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In Hamlet, what literary terms can you identify in the following passage?  O, that...

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ravenmailk | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted October 4, 2010 at 11:53 AM via web

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In Hamlet, what literary terms can you identify in the following passage?

 

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 4, 2010 at 10:12 PM (Answer #1)

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In this, one of Hamlet's famous soliloquies, there are many figures of speech.  Due to the language, most are metaphors, though some could be considered implied similes ("like" or "as" may not be stated, but is certainly implied).  To find them, you want to look for any comparisons within the speech to animals, God or gods, or nature.  These seem to be the most prevalent images of comparison.

Keep in mind the overall message of the speech as well.  Understanding Hamlet's anger at his mother an uncle at this point will help you understand what he references (somewhat cryptically) in the speech.  He is most angry at his mother's haste in marrying his uncle, especially when she once loved Hamlet's father very dearly.  He also considers the partnership to be incestuous, though his Uncle was actually his father's brother.

I'll give you a few below to get you started:

tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed

Here Hamlet compares his life to a garden that has grown wild.

So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr.

Here the comparison is of his own father (excellent a king) to his uncle.  Hyperion was one of the twelve Titans and a satyrs were half human half beast.  This comparison shows that Hamlet's father was godlike and his uncle is beastlike.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:52 PM (Answer #2)

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This important soliloquy comes in Act I scene 2 of this play, and just after we have been introduced to the Danish court and Gertrude and Claudius. It is only after the court exits that Hamlet feels free to express what he is unable to give voice to in front of his mother and uncle, and this speech is the result. In it he shares his wretchedness and his abhorrence of the new situation in Elsinore.

If you are looking for figurative language, key to my mind is the metaphor Hamlet uses to describe the new world he is living in now his father has died:

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable, 
Seem to me all the uses of this world! 
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden, 
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature 
Possess it merely.

Note how the listless tempo of the first line communicates his weariness. But also think about to what Hamlet compares the world - it is an "unweeded garden/that grows to seed", possessed by abominations of nature. His world, his reality, is now one that is not kept and cared for, but one where "weeds" are free to shoot up and dominate the land. It is a world where "things rank and gross in nature" rule, just as his Uncle, who has managed to win his mother's affections, rules in Denmark.

You might also want to compare this soliloquy with Claudius's flowing lines. This speech starts and stops, and is punctuated by expressions of pain and confusion, such as "That it should come to this!" The disjointed rhythm and dislocated progress of Hamlet's thoughts convey to us his inner turmoil.

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rienzi | Valedictorian

Posted October 5, 2010 at 1:06 AM (Answer #3)

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There is a wealth of literary devices aside from the standard metaphors: soliloquy, meter, repetition, auxesis (hyperbole), metonymy/synecdoche, allusion, sibilance, consonance, alliteration, repetition, anacoluthon, aphorism, to name some devices.  Of course, many of these devises overlap. Take the most notable and obvious devices. This is a soliloquy written in iambic pentameter.  Also, the tone of this soliloquy is heightened by its alliterative use of sibilance that gives the impression that Hamlet is hissing a venomous tongue (we’ll get to tongue in a bit so hold that thought.) Anacoluthon is the choppy thought process; the disjointed nature of the soliloquy.

Let’s look at the first few lines. First, There is repetition of “too” and “God”.  Also, this collection of lines is known as an auxesis, i.e., the use of hyperbole of increasing force. This is typical teenage exaggeration that also introduces an allusion to one of Shakespeare’s other “youthful” characters: Richard II. To refresh some memories. Richard was the boy king who could not keep his crown. He lost it to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV. We have these marvelous lines from Richard and his queen as they lament the loss of the throne of England.

NORTHUMBERLAND
My lord,--
RICHARD II
No lord of thine, thou haught insulting man,
Nor no man's lord! I have no name, no title-
No, not that name was given me at the font-
But 'tis usurp'd. Alack the heavy day,
That I have worn so many winters out
And know not now what name to call myself.
O that I were a mockery king of snow,
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke,
To melt myself away in water-drops!
4.1.253

And then in the next scene at 5.1.1 Richards's wife
meets him as he is conveyed to the Tower:

QUEEN
This way the king will come. This is the way
To Julius Caesar's ill-erected tower,
To whose flint bosom my condemned lord
Is doom'd a prisoner by proud Bolingbroke.
Here let us rest, if this rebellious earth
Have any resting for her true king's queen.
(Enter Richard II and Guard)
But soft, but see, or rather do not see
My fair rose wither. Yet look up, behold,
That you in pity may dissolve to dew,
And wash him fresh again with true-love tears.


Another allusion to Richard II is the garden metaphor -a common Shakespearean image- but, in Richard II it is extensively explored in Act 3, scene 4. This garden aphorism forms a part of Hamlet’s faulty inductive reasoning (also a trait of immaturity) that we also see a few lines later with the aphorism of the frailty of women. There are also the standard allusions and comparisons of the god-beast dichotomy that is extensively explored in the play.

I love the sibilant consonance at the end in the lines, “She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets.”

Finally, there is Hamlet’s use of metonymy and synecdoche in the last line saying that he must hold his tongue. Here tongue substitutes for voice or opinion, etc.

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