Situational Irony



William Shakespeare

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Hamlet: Situational Irony 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 4, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Thinking too Precisely:

Hamlet’s last soliloquy takes place in Act 4, Scene 4. Like his previous moments of pause, Hamlet uses the privacy of an empty stage to reflect on his behavior. By this point in the play, he has begun to understand a frustrating pattern in his behavior: he is paralyzed by his fear of making a decision, and he agonizes over what to do until any action seems impossible. In his soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4, he addresses this pattern directly. He says: 

Now whether it be Bestial oblivion or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on th’ event
(A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward), I do not know
Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,"

Hamlet is spurring himself toward revenge, and in doing so, he is very critical of himself. He calls himself a coward, and bemoans his tendency to overthink. Having access to his mental state at this moment in the play allows the audience to contextualize his future actions. This is his last soliloquy and therefore the last moment the audience sees him express his true thoughts. This is therefore the end of his solo reflection, and his conclusion is to head further into the violence and chaos that are present in the play’s conclusion. The irony inherent in this scene—that Hamlet has begun a monologue about his frustrating tendency to talk instead of act—makes his situation seem even more helpless. He is unable to change his nature, and spends this last moment before the audience cursing himself for it.