What emotions do you think Hamlet experiences over the course of his soliloquy in act 4, scene 4? What conclusion does Hamlet reach, or what does he realize, over the course of this speech?

The primary emotions that Hamlet experiences in his soliloquy in act 4, scene 4 are shame and determination. Hamlet realizes that he's been a fool and an embarrassment to himself all along. He's finally ready to take serious steps toward fulfilling the vow he made to his father's ghost.

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At the beginning of act 4, scene 4, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, is crossing the stage with some of his soldiers on their way to do battle in Poland. Fortinbras leaves one of his captains behind to go to Claudius to request permission to pass...

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At the beginning of act 4, scene 4, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, is crossing the stage with some of his soldiers on their way to do battle in Poland. Fortinbras leaves one of his captains behind to go to Claudius to request permission to pass through Denmark on their way to Poland.

Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and others are on their way to the ship that Claudius has arranged to take them to England, and they meet the captain of Fortinbras's army on his way to Elsinore. The Captain tells Hamlet that Fortinbras and his army are going to Poland to capture a worthless piece of land.

CAPTAIN. Truly to speak, and with no addition [without exaggeration],
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name. (4.4.18–20)

The captain says that he wouldn't give five ducats for the land. Hamlet is taken aback that so many men are willing to fight, and that some of them will die, for such an insignificant patch of land, simply because, as Hamlet says, the corrupt rulers of Norway and Poland have nothing better to do with their time.

HAMLET. Two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats
Will not debate the question of this straw.
This is the imposthume of much wealth and peace,
That inward breaks, and shows no cause without
Why the man dies. (4.4.26–29)

The captain continues on his way to meet with Claudius at Elsinore, and Hamlet tells Rosencrantz and the others to go ahead of him to the ship. (This is a little odd, since the reason that Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and the others are accompanying Hamlet to the ship, and to England, is that Claudius doesn't trust Hamlet to actually get on the ship.)

Left alone, Hamlet once again questions what a man is (as he's done throughout the play) and questions what good he is to the world (as he's done throughout the play) if he does nothing more than eat and sleep.

Surely, Hamlet says, God gave man intelligence because He expected man to use it, not to let his reason, foresight, and hindsight simply waste away from neglect and disuse.

HAMLET. 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. (4.4.38–41)

Hamlet feels ashamed, and he once again berates himself for doing nothing to avenge his father's death except talk about it, even when he has the "cause, and will, and strength, and means / To do't" (4.4.47–48).

Hamlet begins to think about Fortinbras. Fortinbras is not much older than Hamlet, and they share a similar and somewhat intertwined background. Fortinbras is the nephew of Old Fortinbras, who was killed in battle by Hamlet's father, Old Hamlet.

Fortinbras swore that he would recover the lands that Norway lost after his father's death. Fortinbras is marching on Poland, and he's willing to risk everything "for an eggshell," simply because he swore he would, and that seems to be reason enough for Fortinbras and for every man in his army.

HAMLET. Witness this army, of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and 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,
Even for an eggshell. (4.4.49–55)

It's not about having proof enough to do something, Hamlet says, or a substantial enough reason. It's not even about ambition or conquest. It's about doing what needs to be done, for honor.

HAMLET. 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. (4.4.55–58)

Hamlet is beginning to understand why Fortinbras is marching on Poland seemingly for no good reason. Fortinbras is invading Poland for his own honor and to honor the vow he made after his father's death.

Hamlet is disgusted with himself.

HAMLET. 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... (4.4.58–61)

Hamlet recognizes that his character flaw of indecision has kept him from acting on the vow he made to his father's ghost. Hamlet says that he's ashamed to look out over Fortinbras's army and realize that they're willing to fight and die for a tiny plot of land for no other reason than honor, while Hamlet hasn't made even one serious attempt to avenge his father's death.

The audience has heard this from Hamlet before. This time, however, Hamlet seems to be in earnest about fulfilling his vow to his father's ghost. Hamlet decides to do whatever it takes, no matter how many people might die, including himself, to fulfill his vow.

HAMLET. O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (4.4.67–68)

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In this soliloquy, Hamlet is trying to talk himself into doing what his culture tells him he must: avenge his father's death by killing his uncle. He knows at this point that the ghost's words are true, so he has no excuse for hesitating. As he puts it, his thinking "too precisely" about the revenge killing is, by now, three parts cowardice and only one part wisdom.

Hamlet want to use Fortinbras, who is marching on Denmark to avenge his own father's death, as a model for how he wants to behave. However, it is clear from the way he talks about Fortinbras that Hamlet has profound doubts about his course of action.

Fortinbras, Hamlet says, is bringing an army to to wreak revenge:

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
Hamlet calls Fortinbras's desire for revenge a fantasy and a trick of fame: in other words, what Fortinbras is doing, Hamlet thinks, is for nothing. When Hamlet says "to my shame," the overt meaning is that he is ashamed of his inaction compared to the overwhelming vigor of Fortinbras, but a second reading is that it makes him feel a blush of shame that a fellow prince would be willing to throw away so many lives for something as intangible as "honor."
By the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet has decided that his thoughts should be "bloody." But he is not very convincing. The emotions he seems to experience are not a sense of purpose and resolve but a sense of conflict and extreme unease over the nature of vengeance and its high cost. He knows what he is supposed to do in his honor-based society, but in his heart of hearts—and in his talk about the cost of revenge—he rejects revenge, despite the bravado of his self-talk.
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This speech is puzzling.  It would be easy to think that Hamlet has become more decisive in attaining his revenge, but the ideas and emotions that are expressed here are somewhat contradictory.  Hamlet is still conflicted.  He is angry with himself that he has not acted to avenge his father's death, but his anger is much more controlled than it is when he castigates himself in his soliloquy in Act 2 that begins with

O what a rogue and peasant slave am I

In Act 4, Hamlet is more philosophical as he meditates on man's purpose in life, the nature of thought, and Fortinbras's actions.  Even though Hamlet seems to admire Fortinbras' ability to take action

when honour's at stake,

there is, nevertheless an implied criticism of Fortinbras in Hamlet's description of him:  Fortinbras is fighting for an "egg-shell," twenty thousand men will go to their graves for a "fantasy and trick of fame," they will fight for a plot of land that is not even large enough to bury them.  These are hardly rousing words.  Hamlet seems to be questioning the merit of the Fortinbras's actions while admiring the fact that Fortinbras is acting. 

At the end of this soliloquy, Hamlet declares that

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

The choice of the word "thoughts" is interesting here.  Hamlet does not say that his deeds will be bloody, just his thoughts.  In other words, it seems that Hamlet, despite all his says, may not be truly convinced that avenging his father's death is a worthy act.  Is killing Claudius the equivalent of sacrificing many lives and  the stability of a country for an "an egg shell" of family honor? 

 

 

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Most readings of Hamlet in this situation suggest that this is the point where Hamlet goes from being an incredibly conflicted man who cannot take action on any level to being a man who is capable of and committed to taking actions to avenge his father's death.

He sees this massive army arrayed before him made up of individual men but led by just one man, subject to whim and emotion just as he is but still willing to lead this massive force and apply it to what he feels is important.

So he looks to his own emotion and the whim he feels and uncertainty about the absolute right-ness of what he feels and decides that he ought to be able to at least act personally if this massive army can be guided by just one man.  If the twenty thousand men led to their death on a whim will do so willingly, how can he not act himself.

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