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HAMLET’S SOLILOQUIES:

Soliloquy is the act of talking to oneself. In drama, it denotes the convention by which a
character, alone on the stage, utters his thought aloud. The playwright uses this device as a
convenient way to convey directly to the audience information about a character motives,
intention and state of mind, as well as purposes of general exposition. This practice of
soliloquies became so popular with the Elizabethan audience that it banished the chorus
from Shakespeare plays. Shakespeare has made frequent use of soliloquies in his plays, and
they include some of great writings and most quotable words. He makes such an effective
use of soliloquies that if we were to remove them from the tragic plays, the plays would be
left poorer.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare makes a splendid use of this dramatic device and the soliloquies
spoken by Hamlet reveal and unlock the heart of the chief speaker. Hamlet’s soliloquies
stand out as essential pillars of the structure as Harrison says that in Hamlet for the first
time Shakespeare elaborated soliloquy to show a character exploring his own complex
mentality. George Kylands says, “We listen to Hamlet when he is alone.” He confides to us
his many moods. We come to know what other think of him, what he thinks of others and
we also come to know what he thinks of himself.” Granville points out, “When he is alone,
we have the truth of him; all his soliloquies show his wisdom and deep thinking.”
Hamlet’s soliloquies are neither superfluous, nor isolated. They are interconnected and are
very intimately linked with one another. When in the second scene of the first act as soon as
the queen meets her son, and Claudius breaks up the council in triumph, Hamlet is left
alone. He bursts out the first soliloquy which brings to us that it is not his father’s death
only, but his mother’s, hasty marriage which has broken his heart and sickened him with
all the uses of the world as he says:
“How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world,
Fie on’t! Ah, fie! It’s an unweeded garden
That grows to seed.”
The mood expressed by these lines is potent. Hamlet has lost all sense of purpose, when he
thinks of his mother’s marriage.
“Within a month!
O She married,
O, most wicked speed to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”
He cries out: “Frailty thy name is woman”
The first soliloquy is, perhaps, the most important in the play for understanding the
character of Hamlet. Hamlet’s reference to mythological figures “Niobe” portrays him as a
well- versed man in classical literature. We also learn about Hamlet’s tendency to
universalize an idea. His habit of speculation accounts for the delay in effecting the
revenge.
Hamlet’s next soliloquy is delivered after the arrival of the players and the recitation of
Hecuba’s speech. The players’ performance has profoundly stirred him, reminding him
that he has done nothing and can do nothing. Hamlet rebukes himself for negligence of his
duty. No one can be harsher on Hamlet on the subject of negligence to his duty than
Hamlet himself. He calls himself:
“A dull and muddy-mettl’d
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell.
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words.”
At the end, we find Hamlet planning to enact the “Mouse trap play” to catch “the
conscience of the king.” This soliloquy emphasizes Hamlet’s speculative and inactive
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nature. Hamlet shows himself conscious of his own inactivity in avenging his father’s death.
His conscience is stirred but he doubts the ghost again and wavers,
The third soliloquy begins at the beginning of the nunnery scene. It is the most celebrated
of all. In it, Hamlet discusses the subject of death and life after death.
“To be or not to be that is the question:
Whether t’s nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”
Here Hamlet contemplates finding a solution in suicide but his bewildered brain conceives
objections even to this means of relief, calling the other world the “undiscovered country”.
This soliloquy is one of the finest poetic passages and a masterpiece that reveals the
universal fear of death. It reveals Hamlet’s cynicism, his melancholy and his irresolution.
The, fourth important soliloquy comes after the play scene, as Hamlet finds the
opportunity to kill Claudius and he draws his sword but he begins to think:
“Now might I do it, now he is praying,
And now I shall do it-- and so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged!”
His decision not to kill the king may be because of his sin in the death of a Christian when
in prayer. But Bradley says, “ This soliloquy is generally recognized as an unconscious
excuse for delay.”
The fifth important soliloquy is prompted by the passage of Fortinbras’s army through
Denmark. It is another protest against the dullness of his passion and the slow methodical
march of his critical intellect. He cries out:
“How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge.”
Here he contracts the action of Fortinbras with his own inaction. He has a strong cause for
revenge yet he stays from taking any step.
In short, we can say that the prince of Denmark without the soliloquies will be an elusive
shadow, a character without personality. Moreover, the soliloquies are also reflective of
advance in action in the sense that they let the audience know what the next step is to be.

Written&Composed By:
Prof.A.R.Somroo
M.A.English&Education
0661-610063