Hamlet 1

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Hamlet's Soliloquy: Tis now the very witching time of night (3.2.380-391) Annotations

Tis now the very witching time of night, (380)
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft! now to my mother.
O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever (385)
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom:
Let me be cruel, not unnatural:
I will speak daggers to her, but use none;
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites;
How in my words soever she be shent, (390)
To give them seals never, my soul, consent!
Hamlet's Soliloquy: Tis now the very witching time of night (3.2.380-391) Commentary

Hamlet's plan to "catch the conscience of the king" has been a success, and Claudius has retired, distraught, to his chamber. Thrilled that his scheme worked, Hamlet experiences a sudden surge of confidence which prompts the first half of this short soliloquy. Hamlet is now sure that he could easily complete the "bitter business" of revenge; sure that he could murder his uncle without hesitation. However, Claudius is out of reach for the moment, and so Hamlet turns his attention to his mother, revealing in the second half of the soliloquy his intentions to force Gertrude to make a full confession. Although Hamlet still loves his mother, he must be cruel to her in order to facilitate the admission of her guilt. Hamlet says, "My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites" (389), because he knows that he must feign violent intentions towards his mother, and that his words must express those false intentions. Hamlet is becoming like the players who so mystified him in 2.2: Is it not monstrous that this player here,

But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, (560)
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms...
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