“The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is among William Shakespeare’s most famous works. The play is centered around the titular character, who discovers treachery upon his return home and swears revenge, which ends up claiming his life along with those of the offenders. Hamlet’s seven soliloquies are, therefore, an essential feature of the work, as they illustrate his character and motivations and serve as pivotal moments in which critical decisions are made. All of the monologues are unified in their dark tone, but they represent the progression of Hamlet’s character, as he gathers the resolve to oppose Claudius and realizes that his vengeance must be violent. The soliloquies advance the story by showing Hamlet’s doubts and weaknesses as well as how he overcomes them.
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The First Monologue
As Hamlet returns home for his father’s funeral, he finds the situation dramatically different from his expectations, and not for the better. Only a month has passed since the old King’s death, but his mother is already married to the prince’s uncle. Hamlet has a low opinion of the man, calling him “My father’s brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). However, his primary issue lies with the behavior of his mother, who did not mourn for long before remarrying. At this point, Hamlet does not suspect that anything was amiss regarding the King’s death and simply grieves for his father, whom he greatly admired. He concludes by lamenting his powerlessness in affecting his mother’s poor decisions.
The Second Monologue
Hamlet’s second soliloquy occurs immediately after his conversation with his father’s ghost. The prince is enraged by the revelation, swearing revenge on the spot and denouncing his other aspirations. He does not doubt the spirit’s words, most likely because of his already low estimation of his mother and uncle. Hamlet’s love for his father takes precedence, and with youthful hot-headedness, he invokes heaven and hell in an oath of vengeance. It is possible that Hamlet was harboring suspicions due to his mother’s behavior. The appearance of the ghost, which looks exactly like the late King, thus provides him a symbol to concentrate his disquiet. It would be possible to explain the apparition as a hallucination that appeared due to the prince’s mental state, if not for others’ awareness of it.
The Third Monologue
At the time of the third instance of self-reflection, Hamlet has had time to calm down and look at his situation again. He decides to test the ghost’s words and arranges a play reminiscent of the supposed murder to be played before Claudius. The encounter with the player makes him reminisce on his supposed cold-heartedness. The actor can fake spectacular displays of emotion, “Yet I, / A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, / Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, / And can say nothing” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). He wonders whether he is a coward because he did not immediately confront his uncle and kill him. Recovering from his lapse, the Prince declares his plan to observe Claudius’s reaction to the play and use it to confirm the truth.
The Fourth Monologue
While Hamlet makes his preparations, he affects a madness-stricken persona. The double existence takes a toll on him, and he begins contemplating suicide once again. In this famous passage, the prince reflects on death as a desirable, end of the struggles of existence. He wonders: “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, […] When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). Hamlet answers that humans fear that death may not be the end of existence, worrying that the unknown beyond may be worse than their current hardships. He concludes that “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). Hamlet chooses to live on, perhaps because he saw his father’s fate and does not wish to share it.
The Fifth Monologue
The prince’s mother calls upon him for a private conversation, as other inhabitants of the castle grow more concerned about his behavior. Convinced by Claudius’s evil, the protagonist asks for some time so that he can prepare. He bears her little more goodwill than he does his uncle, but the ghost requested that Hamlet does not try to harm Gertrude, and he intends to honor the late King’s will. However, as the prince puts it, “now could I drink hot blood, / And do such bitter business as the day / Would quake to look on” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). He uses the time spent alone to calm down and resolves to condemn his mother with words instead of acting on his impulses, though the situation turns to bloodshed regardless.
The Sixth Monologue
On his way to Gertrude’s chamber, Hamlet notices Claudius, who is absorbed in prayer and presents an excellent target for the prince’s sword. He is tempted to enact his revenge there and then, but the religious significance of the act causes him to reconsider. As Hamlet says, “A villain kills my father; and for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven.” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). In the protagonist’s mind, the traitor deserves an ignoble end, one that denies salvation to the man. The scene is ironic, as Claudius himself does not believe that his prayer was genuine. This soliloquy serves to display Hamlet’s somewhat idealistic conceptions and his transition from rage and instability to a more passive attitude.
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The Seventh Monologue
Hamlet’s final instance of self-reflection occurs after his exile to England when he encounters prince Fortinbras’s army. Numerous men go to die for a worthless patch of land, yet Hamlet could not exact righteous revenge with all the time and opportunities he has had. He describes his thoughts on the act as “but one part wisdom / And ever three parts coward” (“The Tragedy of Hamlet”). As can be seen in the soliloquies before this one, Hamlet tends to choose to wait and reflect instead of acting, always finding some reason to delay Claudius’s death. The prince denounces this trait and vows that from that point, his thoughts would exclusively be violent, spurring on the lethal finale.
Hamlet’s monologues are primarily meant to expose his character and state of mind. Most of them also serve as pivotal points for the story, ones where he makes decisions that affect the entirety of the plot from that point onward. The prince ponders on the hardships of existence, contemplates death, both his own and that of his uncle, and berates himself for cowardice. His mood oscillates, beginning with violence, then becoming calmer and darker, and finally flaring up again in the final monologue. They reveal Hamlet as a reflective thinker, one who spends more time in reflection than in action. At the same time, he is idealistic and sometimes impulsive, and at times, he has to keep his anger in check consciously. The contradictory nature of Hamlet’s character lends depth to himself and the conflict of his story.
“The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” MIT, Web.