A soliloquy is a speech made to the audience by a main character in a play. There are seven soliloquies in Hamlet of which I have studied three. The soliloquies are used to get into the mind of Hamlet. It is a psychological drama so what’s going on in his mind is very important to the story. It also shows his isolation. Hamlet’s first soliloquy introduces Hamlet. It is set at court and takes place before Hamlet knows his father, the king, has been murdered. The court has departed and Hamlet is left by himself.
The change in between the noise and the quiet and emptiness in which he now finds himself, amplifies his isolation. Hamlet is annoyed at the way everybody has got over his father’s death and has stopped mourning really quickly. This is shown in the argument he has with Claudius over wearing mourning clothes. Hamlet is the only person in court still wearing them. This soliloquy shows what Hamlet thinks of his family. It shows his hatred of his uncle, how much he is disgusted by his mother and how much he idolised his father.
The corruptness continues the theme of there being something wrong with the manner of his father’s death. Early in this soliloquy Hamlet thinks of killing himself but ‘canon’, God’s law, forbids suicide. He says “solid flesh would melt. ” He is wanting his life to just melt away to nothingness. Hamlet thinks that his life is going nowhere and he is going nowhere in life. It is “unprofitable. ” He also sees his life as being foul or “stale. ” He uses gross words to make it sound vile. The second soliloquy that I will explain about takes place later the next day. It is set in the great hall of Ellsinore Castle.
The play has done its work and Claudius has left in disarray and anger. Hamlet, for the first time, has the upper hand. It is only a twelve line speech but his mood is in sharp contrast to the one previously studied. This speech gives time for the audience to reflect on what has just happened. It adds a previously unknown dimension to Hamlet’s character. It creates great tension and anticipation between Hamlet and Claudius and suggests that the long awaited battle between Claudius and Hamlet is soon to begin. It talks a lot about the “witching hour” and many other images of the supernatural.
This reminds us of the part in the first scene and the appearance of the ghost. Hamlet even promises revenge “now could I drink hot blood. ” The mention of hot is related to a fiery hell but also to the ghosts description on purgatory. The speeches are often used to remind people of the past events and how they all connect. The idea of fresh blood implies that the act of revenge is near. He appears almost spurred on into action when he mentions “Blood up” but after this he still calls this act of revenge “Bitter business” ,which possibly hints that he does not want to go ahead with it.
Instead of following Claudius he goes to his mother, as he was commanded. He hopes that he will be able to refrain from killing her “I will speak daggers but use none,” because he does not yet know how much his mother was involved in his father’s death. On his way to his mother’s chamber he passes Claudius knelt and unattended. Hamlet does not take the opportunity to kill him whilst he is at prayer because he does not want his uncle to die without absolution. Claudius did not manage to pray but Hamlet’s failure to kill him there and then will claim not only his life but the lives of others.
The third soliloquy I have studied signals a change in Hamlet. It introduces a note of war as an indicator of the coming conflict. It spurs Hamlet on into action and to the murder of his uncle. This soliloquy is set on a plain in Denmark whilst the completely unsuspecting Hamlet is on his way to the ship that will take him to his death. Here he sees solders from Fortinbras’ army. They are on their way to fight for land for their country. This soliloquy is not in rhyming couplets so it is much simpler in format.
Hamlet appears very powerless and he expresses this when he says “How all occasions do inform against me”, and he is driven down to his inevitable doom. Hamlet recognises the flaw in thinking too much about the precise event. He thinks to himself “three part coward” this proves he has run out of excuses. He watches an army go into battle for what he describes as “An eggshell”, describing the small plot of land over which they are fighting. Yet this same image reminds us of the fragility of life as we fear for his life.
Claudius and he are now in deadly conflict. The complex imagery reveals that there is a clarity and purpose in what he’s saying and, rather then being gloomy and distracted, he is direct about what he’s going to do. The image is strengthened by the sight of the army marching past in the background. From now on there are no more speeches and only fast and furious action from both sides. Shakespeare’s soliloquies shape the response of the audience by giving them time to think and letting them get into the mind of the characters.