In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the significance (including the literary devices) of Hamlet's first soliloquy?   

1 Answer | Add Yours

auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, explores Hamlet's journey from the loss of his father to his final act of revenge against his father's murderer. The first time we meet Hamlet is in Act One scene two, and he is not happy. His mother has just gotten married--to Claudius, her brother-in-law and the man who murdered King Hamlet--only a month or so after her husband, the man she seemed to have loved so desperately, died.

Both Claudius and his mother scold Hamlet for acting so mournfully, and Hamlet says he will try to please them; however, as soon as he is alone we hear his thoughts in his first soliloquy of the play. 

The first thing he wishes in this monologue is that he could just die, that his "too too solid flesh would melt /Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!" His second wish is that God had not said that it was a sin to commit suicide, or obviously he would already have killed himself in his misery. Hamlet is a man who is concerned about the afterlife, which is one of the reasons he does not quickly kill Claudius, as Hamlet knows what God says about murder, too.

Hamlet describes his unhappy and unprofitable life (in the form of a simile) as 

...an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

 

For the rest of the soliloquy, he is angry with his mother for seeming to love her husband so well that she cried "Niobe's tears" (an allusion to the Greek goddess Niobe who cried in her grief even after being turned into a stone statue) and then so quickly marrying Claudius. He compares his father to Hyperion and Claudius to a satyr; then he says Claudius is as much like King Hamlet as Hamlet is to Hercules--which means they are not at all alike (more allusions to Greek mythology).

Hamlet says, "Frailty, thy name is woman!" and compares his mother to an animal, saying a dumb beast "would have mourn'd longer." He is disgusted that she is sleeping on "incestuous sheets," and knows "it is not nor it cannot come to good." Despite his heartbreak and anger, Hamlet knows he cannot speak his sorrow to these two people: "But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue."

This is the first time we hear Hamlet's thoughts, and it is clear that he hates his current life. He does not like Claudius because he is an inferior man to Hamlet's father, and he is angry with his mother for making such a terrible choice after seeming to love her first husband so much. Anyone in Hamlet's position would undoubtedly be thinking the same things and feeling the same way, another example of Shakespeare's universal themes. 

 


 


Sources:

We’ve answered 318,984 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question