How does Hamlet's soliloquy reveal his melancholy?

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Hamlet reveals his melancholy through his soliloquy in act 3, scene 1. He ponders the futility of human existence and considers taking his own life because so much cruelty exists in the world.

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In act 3, scene 1, Hamlet ponders the futility of human existence in his most famous soliloquy, which begins with the oft-quoted line “To be or not to be.”

Melancholy is defined as a feeling of hopelessness or depression. In this soliloquy, Hamlet exhibits this attitude because he seriously...

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ponders whether it is nobler to suffer through life’s many challenges or to end one’s life. He frequently references suicide: “to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.60); “quietus make / With a bare bodkin” (3.1.76-77); “fly to others that we know not of” (3.1.83). Each of these references suggests that Hamlet has contemplated suicide many times but can’t resign himself to death because he is afraid of what comes after.

The fact that Hamlet is alone on stage makes this speech meaningful. Consider that throughout the play, Hamlet pretends to be crazy in front of others. When he is alone, he has no need to continue this pretense. Therefore, this soliloquy certainly shows how troubled Hamlet is, because it reveals his true thoughts about life and death.

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How is Hamlet melancholic?

Scholars who believe that melancholy is Hamlet’s tragic flaw believe that Hamlet “thinks too much” and this “thinking too much” makes Hamlet excessively sad and thoughtful. Ornstein is famous for naming this particular tragic flaw. Just as the long soliloquy that is considered Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech can be considered evidence of inaction, it can also be submitted as evidence of melancholy. Shakespeare loved soliloquies. They are found in every single one of his plays. Many scholars consider Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech as the most important, existential, and metaphysical soliloquy of all time. It is here that Hamlet weighs the major advantages and disadvantages of being alive. Many scholars conclude that Hamlet is contemplating suicide. (I must include here, though, that there are scholars who disagree and think Hamlet is simply contemplating his own lack of action through thought, which may also lend to Hamlet’s tragic flaw of melancholy.) The entire soliloquy is Hamlet giving his reasoning (to himself and the audience) for contemplating that suicide. Hamlet makes the case that this world is full of sorrow and pain. Hamlet further muses that this suicide is actually “devoutly to be wished," but Hamlet stops his suicide because of his fear of the afterlife. If Hamlet considers death “sleep,” then he is worried about what happens in the “dream” for the soul who kills itself. A bit of background on Hamlet’s melancholy here is that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the sin of taking one’s own life is one of the most serious sins and cannot be forgiven, leading the soul directly to hell (except in the case of desperate, immediate, and final forgiveness in the moments before death). A full forty lines of soliloquy are devoted to Hamlet contemplating this grim idea. Can you think of a more melancholic subject? The scholars who believe this soliloquy has been misplaced and that it isn’t about suicide at all but rather about “troubles of turning thought into action” also give a perfect explanation for the tragic flaw of melancholy.

Let’s look at some more specifics from the speech to point to more melancholy. In lines 85-89, “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." How is this melancholy? Well, Hamlet is convinced that “the native hue of resolution” is being “sicklied ‘o’er with the pale cast of thought.” Some point to the idea that here Hamlet names his flaw when he says “the pale cast of thought.” That is melancholy. Of course, you add the “lose the name of action” idea and you have fodder for the flaw of inaction. Therefore, this quote can be used to prove either flaw. Even if you lean toward the inaction flaw here, you can’t deny that the reason behind his inaction is contemplation of suicide or sad musings on the afterlife or thoughts about esoteric wisdom or the random gyrations of the mind.

Leaving the contemplation of suicide and looking at Act IV, Scene 4 because here is yet another soliloquy that provides ample evidence for the flaw of melancholy. All one needs to do is look at the precise first lines: "How all occasions do inform against me / and spur my dull revenge!" Although this line can be used (to a lesser extent) to prove the flaw of inaction, what is important here is that what Hamlet is constantly doing is precisely “thinking” about acting, while not actually doing so. Now we have Hamlet again naming his flaw, or at least his condition: "A thought which, quarter'd, has but one part wisdom / And ever three parts coward." In other words, Hamlet’s thoughts are mostly cowardice, and only one quarter intelligence.

