IB English SL
IOC First Draft
Internal Conflict within Hamlet through the first soliloquy
The extract from line 129-159, Act 1 Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, forms to be the first soliloquy of the drama and therefore appears in the beginning of the play. A soliloquy is a literary technique where the character is left alone on the stage and is able to express his thoughts clearly and directly. This technique enhances the text and succinctly yet powerfully exposes the mental compositions of the character, as in this soliloquy, Hamlet’s conflict over his contemplation of suicide. In addition to his internal conflicts, the soliloquy highlights important relationships such as between Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius as well as bringing out the cultural setting of the drama, which consists of differences between the medieval and the renaissance era.
This is the first soliloquy of Hamlet in the drama, and is therefore an essential tool in the introduction of Hamlet’s character as well as foreshadowing certain important themes which are going to be portrayed as the drama progresses. Since dramas did not include any narrators, soliloquies were the medium through which the writer could show insight into a character’s mind. Through the first soliloquy, Shakespeare has shown Hamlet’s contemplative character, due to all the thinking he does, such as thoughts about suicide and its consequences based on religious ideals. The first soliloquy also provides an insight into Hamlet’s disturbed mental condition, which is primarily a result of his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage to Claudius.
The cultural setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is well highlighted in the extract, since this soliloquy elucidates one of the major themes of Hamlet, i.e. Death and more specifically ‘Suicide’. Since Hamlet was written during a period of transition from the medieval era to the renaissance era, there existed cultural conflict in everyone’s mind as to what was right and wrong. This cultural conflict forms to be an important factor causing internal conflict in Hamlet’s mind since it brings up confusion as to whether Hamlet is a Medieval or a Renaissance prince. The cultural conflict over Suicide existed because Christianity as a religion considered suicide a dreadful sin, as it can be seen in the extract “that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter. O God, God”. Whereas the Renaissance ideals suggested that if a ‘renaissance man’ was living an undignified and shameful life, he could commit suicide. Because of these two contrasting ideals, there existed turmoil in Hamlet’s mind as to whether he should commit suicide or not, since he was so outraged that he could not see any other outcome to his undignified life other than death.
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The theme of Death and Suicide can be seen in the first line of the soliloquy, where Hamlet suggests “O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew”. It can be seen that Hamlet wanted his body to fade away because he was going through a very painful phase in his life. His thoughts about suicide highlight another important aspect of the drama, i.e. Hamlet’s Melancholia. This extreme depression and sadness which was present within Hamlet was making him think that his life is “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable”. It can be observed from this line that Hamlet’s mind was filled with negativity and pessimism.
The setting of this Scene, i.e. Act 1 Scene 2, is that of celebration, happiness and positive atmosphere due to the election of the new King. The entire court is in a jovial mood; however, Hamlet calls his life “life is an unweeded garden”. By using this metaphor he reiterates his negative thoughts and inability to forget the past, his father’s death. It can be seen that Hamlet sees the world through a dark lens and therefore everything to Hamlet seems “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable”. Another aspect of this soliloquy is that Hamlet is shown to be mourning in deep pain and immense grief; however he notices that the others have moved on after Elder Hamlet’s Death. This occurrence causes greater agony and misery in Hamlet’s mind since he believes that he is the only one who genuinely loved the previous King, Elder Hamlet.
If the structure of this extract is observed, it can be seen that it consists of many exclamation marks, which suggests that the character performing the soliloquy is supposed to use a lot of expressive dialogues and gestures. The use of extensive expression shows that Shakespeare wanted the audience to realize that this was an extremely important part of the drama which would be foreshadowing various events which are going to occur as the plot progresses. The expressions also add to the seriousness of Hamlet’s agony and help the audience sympathize with him even more.
