Explain the significance of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 2, scene 2, of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. (Please include literary devices.)
In Hamlet's soliloquy at the end of Act 2, Scene 2, Hamlet is working through his internal struggle. He struggles with the inappropriate relationship between Gertrude and Claudius and laments over the fact that he has not done anything about it. He is essentially "beating himself up" over the fact that his only plan in dealing with this is to wait and let God be the judge of the incest between the two characters. He goes back and forth on whether he should kill Claudius in an act of revenge, but it really is not in his nature to do so. In the end he decides to just wait and observe Claudius some more in order to get more proof. He resolves to have actors perform a play in which they act out his father's murder so he can watch Claudius's reaction to it. He doesn't trust that the ghost he has seen is not playing with his emotions forcing him into actions that are not justified. He believes this play is just the thing to get to the truth and gather more evidence.
Some literary devices that are used is personification where he states "For murder though it have no tongue, ill speak with most miraculous organ. He uses this to show how he believes Claudius's emotions will reveal his murderous ways. Hamlet also uses hyperbole to describe himself when he says, "But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall to make oppression bitter...Why, what an ass am I! This most brave..." He is being especially hard on himself and is completely conflicted about the actions he should take.
The soliloquy in act two, scene two, of William Shakespeare's Hamlet is Hamlet's second soliloquy. In this speech, Hamlet defines his inner conflict. Although he wants to revenge his father's death, Hamlet cannot find it in himself to do so. It is against Hamlet's character to murder, even if in revenge. Over the course of the soliloquy, Hamlet becomes more and more frustrated about the situation he faces. After convincing himself to commit the premeditated murder of Claudius, he talks himself out of it again. Still unsure, he decides to find more evidence against Claudius before enacting his revenge.
As for any literary devices, a simile is found in line 579. Here, Hamlet compares himself to a whore (shown with the use of "like a"). In line 586, alliteration is found. (Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry.) The “s” sound in “been struck so to the soul that presently.” Lastly, a metaphor extends throughout the soliloquy when Hamlet compares his lack of ability to enact revenge to bad actors.
Hamlet's soliloquy is important for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he made a pledge to his father's ghost to act swiftly to avenge his father's murder. In the soliloquy, Hamlet expresses anger at himself for not having yet done anything. He compares himself to one of the visiting actors who, in acting out a scene, expresses emotion in a profound way, causing the audience to feel what he feels even though he has no real reason to do so. In contrast, Hamlet cannot do the same—even though he has all the reasons in the world to do so. The contrast makes it clear that Hamlet believes himself a coward. He asks a number of rhetorical questions in this instance:
Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
Hamlet states that if anyone should do these things to mock or humiliate him for his intransigence and his weakness, he should not feel offended, for the only reason they would do so is because he has less courage than a harmless pigeon.
Secondly, the soliloquy clearly displays Hamlet's self-knowledge and self-loathing. This introspection makes him realize some bitter truths about himself, such as that he does not have the gall to proceed in his revenge. He metaphorically compares himself to an ass, a fool. He uses sarcasm by mentioning that it is indeed “brave” of him; when driven by heaven and hell to commit his vengeance, he is only able to act by expressing his emotions through words and not deeds. He uses similes by comparing himself to a whore and a worthless, swearing kitchen maid in this regard.
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
Thirdly, Hamlet in this monologue clearly shows his utter contempt and disdain for his uncle, Claudius. He cries out passionately:
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain….
Hamlet uses powerful metaphors and adjectives to express his intense disgust. Claudius is the same as the entrails of a slave, a man without morals, remorse, or kindness. He now truly realizes just how much he abhors Claudius.
Fourth, it is during this speech that Hamlet finally decides to actually do something to honor the pledge he made to his father's ghost. He now decides that he will use a play to determine Claudius's guilt in his father's murder. He will have the actors enact a scene similar to his father's foul murder. He will then carefully watch Claudius's reaction. If Claudius should act in a guilty manner, Hamlet will then know exactly what to do. It is interesting that Hamlet uses such a careful, indirect method to determine Claudius's guilt; moments earlier, he expressed reckless determination to punish Claudius.
Finally, Hamlet's monologue reveals that he does not entirely trust the ghost. He declares:
The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me….
Hamlet believes that the ghost might just be a devil who has taken on the guise of his father in an attempt to use his emotional condition and his frailty to do evil, leading him on a path to damnation. Hamlet believes that he needs better grounds to take action. He declares that in this regard, the play will be a better guarantee in proving Claudius's guilt.
...the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.