Dramatic soliloquies are generally understood to be words spoken by a character who is alone on stage or seems to be speaking private thoughts aloud. Yet there are many instances of overheard soliloquies in Shakespeare, in which the character may or may not be aware of other characters who are nearby but concealed from the speaker. Soliloquies are often viewed as a dramatist's way of informing the theater audience about subtleties in the dramatic action or a character's motivation. However, critics invariably emphasize that evaluations of Shakespeare's soliloquies must take into account their dramatic context: while they may be viewed as a means of developing themes and characterization, they should not always be taken at face value—that is, as forthright expressions of what the dramatist intended his audience to infer about the character speaking them. Maurice Charney (1989) asserts that most soliloquies and asides do not “provide a window into the souls of the characters.” A major critical issue is whether soliloquies should be regarded as interior monologues or exterior addresses spoken to an onstage audience, if one exists, or to the theater audience. This is, of course, a crucial question for actors and directors.
The most celebrated—and arguably the most discussed—soliloquy in English literature is Hamlet's “To be, or not to be” speech (III.i). Linwood E. Orange (1965) views it as Hamlet's attempt to convince Claudius and Polonius (who are overhearing his words) that he is truly mad and contemplating suicide. James Hirsh (see Further Reading) also claims that the “To be” soliloquy is not an interior monologue; the critic emphasizes the impersonality of its first section and regards it as an instance in which the speaker knows he is being overheard and uses his words to mislead the eavesdroppers into believing that he does not intend to exact vengeance for the murder of his father. Like Orange and Hirsh, Edna Zwick Boris (see Further Reading) judges this speech to be “a staged soliloquy”; Boris argues that Hamlet is fully aware that he is being observed and overheard, and that the speech is primarily directed to Claudius. Harold Jenkins (1989) outlines various stages of Hamlet's argument in this speech, from consideration of the alternatives of relief from “the pains of living” to “fear of the unknown.” For Jenkins, the soliloquy is an impersonal debate: the prince's search for a resolution of a universal conflict. Analyzing the juxtaposition of philosophy and religion in this soliloquy, Arieh Sachs (see Further Reading) describes Hamlet here as a “would-be Stoic” who is essentially a Christian. Like Sachs, Francesca Bugliani (see Further Reading) interprets the speech as an expression of Hamlet's doubts about Stoicism, and whether rationality and imperturbability are preferable to passion.
During the course of the play, Hamlet has six other extended monologues. In a book that focuses on the way eleven different twentieth-century actors delivered Hamlet's soliloquies, Mary Z. Maher (1992) remarks that directors and performers have frequently interpreted these passages as attempts to woo the audience, to establish ties with it that will turn playgoers into collaborators or, at least, sympathetic judges. James Cameron Andrews (see Further Reading) links Hamlet's soliloquy in I.ii (“O that this too too sallied flesh would melt”) with the monologue in I.v that begins “O all you host of heaven.” Andrews calls attention to the association of “foul play” in the second soliloquy with Hamlet's suspicions regarding his mother's sexual misconduct expressed in the first. W. Schrickx (see Further Reading) connects Hamlet's “O all you host of heaven” soliloquy to the theme of revenge, asserting that in this speech the prince takes on the burden of avenging his father's death, even though his religious beliefs incline him to leave vengeance to divine providence. Stephen Booth (see Further Reading, 2002) offers a close reading of the “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” soliloquy at the close of Act II, scene ii. Booth emphasizes the complexity of this speech, its lack of clarity, and the richness of its language. Both Fredson Bowers (1962) and Maurice Charney (1977) evaluate Hamlet's monologue in Act III, scene ii that follows the dumb show of “The Murder of Gonzago” and which begins “'Tis now the very witching time of night.” Bowers argues that the function of this speech is to inform the audience that Hamlet's confrontation with Gertrude in the following scene is linked to his hope that he can make his mother see the incestuous nature of her marriage to Claudius. Charney similarly associates this soliloquy with the closet scene (III.iv), but in contrast to Bowers, he argues that the speech demonstrates that Hamlet has become so contaminated by the idea of revenge that his attitude toward his mother is dominated by cruelty and thoughts of matricide. Gideon Rappaport (1987) analyzes Hamlet's “Now might I do it pat” soliloquy (III.iii), as Claudius kneels in an attempt to pray. Emphasizing the importance of reading this passage in relation to its dramatic context, the critic contrasts Hamlet's apparent rationality here with the prince's corruption and descent into evil as he struggles