What is Hamlet's soliloquy in act 1, scene 2, lines 131–161 about?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hamlet is still brooding over the death of his father. Life just seems so utterly pointless and miserable, so much so that Hamlet wishes that God hadn't made suicide a sin:

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Hamlet is still brooding over the death of his father. Life just seems so utterly pointless and miserable, so much so that Hamlet wishes that God hadn't made suicide a sin:

Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fixed

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!

Hamlet's life is like a wild, untended garden—stale, and full of choking, nasty weeds. And his wicked uncle Claudius is the nastiest weed of all. Although Hamlet is as yet unaware that Claudius killed his father, he still hates him anyway. And he doesn't have much time for his mother Gertrude, either. Her late husband had been six feet under for barely a month before she married Claudius. Hamlet deeply resents her for this. But then according to Hamlet, Gertrude, like all women, is weak:

Frailty, thy name is woman!

Hamlet is still in mourning for his late father, and yet Gertrude seems to have moved on quickly—too quickly—with her life. Such indecent haste is disgusting to Hamlet. Even an animal would mourn a lost mate for longer than Gertrude:

O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer!

What's even worse for Hamlet is that there's something almost incestuous about Gertrude's remarriage. Claudius is her late husband's brother, after all. Hamlet's burning resentment at his mother and stepfather is compounding his grief and will become even more intense when he encounters the ghost of his murdered father on Elsinore's battlements.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the soliloquy you ask about from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet is suffering from the unexpected death (it wasn't in battle and he wasn't ill) of his father, King Hamlet, and the hasty remarriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to his uncle.

To the reader, Hamlet reveals that he is suffering from melancholy, or as we would classify it today, major depression.  When he amplifies his own situation on to the world as a whole, he is transferring his own circumstances on to existence as a whole.  That is a sign of depression.

Hamlet sees the unexpected death of his father as unnatural.  But he also sees the marriage between his mother and his father's brother as unnatural.  In fact, Elizabethans considered the marriage incestuous. 

One should also bear in mind that in addition to the stated accusations against his mother, she also, by marrying Claudius, together with Claudius, usurped the throne from Hamlet, the rightful heir. 

Some commentators do see more of the unnatural in this soliloquy, as well.  With the death of his father and the loss of the throne fresh on his mind, Hamlet may seem a bit too obsessed with his mother here.  Some see this as evidence that Hamlet suffers from an Oedipal complex--a jealousy that he is not first in line for his mother's attentions. 

Interestingly, the Ghost seems to be aware that Hamlet will naturally be unforgiving when it comes to Gertrude:  when he tells Hamlet to revenge his father's murder, he makes a point to tell Hamlet to leave Gertrude to heaven. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this speech, Hamlet is complaining about how badly his mother has acted since the death of his father.  He is mad because of how soon after his father's death she married Claudius.

So he starts by wishing he could die and that God didn't get mad if people kill themselves.  He says that life is completely pointless -- like a garden that no one takes care of.

Then he starts in about his mother.  He says that his dad loved her so much and that she loved him.  But now, so soon after he died, she is with this other man who is so much worse than King Hamlet was.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team