The first soliloquy also plays an important role in presenting the state of the important relationships which existed in the drama. One of the prominent relationships highlighted in the first soliloquy is that of Hamlet and Gertrude. Gertrude is not shown to be neither a stereotypical queen nor a stereotypical mother, who would mourn in grief of her husband’s death as well as taking care of, supporting and consoling her son after his father’s death. Her character is shown to be a moderately corrupt character as she gets married to her husband’s brother within two months of her husband’s death, irrespective of this being unapproved by her son. This very well shows her unsupportive and uncaring behaviour. Her marriage to Claudius changes Hamlet’s perspective about Gertrude and Elder Hamlet’s Relationship as well. Hamlet knew that his father is deeply in love with Gertrude and would go to any extremes for her protection “so loving to my mother, That he might not be teem the winds of heaven; Visit her face too roughly”. After his father’s death, he observed his mother’s mourning where she wept like Niobe, a mythological tragedy wherein a woman turned into a stone fountain due to her excessive weeping “With which she followed my poor father's body; Like Niobe, all tears.”. However, Hamlet then hints that his mother’s sorrow and tears were all fake since she soon forgot all the sorrow and mourning for Elder Hamlet and married Claudius. Due to this behaviour of Gertrude, Hamlet compares his mother to a beast “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer”. In the Elizabethan age, there existed a hierarchy which consisted of the Diuritas, Humanitas and Ferritas. Diuritas included the gods and the protean renaissance men, Humanitas consisted of the Humans who were given a position above the Beasts due to their ability of reasoning and intellectuality and lowest in the hierarchy were the Beasts. Hamlet is seen to be comparing his mother to a Beast and therefore degrading her to the lowest possible level in the Elizabethan hierarchy. Having such thoughts about his own mother shows the high degree of anger and frustration that was erupting within Hamlet’s mind.
Shakespeare has used various elements for the enhancement and progression of the play out of which the motif of Misogyny is an important one. Shakespeare has shown Hamlet to have hatred for women as well as showing that Hamlet possesses a tendency to generalize certain things, such as the generalization of women, based on his mother’s behaviour. It can be seen that Hamlet considered Gertrude to be corrupt and therefore felt immense hatred towards her; however, based on her character, Hamlet calls all the women frail “Frailty, thy name is woman”. This confirms that Hamlet considered all women degraded and deceptive, which is reinforced by his mother’s false mourning and also explains Hamlet’s behaviour towards other female characters such as Ophelia, further in the play.
The other relationship that is dealt with in the first soliloquy is that of Hamlet and Claudius, his step father. It can be seen that Hamlet is not yet over his father’s death, which could be a possible reason why he cannot accept Claudius as his new father, however, the fact that Claudius married Gertrude and possesses a cheerful and content behaviour angers Hamlet. He cannot substitute Claudius at the same position where Elder Hamlet was and this can be clearly seen in the lines “So excellent a King; that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr”. From this part of the soliloquy it can be seen that Hamlet compared his father, Elder Hamlet to Hyperion and Claudius to a Satyr. The Hyperion was the glorious mythological sun god, who was a symbol of reason and light, which adds a positive connotation to the character of Elder Hamlet however, comparing Claudius to a Satyr, which is again a mythological creature who is a half human and half goat and possesses a lustful and low character, adds a negative connotation to Claudius’ character. The half goat signifies the presence of a beast, which if referred to the Elizabethan Hierarchy, is at the lowest extreme. The beasts as stated by the Elizabethan hierarchy did not possess reason and the more a human would follow his path of desire and passion, the closer he would be to the Ferritas level of the Elizabethan hierarchy. By comparing Claudius to a Beast in this soliloquy, Shakespeare has shown Hamlet’s insight into how he actually felt about Claudius and that he hated him even more than he hated his mother, Gertrude.
Hamlet is shown to compare Claudius and Gertrude to beasts, however there exists irony since they are the King and Queen of Denmark and thereby should possess perfect characters and be included much higher in the Elizabethan Hierarchy. The King and Queen are role models for the common people and therefore should be a symbol of their culture and truth, however it is also suggested that their marriage is incestuous “With such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. By using this in Hamlet’s first soliloquy, Shakespeare has used conflict with the Elizabethan culture, which disapproved of incest, to show the negative characters of Claudius and Gertrude along with highlighting the fact that this newly wed couple will go against the culture. The line “It is not, nor it cannot come to good” used by Hamlet in his first soliloquy show that Hamlet considers this marriage as an evil omen towards Denmark. This line also foreshadows that this marriage is an event that will in some way cause turmoil and chaos in the drama.
All of these thoughts that Hamlet comes across are expressed in the form of a soliloquy simply because Shakespeare wanted the audience to understand that in spite of Hamlet being the central character of the drama, he could not express his views and opinions in front of everyone due to socio-cultural constraints such as his negative ideas towards Claudius could not be expressed publicly because Claudius was the King and his step father. Therefore Shakespeare has been able to convey certain important themes, relationships as well as insights of the central character, Hamlet in a very appropriate and clever way, i.e. through the first soliloquy.