A soliloquy is a long speech spoken by a single character that reveals inner thoughts. It is spoken by a character to himself or herself. It's not part of a dialogue with other characters. It also doesn't simply set the scene or provide background or exposition. It reveals a character’s private thoughts. Only the character who speaks the soliloquy is present on stage when the speech is delivered. The character speaking the soliloquy isn't speaking it for other characters. The character reveals inner thoughts, and puzzles out personal problems. In many soliloquies, the character is trying to work out an argument, explore different sides of an issue, or seek a solution to a problem. A soliloquy is a playwright’s way of representing this kind of talking out loud – but that it’s also a way to reveal character. In Hamlet Shakespeare uses some poignant but eloquent soliloquies in order to reveal the character and his inner torment.
In Act 1 Scene 2 we already know that Hamlet is the prince of Denmark. His father has recently died, and very soon after his death, his mother married Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Hamlet still wears black and is grieving his father mournfully, the event of his mother’s re-marriage falls on him like the slash of a whip. In his first soliloquy Hamlet exclaims that he wishes he could die, that he could evaporate and cease to exist. He wishes bitterly that God had not made suicide a sin. Anguished, he laments his father’s death and his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle. He remembers how deeply in love his parents seemed, and he curses the thought that now, not yet two month after his father’s death, his mother has married his father’s far inferior brother. O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.
Hamlet speaks these lines after enduring the unpleasant scene at Claudius and Gertrude’s court, then being asked by his mother and stepfather not to return to his studies at Wittenberg but to remain in Denmark, presumably against his wishes. Here, Hamlet thinks for the first time about suicide (desiring his flesh to “melt,” and wishing that God had not made “self-slaughter” a sin), saying that the world is “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.” In other words, suicide seems like a desirable alternative to life in a painful world, but Hamlet feels that the option of suicide is closed to him because it is forbidden by religion. Hamlet then goes on to describe the causes of his pain, specifically his intense disgust at his mother’s marriage to Claudius. He describes the haste of their marriage, noting that the shoes his mother wore to his father’s funeral were not worn out before her marriage to Claudius. He compares Claudius to his father: his father was “so excellent a king” while Claudius is a bestial “satyr”.
As Hamlet runs in the following lines through his description of their marriage, A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow’d my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears:–why she, even she–
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn’d longer–married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
He touches upon the important motifs of misogyny, crying, “Frailty, thy name is woman”; incest, commenting that his mother moved “[w]ith such dexterity to incestuous sheets”; and the ominous omen the marriage represents for Denmark, that “[i]t is not nor it cannot come to good.” Each of these motifs recurs throughout the play. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good: