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Hamlet’s soliloquy

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  • Pages: 4
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  • Category: Hamlet

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Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act II, Scene i is governed by reasons and self-doubts unlike his two previous soliloquies which are governed by frenzied emotion. Not yet convinced of the truth in ghost and murderer, Hamlet vacillates over choices which has different results. Shakespeare depicts Hamlet’s problems of choosing right action by using imagery, diction, and voice. Shakespeare uses militaristic images to depict the violence of the struggle within the Hamlet’s mind. Hamlet refers “slings”, “arrows”, and “taking arms” while describing his choices of actions.

His uses of images of war suggest that each action would be a dilemma or a war to Hamlet. The situation suggests an inevitable defeat and how Hamlet is bound to meet failure in both passive and active resistance. He is fully aware that he would either have to “suffer” or face the “sea of troubles” ahead of him. As both ways would lead to a personal battle that promises inevitable troubles, Hamlet even thinks of killing himself. War is often related to death, as many are killed during the war. Hamlet knows that either way would make him suffer greatly and his actions would lead to brutal consequences.

Though Hamlet is not a war-like person but a logical and reasoned person, he uses images of war and weapons to describe his choices, as his choice of action would create a war against himself and others. This agony over choosing the right action is repeated throughout the whole passage and Hamlet once again thinks of self-slaughter. Shakespeare also uses pagan imagery to reflect Hamlet’s beliefs and how they affect his actions. Although most likely a devoted Catholic, Hamlet believes in superstition and the supernatural including the ghost of his father.

Hamlet’s tendency to believe in supernatural is shown in his referring to Ophelia. He refers to Ophelia as a “Nymph”, a spirit in image of a girl, which people back then often referred to females. He does not refer Ophelia to a holy woman or to other Christianized names, but uses pagan name when he sees Ophelia praying. Hamlet, in this respect, is more attached to pagan beliefs. The belief of Hamlet leads him to believe in the existence of his father’s ghost and thus take revenge for his father. The referred name also indicates that he is still in love with Ophelia.

He emerges from his intense personal reflection and implores Ophelia, his lover, to pray for him and remember in her prayers. Shakespeare uses dictions to suggest Hamlet’s agony and pain while he hesitates what to do. Hamlet says whether it is better to keep on living a miserable life or to die and face the unknown afterlife. He severally mentions “to die”, “to sleep”, and “to dream” as even “death” itself is divided into “sleep”, which is desirable to Hamlet, and “dreams”. Hamlet knows that his choices will lead him to face agony and “pain”.

Consequently, he thinks of death, which would free him physically from the pain. The thought advances and Hamlet counters doubt, as he is concerned about the after death. Although death will end all his troubles, he also knows that it is also a long never-ending “sleep” which perhaps contains “dreams”. Thus, Hamlet has to face suffering, as he cannot decide what to do. Either choice of action is so stressful, that he feels “heartache”, “shocks”, and “pangs” while trying to reason his choices. He feels “whips and scorns of time” as he cannot choose his action quickly and move on.

Shakespeare also uses Hamlet’s voice to emphasize how he is ambiguous in taking actions as he reasons consequences. Hamlet’s voice is very stressful and ambiguous throughout the whole passage, as he does not know what to do. He is “questioning” and goes on with all the images of a stressful mind. Hamlet’s thoughts are slow processes as he seeks, reflects, and associates his actions. The opening line, “To be or not to be: that is the question” is a clear example of how Hamlet thinks and reasons out his actions.

He weighs and balances one alternative against another and this opening vacillation is continued throughout the soliloquy. The sequences of questions followed by the first question suggest that Hamlet poses several other questions rather than finding an answer to his initial question – to be a person of action, or not to be a person of action. As he imposes further questions, he is “sweating under a weary life” and “puzzle” as he cannot find an answer to his problem and what he truly wants to do.

Unlike other soliloquies that provide background information of characters and his future or past actions, Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy takes a different format. Hamlet not only reflects on himself, but also analyzes and observes self and environment, anticipation over his coming future. While other soliloquies provide answers to the listeners, this soliloquy gives no answer to the audience. Rather Hamlet’s doubts are continued with audiences, as they too cannot find exact answers.

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