to determine how to pursue an ethical course of action in a universe that is “morally complex.” Anthony J. Gilbert (1995) assesses Hamlet's “How all occasions do inform against me” soliloquy (IV.iv) with respect to the question of whether dramatic soliloquies, Shakespeare's and others', represent moments of truth telling. Gilbert calls attention to what he regards as Hamlet's evasive, ambiguous language in this passage, concluding that the speech demonstrates that “Hamlet is incapable of knowing why he does not act.” Ralph Berry (1989) argues that a principal function of Hamlet's soliloquies is to impose “his viewpoint upon the audience” by speaking to it directly, as if its members were psychological counselors or analysts. Both Berry and Rappaport address the question of why Hamlet has no monologues in Act V; their conclusions are similar: the absence of externalized complaints signals that by this point in the play the prince has matured, finally acknowledging his responsibility to take action.
Commentary on soliloquies in other Shakespearean tragedies include evaluations of those spoken by Macbeth, Othello, and Juliet. Horst Breuer (see Further Reading), S. S. Hussey (1982), and Gilbert bring different perspectives to bear on Macbeth's monologues. Breuer analyzes the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech (V.v) with reference to medieval and Renaissance concepts of time; in the Middle Ages, the critic argues, time was a symbol of order and stability, but in the early modern era time is disorderly and fragmented. In Breuer's judgment, a large measure of the despair and alienation Macbeth expresses in this soliloquy is related to a loss of identity and a hopeless view of the future. In an essay on the development of Shakespeare's soliloquies, Hussey discusses several of Macbeth's, with particular attention to the rhythm and rhetoric of the first, which begins “This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good” (I.iii), and the second, “If it were done when 'tis done” (I.viii). By contrast, Gilbert focuses on this second soliloquy, reading it as a disclosure of Macbeth's “desperate search for security” but also as evidence of his capacity for honesty and self-knowledge. Gilbert also remarks on Othello's “It is the cause” soliloquy (V.ii), calling attention to its ambiguities and fallacious reasoning, and characterizing these as indications of the Moor's evasion or repression of the truth. James Hirsh (2003) evaluates “implicitly overheard” soliloquies and asides in Romeo and Juliet, assessing them in terms of what he claims were the prevailing dramatic conventions for such speeches at the time the play was written. Similarly concerned with dramatic conventions, Gary M. McCown (see Further Reading) explicates Juliet's soliloquy at the opening of Act III, scene ii in the context of classical and medieval wedding lyrics; the critic proposes that Shakespeare altered the usual style of such lyrics to achieve a deeper sense of sadness and paradox.
Among the historical figures Shakespeare recreated, Richard III is an eminent focus of commentators who study Shakespeare's soliloquies. Lawrence W. Hugenberg, Sr., and Mark J. Schaefermeyer (1983), James Schiffer (2000), and Igor Shaitanov (see Further Reading) offer varying points of view of Richard's monologues. Hugenberg and Schaefermeyer discuss Richard's soliloquies in both Richard III and Henry VI, Part 3, contending that in these speeches he has two audiences: himself and the people witnessing the play. Moreover, the critics assert that the soliloquies serve to disclose Richard's motives, to demonstrate his creation of a self-image, and to establish a bond between Richard and the theater audience. Contrasting Richard's first soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent” (I.i.), with his last, “O outward conscience, how doest thou afflict me!” (V.iii), Schiffer points out that while the first soliloquy is apparently a direct address to the audience, the last is seemingly an interior monologue. The critic suggests that Richard's increasingly fragmented self, reflected in the last soliloquy, mirrors the audience's divided responses to the king: throughout the play we are drawn to and repelled by his persona. Shaitanov centers his attention on Richard's first soliloquy, especially its semantics. The critic urges readers and audiences to pay close attention to the effect of the repetition of vowel sounds in the speech and to its combination of personal and impersonal tones. Another eminent soliloquist in Shakespeare's history plays is Prince Hal; Dale C. Uhlmann (1984) and Marc Grossman (1995) both evaluate his “I know you all” soliloquy in Act I, scene ii of Henry IV, Part 1. Uhlmann contends that this speech is a complex argument that moves from the general to the specific, and remarks on its sonnet-like structure as well as its rhetoric. Grossman maintains that the prince's argumentation here is specious, pointing out that the passage should be read or heard with close attention to the circumstances in which Hal delivers it.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Hussey, S. S. “The Development of the Soliloquy.” In The Literary Language of Shakespeare, pp. 181-202. London: Longman, 1982.
