Shakespeare often has his characters speak in soliloquies during the course of his plays. Soliloquies are essential to the presentation of a story through the medium of a play because they provide the opportunity the chance to tell the audience specific pieces of information which cannot be disclosed through normal conversation. In his work, Hamlet, Shakespeare’s title character is shown to speak in seven soliloquies. Each soliloquy advances the plot, reveals Hamlet’s inner thoughts to the audience and helps to create an atmosphere in the play.

The first soliloquy which Hamlet delivers gives the audience their first glimpse of him as a character. Hamlet is reflective and depicts the way he views his own position; he tells of his father’s death and then his mother’s quick remarriage. He says, “It is not, nor it cannot come to good” (I, ii, 163), when referring to the marriage of his mother. This gives the audience a hint of foreshadowing because it is the first time when Hamlet mentions the future. This speech also reveals his thoughts further when he says that his mother is frail because she is a woman, while he also admits that he knows he must hold his tongue. During the course of this speech Hamlet makes several allusions to historical figures and this demonstrates to the audience that he is an intelligent young man. One of these allusions is when he compares the love his late father had for his mother to Hyperion to Satyr; this is a reference to the sun god and his affections. This clearly shows the audience that his heart is breaking not only for the loss of affections towards his mother but the fact that she does not seem to care about this loss. A second allusion made during the course of this soliloquy is a reference to Niobe, a figure in Greek mythology who was so grief stricken she could not stop crying and turned to stone. Hamlet compares his mother to this figure and says Gertrude should be as grief stricken as Niobe. He also compares himself to Hercules saying that his uncle is as similar to his father as he is to Hercules. All of this information put together gives the audience a very strong first impression of Hamlet as a character.

The second time which the audience sees Hamlet speak in a soliloquy is in scene 5 of act 1 when Hamlet has just met the ghost of his father and has received some disturbing news. His father has just revealed that he was murdered by his own brother, this news deeply upsets Hamlet. This soliloquy reveals Hamlet’s thoughts when he says he is going to wipe away all trivial knowledge from his brain and live by thy commandments. When he says, “Now to my word … I have sworn it” (I, v, 116-119), he is letting the audience know that he will avenge his father’s death therefore creating anticipation as the audience wonders how he will achieve retribution. While speaking, Hamlet creates an atmosphere because he repeats the last words the ghost has told him, “Adieu, adieu, remember me” (I, v, 118). This line is important because the ghost does not want to be forgotten and Hamlet does not want to forget him. The repetition makes the audience realize the significance of this line because the ghost wants his true story to be told and he wishes to be remembered as a hero and someone who was wronged. There is also contrast present when Hamlet talks about smiling and being a villain. This shows that Hamlet is now aware that people may not always be as they seem and one must be careful. His attitude has changed because now Hamlet has even more of a reason to despise his uncle and the audience is now caught up in the moment of surprise and suspense.

The next time the audience sees Hamlet alone, more information has been gathered about his character, because although a lot can be learned for what Hamlet says about himself, information can also be learned by what others says about him and the actions that Hamlet does. It is now known that Hamlet is mad, although he has revealed to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz that he is only pretending. He further explains the plan to foil his uncle in this soliloquy, saying he will watch closely the way his uncle reacts to a play that is very similar in plot line to the actions Claudius has taken to become King. Hamlet reveals that he feels he has taken a cowardly approach to making sure that the ghost was telling the truth and that his uncle really is the murderer but he also discloses that he is worried the ghost may have been the devil. This soliloquy also creates atmosphere because of the way Hamlet talks about himself; he uses harsh language and calls himself names such as rogue, peasant slave, ass, and whore.  This language makes the audience sympathize with Hamlet because he has a lot to worry about with his mother marrying to soon and his uncle possibly having married his mother. It gives Hamlet a reason to be acting so mad because there is a lot to deal with in his life, his character becomes relatable to the audience because he is overwhelmed therefore allowing there to be some justification of his actions.

Hamlet is seen again in act 3, speaking directly to the audience during his famous to be or not to be speech. This soliloquy is especially important to the play because it is written with masterful language and reveals a new side of Hamlet. This soliloquy shows Hamlet’s softer emotional side when he speaks of suffering and lists multiple opposing things, showing once again the inner turmoil that Hamlet is facing. The big question that Hamlet is trying to answer for himself during the course of this soliloquy is whether or not it is noble to take up arms and die defending what you believe is right. He compares dying to sleeping because it is peaceful and may lead to dreams. By discussing mortality Hamlet again allows the audience to relate to him because he reveals he is afraid of dying. The soliloquy ends on a strong note giving the audience pause to consider his actions he says, “be all my sins remembered” (III, i, 98). This quote tells the audience that Hamlet has decided that seeking revenge is in fact a noble deed and justifiable. The last few lines also mention Ophelia, and as the audience knows Ophelia refuses to see him now and Hamlet is acting mad towards her. This shows that Hamlet continues to act mad and seek revenge and he is aware that he will lose Ophelia during the course of these events. This creates atmosphere for the audience and prepares them for the actions that Hamlet will take in the near future.

