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An analysis of the soliloquy in Hamlet

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Introduction

AN ANALYSIS OF THE SOLILOQUY IN HAMLET Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, the eldest son of John and Mary Shakespeare, and lived until 1616. In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway and later became father to two daughters and a son. Hamlet was written around 1601-1602 in a time of great political turbulence. It has been commented that much of the contemporary feeling of the time is reflected in the play. The story of Hamlet can be traced back to an 11th century Icelandic poem that was re-told by Francois de Belforest (1570) as 'Histoires Tragiques', and was probably the primary text that Shakespeare used as a source. Other writers at the time were John Webster, Thomas Middleton and Tourneur. Most revenge tragedies of this time are set in Spain whereas Hamlet is set in Denmark, at a time of political unrest. As Danson comments this 'shows Shakespeare questioning a genre's conventions in the process of using them' (Danson, 2000, pg125). It is clear from the outset that Shakespeare's Hamlet does not strictly adhere to the genre of the time. Hamlet's father has been murdered by his brother, Claudius, who then goes on to marry his wife, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet learns of the circumstances of his father's death through the visitation of his father's ghost who calls for revenge. Hamlet then devotes himself to avenging his father's death but procrastinates and plunges into deep melancholy. The events that follow, and subsequently lead to his death, can be seen as a combination of his inaction and the hand of fate. The origin of tragedy can be attributed to the 4th Century BC Greek philosopher Aristotle, author of The Poetics. ...read more.

Middle

It is apparent that the new King now holds full political power. Hamlet is clearly not impressed with his uncle's display, or his mother's lack of grief. Through the use of the soliloquy the audience is given their first insight into Hamlet's emotional state. Hamlet wishes he were not alive, 'O that this too too solid flesh would melt', (line 129), but suicide is forbidden by God. 'O God, God, How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable' (line 132) highlights the depth of Hamlet's despair and wretchedness. The repetition of 'God' as he cries out and the use of adjectives fully convey his weariness. The use of commas slows the pace of the line causing it to be read with extra weight. It is clear on introduction that Hamlet is depressed. We then are given the reason why; his father has been dead less than two months. Hamlet then goes on to describe his late father, 'So excellent a king' (line 139) and compares him to Claudius, 'Hyperion to a satyr', that is he was a sun-god compared to Claudius who is a half-man, half-goat. He then recalls the powerful love between his father and mother 'so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly' (line 140). Next Hamlet becomes disgusted by his mother's hasty marriage to his uncle and compares Gertrude to a senseless animal, 'a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer, (line 150). Finally he condemns the marriage 'It is not, nor it cannot come to good.' (line 153) but decides he must stay silent on the matter, 'But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.' ...read more.

Conclusion

Shakespeare employs a lot of powerful imagery using themes that has been encounter elsewhere within the play. Sleep and death are again united with the simile 'Go to their graves like beds,' (line 62) effectively the horrific simplicity and innocence of their sure demise. Alliteration is used, 'death and danger dare,' (line 52) to add aggression to the speech, and personification with 'divine ambition puffed,' (line49). Repetition of 'great' brings out the depth of self-loathing in the tone of Hamlet's self-berating, 'Rightly to be great is not to stir without great argument, but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honour's at stake.' (line 53). Hamlet is disgusted that when he has so much to avenge for, 'a father killed, a mother stained,' (line 56) he does nothing and yet Fortinbras, for the sake of honour, has sent twenty thousand men into battle of a piece of land worth nothing. At the end of his rant Hamlet again vows decisive action, which has become his hallmark. This soliloquy perfectly reflects Hamlet's state of mind as he has become less apathetic and more engaging in his anger and self-disgust at his inaction. Although Hamlet is harsh on himself, Danson considers him a 'hero of thought'; 'Hamlet's 'conscience' may make a coward of his resolution to enact a swift revenge, but it also makes him a hero of thought-of intense self-consciousness-itself.' (Danson, 2000, pg125). In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to full effect in portraying to the audience the progression of Hamlet's thoughts. Without the soliloquies the audience would be missing vital pieces of the plot as the play centres around Hamlet and his madness, feigned or otherwise. Hamlet's speeches allow the audience into the very working's of Hamlet's mind and decision making process, also revealing progression of the plot. ...read more.

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