Soliloquies Criticism: Individual Plays - Essay

Fredson Bowers (essay date 1962)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Bowers, Fredson. “Hamlet's Fifth Soliloquy, 3.2.406-17.” In Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, edited by Richard Hosley, pp. 213-22. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962.

[In the following essay, Bowers connects Hamlet's “'Tis now the witching hour of night” soliloquy (III.ii) with the prince's conduct in the closet scene (III.iv). The critic contends that in the second part of this speech Shakespeare purposely directed the audience to interpret Hamlet's subsequent confrontation with Gertrude not as a murderous assault on her but an attempt to convince her that she must repent her incestuous marriage to Claudius.]


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Linwood E. Orange (essay date winter 1965)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Orange, Linwood E. “Hamlet's Mad Soliloquy.” South Atlantic Quarterly 64, no. 1 (winter 1965): 60-71.

[In the following essay, Orange asserts that as Hamlet is delivering his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy (III.i) he is fully aware of Ophelia's presence and suspects that Claudius and Polonius, though not visible onstage, can hear his words. Thus the speech is not an introspective reflection, the critic argues, but a calculated strategy to deceive his enemies into believing that he is so mentally distracted that he is considering killing himself.]

To the two major groups into which nearly all Hamlet critics inevitably fall, the “to be”...

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Maurice Charney (essay date spring 1977)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Charney, Maurice. “The ‘Now Could I Drink Hot Blood’ Soliloquy and the Middle of Hamlet.Mosaic 10, no. 3 (spring 1977): 77-86.

[In the following essay, Charney calls attention to the cruel, even gruesome elements of Hamlet's soliloquy in Act III, scene ii. He argues that in this monologue Hamlet is chiefly concerned with dissuading himself from the impulse to kill his mother.]

As a matter of principle, some hardy critics never read a play before seeing it in order not to spoil the freshness of the effect. If a play doesn't make sense in its oral and presented form, then there is something radically wrong with it. Have things come to such a...

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Lawrence W. Hugenberg, Sr. and Mark J. Schaefermeyer (essay date May 1983)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Hugenberg, Sr., Lawrence W. and Mark J. Schaefermeyer. “Soliloquy as Self-Disclosure: The Soliloquies of Richard III.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 69, no. 2 (May 1983): 180-87.

[In the following excerpt, Hugenberg and Schaefermeyer consider the soliloquies of Richard of Gloucester in Henry VI, Part 3 (III.iii) and Richard III (I.i and I.iii) in terms of communication theory. They conclude that these monologues represent forthright speech that clearly reveals Richard's motivations, his goals, and his strategies.]

In William Shakespeare's historical plays, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later to become Richard III, rationalizes his actions in...

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Dale C. Uhlmann (essay date fall 1984)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Uhlmann, Dale C. “Prince Hal's Reformation Soliloquy: A ‘Macro-Sonnet.’” Upstart Crow 5 (fall 1984): 152-55.

[In the following essay, Uhlmann analyzes the structure and style of Prince Hal's “I know you all” soliloquy in Henry IV, Part 1 (I.ii). He suggests that Shakespeare constructed this monologue in the form of an extended sonnet to convey to the audience its significance as a revelation of the prince's true nature.]

Prince Hal's famous “reformation soliloquy” in Act 1, scene 2 of I Henry IV is a self-characterizing speech which is something more than a monologue existing for the sake of exposition. Samuel Johnson, J. Dover...

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Gideon Rappaport (essay date 1987)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Rappaport, Gideon. “Hamlet: Revenge and Readiness.” Upstart Crow 7 (1987): 80-95.

[In the following essay, Rappaport focuses on Hamlet's “Now might I do it pat” soliloquy (III.iii) that immediately follows Claudius's own soliloquy before he kneels in prayer. The critic reads Hamlet's monologue as an expression of the prince's pride, arguing that he does not kill Claudius at this moment because he is guilty of the sin of taking on himself the divine authority of saving or condemning souls. Rappaport also discusses Hamlet's other soliloquies and contends that the reason there are none after the sea voyage is because during this time Hamlet has learned to submit to God's...

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Harold Jenkins (lecture date December 1989)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Jenkins, Harold. “‘To be, or not to be’: Hamlet's Dilemma.” Hamlet Studies 13, nos. 1 and 2 (summer and winter 1991): 8-24.

[The following essay is the text of a lecture delivered in Delhi, India, in December 1989. Jenkins offers a close reading of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, remarking on the development of its argument and its lack of reference to Hamlet's particular circumstances, and providing a useful summary of commentary on this speech over the centuries. Importantly, he relates the quandary Hamlet expresses—whether one should free oneself from human existence or endure it—to the play's themes of humanity's dual nature, both godlike and bestial, and...

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Ralph Berry (essay date 1989)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Berry, Ralph. “Hamlet and the Audience: The Dynamics of a Relationship.” In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance: Essays in the Tradition of Performance Criticism in Honor of Bernard Beckerman, edited by Marvin and Ruth Thompson, pp. 24-8. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Berry suggests that through Hamlet's soliloquies, the audience becomes, in effect, his psychological counselor, sympathetically accepting his perspectives on himself and other characters. In Berry's judgment, the lack of soliloquies in Act V reflects Hamlet's recognition that it is now time for him to behave like a man and replace complaints with action.]


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Maurice Charney (essay date 1989)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Charney, Maurice. “Asides, Soliloquies, and Offstage Speeches in Hamlet: Implications for Staging.” In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance, edited by Marvin and Ruth Thompson, pp. 116-31. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Charney emphasizes the dramatic context and function in Hamlet of speeches that are distinctly different from regular dialogue. He calls attention to asides that are expository, or didactic, or expressions of guilt; to the range of tone and emotions in the soliloquies of Hamlet and Claudius; and to the dramatic significance of the several instances of voices heard from offstage or beneath it.]


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Marc Grossman (essay date fall 1995)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Grossman, Marc. “The Adolescent and the Strangest Fellow: Comic and Morally Serious Perspectives in 1 Henry IV.Essays in Literature 23, no. 2 (fall 1995): 170-95.

[In the following essay, Grossman reads Prince Hal's “I know you all soliloquy” in Henry IV, Part 1 (I.ii) not as a promise to reform but as the prince's attempt to justify to himself his agreement to participate in the Gad's Hill robbery. At this point in the play, the critic contends, Hal is filled with shame and self-loathing because he knows his attraction to Falstaff's comic but shameless view of life must be balanced by a commitment to honor, duty, and a morally serious perspective if he is to...

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James Schiffer (essay date 2000)

(Shakespearean Criticism)

SOURCE: Schiffer, James. “The Splintered Glass.” Upstart Crow 20 (2000): 42-57.

[In the following essay, Schiffer focuses on Richard III's final soliloquy (V.iii), spoken after he awakens from a sleep disturbed by the visitation of his victims' ghosts. From the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the critic compares this soliloquy with Richard's earlier ones, especially the soliloquy at the opening of the play (I.i); he concludes that whereas the first demonstrates Richard's remarkable confidence and single-mindedness of purpose, the final soliloquy reveals an incoherent, fragmented self.]

Who, if not us, will question once more the objective...

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