What are the contents of Hamlet's thoughts in his soliloquy of Act IV Scene 4 in Shakespeare's Hamlet?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his treatise on melancholy, Timothy Bright writes that "melancholy altereth those actions which rise out of the brain." Further, Bright contends that those of the melancholic temperament such as Shakespeare's famous Hamlet are hampered by doubt and distrust which cause them to deliberate extensively, thus leading them to delay any deliberate action.

In this soliloquy of Act IV--Hamlet's last--the young prince of Denmark learns from a Norweigan captain that Fortinbras and his troops plan to invade Poland in order to reclaim a virtually worthless territory: 

We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name (4.4.19-20)

But, it is an act initiated out of a sense of honor by Fortinbras. And, this princely act causes Hamlet to deliberate about his own lack of action for a much nobler cause,

How all occasions do inform against me
And spur my dull revenge! (4.4.32-33)

Then, he recriminates himself for his not "stir[ring] without great argument" in comparison to the "delicate and tender prince," who endangers himself for "an eggshell" when he, Hamlet, cannot bring himself to avenge his father's death:

Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
..... How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, (4.4.55-64)

Clearly, Hamlet's having observed the fortitude and determination of Fortinbras becomes resolved in purpose and vows to avenge King Hamlet's death finally,

O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (4.4.68-70)

Nevertheless, while Hamlet finally commits himself to action, his natural tendency to universalize his thoughts is yet evinced in this final soliloquy as it is in all his previous ones.


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