Look at Hamlet’s soliloquy and examine how it reveals to the audience what he feels and thinks
The purpose of a soliloquy is to outline the thoughts and feelings of a certain character at a point in the play. It reveals the innermost beliefs of the character and offers an unbiased perspective as it is merely the character talking to the audience, albeit not directly, and not to any other characters who may cause the character to withhold their true opinions. Therefore, Hamlet’s first soliloquy (act 1, scene 2) is essential to the play as it highlights his inner conflict caused by the events of the play. It reveals his true feelings and as such emphasises the difference between his public appearance, his attitude towards Claudius in the previous scene is less confrontational than here where he is directly insulted as a “satyr”, and his feelings within himself. In this essay, I will outline how Shakespeare communicates the turmoil of Hamlet’s psyche.
Hamlet’s despair stems from his mother’s marriage to his uncle and it is this that is the driving force behind what is communicated. His constant repetition of the time in which it took the two to get married, “But two months dead…yet within a month…A little month…Within a month…most wicked speed”, suggests his disgust at the situation and that it is not necessarily the nature of their “incestuous” relationship that troubles Hamlet; more the short time in which it occurred. In fact, this is especially well communicated to the audience as, throughout the soliloquy, the passage of time that Hamlet describes gets less from “two months” to “Within a month”. This has the effect of outlining Hamlet’s supposed contempt of his mother for only mourning a month whilst also highlighting that it is the time involved that is vexing him and not specifically the deed.
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In this soliloquy, we also learn about Hamlet’s adoration of his father and how this serves to emphasise the scorn that he shows towards his mother. Hamlet communicates that his father was a divine, almost ‘god-like’ character, “so excellent a king”, who was “so loving to my mother”. He also illustrates the contrast between the new king and the old and as such his mother’s choice, “Hyperion to a satyr”. This example of extreme contrast increases the importance of Hamlet’s father and yet also makes a mockery of Claudius’ character; one which, to this point, the audience could have seen as strong and domineering.
When Hamlet says, “Frailty, thy name is woman”, he is personifying frailty as the entire of the female race. The actions of his mother have lead him to believe that all women are capable of acting in this “wicked” way and that all women are weak. Alongside the image of his father that is communicated, Hamlet is saying, and therefore feeling, that the people that he could look up to in life have departed and that his entire world has been altered, “It is not nor it cannot come to good”.
The distressed nature of Hamlet’s mind is also communicated well by the imagery that is used throughout the soliloquy. At the start, Hamlet says that he wants his “too too solid flesh” to “…melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew”. This goes alongside the later lines, “How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world”, where the build up of adjectives, one after the other, serves to highlight just how difficult it is for Hamlet to live in the world. It is as if Hamlet cannot deal with or, indeed, stand the physical side of life anymore; he needs to get rid of his body to be able to deal with the inner conflict going on in his head. The poetry of these lines and the image that is expressed serve to reveal not only the tragic nature of his problem, also highlighted by his allusions to suicide, but also create a link between him and the audience. In fact, the entire soliloquy establishes a connection between the audience and Hamlet, a concept that is essential in the play.
Another good example of imagery in the soliloquy is that of the “unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rank…in nature”. This image represents the something that is “…rotten in the state of Denmark”. It is a simile for the state of his society, as in it used to be nice but now is “gross”. The language of the description also emphasises this as it suggests images of things that are unprofitable and nasty. These images all serve to highlight Hamlet’s impressions of the society that the audience are only just forming theirs upon; therefore, leading to a bias towards the character of Hamlet.
The structure of the piece also communicates the nature of Hamlet’s thoughts as he is constantly changing subject, “Let me not think on’t – Frailty thy name is woman! A little month”, and is doing so by using short, broken sentences. These help reveal and suggest the depth of Hamlet’s thoughts; he has so much going in his head that he wants to commit suicide and is therefore trying to rationalise his feelings. He is repressing himself from revealing his true, innermost thoughts, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue”, perhaps because the gravity of his situation is too much to bear.
Therefore, this soliloquy is successful in communicating the emotional state of Hamlet to the audience because it reveals the true nature of Hamlet’s feelings; not only through the diction but also through the imagery, language and underlying messages of the text. It successfully highlights the divisions of character of Hamlet whilst aiding the audience in building a connection with him.