Examine critically the character of Hamlet as revealed through his soliloquies.

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Examine critically the character of Hamlet as revealed through his soliloquies.



William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is considered to be one of the greatest playwrights of the 16th century and ‘Hamlet’ was one of his immortal tragedies that has created most critical and public opinion. His plays offer timeless messages but his attitudes and beliefs are all Elizabethan. All his plays dealt with themes that man could relate to anytime, in any age. That is why Shakespeare’s plays are said to be “not of an age, but for all time”.

      The protagonist of the play, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, has a very complex character. He was a scholar prince, and a very meditative and philosophical one. He loved to read, and was planning to pursue further education but fate had different plans for him. He was thrust in a situation, which required immediate action, which he knew he was incapable of. He couldn’t be a man of action, which the situation demanded, and that was the heart f the tragedy. To top all that was his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle, which had a psychological effect on him and wounded him emotionally. His disgust for his mother’s hasty marriage is clearly seen with his direct reference to sex when he says, “As if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on.” Hamlet himself admits that fate had chosen the wrong person to take revenge as he was aware of his incapabilities and knew what his problem was. “O, cursed spite, That I was ever born to set it right!” Hamlet is seen as a character that evolves in front of the audiences’ eyes, as they realize that the Hamlet in the beginning of the play is not the same person at the end. In the beginning, Hamlet questions a lot and reflects upon his every move and action. But at the end of the play in the last scene, we see that Hamlet’s procrastination and hesitation is all gone. He reacts quickly when he realizes that his mother had been poisoned, and he ends Claudius life. If Hamlet had been a man of action, the tragedy would never have occurred but he had a philosophical bent of mind. He always analyzed the rightness and the consequences of the action. He went a bit too far, by not only thinking about the consequences of this world but the next world as well. All his decisions were subject to scrutiny. Hamlet is also seen to be a very shy character, because although he was a prince, he hated being the centre of too much attention. He states himself as being “too much in the sun”.

   A lot about Hamlet is revealed through his soliloquies. A soliloquy is a dramatic device, which Shakespeare used to make his characters reveal their innermost thoughts. It was directed t the audience, only for them to know what the character felt about situations around him. In his soliloquy, Hamlet packs adjectives to show his dejection and disillusionment. The soliloquy starts with a supposition, “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew”. Hamlet is clearly seen as an escapist as he wants to run away from his duties and responsibilities. Here, he again gives the audience the impression that he is aware of his flaw. His wish to commit suicide is expressed clearly, but he knows he can’t do so as it goes against the laws of God. “That the Everlasting had not fixed his cannon ‘gainst self-slaughter.” Life has become a very futile excersise for him, where nothing seems to be holding his interest anymore. It has becomes very colourless and meaningless. We notice all this when he says, “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of the world!” His self-criticism becomes more obvious to the reader when he says in another soliloquy, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”  He puts himself in the lowest rank of the social order, amongst the peasants and the farmers. He admits to the audience that he is a coward by saying, “Why, what an ass am I!” Hamlet seems to know exactly what his problem is, as he himself admits that he does nothing but “unpack my heart with words”. The audience by now is well aware of Hamlet’s desire to end his life, but later Hamlet questions his very existence by asking, “To be, or not to be-that is the question”. That is the existential question that is yet to be answered. Once more, we see Hamlet as an escapist as he wants to opt out of life instead of avenging his father’s death. He also asks, “Must I remember?” so we see that for Hamlet, oblivion is better than remembrance because for him, to remember is to grieve. He wonders whether it is wiser to remain unaware, unconscious, blind and deaf to what is happening around him. He shows a sensitive awareness of life. His soul-searching gives rise to a lot of conflicting questions and instead of facing them and finding a solution, he wants to give up his life. He is aware that man has to suffer manifold problems and be victimized by fortune (“the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’), but he is also aware that death is a “consummation devoutly to be wished”. He wishes to sleep that is the metaphor of death, but he also dreads “what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil”. The Human existence is compared to a mechanism that is infested with sorrows. Hamlet also contemplates life after death and seeks to find an answer. He finally comes to this result that it is better to “bear those ills” we have now “than to fly to others that we know not of”. Life is painful and that is a known reality. But life after death is an unknown reality, an “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns”. The “dread of something after death” makes it better to “grunt and sweat under a weary life”. In the end Hamlet opts to live because “conscience does make cowards of us all;” and resolution slowly fades away as it “is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” and great enterprises “lose the name of action”. The natural desire for revenge is drained out by too much thought. In this speech, time is personified as something hurting and torturing man as Hamlet says, “the whips and scorns of time”. Even resolution and determination is personified to have a “native hue”. Suggestions of death echo throughout Hamlet’s speeches, and his death-wish colours his talk and after this speech the audience realize that Hamlet is indeed, incapable of action.

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 The Elizabethan/Tudor concept of the Divine Right of Kings is also reflected in Hamlet’s soliloquies. This concept is the belief that the king of a state is God’s appointed and that killing of a king would have unnatural consequences on the whole state. The Elizabethans believed that life was lived in an order and killing a king was a crime against the social order. A king’s decisions and whatever happened to him would have an indirect effect on the state. This idea is reflected in Hamlet’s speech when he compares the world, mainly Denmark, to an “unweeded garden that grows ...

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