[In the following essay, Hussey traces the evolution of Shakespeare's soliloquies, from the early tragedies and history plays to the later tragedies, with particular attention to their function and syntax. Remarking on the development of these speeches from expository passages to communications of moral or psychological confusion, the critic discusses soliloquies in a number of plays, especially Macbeth and Hamlet, but also Henry VI, Part 3, Richard III, Julius Caesar, and Othello.]
We must beware of applying to English drama a Darwinian theory of evolution which gives a neat development of mystery plays, moralities, interludes, the ‘University Wits’ and (finally) Shakespeare. No one of these completely drives out its predecessors and the young Shakespeare could well have seen morality plays acted. But obviously there is some sense of progress, and, in considering how the Elizabethan dramatists developed a syntax for exploring and describing motivation, we may properly begin with the morality plays. Moralities avoid ambiguities and dramatise clear-cut choices, good versus evil:
When the debate is between some form of good and evil, obviously the right choice can only be of the good; if it is of the evil,...
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SOURCE: Gilbert, Anthony J. “Shakespearean Self-Talk, The Gricean Maxims, and the Unconscious.” English Studies 76, no. 3 (May 1995): 221-37.
[In the following essay, Gilbert employs a theory of the normative pattern of conversational practice formulated by H. P. Grice—a philosopher of language—to evaluate four Shakespearean soliloquies in terms of whether characters are speaking the truth about themselves and their actions, evading it, repressing it, or rationalizing it. Gilbert analyzes Claudius's “O, my offence is rank” soliloquy in Hamlet (III.iii) with respect to what it reveals about the king's resourcefulness and self-awareness as well as his cynicism; Hamlet's “How all occasions do inform against me” speech (IV.iv) with an emphasis on what the critic regards as its evasiveness and ambiguities; Macbeth's “If it were done” monologue (I.vii) as an honest communication of his fear of moral retribution; and Othello's “It is the cause” soliloquy (V.ii) as an expression of the Moor's self-deception.]
In Shakespeare, most dramatic speech is heavily motivated and subjective in character. The motives for speech are rendered transparent by audience knowledge, even if some of the participants in a conversation are not fully aware of all the motives at work. This accounts for the frequency of dramatic irony in Shakespeare's plays, because it is a...
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SOURCE: Hirsh, James. “Shakespeare's Soliloquies: The Representation of Speech.” In Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies, pp. 119-98. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Hirsh claims that, in accordance with accepted dramatic convention, soliloquies in Shakespeare's plays are direct speech acts, not interior monologues. He discusses numerous soliloquies and asides that are overheard by other characters, either onstage or offstage, with particular reference to the ones in Romeo and Juliet.]
Shakespeare employed the conventions that governed soliloquies in the late Renaissance and that were the focus of the preceding chapter. But Shakespeare's works require detailed special attention for several reasons. In the first place, he employed these conventions more imaginatively than any other dramatist, and so his use of the conventions is interesting for its own sake. Secondly, Shakespeare often used these conventions implicitly and in very complex ways. A clear understanding of how these now obsolete and alien conventions operated in particular episodes is necessary for even a basic understanding of those episodes. Thirdly, Shakespeare's plays have been read, performed, and discussed more widely than the work of any other dramatist, so how these conventions operated in his plays should be of interest to performers, playgoers, readers, and scholars....