The next soliloquy in which the audience sees Hamlet is at the end of scene 3 act 2, in which he has just watched the play which he orchestrated to get a reaction out of Claudius to see if he is guilty or not.  During the course of the play Hamlet makes bawdy comments to Ophelia and Claudius has rushed out of the play. Gertrude is furious with Hamlet and wants to see him immediately. The audience can see how Hamlet really feels about these events during the course of his soliloquy; his feelings are apparent within the first line where he says it is the witching time of night. Hamlet is aware that it is time to take action because he has figured out the truth about what his uncle has done. Hamlet goes on to reveal his feelings about his mother when he says, “I will speak daggers to her, but use none” (III, ii, 429). This metaphor creates atmosphere because although Hamlet says he will speak daggers and not use them it tells the audience his train of thought is leading him close to daggers and using daggers. During the course of this soliloquy Hamlet reveals that he does not want his heart to lose her nature and he wishes for the soul of Nero to enter his bosom. Nero was an infamous roman emperor who performed numerous executions including that of his mother. By wishing to have a soul such as Nero’s enter his bosom it is clear that Hamlet is revealing to the audience how his intentions may not be as pure as he portrays them.

When Hamlet presents his next soliloquy he is not alone on stage but there with his uncle who cannot hear him. Hamlet walks in on his uncle who he believes to be kneeling in prayer, Hamlet at first thinks this will be the perfect opportunity to murder his uncle and gain his revenge but his soliloquy quickly reveal that his thoughts have brought him somewhere else. Hamlet decides that he cannot kill his uncle while he is in prayer because then his soul will go to Heaven and this will not be just punishment for the acts which he has committed. “And that his soul will be as damned and black as hell” (III, iii, 99-100) this metaphor adds atmosphere because Hamlet compares his uncle’s soul to blackness and hell. Hamlet then decides that he will kill his uncle at a more appropriate time such as when he is drinking or when he is in his incestuous bed filled with pleasures. That way, Hamlet reveals his uncle’s soul will go to hell and not to heaven. By not wanting his uncle to go to Heaven the audience learns a new side of Hamlet in which his thoughts are becoming increasingly rash and angry now that he is convinced that his uncle did in fact murder his father. Because Hamlet is waiting for what he considers a better opportunity to kill his uncle this creates anticipation for the audience as they will be wondering when and how Hamlet will achieve his ultimate revenge.

The final soliloquy that Hamlet presents to the audience is one of the last times Hamlet appears on stage. It is at the end of scene 4 act 4 and takes place after Hamlet has encountered Fortinbras’ army and talked with Fortinbras himself. Hamlet reveals to the audience that he feels that if a man has no purpose he is no better than a beast so he must use his encounter with Fortinbras to spur his revenge. He believes that God has created humans in his image to achieve great things and he also tells the audience that he doesn’t just want to sit there anymore while his father is not avenged and his mother is stained by the actions she has taken to be with his uncle. He is inspired by Fortinbras and his army of twenty thousand men who walk towards certain death and yet they do it with noble hearts and courage because their honor is at stake. Hamlet also contemplates on the meaning of mortality and how death can come so quickly. This reveals to the audience that Hamlet does not feel as though he is invulnerable and that he is scared of dying. At the end of his soliloquy Hamlet vows, “O, from this time forth/My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!” (IV, iv, 68-69) These lines show that Hamlet has gained new resolve and will try to kill his uncle no matter what to avenge his father’s death and Hamlet is convinced that all of his actions are justifiable. This closing line gives the audience a chance to connect with Hamlet because it is easy for one to understand feelings of being wronged and wanting to get revenge.

Before Hamlet’s death, he kills his uncle and avenges his father and this allows the audience to breathe a sigh of relief towards Hamlet because he has achieved the purpose which he often alludes to during his soliloquies. Each of the seven soliloquies allows the audience a deeper perspective into who Hamlet is as a character as he reveals his thoughts, advances the plot and adds atmosphere. When Hamlet speaks in these soliloquies he is always his true self; never pretending to be mad or taking on a superficial way of talking as he did at times in dialogue with others. These soliloquies, therefore, adds much to the overall content of the play Hamlet and allows Shakespeare’s audience a much better understanding of the plot.

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Shahidul Hasan Bilash
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Shahidul Hasan Bilash

This lecture helps me a lot. I was searching for exactly this article. Thanks a lot.

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