How do Hamlet's soliloquies help us to interpret his character in Shakespeare's Hamlet?

Hamlet's soliloquies in Hamlet allow us to witness his thought process and emotions so that we better understand his actions and his character. Through Hamlet's soliloquies, the audience can examine whether Hamlet has truly gone mad or is simply feigning madness. The soliloquies also demonstrate the effects Hamlet's circumstances, such as his father's death, have had upon his emotional state.

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Hamlet's many soliloquies allow us inside of his consciousness so that we know what he is thinking and feeling. Hamlet has been called the first modern hero because of how many of his thoughts and emotions we are allowed to witness. This gives us a privileged place: nobody in...

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Hamlet's many soliloquies allow us inside of his consciousness so that we know what he is thinking and feeling. Hamlet has been called the first modern hero because of how many of his thoughts and emotions we are allowed to witness. This gives us a privileged place: nobody in the play itself has such insights into what is going on in Hamlet's mind.

We as an audience, for example, know to what extent Hamlet is in a distressed state, even before he meets the ghost of his father. He has come home to a Denmark that is horribly altered for him: his beloved father is dead, an uncle he dislikes is now king, and that uncle has married his mother—extremely rapidly, too, after the death of his father. Hamlet's stable world from the start is upended, as we see from the first soliloquy—the first in a series in which he expresses that he longs to be dead.

Hamlet's already suicidal mood reaches new levels of anguish and anxiety as he struggles with what to do about the ghost's revelation and to determine if what the ghost says is even true. We see this primarily through his soliloquies. He is caught, we come to perceive, between a revenge culture that demands he shed blood in response to his father's murder and a Christian culture that has taught him mercy. He knows what he needs to do, but in his soliloquy in Act IV, his spirit rebels against the task.

We sympathize with Hamlet's indecision about murdering Claudius because we have had such a close and personal glimpse of what is going on in Hamlet's mind.

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One of the biggest questions in Hamlet is on the subject of the mental state of the protagonist. Hamlet pledges early in the play to "put an antic disposition on." In other words, he means to act like a madman to unsettle his opponents and achieve his own ends of vengeance. However, there are many moments in the play where the line between feigned madness and real madness is blurred so heavily that it becomes imperceptible. The audience cannot always tell whether Hamlet is playing his part well or if he is possessed by actual insanity. Hamlet's soliloquies, which are often delivered privately, are one of the keys we can use to shed light on this question.

When Hamlet speaks in soliloquies, he is usually incredibly preoccupied, even obsessed, with the idea of death. He seems to yearn for it, but is troubled by the potential ramifications. He will hurt his friends and family, become unable to exact vengeance, and may be punished by a divine entity. By giving himself these impassible boundaries, he can "safely" fetishize the idea of dying.

He reaches the point of revulsion towards "lesser" human endeavors, such as sex and friendly company. He compares the act of sex to pigs rolling around in filth. Overall, he becomes more detached with the human experience. All of this tells us that while Hamlet may not be as insane as he is pretending to be, such as when he asks Guildenstern to "play upon a pipe," he is becoming dangerously detached from reality.

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The soliloquies in Shakespeare's Hamlet allow the author to introduce Hamlet to the audience. Each speech permits us to understand not only what Hamlet is going through, but to see firsthand the effects of his uncle's murderous mindset—especially Hamlet's sense of loneliness and isolation, having lost his father and believing he cannot trust anyone.

The depth of Hamlet's despair is painfully obvious as he wishes he could just disappear, and laments his inability to take his own life because God has forbidden such an act. This is found in Act One, scene two, before Hamlet is even aware that his father has been murdered:

O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! (132-135)

However, this idea is not put to rest. In Act Three, scene one, we find perhaps Hamlet's most famous soliloquy: his "To be or not to be..." speech, where he contemplates suicide again—whether or not it would just be easier to die. However, as indecision plagues him as to how best to avenge his father's death, Hamlet is haunted by what he does not know about the afterlife. Once again, the soliloquy allows the audience to have a closer look at what makes Hamlet so human as he struggles to do the right thing:

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... (63-67)

...To die, to sleep—

To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub!

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come... (71-73)

Shakespeare's soliloquies in Hamlet permit the audience to "hear" the young prince's deepest thoughts. He speaks freely and honestly, without worrying about anyone else's feelings: he is basically talking to himself so the audience can hear.

Besides receiving more information about Hamlet, these soul-searching segments of the play allow the audience to better understand this son's dilemmas; they ask us to care about this man who has lost so much, and whose fate leads to tragedy as he attempts simply to keep a promise to his father. For example, we are more sympathetic as we watch Claudius and his "minions" play at a game in which Hamlet has no experience.

The soliloquies present the audience with the inner-workings of Hamlet's heart and mind. In knowing him and caring about him, the play is more powerful, especially as we witness Hamlet's death. In the soliloquies, the members of the audience are perhaps better able to recognize parts of themselves that are so similar to Hamlet. This play is particularly powerful because Hamlet's pain, sense of loss, loneliness, and his disappointment in the actions of others, mirror our own fears, disappointments and feelings of isolation. It is the job of the soliloquy to provide information in a drama by allowing the characters to speak about their hidden feelings, ideas, emotions, etc., allowing the audience a clearer understanding of the play and its characters.


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