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Criticism: Individual Plays
SOURCE: Bowers, Fredson. “Hamlet's Fifth Soliloquy, 3.2.406-17.” In Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, edited by Richard Hosley, pp. 213-22. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962.
[In the following essay, Bowers connects Hamlet's “'Tis now the witching hour of night” soliloquy (III.ii) with the prince's conduct in the closet scene (III.iv). The critic contends that in the second part of this speech Shakespeare purposely directed the audience to interpret Hamlet's subsequent confrontation with Gertrude not as a murderous assault on her but an attempt to convince her that she must repent her incestuous marriage to Claudius.]
Of the soliloquies in Hamlet, the twelve lines at the end of 3.2 beginning “'Tis now the very witching time of night” seem, on the surface, to be the least interesting. In this brief fifth soliloquy no ‘philosophy’ is being propounded, no consideration of the world and its ways or of Hamlet's internal anguish is forthcoming. In the hurried action that follows on the success of the Mousetrap stratagem, these lines (3.2.406-17) bridge the gap between, on the one hand, Hamlet's excited dismissal of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (3.2.55-6) followed by his exasperating encounter with Polonius (3.2.103-11), and, on the other, the prayer scene (3.3) that is prelude to the climactic closet scene (3.4).
All of the...
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SOURCE: Orange, Linwood E. “Hamlet's Mad Soliloquy.” South Atlantic Quarterly 64, no. 1 (winter 1965): 60-71.
[In the following essay, Orange asserts that as Hamlet is delivering his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (III.i) he is fully aware of Ophelia's presence and suspects that Claudius and Polonius, though not visible onstage, can hear his words. Thus the speech is not an introspective reflection, the critic argues, but a calculated strategy to deceive his enemies into believing that he is so mentally distracted that he is considering killing himself.]
To the two major groups into which nearly all Hamlet critics inevitably fall, the “to be” soliloquy is of crucial importance.1 The Romantic critics and the enormous number of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers who hold that Hamlet's delay is occasioned not by external circumstances but by some innate personal weakness have found strong support in this introspective consideration of self-inflicted death, which concludes with an apparent confession of irresolution:
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pitch and moment With this regard their currents turn awry And lose the name of action.(2)
Others have objected that the prince is involved in far too much activity...
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SOURCE: Charney, Maurice. “The ‘Now Could I Drink Hot Blood’ Soliloquy and the Middle of Hamlet.” Mosaic 10, no. 3 (spring 1977): 77-86.
[In the following essay, Charney calls attention to the cruel, even gruesome elements of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act III, scene ii. He argues that in this monologue Hamlet is chiefly concerned with dissuading himself from the impulse to kill his mother.]
As a matter of principle, some hardy critics never read a play before seeing it in order not to spoil the freshness of the effect. If a play doesn't make sense in its oral and presented form, then there is something radically wrong with it. Have things come to such a sorry pass that we need to read the play as a libretto, translating a foreign and incomprehensible tongue? And what about those theatrical spectators with their little flashlights aglow, turning the pages of the text during the performance, as if it were a musical score? O heresy of heresies! As McLuhan might remark, this is the evil fruit of the Gutenberg galaxy, and we are enslaved to the print culture.
Practically, of course, we cannot hope to recreate that splendid moment of Shakespeare “when new.” Not only have we all read the plays (and read all the plays), but the language has been absorbed into our discourse. Can you imagine the shock effect of hearing the word “heartache” used for the first time in the English...
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SOURCE: Hugenberg, Sr., Lawrence W. and Mark J. Schaefermeyer. “Soliloquy as Self-Disclosure: The Soliloquies of Richard III.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 69, no. 2 (May 1983): 180-87.
