How many soliloquies are there in Hamlet?

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Laurine Beahan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A soliloquy is when a character shares his or her thoughts through a speech. The audience is able to hear it, but any other characters that are present are not privy to the words that are spoken. Soliloquies provide insight into what the character is thinking and gives the opportunity for the audience to learn information that cannot be revealed through characters’ conversations. William Shakespeare often uses soliloquies in his plays, and Hamlet is no exception. Throughout the play of Hamlet, there are a total of seven soliloquies. Each soliloquy helps the audience learn more about the character of Hamlet, especially since he’s always honest and his true self during the soliloquies, unlike times when he is speaking with other characters.

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Hamlet has seven soliloquies in Hamlet. Their significance lies in their characterizing of Hamlet as an introspective and anguished character. While in a typical Renaissance revenge tragedy, a protagonist would quickly jump into action to try to avenge a death, Hamlet vacillates. Unlike Laertes, who is immediately out for blood when he learns that Hamlet has killed his father, Hamlet carefully contemplates his next steps and wishes he didn't have to face the problem of revenge. What, he wonders, if the ghost he meets has been sent by Satan to tempt him into killing an innocent man? How can he establish in some objective way that Claudius did, in fact, murder his father? 

If Hamlet was already upset about his father death, the ghost's revelation sends him into a tailspin of depression. He indulges in suicidal ideation, wishing in his soliloquies that he could, for example, dissolve like the dew or take his own life, deciding that is only fear of what he might encounter after death that keeps him alive. He later ponders death as the great leveler. 

Hamlet's contemplation of the meaning of life and death, largely through his many soliloquies, elevates this play from another entertaining bloodbath to a haunting meditation on universal questions about mortality, truth and purpose.   

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mrhecimovich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hamlet, the title character of a 17th-century tragedy by William Shakespeare, speaks seven soliloquies. Recall that a soliloquy occurs when a character in a work is speaking his or her innermost thoughts.  It is similar to thinking aloud.

The first soliloquy occurs in Hamlet in Act 1 scene 2 lines 129-59.  The occurrences during this scene relate to the character Hamlet's suicidal inclinations as he contemplates his late father and his mother's sudden remarriage.

Hamlet's second soliloquy occurs in Act 1 scene 5 lines 92-112. During these lines, Hamlet's confused speech relates to his dislike of the behavior of the characters Claudius and Gertrude and his feelings that he is responsible for avenging the death of his father.

Hamlet's third soliloquy occurs during Act 2 scene 2 lines 546-603.  During this scene, the mood shifts as Hamlet's attitude becomes more determined to channel his rage in order to avenge his father's death.  Shakespeare literary devices like repetition and irony during this soliloquy.

The fourth soliloquy occurs in Act 3 scene 1 lines 56-89.  This is the most famous of the soliloquies in the play and begins with "To be or not to be."  Hamlet is contemplating whether it is better to live in his depressed state or not to live at all.

The fifth soliloquy occurs in Act 3 scene 2 lines 395-406.  The sixth soliloquy occurs in Act 3 scene 3 lines 73-96.  The seventh and last soliloquy occurs in Act 4 scene 4 lines 32-66.

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