In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the importance of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act Four, scene four, "How all occasions do inform against me….."Specifically, discuss Hamlet's general opinion of mankind...

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is the importance of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act Four, scene four, "How all occasions do inform against me….."

Specifically, discuss Hamlet's general opinion of mankind and specifically, his thoughts about Fortinbras—and what these thoughts reveal about Hamlet's character.


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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses Fortinbras as a foil for Hamlet, and compares the two young men who have so much in common. It is here that Hamlet realizes how different they are, and is self-recriminating with regard to his own lack of determination and commitment.

In Act Four, scene four, Hamlet first notes how life seems to conspire against him, making sure he remains focused in taking revenge on Claudius as his father's ghost has charged him to do:

How all occasions do inform against me

And spur my dull revenge! (34-35)

Hamlet comments that if all man does is exist, he is nothing more than an animal:

What is a man,

If his chief good and market of his time

Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. (35-37)

Hamlet believes mankind is capable of great things, otherwise, why would God have granted man, for example, "godlike reason" if it is to be wasted?

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. (38-41)

In recognizing once again that he has not done as Old Hamlet has asked, Hamlet comes upon Fortinbras who is wholly committed to doing that which reflects his solitary purpose; and by comparison, this allows Hamlet once more to reflect as to why he (Hamlet) still has not acted against Claudius.

Fortinbras and his men prepare to do battle with Poland for a piece of worthless, inconsequential piece of land—as Fortinbras' Captain reports:

We go to gain a little patch of ground

That hath in it no profit but the name.(20)

To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it...

However, Poland is equally prepared to defend this worthless land. Fortinbras fights not for profit, but only that...

...honour's at the stake. (58)

Hamlet sees that compared to this other young prince, Hamlet also has the wherewithal to act:

Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do,'

Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means

To do't. (46-48)

However, where Fortinbras and his army prepare to sacrifice all, Hamlet holds back.

The critics' believe that Hamlet suffers from the tragic flaw of "indecision." Personally, however, I am reminded that the Prince of Denmark hesitates taking his revenge because he believes that the ghost may be a specter of evil (sent from hell) to trick him into murdering a king—regicide is a mortal sin, and killing Claudius if he's not guilty, would cost Hamlet his immortal soul. However, at the same time, Hamlet demands a great deal of himself—he does not excuse or defend himself. Even he looks at Fortinbras and sees that while they have much in common, Fortinbras has the will and strength of purpose to give his life for honor. Avenging his father's death would also be an act of honor on Hamlet's part. Seeing Fortinbras' unwavering dedication to do the honorable thing, Hamlet ultimately promises that from now on, he will remain focused on what he needs to do:

O, from this time forth,

My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (67-68)

For Hamlet sees that to do nothing makes him unworthy, so he pledges himself to concentrate on avenging his father's murder and to think of nothing else.

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