What is the significance of the following soliloquy from Hamlet to the theme of revenge? Please refer to the lines in the soliloquy itself to support your analysis and interpretation. Act 4, Scene...

What is the significance of the following soliloquy from Hamlet to the theme of revenge? Please refer to the lines in the soliloquy itself to support your analysis and interpretation.

Act 4, Scene 4, Lines 33-65

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on th' event—
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward—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. Examples gross as earth exhort me.
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep—while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? Oh, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! 
 
 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is important to be aware of the context of this famous soliloquy. Hamlet, on his way away from Elsinore and towards England, having killed Polonius, meets an army going to fight a battle in Poland. He sees that the willingness of the soldiers to sacrifice their lives for a small piece of foreign land is in direct contrast to his own reluctance to revenge his father. The example of the soldiers is therefore a rebuke to his own inaction. Looking at them, he is aware of his "dull revenge," and how it shows him, who has such cause to pursue revenge, in a bad light. Note the following quote:

How stand I then,

That have a father killed, a mother stained,
 
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
 
And let all sleep—while, to my shame, I see
 
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
 
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
 
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
 
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
 
Which is not tomb enough and continent
 
To hide the slain?
 
Hamlet, as he himself points out, has much more reason for revenge than these soldiers. After all, he has realised that his father was killed, his mother was married incestuously by the same murderer and he has suffered other "excitements of my reason and my blood." By contrast, he sees these soldiers who, for a "fantasy and a trick of fame" happily go to their deaths for a "plot" that is so small all the soldiers who will die for it cannot be buried there. Hamlet feels judged by their willingness to die and his own procrastination. He resolves to think nothing else except revenge as he closes this soliloquy. This soliloquy represents another example in the play of how Hamlet feels judged by the examples of other characters, and tries to goad himself into action with his words.
Sources:

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