Analyze four important consecutive lines from Hamlet's soliloquy in act 4, scene 4 of Hamlet.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 4, scene 4, Hamlet is on his way to England, where he has been sent by a worried King Claudius. On his way, Hamlet learns that Norway and Poland are about to engage in battle over "a little patch of ground / That hath in it no...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In act 4, scene 4, Hamlet is on his way to England, where he has been sent by a worried King Claudius. On his way, Hamlet learns that Norway and Poland are about to engage in battle over "a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name." This makes Hamlet question his own resolve to kill King Claudius. He, after all, has much more reason to act decisively than do the Norwegians or the Poles, yet he finds himself unable to act.

In his soliloquy, the four lines quoted below offer an important insight into Hamlet's thoughts and feelings at this point in the play.

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?

The quotation is phrased as a rhetorical question. Hamlet is asking himself, with a degree of incredulity, how he can justify not taking action to kill King Claudius when the Norwegians and Poles are acting much more decisively with much less cause. The rhetorical question helps to convey Hamlet's feeling of frustration with himself. In the second line of the quotation, Hamlet reminds himself that King Claudius has killed his father and "stain'd" his mother. This metaphorical stain alludes to Hamlet's belief that, in marrying Claudius so quickly after her first husband's death, his mother, Gertrude, has morally "stain'd" her own character.

In line three of the quotation, Hamlet says that, in murdering his father, King Claudius has offended both his "reason and [his] blood." The "blood" here is symbolic of Hamlet's relationship with his father and also of his passions which have been excited and inflamed by the murder. In other words, Hamlet is reminding himself that he has received every provocation possible, and thus his frustration with himself is intensified because still, despite these provocations, he has not acted. In the fourth line of the quotation, Hamlet says that his own inaction has allowed "all," meaning Claudius, Gertrude, and the crimes that they have committed between them, to "sleep." Hamlet is again here speaking metaphorically. The implication is that Hamlet's own inaction has allowed the most grievous crimes and the culprits responsible for them go unpunished. They rest peacefully when he, and also the ghost of his father, are unable to do so. Hamlet is here trying to provoke himself into action.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team