[In the following excerpt, Hugenberg and Schaefermeyer consider the soliloquies of Richard of Gloucester in Henry VI, Part 3 (III.iii) and Richard III (I.i and I.iii) in terms of communication theory. They conclude that these monologues represent forthright speech that clearly reveals Richard's motivations, his goals, and his strategies.]
In William Shakespeare's historical plays, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later to become Richard III, rationalizes his actions in relation to his image of himself. He reveals data about his character as early as 3 Henry VI, the play preceding Richard III.
Then, since the heavens have shap'd my body so, Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it.
Richard's soliloquies are disclosures directed to the self as particular audience while the audience witnessing the drama is a representative universal audience. Richard addresses himself and his audience. As the audience, we are “performers” in the drama, and the parts played are determined by the nature of the drama.1 Similarly, members of Richard's audience become performers and are allowed to overhear Richard's soliloquies...
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SOURCE: Uhlmann, Dale C. “Prince Hal's Reformation Soliloquy: A ‘Macro-Sonnet.’” Upstart Crow 5 (fall 1984): 152-55.
[In the following essay, Uhlmann analyzes the structure and style of Prince Hal's “I know you all” soliloquy in Henry IV, Part 1 (I.ii). He suggests that Shakespeare constructed this monologue in the form of an extended sonnet to convey to the audience its significance as a revelation of the prince's true nature.]
Prince Hal's famous “reformation soliloquy” in Act 1, scene 2 of I Henry IV is a self-characterizing speech which is something more than a monologue existing for the sake of exposition. Samuel Johnson, J. Dover Wilson, John Bailey, and Robert Ornstein are among those who have traditionally viewed the soliloquy as a means of assuring the audience of Hal's resolve to prove himself a true and worthy prince, despite appearances to the contrary.1 However, Hal's speech is more than a soliloquy. The speech is in reality an expanded sonnet, or what one might well term a “macro-sonnet,” a deliberate imitation of the sonnet form as a means of signalling a momentous event in the play—Hal's revelation of character. For this soliloquy, Shakespeare uses a special poetic mode to demonstrate the importance of that event. As an extended sonnet, the soliloquy employs a number of conventions that are put to similar use in the sonnets themselves, and...
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SOURCE: Rappaport, Gideon. “Hamlet: Revenge and Readiness.” Upstart Crow 7 (1987): 80-95.
[In the following essay, Rappaport focuses on Hamlet's “Now might I do it pat” soliloquy (III.iii) that immediately follows Claudius's own soliloquy before he kneels in prayer. The critic reads Hamlet's monologue as an expression of the prince's pride, arguing that he does not kill Claudius at this moment because he is guilty of the sin of taking on himself the divine authority of saving or condemning souls. Rappaport also discusses Hamlet's other soliloquies and contends that the reason there are none after the sea voyage is because during this time Hamlet has learned to submit to God's will.]
The intention of this paper is, among other things, to resolve the interpretive dilemma critics have faced in trying to determine whether Hamlet is predominantly a secular revenge tragedy or a redemptive Christian tragedy. The focus is on the complex dramatic moment, properly understood as the climax of the play, compounded of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act III, scene iii, and its remarkable relation to its context. And the method is, in part, simply to take Shakespeare at his word—that is, to accept as serious and fundamental axioms of life the commonplace professions of Renaissance thought that we in our own time tend to forget, to ignore, or to treat with condescension. Whether or not we believe that...
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SOURCE: Jenkins, Harold. “‘To be, or not to be’: Hamlet's Dilemma.” Hamlet Studies 13, nos. 1 and 2 (summer and winter 1991): 8-24.
[The following essay is the text of a lecture delivered in Delhi, India, in December 1989. Jenkins offers a close reading of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, remarking on the development of its argument and its lack of reference to Hamlet's particular circumstances, and providing a useful summary of commentary on this speech over the centuries. Importantly, he relates the quandary Hamlet expresses—whether one should free oneself from human existence or endure it—to the play's themes of humanity's dual nature, both godlike and bestial, and the equivocal nature of revenge, which can be both righteous and sinful.]
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep:
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams...
