William Shakespeare

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Hamlet: Soliloquy 5 key examples

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Definition of Soliloquy
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if... read full definition
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost... read full definition
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—Unweeded Garden:

Near the beginning of the play, however, Hamlet gives the audience insight into his perspective through figurative language. In Hamlet's first soliloquy (which is in Act 1, Scene 2), he uses an illuminating metaphor, saying: "’Tis an unweeded garden / That gros to seed. Things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely." In this dejected monologue, Hamlet reflects on the events that have recently taken hold of Elsinore. He speaks metaphorically about an "unweeded garden" to illustrate the type of misdeeds that he perceives in those around him.

Like a garden that has grown unruly and is covered in weeds, the order of his world has been overtaken and invaded, especially by his uncle. In this way, Hamlet’s pessimism frames the beginning of the play, indicating that his life has been shadowed by the violent murder of his father. Hamlet’s garden metaphor thus invites the audience to ponder the idea that the task of weeding is seemingly up to him.

Hamlet speaks a great deal more than anyone else in the play, and his descriptions of his surroundings are often the audience’s clearest entry point to the plot and setting. The way that Hamlet uses figurative language is therefore an important aspect of the audience’s understanding of how the play unfolds. The way Hamlet uses language varies widely throughout, especially as he begins to feign madness and becomes more frustrated and destructive.

Act 1, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Remember Thee:

In Act 1, Scene 5, immediately after relaying the circumstances of his death, the ghost disappears and leaves Hamlet alone. What follows is one of Hamlet’s soliloquies, in which he has the opportunity to express himself in a manner uninhibited by the presence of other people. Throughout much of the play, Hamlet conceals information from those around him, so his moments alone onstage provide important opportunities for him to reflect or make certain decisions. In this soliloquy, he uses his moment of solitude to reckon with the news of his uncle’s violent betrayal before his friends arrive. He is able to express the extent of his shock and horror for a limited period of time, and he uses it to consider the ghost’s parting words. He says: 

Remember thee? 
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial, fond records, 
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures 
That youth and observation copied there, 
And thy commandment all alone shall live 
Within the book and volume of my brain.

In this passage, Hamlet vows to clear out the contents of his brain in order to better remember his interaction with the ghost. The intensity of his response to the news of his father’s death is only felt because he has the opportunity to reflect alone. Once his friends return, he can communicate only fumblingly and mockingly. This moment of clarity, therefore, shows how seriously Hamlet will carry this interaction forward. This helps contextualize his actions moving forward, an understanding made possible by his time alone onstage.

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Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Murder's Tongue:

Act 2, Scene 2 ends in a soliloquy from Hamlet in which he vows to use the players to find out whether his uncle is guilty. He berates himself for his previous inactivity and feels a sense of guilt, as though he has been a bad son for feeling unable to kill or confront his uncle. He runs over the plan in his mind and convinces himself that it will give him the opportunity to ascertain whether his uncle committed the deed he has been accused of. Using the players is the best way to do this, Hamlet says: "For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak / With most miraculous organ."

In this speech, Hamlet personifies murder by describing it as tongueless. Even though murder doesn’t have a tongue, Hamlet is convinced that murder will speak. He is convinced that if he puts on the play, he will give murder itself the agency to act through the players. If the players reenact the murderous act, Hamlet believes that murder will speak its truth and reveal the king’s misdeeds. Personifying murder this way helps communicate Hamlet’s obsession with the violence that predates the play’s plot. Through his speech, Hamlet is making murder out to be a character with agency and affect. His personification of murder gives it more power and lets it loom large in the audience’s imagination. It also makes it clear that Hamlet feels powerless against the larger forces at work, that he sees murder as a power separate from his uncle as an individual actor. His attitude and fearfulness are informed by this belief.

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Act 3, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The most famous lines in Hamlet come from his soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1, when he reflects on the struggle of balancing his weariness of life and his fear of death. The soliloquy begins: 

To be or not to be—that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them.

The presence of this soliloquy in between scenes with multiple characters gives the audience a chance to understand how worn down Hamlet is feeling. His desire to rest is tempered by his fear of death, and the moment of reflection he takes is full of the tension between his fear and longing. His speech flirts with madness: at this point in the play, most of the other characters believe that Hamlet is beginning to lose his mind. The cadence of his language therefore changes drastically depending on who he is talking to. The fact that he is alone in this scene may lead the audience to believe that this is his truest self, the most direct communication he has. This soliloquy primarily concerns the question of suicide, and of the morality of opting out of the rest of his life. The way that Hamlet speaks takes on the cadence of a rant, as Hamlet asks himself questions and then attempts to answer them. It is as though Hamlet is conversing with himself, which emphasizes the sense that he is torn between these two choices. These are his most interior thoughts, and they are plagued by indecision, paranoia, and the feeling of being stuck.

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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.

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