The soliloquy that appears in Act 1, Scene 2, lines 129 through 159 of William Shakespear’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is the first to appear in the tragedy. The mere position of it within the play makes it important, although that alone does not explain the substance of it. Presented in the form of a soliloquy, the audience is more likely to believe the words spoken by Hamlet. Dramatic characters are not always to be believed when speaking to other characters, but when they meditate to themselves and allow the audience to participate in these thoughts, it lends an air of validity to them. It is through Hamlet’s soliloquy that the audience begins to gain an understanding of the protagonist’s inner persona and is allowed a glimpse of Hamlet’s hamartia, or tragic flaw. Hamlet’s speech is also a point of exposition in which he clarifies his personal relationship with the other characters at great depth. The information that the audience gains through this is instrumental to how they interpret the rest of the play. It sets a basic foundation to the drama that is built upon as the plot unfolds.
The soliloquy opens in a complete mixture of prose. There is no obvious or logical rhythm, which is important since it reflects his agitated and downhearted nature. It is an invaluable technique that Shakespeare uses to mirror the irrational and heartbroken state of mind that Hamlet finds himself in. The exception comes when Hamlet praises his father. With this he manages to articulate a few successive feet that are expressive of his harmonic love for his father. When he reverts back to mentioning his mother, his tone again becomes more distorted, utilizing a mixture of iambic, trochaic, and spondaic feet. However, in the end, he manages to articulate several lines in iambic pentameter demarcating the climax.
Another important observation of the structure of the soliloquy is the use of punctuation. Hyphens, commas and exclamation marks express the disjoint of the soliloquy. The pauses, marked by the hyphens, emphasize his rational character, since they give Hamlet the opportunity
to gather his thoughts, while at the same time they reflect his uncontrolled and sporadic thinking. The tone shifts constantly throughout the soliloquy. It starts as despondent as he wails his suicidal consideration, then evolves to an angrier voice as he begins to analyze his problems. As he reminisces about his father, he becomes more loving, then angry and confused again as he realizes the helpless situation he is in. The changes in Hamlet’s tone are expressive of his perplexed viewpoint.
The use of imagery within the soliloquy is used to define Hamlet’s view of the people connected to him. Hamlet uses duality to emphasize his inner conflict. The first contrast occurs in Hamlet’s articulation of his request for spiritual relief. The use of “sullied flesh” (I.ii.129), and “melt” (I.ii.130) contrast against the “Everlasting” (I.ii.131). The union of these images express religious conflict, a theme that is persistent and dominant throughout the play. Hamlet compares his father to “Hyperion” (I.ii.140), who is the Titan sun-god, while he compares Claudius to “a satyr” (I.ii.140), an insidious half-human and half-goat creature of Greek mythology. The contrast between these associations could not be more obvious and portray Hamlet’s views of their individual natures. He emphasizes this point again by saying that Claudius is ” no more like my father/Than I to Hercules” (I.ii.152-153). To Hamlet, his mother is “Like Niobe / a beast, that wants discourse of reason,” (I.ii.150-151). The extremity between these images sheds light on the disillusionment Hamlet feels. This duality is recurrent through out the play, as well as the contrast between reality and divine will.
In the prior scenes, Hamlet is shown interacting with other individuals. Although one senses the sarcastic and melancholy tone in which Hamlet responds to others, the reasons for his bad temper are not quite clear. In the soliloquy, however, his painful emotions are unleashed. Hamlet opens the speech articulating the depth of his depression by saying “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt/ Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” (I.ii.129-130), stressing his desire to evaporate into thin air to escape his reality. Since this cannot be, he wishes that God had not given a direct law forbidding suicide. Whether he is at a suicidal state of mind or not is questionable, but his unhappiness is certainly clear. His generalization of how “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” (I.ii.133) the world seems to him culminates to the point where all his troubles intersect: “That it should come to this!” (I.ii.137). Everything before this statement serves as a prelude to it. What follows is an analysis of the emotional vortex that he is going through. His attempt to define his sadness leads him to anger. He praises his father’s virtues and condemns Claudius for lacking them. He then conveys his aversion to his mother’s sexual misconduct and her brief morning period over Hamlet’s father. Here he ascertains that he did not even know the true nature of his own mother. He is therefore left with no one to trust, which is congruous to the suspicious mood throughout the play. It is obvious through this soliloquy that Hamlet is struggling with the conflict he feels between his state of emotional turmoil and the disapproval he feels towards his mother’s behavior. In a tone of anger and disgust, he accuses womanhood of frailty. Due to his social situation and standing, he must restrict the disturbing intensity of his feelings and “hold his tongue.” (I.II.158). This statement tends to cause the audience to relate strongly to him. Although the exact situation differs, all of us have at one time felt that another was acting wrongly, but have not been able to say so. In this sympathizing, catharsis begins to develop. Hamlet prophesizes that ” it cannot come to good.” (I.ii.157), ending the soliloquy with a sense of impending dread.
This initial soliloquy is extremely important to the way Hamlet, as a play, is viewed. It allows the audience to grasp a sense of the tension Hamlet feels and view him in a sympathetic light. It clarifies who Hamlet is as an individual and openly relates his judgment of the situation. Without this, the play would not be as much of a tragedy. It is the personal connection one feels to Hamlet that allows them to understand that all is not as well in Denmark as the other characters in the play would lead one to believe. This lays the foundation upon which the proceeding story may build.