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SOURCE: Berry, Ralph. “Hamlet and the Audience: The Dynamics of a Relationship.” In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance: Essays in the Tradition of Performance Criticism in Honor of Bernard Beckerman, edited by Marvin and Ruth Thompson, pp. 24-8. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Berry suggests that through Hamlet's soliloquies, the audience becomes, in effect, his psychological counselor, sympathetically accepting his perspectives on himself and other characters. In Berry's judgment, the lack of soliloquies in Act V reflects Hamlet's recognition that it is now time for him to behave like a man and replace complaints with action.]
The extended ingratiation by which Hamlet develops his special relationship with the audience rests on two factors: the persona of the actor and the sequence of major soliloquies. The persona is, I think, more important than technique. Hamlet is not, oddly, a part that demands great acting. But it does demand the essential star quality of magnetism. An actor, perfectly competent in a general professional way, who essays Hamlet without charm can be merely embarrassing. The part is written for a star actor, who may be a third-rate star, but not for a good actor. From his base of personal magnetism, the actor woos the audience in seven soliloquies. In general, the soliloquy is a device for bonding actor and audience. Those...
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SOURCE: Charney, Maurice. “Asides, Soliloquies, and Offstage Speeches in Hamlet: Implications for Staging.” In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance, edited by Marvin and Ruth Thompson, pp. 116-31. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Charney emphasizes the dramatic context and function in Hamlet of speeches that are distinctly different from regular dialogue. He calls attention to asides that are expository, or didactic, or expressions of guilt; to the range of tone and emotions in the soliloquies of Hamlet and Claudius; and to the dramatic significance of the several instances of voices heard from offstage or beneath it.]
The frozen, stream-of-consciousness soliloquies and asides in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude (1928), conceived in the Elizabethan and Freudian mode, which always seemed such a stumbling block to performance, were beautifully integrated into the play in Keith Hack's recent revival in London (1984) and New York (1985). The principal characters, especially those played by Edward Petherbridge and Glenda Jackson, made no obvious distinction between public speech and private reflection, and the soliloquies and asides were spoken in the same voice as ordinary dialogue and made continuous with it, so that there was no way for the characters to hide, as O'Neill said, “behind the sounds called words.” Keith Hack's production...
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SOURCE: Grossman, Marc. “The Adolescent and the Strangest Fellow: Comic and Morally Serious Perspectives in 1 Henry IV.” Essays in Literature 23, no. 2 (fall 1995): 170-95.
[In the following essay, Grossman reads Prince Hal's “I know you all soliloquy” in Henry IV, Part 1 (I.ii) not as a promise to reform but as the prince's attempt to justify to himself his agreement to participate in the Gad's Hill robbery. At this point in the play, the critic contends, Hal is filled with shame and self-loathing because he knows his attraction to Falstaff's comic but shameless view of life must be balanced by a commitment to honor, duty, and a morally serious perspective if he is to develop into a responsible adult. Grossman also discusses Hal's abuse of Francis the tavern boy, seeing in this episode further indications of Hal's self-reproach and pangs of conscience.]
The figure of Prince Hal in 1 and 2 Henry IV is notable for the divergent, and often vociferous, reactions it provokes. To Tillyard, for example, the prince is “a man of large powers, Olympian loftiness, and high sophistication, … Shakespeare's studied picture of the kingly type” (269). To Harold Bloom, on the other hand, he is a “cold opportunist … [and] a hypocritical and ambitious politician, caring only for glory and for power, his father's true son … [he] is best categorized by his own despicable...
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SOURCE: Schiffer, James. “The Splintered Glass.” Upstart Crow 20 (2000): 42-57.
[In the following essay, Schiffer focuses on Richard III's final soliloquy (V.iii), spoken after he awakens from a sleep disturbed by the visitation of his victims' ghosts. From the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the critic compares this soliloquy with Richard's earlier ones, especially the soliloquy at the opening of the play (I.i); he concludes that whereas the first demonstrates Richard's remarkable confidence and single-mindedness of purpose, the final soliloquy reveals an incoherent, fragmented self.]
