Hamlet's Second Soliloquy

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Coming immediately after the meeting with the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, Shakespeare uses his second soliloquy to present Hamlet’s initial responses to his new role of revenger. Shakespeare is not hesitant in foreboding the religious and metaphysical implications of this role, something widely explored in Elizabethan revenge tragedy, doing so in the first lines as Hamlet makes an invocation to ‘all you host of heaven’ and ‘earth’. Hamlet is shown to impulsively rationalize the ethical issues behind his task as he views it as a divine ordinance of justice, his fatalistic view reiterated at the end of scene 5 with the rhyming couplet ‘O cursed spite,/That ever I was born to set it right’. These ideas are paralleled in Vindice’s opening soliloquy in The Revenger’s Tragedy, as he calls upon a personified ‘Vengeance, thou murder’s quit-rent’ and asks ‘Faith’ to ‘give Revenge her due’. This concept of acting as God’s scourging agent identifies the hubristic nature of the two character’s proposals, Shakespeare also introducing ideas of ‘heaven’, ‘hell’ and ‘earth’ that recur in the play’s cosmic perspective on revenge.

However, while this display of hamartia is particularly strong in Vindice, who therefore seems damned from the first scene, Shakespeare complexly introduces Hamlet’s underlying morals concerning revenge as he asks whether he ‘shall couple hell’ with ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’. While this could be seen as a reiteration of the possibility that the ghost was a hellish figure, or that even hell cannot comprehend Claudius’ crime, it can also be seen as an impulsive recognition of his intellectual response to his task, and the ethical question that comes with it. The use of ‘And’ as well as the juxtaposition next to the exclamation of ‘O fie!’ and the caesura in ‘Hold, hold, my heart’ portray the statement as an after-thought that is quickly rejected by Hamlet, who then goes onto vow his commitment to the Ghost.