Analysis of Hamlet in Act 1

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Hamlet’s first Soliloquy (I.2.129-159):

Purpose: Shakespeare uses soliloquy so Hamlet can share with the audience feelings he could not voice in public.

Overall Structure: The verse starts and stops, punctuated by expression of pain and confusion. The disjointed rhythm and dislocated progress of Hamlet’s thoughts conveys to us his inner turmoil. Hamlet's thoughts are not fluent; he often interrupts himself with his own expressive comments, as evident in the lines: ‘That it should come to this - But two months dead, nay not so much, not two-‘  (I.2.137).

Analysis: ‘O, that this too too solid flesh would melt’. (I.2.129) - We start off with a whimper: he's moaning about how depressed he is over his father's death and mom's remarriage, and wishing that his ‘flesh’ would ‘melt’ - i.e., that he'd die. The duplication of ‘too’ intensifies Hamlet's feelings of regret.

Textual Note: Some modern editions of the play read ‘sullied flesh’ instead of ‘solid flesh.’ (I.2.129).

‘Sullied flesh’ - suggests that Hamlet feels that he personally has been soiled, stained, or contaminated by his mother's incestuous relationship with his murderous uncle. Given how he seems to feel about sex, we'd buy that.

‘melt, / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.’(I.2.130) - He wishes that his physical self might just cease to exist. He complains that his religion prohibits suicide and claims that he would sooner die than continue watching his mother engage in her vile incest. These thoughts torment him, but he knows that he can't speak them aloud to anyone.

Hamlet wishes that God had not made ‘self-slaughter’ (I.2.132) a sin, as suicide seems a desirable alternative to living in a world, which is ‘weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable’ (I.2.133). [NB The listless tempo of the words conveys his weariness]. ‘flat’ i.e., lifeless, spiritless.

Hamlet feels:

  1. The world is painful to live in.
  2.  He would sooner die than continue watching his mother engage in her vile incest.
  3. The option of suicide is closed to him as it is forbidden by religion [i.e. divine law: Sixth Commandment, “thou shalt not kill”.] - This may be a genuine reason for Hamlet not to commit suicide, however, it may also be that Hamlet is fearful of the uncertain existence of the afterlife, something we learn is a concern of Hamlet's, later in the play.
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Nevertheless, it is obvious to the audience that Hamlet is in an extreme state of depression, as apparent from his description of the world:

'tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely.

(Act I. Scene ii. 135-137)

  • ‘unweeded garden’ - Note that a well-tended garden was symbolic of harmony and normalcy.

  • ‘That grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature’ - The literal meaning: If your garden has no weeds the plants will be more likely to grow. ‘Rank’ refers to the fertile overgrowth of vegetation. ...

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