Analyse the ways in which Shakespeare uses the dramatic monologue to trace the development of Hamlets character

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Analyse the ways in which Shakespeare uses the dramatic monologue to trace the development of Hamlet’s character

        Throughout the course of the play we see Hamlet go through a variety of character developments. These have been particularly pronounced in the four soliloquies that we have studied, as we can judge the changes between his different states of mind more clearly.

        The first soliloquy appears in Act 1, Scene 2, shortly after the death of Hamlet’s father and the remarriage of his mother to his uncle. In this scene we see Hamlet trying to grasp control of his situation however not really succeeding in his attempts. On the surface Hamlet appears to have accepted the situation but from the first few lines of the monologue we can tell that his mind is still in turmoil and that he is struggling for acceptance, ‘O, that this too too solid flesh’ to ‘O God! God!’ Shakespeare’s use of metaphor also gives the impression that Hamlet is not entirely content with the situation, as he would lead others to believe. The use of phrases such as ‘solid flesh would melt’, ‘thaw’ and ‘dew’ indicate that Hamlet feels as though his emotions are frozen, most likely from shock about the situation he has found himself in where he no longer feels trusting of his own family. This use of an extended metaphor by Shakespeare could also mean that Hamlet wishes his body was made of snow or ice and so he could physically disappear. Hamlet appears to be feeling in a manic, desperate, despondent state of mind in this soliloquy, as is shown when Hamlet says, ‘Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!’ The fact that suicide was even being considered as an option by Hamlet signifies the dark place that he is in following the recent events of the play, as suicide was considered a sin in the late Elizabethan era when the play is set. Shakespeare also writes using a list in this soliloquy: ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable.’ This emphasises what is being said and Hamlet’s state of mind at this stage of the play. The words used in the list are also particularly influential in determining Hamlet’s mental state as Shakespeare adopts emotive language. The list presents the fact that Hamlet is tired of pretending (‘weary’); his life seems to have gone rotten (‘stale’); he feels tired of living (‘flat’); and he has nothing to live for (‘unprofitable’). Although Hamlet reveals his true feelings in the soliloquy, he persists in refusing to disclose them to anyone else and in putting a masked face out to the world- acting, a common theme which recurs throughout the entire play. This presents Hamlet’s character as being determined and not wanting to offload his worries to others. Hamlet is also vehemently disgusted at his mother’s marriage to Claudius and so cannot even bring himself to express anything about the nuptials, referring to it simply at ‘this’. This vague term could suggest his disgust at what his mother has done and therefore cannot even speak it. This also represents the stubborn side of his character, and his refusal to accept things that he does not like. In this soliloquy, hamlet is feeling a mixture of anger and sadness that his father’s deep love for his mother was not reciprocated: ‘Hyperion to a satyr’ to ‘Heaven and earth!’ He is also torn as to whether his mother married Claudius for love, through fear of persuasion, or simply to maintain her high social status as Queen in the court, as women were not considered important on their own account at the point in history in which the play is set. The contrasting comparison in the phrase ‘Hyperion to a satyr’ also proves Hamlet’s disgust at his mother, as a satyr is a half-man half-goat creature that represents lechery. These negative views towards women have a resulting effect on Ophelia further through the play. Towards the end of the soliloquy Hamlet views himself as a hypocrite, due to the fact that he is about to rejoin the play and so has to put back on his mask, ‘But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.’ Hamlet is being especially hard on himself because he has just accused his mother of being a hypocrite and he does not want to be like his mother after what she has done. One of the subtler techniques that Shakespeare uses to let the audience know that Hamlet is no longer in control is the irregular iambic pentameter. There are moments in the soliloquy when the blank verse becomes irregular, suggesting that although Hamlet may feel as though he is acting calmly, subconsciously his mind is slipping.

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        The second soliloquy harbours feelings much the same as the first: desperation, anger and turbulence of mind. We can also tell that Hamlet is confused at this point in the play, as the soliloquy is littered with rhetorical questions, especially in the section, ‘Am I a coward?’ to ‘Who does me this?’ Hamlet knows the answers to these questions, but is afraid to confront the truth. Shakespeare also uses the irregular iambic pentameter in this soliloquy to show the points where Hamlet stumbles over his thoughts. The emotions in this soliloquy are heightened and extreme, as Hamlet tortures himself by ...

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