Who, if not us, will question once more the objective status of this “I,” which a historical evolution peculiar to our culture tends to confuse with the subject? … An impossible mirage in linguistic forms … in which the subject appears fundamentally in the position of being determinant or instrumental of action.
—Jacques Lacan (Écrits 23)
I'll be at charges for a lookinglass, And entertain a score or two of tailors To study fashions to adorn my body. Since I am crept in favor with myself, I will maintain it with some little cost.
—Richard III (I. ii. 258-62)
For almost every critic who has exulted in the opening speech of Richard III, there are those who have descanted on...
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Criticism: Performance Commentary
SOURCE: Maher, Mary Z. “John Gielgud: The Glass of Fashion.” In Modern Hamlets and Their Soliloquies, pp. 1-18. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Maher describes in detail John Gielgud's delivery of Hamlet's seven soliloquies in a 1936-1937 production staged in New York and London. In a narrative supplemented by comments from the actor himself, she relates the effects of varying tempos, speech breaks, gestures, lighting, and stage business on Gielgud's performance of these speeches, stressing that he spoke them as if they were communications with himself rather than with the audience.]
Because of his extensive and varied experience with Hamlet, John Gielgud owned the role of the prince in a way that no other twentieth-century actor could. As James Agate wrote of Gielgud's 1944 production, “Mr. Gielgud is now completely and authoritatively master of this tremendous part. He is, we feel, this generation's rightful tenant of this ‘monstrous Gothic castle of a poem’ … I hold that this is, and is likely to remain, the best Hamlet of our time.”1 Gielgud played the role of Hamlet more than five hundred times in his long and distinguished career. He was one of the few modern actors who simultaneously performed in and directed himself as Hamlet. And in 1964 he was director of the play with yet another actor in the role, Richard Burton....
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SOURCE: Maher, Mary Z. “David Warner: The Rogue and Peasant Slave.” In Modern Hamlets and Their Soliloquies, pp. 41-62. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Maher gives an account of a 1965-1966 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet that was directed by Peter Hall with David Warner in the lead role. This anti-establishment staging likened the politics of Elsinore to those of mid-twentieth-century Britain, the critic reports, and Warner's direct communication of Hamlet's soliloquies was an essential part of his and Hall's intent to involve the numerous young members of the audience in the play and help them understand it.]
When David Warner was performing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre one evening, a member of the audience actually entered into the play. It was near the end of the second act, just after Hamlet dismisses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. With a sigh of relief, Warner breathed, “Now I am alone.” He raked the stalls with his eyes, scooping in the balcony with a wide look, and then began the soliloquy: “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I …” The audience followed him closely. He gave the natural builds in the speech, moving through “What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?” At the series of short questions, beginning with “Am I a coward?” Warner paused, just to think about what...
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Andrews, Michael Cameron. “‘Foul Play’ in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 16, nos. 1 and 2 (summer and winter 1994): 75-82.
Connects Hamlet's lines at the close of Act I, scene ii alluding to “foul play” with his soliloquy earlier in this scene: “O that this too too sallied flesh would melt.” Emphasizing the Renaissance connotation of “foul play” as adulterous sex, Andrews posits that even after the ghost has appeared to him, Hamlet is more appalled by his mother's sexual misconduct than by Claudius's murder of his father.
Booth, Stephen. “Close Reading without Readings.” In Shakespeare Reread: The Texts in New Contexts, edited by Russ McDonald, pp. 42-55. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Provides a discourse on the seemingly “incidental” linkages between words and ideas in Shakespeare's plays that yield new significance and meaning. To explain his theory, Booth discusses how Lady Macbeth's “raven” soliloquy (I.v) and Edmund's “Thou, Nature, art my goddess” speech (King Lear, I.i) might be read.
———. “The Physics of Hamlet's ‘Rogue and Peasant Slave’ Speech.” In “A Certain Text”: Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton, edited by Linda Anderson and Janis Lull, pp. 75-93. Newark: University of...
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