What do Hamlet's soliloquies reveal about his state of mind and how do they relate to the audience?

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After reading ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare it is clear that in this ‘Shakespearean tragedy’ the soliloquies are particularly important because in the atmosphere of spying and intrigue where Hamlet constantly has to watch what he says, and in his assumed madness, it is only when he is alone that we can hope to learn his true feelings. In total, there are seven of Hamlet’s soliloquies, each providing the reader with a greater insight into Hamlet’s true character. They are all centred on the most important existential themes: the emptiness of suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of humans, and the difficulty of acting under thought which ‘makes cowards of us all.’  Four of his soliloquies deserve our special attention: ‘O that this too sullied flesh would melt’,(Act One, Scene Two) ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’, (Act Two; Scene Two) ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’, (Act Three; Scene One) and ‘How all occasions do inform against me.’ (Act Four; Scene Four).

The density of Hamlet’s thought is extraordinary. Not a word is wasted; every syllable and each sound expresses the depth of his reflection and the intensity of his emotion. The soliloquies are in effect, the hidden plot of the play because, if one puts them side by side, one notices that the character of Hamlet goes through a development.

In addition, Hamlet’s soliloquies serve several other functions in the play. Firstly, they show how Hamlet is preoccupied with his role and stress that it is a ‘role’ – a part he has to play. They also show how Hamlet’s life is to be lived under the burden of the heavy task of avenging his father’s death. Furthermore, the soliloquies reveal that Hamlet is progressively alienated and isolated from the royal court.

Most importantly however, Hamlet’s soliloquies hold such great importance as they are the only release for his pent-up emotions as he cannot confide in anyone completely. They provide a central interest in the play: Hamlet as malcontent, allowing the audience to share his disgust and pessimism in order to experience the tragedy.

It is therefore necessary to look at Hamlet’s soliloquies in relation to the audience. Hamlet’s very first words are addressed to the audience: ‘(Aside) A little more kin, and less than kind.’ (Act One; Scene Two; Line 65) In this way he establishes a rapport with the audience, not only with the other characters. Shakespeare was acutely aware of the theatre’s dependence on the audience and his success, specifically with regard to Hamlet, was and is due to the fact that he never forgets the audience and seeks to involve them at every opportunity. Examples of this are Hamlet’s first words and also his first speech is about acting and theatricality. His dress, his ‘inky cloak’ could be a costume and the things he describes such as the ‘fruitful river in the eye’ and the ‘dejected haviour of the visage’ are indeed the actions a man might play. Most significantly, this speech is an open invitation to the audience to think about Hamlet and what is ‘within’ the man. This is subsequently developed in the first soliloquy.

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The play is packed with theatrically conscious words such as ‘business’  and the first soliloquy is almost like a show, with connotations of theatre as the entertainment industry: ‘Tis now the very witching time of night.’

Fittingly, the play ends with another such word, which possesses an enchanting double meaning. Fortinbras says, ‘Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage.’ Hamlet’s soliloquies are of fundamental importance in establishing, developing and consolidating the relationship between the eponymous hero and the audience. Nobody else on stage, is privy to the words Hamlet speaks: they are of the privilege of the audience. ...

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