether on stage or reality, his suffering is the same. Thus, the play only sheds more light on Hamlet’s pain and his soliloquies reveal more about his character. The seven soliloquies of Hamlet seem to reveal him as a virtuous person, but indecisive, vengeful, and insane. Of course, his characteristics get exhibited throughout the monologues in different ways.

O That This Too Too Sullied Flesh Would Melt

In this speech, Hamlet discovered that his uncle killed his father then married his mother immediately to become king. However, in Act I Scene II, Hamlet is reluctant to speak to his mother and tell her that he disapproves of her relationship with his uncle, Claudius (Arrington 102). Even though their marriage hurts him, Hamlet displays a character of virtue. In the last line of the first monologue, Hamlet tells the audience, ‘But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.’ It is therefore clear that Hamlet does not like the fact that his mother married Claudius so fast after his father’s death. He also feels that his mother should have mourned for her dead husband longer instead of rushing to marry his brother in two months. Although everything about the relationship hurts him, he does not want to upset his mother by voicing his concerns. As such, this soliloquy reveals Hamlet as a person of virtue who considers others even when they bothered him.

Also, in this first soliloquy, Shakespeare explains the reason for Hamlet’s melancholic state and how he cannot act upon what brings about his sadness and depression. As stated above, the death of Hamlet’s father and the quick marriage between his mother and uncle cause his depression (Hassan para 3). It appears that Hamlet believes that by marrying Claudius, his mother betrayed his dead father. In line twenty-nine of the first soliloquy, Hamlet says, ‘With such dexterity, to incestuous sheets.’ It is clear from this text that Hamlet sees the marriage as wrong and something that should not have happened. However, he cannot openly tell his mother and uncle what he thinks of their union. The inability to voice his frustrations result in Hamlet’s depression and the soliloquy reveal him as indecisive because he is unable to act on what he believes to be right.

O All You Host Of Heaven! Oh, Earth! What Else?

In the second soliloquy of Hamlet, he lets the audience know that he found out the truth that Claudius murdered his father. Even though it may seem that Hamlet is mad since he starts to see a ghost of his father asking him to seek revenge for his death, it is evident that this is his reality. In Act I Scene V, Hamlet commits his father to drop all other commitments and concentrate on avenging his death. In line eleven of the monologue, Hamlet states, ‘And thy commandment all alone shall live. It is evident from what Hamlet tells his audience that he is willing to take revenge on his uncle for killing his father. Notably, the soliloquy reveals Hamlet’s character as a vengeful person (Hassan para 5). Even though it seems difficult for Hamlet to kill his uncle, he has no intentions of letting him get away with his father’s murder.

O What a Rogue and Peasant Slave Am I!

The third soliloquy of Hamlet takes place in Act II Scene II where the audience may think that what he does on stage is only an act in the play. However, the drama depicts Hamlet’s true feelings and character. In this soliloquy, Hamlet tries to convince himself to take revenge for his father’s murder by killing Claudius (Fischlinpara 8). Again, the speech reveals the nature of Hamlet as a vengeful person as all he can think of taking revenge and killing the person who killed his father. Despite his desire to revenge, Hamlet cannot bring himself to commit murder, and he insults himself as a result. The first line of the speech ‘o what a rogue and peasant slave am I’ reveals Hamlet as a virtuous person because even though he wants to take revenge the moral consequences of such actions stop him.

The monologue also reveals another character of Hamlet. Indeed, the line where Hamlet says, ‘But I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall’ reveals him as indecisive. It also reveals that Hamlet knows that he lacks the courage to make a final decision to end Claudius life (Fischlinpara 9). In the last line, Hamlet’s character shows how similar actions in the play and reality are, and how such elements display the seriousness of his suffering. In this scene where Hamlet devices a plan to expose the guilt of the king in the play, the audience can understand that he genuinely suffers because of what Claudius did.

