Hamlet gives us seven soliloquies, all centered on the most important existential themes: the emptiness of existence, suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of the flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of human beings, and the difficulty of acting under the weight of a thought 'which makes cowards of us all'. He offers us also, in the last act, some remarks made in conversation with Horatio in the cemetery which it is suitable to place in the same context as the soliloquies because the themes of life and death in general and his attitude when confronted by his own death have been with him constantly. Hamlet's soliloquy's reveal much about his character. However, they mainly seem to reveal that he is virtuous, though quite indecisive. These characteristics are explored through his various ways of insulting himself for not acting on his beliefs, and his constant need to reassure himself that his deeds are correct. Four of his seven soliloquies deserve our special attention: 'O that this too sullied flesh would melt', 'O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!', 'To be, or not to be, that is the question', and 'How all occasions do inform against me'.
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,...
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