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Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Hamlet, his moods and motivations, through his soliloquies in Act I Scene II, Act II Scene II, Act III Scene I, and Act IV Scene IV

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Introduction

Explore Shakespeare's presentation of Hamlet, his moods and motivations, through his soliloquies in Act I Scene II, Act II Scene II, Act III Scene I, and Act IV Scene IV The Revenge Tragedy of Hamlet (approx. 1601), written by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), could be described, as the most popular play ever written. It has been translated into dozens of languages, is doubtless being performed somewhere in the world as you read these words and has been the subject of more excited critical debate than any other work of literature. However, why is the play so popular? It is globally popular because the central character, Hamlet, is somebody whom many people can form different views on. In this essay I will try to explore Shakespeare's presentation of the protagonist and to form my own view of Hamlet's character. To do this I shall look carefully at the play and the character, focusing on the soliloquies, which Hamlet is famous for. The soliloquies in Hamlet give the audience "the impression of a man discovering what he thinks as he speaks" ('Hamlet', Cambridge School Shakespeare series). There are more plausible descriptions of the characters of Hamlet than any other Shakespearean character, probably than any other character in drama and fiction. A list of these descriptions would include amiable, cruel, compassionate, determined, diseased, hypocritical, mad, misogynous, Oedipal, reflective, vengeful, and witty, to name just a few. Critics have believed that the basis for Hamlet's behaviour and problems lies in the unnatural degree of his love for his mother, his Oedipus complex. This complex makes him unable to have a loving relationship with Ophelia and his hated for Claudius is based on sexual jealously. This in itself is hard to believe but can be understood; Hamlet seems to hate women and can't stand the fact that his mother is having sex with his uncle. I personally don't believe that Hamlet suffers from an Oedipus complex; however, I believe that Hamlet is an intelligent, determined and noble man whose main flaw is his procrastination. ...read more.

Middle

It is difficult to imagine any other tragic hero in pursuit of revenge who could pause to chat with easy familiarity and keen knowledge to a group of actors about their careers and their art. It shows the audience that Hamlet is obviously a complex character, not driven by one emotion or event, someone who is struggling with conflicting emotions but still able to put them aside to be polite to strangers and intellectualise about the art of drama. Hamlet is again presented as a thinker in Act III Scene 1. He is seen to be thinking about suicide and life after death. It is also here that we experience another soliloquy. Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' speech has been classified as the most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare's plays, although technically it is not a soliloquy. During the scene Ophelia is also on stage. However, since he sees Ophelia for the first time in line 88, it is clearly a speech expressing honestly Hamlet's thought processes and should be regarded as a soliloquy. "To be or not to be, that is the question - Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them..." What Hamlet is asking is 'is it better to live or die, to endure suffering or to fight against it?' The metaphor at the start of the soliloquy, "take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them" (lines 59-60) is purposely confused. It captures Hamlet's emotions of being unable to do the enormous undertaking that has been given to him. Hamlet feels that if he tried to set the world straight (as he thinks it should be), the task would be like committing suicide. However in this soliloquy, there is no word about his father (Old Hamlet), his mother (Gertrude), his uncle (Claudius), or any plans for revenge. ...read more.

Conclusion

The rhyming couplet at the end of this soliloquy represents the feelings of resolution that will prepare the audience for what is to come. But the speech is a mass of contradictions. It is a supreme example of Shakespeare showing that what someone says is not always what that person believes. Here, with the determined final words of this soliloquy, the audience finally get the idea that Hamlet is going to act, despite his previous actions. The audience now realise that Hamlet, despite being a constant thinker, has finally decided that he is going to kill Claudius. The audience, at this point, could draw a parallel between Hamlet and Laertes. Shakespeare is portraying Hamlet in a different light; not as the thinker he always was but more similar to the hot - blooded Laertes who has just returned from Paris. Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is a very thought-provoking play, and everybody has his or her own opinion of Hamlet. Some describe Hamlet as "full of weakness and melancholy" or as "(an) epical hero fighting overwhelming odds". The character is by no means extraordinary simple and is far more complex than any other Shakespearean tragic hero. I believe that Hamlet is an intelligent and witty young man, which can be seen throughout the play in his scenes with Claudius and the gravedigger for example. However, like most of the other tragic heroes, Hamlet has one central flaw, his procrastination. In my opinion it is Hamlet's inability to act and tendency to over think that eventually leads to his death. It is of little importance what opinion we form of Hamlet when we first meet him; he fascinates and mystifies us at the same time. The play is popular across the world because the central character is somebody to whom few people can feel unresponsive. For every playgoer or reader who feels that Hamlet is a bully or a coward, there will be somebody who finds him a hero. This is what Shakespeare has achieved through Hamlet's soliloquies, whether that was his intention or not. It is these speeches that give Hamlet its distinction. ...read more.

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