In act 1, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, what literary devices in Hamlet's soliloquy help characterize him?

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At the beginning of the soliloquy, Hamlet complains that God has "fix'd / his canon 'gainst self-slaughter." The metaphorical canon is, of course, a powerful weapon and indicates that Hamlet's desperation to commit suicide can only be frustrated by such a large, powerful weapon.

Hamlet also uses listing...

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At the beginning of the soliloquy, Hamlet complains that God has "fix'd / his canon 'gainst self-slaughter." The metaphorical canon is, of course, a powerful weapon and indicates that Hamlet's desperation to commit suicide can only be frustrated by such a large, powerful weapon.

Hamlet also uses listing when he lists adjectives to describe his depression. He says that the world is "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable." The listing here creates a cumulative impact. Each adjective has negative connotations, and these negative connotations are compounded and emphasized with each adjective. This reflects Hamlet's depression, and how he feels that misery is piled upon misery after misery.

Hamlet again uses a metaphor when he refers to his life as "an unweeded garden." Weeds are unwanted and often harmful plants. They also reduce crop yield, or growth of more desirable plants, by competing with them for natural resources. Hamlet's life is thus an "unweeded garden" because it is full of undesirable and harmful people who take and destroy life rather than enrich it. Claudius, for example, literally took the life of Hamlet's father.

Throughout the soliloquy, Hamlet also uses lots of exclamatory sentences, such as "O God! God!" and "Heaven and earth!" These repeated exclamations indicate that Hamlet is in a constant heightened emotional state. He is angry, frustrated, and desperate.

Much of Hamlet's grief stems from his mother's decision to marry Claudius only a "little month" after his father's death. He thinks that his mother has dishonored his father by marrying so quickly after his death. He uses a simile to compare his mother to a figure from Greek mythology, Niobe. Niobe's children were killed, and Niobe herself turned into stone. As stone, Niobe still wept for her murdered children. Hamlet compares his mother to Niobe because immediately after his father's death, she seemed as heartbroken as Niobe. However, the comparison is bitterly ironic. Whereas Niobe continued to weep long after her children had been killed, Gertrude's weeping dried up after little more than a month.

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Hamlet's soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2 (Lines 131-161) provides a number of literary devices that offer insight into Hamlet's character.

One is found at the beginning, where Shakespeare uses a metaphor as Hamlet wishes he could just disappear:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew (131-132)

Hamlet is wishing that he could become unsubstantial, like dew on the plants (which evaporates in the sun) or like a candle (which could just melt away). It is at this point that he bemoans God's laws against suicide ("self-slaughter"). This shows how unhappy Hamlet is after his father's recent death, and after his mother and step-father's criticism that he has mourned too long. As Claudius puts it, Hamlet's continued grief is sinful:

...'tis a fault to heaven (104)

Then Hamlet compares the world to a neglected piece of land, another metaphor:

'tis an unweeded garden

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. (137-139)

Here Hamlet speaks of how things used to be (implying that when his father lived, the world was a garden). He compares the world now to a rank place, where weeds abound (he could be referring to Claudius) and things that are "gross" have taken over. (This may well refer to the wedding between Claudius and Gertrude. In Elizabethan times, the marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law was considered incestuous.) There is also the sense here that his mother has turned her back not only on her dead husband's memory, but also on her son by marrying again so soon.

Hamlet lets his unhappiness over his mother's recent marriage be known in lines 140-159. He personifies "Frailty" when he speaks to it as if it were a person, something that could hear his words:

Frailty, thy name is woman! (148)

In this portion of the soliloquy, Hamlet uses allusion when he compares his mother's mourning to Niobe.

...she follow'd my poor father's body

Like Niobe, all tears (151-152)

This is a reference to Ovid's Metamorphoses and the story of Niobe and Anfione who ruled Thebes. Niobe angered the gods and lost all of her fourteen children; she cried until she turned to stone. We learn that Hamlet is disgusted with Gertrude's "show" of grief: he believes her tears were empty. He has lost faith in his mother.

Hamlet then compares his mother to an animal, noting that animals cannot reason but one that had lost its mate would have mourned longer than his mother did:

O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason

Would have mourn'd longer— (153-154)

Then Hamlet uses an allusion again to compare his uncle and his father, no more alike than Hamlet is to the demigod, Hercules:

...married with my uncle,

My father's brother, but no more like my father

Than I to Hercules. (154-156)

...who was able to...

surpass all mortal men in strength, size and skill...

In these last two examples, Hamlet is puzzled: how could his mother (1.) lower herself first to act with less reason than an animal and (2.) marry a man so much less than the husband she buried? This shows that Hamlet loved his mother, but it also reveals jus how devoted he was to his father.

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