Essential Passage by Character: Hamlet
O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah, fie! 'tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! Nay, not so much, not two;
So excellent a king, that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on; and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on't! Frailty, thy name is woman—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears—why she, even she—
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn'd longer—married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to, good.
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue!
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 132-162
Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is speaking to himself. He is saddened and disheartened by recent events: his father’s death and the marriage of his mother, Gertrude the queen, to his uncle Claudius. By marrying his mother, Claudius has become king and denies his nephew the right to the crown. But losing the kingship is not what upsets Hamlet. Rather, Hamlet is depressed and angry by his mother’s betrayal of the memory of his father (she has remarried in less than two months after his death). Moreover, Hamlet does not feel that his uncle is anything like his father as a ruler or a parent. Claudius, too, has betrayed Hamlet’s father by marrying Gertrude. Despite all of their treachery, however, Hamlet does not feel he can speak out against their poor behavior and decisions. Although it saddens him, he says, “I must hold my tongue.”
This soliloquy establishes how much Hamlet blames his mother for her actions and shows how much esteem Hamlet has for his now-dead father. Most important, it sets the tone for Hamlet’s indecision and mental anguish.
The mental anguish Hamlet expresses in this soliloquy will be a feature of the entire play. King Hamlet was bold, decisive, and active. His son, on the other hand, is intellectual and passive. Hamlet clearly does not want to be involved in such a difficult situation. He even wishes that suicide were not a cardinal sin so that he could kill himself and be finished. Although his situation is not enviable, he spends a good deal of this soliloquy stomping his feet, like a spoiled child, and blaming his mother. While Gertrude is indeed guilty, Hamlet’s anger is motivated not only by her treachery but also because her behavior makes it all the harder for him to ignore his duty to avenge his father’s murder. His procrastination is nearly limitless.
Hamlet’s procrastination may be due in part to his not-very-realistic assessment of his position. His predicament requires a clear head and sound thinking, two areas in which Prince Hamlet falls sadly short. Hamlet’s desire to continue living in an imaginary world is evident in his fondness for mythology. In fact, he couches the whole scenario in overblown mythical terms. For example, while King Hamlet may have been a good ruler, Hamlet’s memory of him seems over-the-top. Even when Hamlet thinks of his parents in more realistic terms, he has a very naive perception of their relationship. He believes his father so doted on his mother that he would even prevent wind from blowing too harshly upon her face. But how could he really know the truth of their relationship? He was away much...
(The entire section is 5,916 words.)