Here are some more of Hamlet’s words to consider in regards to melancholy: "I do not know / Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do,' / Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means / To do't." It is a wonder that Hamlet can repeat the exact same thing again and again. Hamlet is revealing (again) how he has the motive to do what he needs to do (avenge his dad). How melancholic. Yet again, saying the same thing in different words: The "tender prince, / Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd, / Makes mouths at the invisible event, Exposing what is mortal and unsure / To all that fortune, death , and danger dare." Now Hamlet is talking about actually having “divine ambition” to do what he needs to do even though it is dangerous. He is standing and talking: idle again.

Let’s look at yet another: "Rightly to be great / Is not to stir without great argument, / But greatly to find quarrel in a straw / When honour's at the stake." Here it is honor that is at stake, but again it is Hamlet simply talking about that honor and not acting on it. This particular quote requires a bit more explanation. If “honour’s at the stake” and your dad has his life taken by your uncle, it would be important for the son to kill that uncle out of honor. “Stir” without any delay, and not finding “quarrel in a straw” (even if it’s one of his father’s lands) so that there isn’t anything getting in the way of what needs to be done. As a reader, you will notice that a support is better used for the flaw of melancholy (as opposed to inaction) if Hamlet doesn’t really have an opportunity to act at that moment (such as when Claudius is praying).

How about this example: "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." Hamlet is basically saying, “Here I stand, again not acting, even though my mom is sinful and my uncle killed my dad and, yet, I let it all go (or ‘sleep’) by not acting.” Another moment when Hamlet doesn’t really have an opportunity to act, but stands deep in thought is in Act IV when he says, after another grand soliloquy, “O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” This line is particularly interesting because Hamlet talks about how important it has been, even before this, to get on the ball and avenge his dad, and yet he still stood around talking. In fact, he continues to stand around talking now. Does Hamlet need to clear his conscience yet again before acting? Interesting that he says only his “thoughts” will be bloody. That makes me laugh, actually. Has he been listening to himself talking? His whole point is that honor requires more than just bloody “thoughts.” It requires action.

As a final thought, I would like to assert that almost any of Hamlet’s soliloquies could be use to show the tragic flaw of melancholy. Hamlet is always thinking and talking to himself about those (often sad) thoughts. Therefore, as a researcher of this topic, any soliloquy could be used as support for melancholy as the tragic flaw.

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Broadly describe how Hamlet expresses his melancholy in his first soliloquy.

In Act I, Scene 2, of "Hamlet," the Prince of Denmark bemoans that his "sallied flesh" cannot melt like dew, wishing that suicide were not morally wrong.  Hamlet is depressed, disgusted with life that presents a once loving wife who hung on her husband

As if increase of appetite had grown/By what it fed one, and yet, within a month--...Frailty, thy name is woman--(I,ii,143-145)

she has wed his uncle Claudius.  Why, Hamlet exclaims, a "beast that wants discourse of reason" (I,ii,150) would mourn longer for someone.  In short, Hamlet is disgusted with the conduct of his mother.  This disgust grows within the prince; he vows to "remember" the ghost of his father in his antipathy for his mother, that "pernicious woman" who is a "villain, smiling, damned villain!" (I,v,106).  Other soliloquies reflect this preoccupation that Hamlet has with avenging his father, an intent that is paralyzed by Hamlet's moral conscience as well as his stultifying depression.

In the end, Hamlet does act by fighting Laertes, whom Claudius has enlisted to carry out the insidious plot to kill the prince.  Hamlet avenges the death of his father after undergoing a character change in the final act when he asserts that he is "Hamlet, the Dane," not the "sallied flesh."

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Broadly describe how Hamlet expresses his melancholy in his first soliloquy.

Hamlet expresses his melancholy in several ways in this soliloquy. Start at the beginning: he wishes that his flesh would "melt." Then jump to the end: he says he's so upset over his mother's actions that his heart will break. In between, several points indicate how upset he is. Crying out exclamations like " Fie on't! ah fie!" give a good sense of his emotional state. The other ways he indicates his upset is through the words used to describe his mother, and through his references to the mythical woman Niobe, whose pride cost her her children.

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