How does Hamlet's soliloquy in Act IV, Scene 4 target the Elizabethan audience?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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For an audience accustomed to the bloodletting that often characterized an Elizabethan revenge play, Hamlet's vacillation and hesitation in carrying out his plot against his uncle may have been a bit frustrating. In this soliloquy, Hamlet vows that he will no longer be forestalled in seeking his revenge. He is shamed by his meeting with an Norwegian officer in Fortinbras's army, which is on its way to fight against the Poles. Hamlet muses that the men about to perish in that struggle over a worthless patch of ground had far less reason to risk their lives than he did:

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, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause...

In short, this soliloquy may have appealed to those in the audience who were wondering when, or whether, Hamlet would get on with the business of avenging his father's death. He already knew that his uncle was guilty, having witnessed his reaction to the play. In this scene, he is steeling himself for the act of revenge, even if it means losing his own life. Elizabethan audiences would have recognized this, as modern audiences do, as a major change in Hamlet's character. As he says at the end of the soliloquy:

O, from this time forth, 
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! 



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