In Act 1 Scene 2, Hamlet is suicidally depressed by his father’s death and mother’s remarriage. He is disillusioned with life, love and women. Whether ‘sullied’ or ‘solid’ flesh, the reference is to man’s fallen state. This is the fault of woman, because of Eve’s sin, and because the misogynistic medieval church had decreed that the father supplied the spirit and the mother the physical element of their offspring. Both words apply equally well, linking with the theme of corruption or the imagery of heaviness, but ‘solid’ is more subtle and fits better with the sustained metaphor of ‘melting’, ‘dew’ and ‘moist’, and the overarching framework of the four hierarchical elemental levels in the play: fire, air, water and earth. Melancholy was associated with a congealing of the blood, which also supports the ‘solid’ reading. In all likelihood it is a deliberate pun on both words by the dramatist and Hamlet.
Other imagery concerns a barren earth, weed-infested and gone to seed, making the soliloquy an elegy for a world and father lost. Hamlet condemns his mother for lack of delay, and is concerned about her having fallen ‘to incestuous sheets’. His attitude to his dead father, his mother and his new father are all made clear to the audience here, but we may suspect that he has a habit of exaggeration and strong passion, confirmed by his use of three names of mythological characters. His reference to the sixth commandment — thou shalt not kill — and application of it to suicide as well as murder introduces the first of many Christian precepts in the play and shows Hamlet to be concerned about his spiritual state and the afterlife. Many of the play’s images and themes are introduced here, in some cases with their paired opposites: Hyperion versus satyr; heart versus tongue; heaven versus earth; ‘things rank and gross in nature’; memory; reason.
In Act 1 Scene 5, having heard the Ghost’s testimony, Hamlet becomes distressed and impassioned. He is horrified by the behavior of Claudius and Gertrude and is convinced he must avenge his father’s murder. This speech is duplicative, contains much tautology, and is fragmented and confused. To reveal his state of shock he uses rhetorical questions, short phrases, dashes and exclamations, and jumps from subject to subject. God is invoked three times. The dichotomy between head and heart is mentioned again.
In Act 2 Scene 2, Hamlet’s mood shifts from self-loathing to a determination to subdue passion and follow reason, applying this to the testing of the Ghost and his uncle with the play. The first part of the speech mirrors the style of the First Player describing Pyrrhus, with its short phrasing, incomplete lines,...