Literature Analysis of Hamlet’s Soliloquies

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Topic: Literature
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Introduction

In his many conversations, Hamlet reminds the people around him and especially his mother that she does not know the real ‘Hamlet’. To Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he insinuates that they cannot fathom what he knows. This aspect leads to his many soliloquies, which expose his disparate characters. This paper analyses Hamlet’s beliefs, fears, wants, talents, and flaws solely based on his soliloquies.

Beliefs

The first soliloquy comes early in Act 1, scene 2 where Hamlet muses, “O that this too solid flesh would melt” (Shakespeare 1.2). This monologue exposes Hamlet’s beliefs and it becomes clear that he is religious due to his take on suicide.

From this monologue, it becomes clear that Hamlet is suicidal. He longs for his flesh to melt – in other words, he wishes to die, but he acknowledges that such a move would be sinful, which underscores why he laments why God had “fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (Shakespeare 1.2). He strongly believes in the existence of an all-powerful God and this assertion explains why he keeps on thinking about God and heaven.

Hamlet believes in love. In the first soliloquy, he expresses his love for his mother when he makes it clear that he would not even let the “winds of heaven visit her face too roughly” (Shakespeare 1.2). His loving nature also comes out in the way he mourns his befallen father. He is also a mature man as at the end of the first soliloquy; he notes that he must show deportment and keep silent despite his worries concerning his mother marrying a wicked man.

He also believes that humankind is “noble in reason…infinite in faculties” (Shakespeare 2.2). In his monologue in Act 4 scene 4, he muses “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not that capability and godlike reason, to fust in us unus’d’ (Shakespeare 4.4). This instance paints him as a logical person. He thinks first before he acts.

Fears

Hamlet’s greatest fear is the repercussion of doing what is wrong. Even though he knows who killed his father, he does not fall into the trap of unjustified vengeance. At one point, Hamlet finds Claudius on his knees deep in prayer. By this time, Hamlet knows that Claudius killed his father and so he has every reason and means to revenge. He pulls his sword, ready to strike, but something holds him back.

The fear of the implication of his actions illuminates his mind, and he starts to ponder on what might happen. He mulls, “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying, and now I’ll do, and so he goes to heaven, and so am I revenged…A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven” (Shakespeare 3.3).

On one side, killing Claudius would avenge the death of Hamlet’s father; however, on the other side, it would promote the villain to glory. Such an act would send Claudius to heaven and so after much thinking, Hamlet concludes, “O, this is hire and salary, not revenge” (Shakespeare 3.3). The logical side of Hamlet tells him that killing Claudius would be senseless, especially while purging his soul.

Even though Hamlet postpones his vengeance to perhaps a time when Claudius is drunk or asleep, he never executes his plans. This aspect is a clear indication that his greatest fear is the damnation that comes with sinning. Also, Hamlet fears mistakes.

He wants to be sure of what he does, which explains why he has to investigate everything before he acts. In the example given above, the fear of mistakenly killing Claudius without enough ‘reason’ that he killed the Old Hamlet prevents hamlet from acting.

What Hamlet wants

Hamlet’s ultimate goal is justified revenge. He believes in revenge, but he also acknowledges that unjustified revenge is sinful, and it would attract God’s wrath. Unfortunately, Hamlet is confused on the best way to carry out his justice, and thus he resorts to self-condemnation. He wonders whether he is a coward.

He thinks, “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, and can say nothing; no, not for a king, upon whose property and the dearest life, a damn’d defeat was made, am I a coward? (Shakespeare 2.2). In this soliloquy, it becomes clear that all Hamlet wants is justice; he just does not know how to execute it. He notes, “Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be” (Shakespeare 2.2).

He affirms to himself that he should take charge and avenge his father’s killing for the murderer cannot be allowed to continue living, as that would amount to injustice. In a bid to assert his quest for vengeance, he does not give up, but he comes up with a plan. He decides to stage up a play with the theme of murder and invite his uncle to the staging. He would then observe his father’s alleged murderer and see how he behaves after seeing staged killing.

He thinks, “I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle, I’ll observe his looks, I’ll tent him to the quick, if he but blench, I know my course” (Shakespeare 2.2). In plotting this play, Hamlet seeks only one thing, viz. justified revenge, which underscores what he wants in the entire play.

Talents

Hamlet is richly talented with critical thinking. In all his soliloquies, he probes everything before acting. Even in the face of obvious facts, he still investigates everything. When he finds Claudius on his knees, praying, he goes into a monologue to understand two things. First, he questions whether Claudius is the killer of his father. Second, even if Claudius were the killer, would it be worth to kill him while purging his soul.

Hamlet’s talent to think critically comes out clearly, as the soliloquy in Act 3 opens. He ponders, “Now might I do it pat” (Shakespeare 3.3). For a normal person lacking in this talent, the question to kill Claudius would not be ‘if’ but ‘when’.

However, Hamlet exercises his talent and decides to wait for another time when Claudius is perhaps merrymaking or cursing, and kill him. Due to his talent to think critically, Hamlet concludes that when one is killed while purging his soul, s/he goes to heaven directly. However, if one is killed while cursing, s/he would go to hell as at such a time, “his soul may be as damn’d and black” (Shakespeare 3.3).

Flaws

For a character with multifaceted traits like Hamlet, it becomes tricky to pinpoint a flaw for in one instance what appears as a virtue may turn out to be a flaw in another case. For instance, Hamlet restrains from killing Claudius, which comes out as a virtue, but then he kills Polonius, which stands out as a flaw. However, the most outstanding Hamlet’s flaws are indecision and procrastination.

In all his soliloquies, he portrays deep-seated indecision and procrastination in his ever self-analysis way of approaching issues. In the first monologue in Act 1 scene 2, he cannot simply tell his mother not to marry Claudius. While he spends the entire monologue lamenting how the marriage would not materialize, he does not speak up. On the contrary, he concludes, “With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!

It is not nor it cannot come to good but break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue” (Shakespeare 1.2). He should speak up instead of harboring something that would do him no good but hurt. As discussed earlier in this paper, Hamlet’s ultimate objective is to revenge his father’s brutal killing, and thus anyone would expect him to achieve this end after an opportunity presents itself when he encounters Claudius on his knees.

To the chagrin of the audience, when the chance comes, Hamlet resorts to his over-analysis traits, and he wonders, “And now I’ll do, and so he goes to heaven” (Shakespeare 3.3). This eternal flaw keeps Hamlet from achieving his goals, and he appears as a loser because, in essence, he only thinks without acting. Perhaps he has forgotten the maxim that an unexecuted idea never conquers.

Conclusion

Hamlet’s characters stand out clearly through his soliloquies. He is a religious person, as he believes in God and love. His greatest fear is the damnation that comes with one’s wrongful actions, and his goal is to achieve justified revenge. He is a talented critical thinker; unfortunately, his greatest flaws lie in his talent.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, Williams. “Hamlet.” The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. 8th edn. Eds. Sarah Lawall, James Heather and Lee Patterson. vol. 1. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 2409-2499. Print.