To be, or not to be, that is the Question

The fourth soliloquy displays the true extent of Hamlet’s anger and depression. The question he asks in Act III Scene I ‘To be or not to be’ shows that Hamlet no longer feels that life is worth living. Hamlet wonders in deep thought whether dying is better than living with the anger, rejection, and disrespect from members of his family. The soliloquy reveals Hamlet as indecisive because he cannot make up his mind (Arrington 101). Although Hamlet thinks that committing suicide would end his problems and will not need to stain his conscious by killing his uncle, the character fears to go to hell. So, the soliloquy also reveals Hamlet as virtuous because he is reluctant to do something that compromises his character. The scene also reveals Hamlet as an insane person characterized by the depression resulting from the actions of his uncle and mother. Hamlet is mad to contemplate suicide because he could not take revenge on Claudius. Instead of focusing on living a happy life and ignoring his father’s ghost, Hamlet chooses to walk a delicate path of revenge, which he finds disturbing but still does not let go. Thus, this soliloquy reveals Hamlet as an insane character.

Tis Now the Very Witching Time of Night

In this fifth soliloquy, Hamlet seems to try to collect enough courage to speak to his mother about what she had done (Kadhim para 2). However, he understands that whatever he must say to his mother is harsh and even though Hamlet wants to hurt his mother so she could experience his pain, he lacked the courage to do it. Act III Scene II reveals the character of Hamlet as that of a virtuous individual. In line six, Hamlet forgets about the anger he feels against his mother and starts thinking of his heart’s well-being and nature. In fact, he tells his heart never to become cruel or turn evil regardless of his actions, ‘O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever.’ Although the words Hamlet’s narrations in the first few lines of the soliloquy make him act mad and gives the audience the impression that he is insane to even think of ‘drinking hot blood,’ he worries what it could do to his heart. Thus, the text reveals Hamlet as a person of virtue.

Now Might I do it pat, Now a’ is a-Praying

After entering on stage in Act III Scene III, Hamlet begins to analyze how easy it would be to kill Claudius while in prayer because he would be unaware and cannot defend himself. Hamlet’s acting in the play reveals his deep desire for revenge. Although he finally musters the courage to kill his uncle and says, ‘And now I’ll do’t’ he hesitates to think about the consequences of killing his uncle while in prayer. Shakespeare uses this scene illustrate how much Hamlet suffers from his depression (Fischlinpara 1). In fact, Hamlet feels that the death of Claudius is not enough punishment; therefore, he wants him to suffer eternal damnation. Also, Hamlet’s ‘mad’ acting reveals him to be a religious person. Hamlet speaks of death often and does not seem to think of anything else apart from killing Claudius. While this act reveals his vengeful character, it also shows Hamlet as indecisive.

The soliloquy displays how indecisive Hamlet is because even after finally gaining the courage to kill his uncle, he makes another excuse for not killing him while in prayer. Hamlet believes that if he kills Claudius while undertaking a noble act such as praying he would go to heaven (Arrington 117). Even in his ‘mad’ state, the audience can see that Hamlet can still reason as he says, ‘And so he goes to heaven.’ Because Hamlet only wants Claudius to suffer, he intends to wait until he finds him in a sinful act such as drinking, gambling, or sex. The audience learns of Hamlet's intentions in Act III Scene IV when he says, ‘When he is drunk asleep or in his rage, or in his incestuous pleasure of his bed.’ Thus, even with the perfect opportunity to kill his father’s murderer, Hamlet shows his indecisiveness.

How All Occasions Do Inform Against Me

In his final soliloquy, Hamlet reveals how courageous he can be when pushed hard enough. Although at first he is disappointed in his indecisiveness and inability to act on his desire for revenge, he finally accepts it as his duty to kill the man who took his father’s life. In Act IV Scene IV Hamlet says, ‘O from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.’ Thus, he buries his character of indecisiveness, and a new character of courage is born. At the end Hamlet decides to act upon his plan of revenge by killing Claudius, thus avenging his father’s death and ending his suffering (Hassan para 6). The soliloquies of Hamlet help the reader and audience to predict how his tragic story would end. In short, the speeches help the audience to understand that Hamlet has a changing character.

Works Cited

Arrington, Phillip. "Feigned Soliloquy, Feigned Argument: Hamlet's “To Be or Not to Be”

Speech as Sophistic DissoiLogoi."Ben Jonson Journal 22.1 (2015): 101-118.

Fischlin, Daniel. Hamlet (Shakespeare).Oxford University Press, 2014.

Hassan, Ayman Mohammed Azab. Exploring Vacillation in Hamlets Character. Diss. Alzaeim

Alazhari University, 2015.

Kadhim, Hana Abdullah, and Mahmoud Ali Ahmed. "The Impact of the Two Murdered Fathers

on Madness and Death of Hamlet and Ophelia."(2017).

December 12, 2023




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