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Importance of Soliloquys:

Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters in
Hamlet.
Discuss with reference to the text.
To be or not to be, that is the question
These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeares Hamlet from what
is undoubtedly the most famous soliloquy in English literature. Shakespeare uses the
soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters and in doing so; we gain an
understanding as to the motivations behind their actions. Not only do the soliloquies offer us
an insight into the characters of the play, (namely Hamlet, himself and Claudius) but they are
highly dramatic and give the plot momentum and thus propel the action to new and exciting
levels. Hamlets and Claudius soliloquies also expose key themes within the play and create
a sense of dramatic irony, as we are aware of the motivations behind their actions, but the
other characters of the play are not. Hamlet and Claudius are well matched adversaries who
are set up in direct opposition to each other and it is through their soliloquies that we become
omniscient and discover their intentions towards each other.
Hamlets opening soliloquy is in Act 1, Scene 2 and it is an extremely telling and revealing
speech; as he wishes that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a
dew. We see a deeply depressed and saddened Hamlet a young man who is grieving for
the father he has lost, but also expressing his disgust towards his mother to post with such
dexterity to incestuous sheets. He says so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a
satyr. His love for his father is perceptible through his words of praise for him, but his
disdain towards Claudius is something that is also evident. He refuses to be associated with
Claudius and is keep to dispel any notions of similarity between them, saying no more like
my father than I to Hercules. It is interesting to note that at this juncture in the play, Hamlet
has no idea that Claudius murdered his father, but yet, he still despises him. Through this
soliloquy, we see how Hamlets fathers death has had a terrible effect on him and as an
audience, we can forgive his generalisations of women and sweeping statements when he
says things like frailty thy name is woman. Immediately, Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as a
noble and loyal son who is powerless and must hold his tongue and therefore, we tend to
take Hamlets side and sympathise with him.
Hamlets hamartia is his constant procrastination, yet we would not be aware of the velocity
of his vacillation from action to inertia if it were not for his soliloquies. In Act 2, Scene 2,
Hamlets self-directed harangue not only expresses his annoyance at himself for not acting
sooner, but it also develops the plot and provides us with a dramatic irony. He asks himself
am I a coward? and says:
O what a rogue and peasant slave am I.but I am pigeon liverd and lack gall to make
oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites with this slaves offal.
These lines display Hamlets true inner conflict he is on a quest to avenge his fathers death
and kill Claudius, but he hesitates on carrying out this cold and callous act because he

condemns himself as a coward, even through he has the motive and the cue for passion.
However, it is this self-condemnation that spurs Hamlet to action and heightens his hatred of
Claudius he finally vows vengeance, saying the plays the thing wherein Ill catch the
conscience of the king. Hamlet declares his intention to stage The Mousetrap, in which he
hopes to expose Claudius as the murderer. This allows for dramatic irony, as we are now
aware of Hamlets intentions towards Claudius, but Claudius himself is oblivious.
Perhaps the reason why Hamlet delays in exacting revenge us simply because he is a thinker
and a philosopher, rather than a man of action? In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet offers us many
insights into the meaning of life, as he questions the validity of it. We see an extremely
philosophical Hamlet as he asks to be or not to be? In his most famous soliloquy, Hamlet
ruminates on whether death is preferable to life. He says:
To die, to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream, ay theres the rub, for in that sleep of death
what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.
Hamlet feels that in death, we are free from the troubles of life and wonders if it is better to
take arms against a sea of troubles or to live a life miserably. It is important to note that
Hamlet does not directly relate this soliloquy to his own cause, but instead uses inclusive
pronouns like we and us and the indefinite who. This allows the audience to be a part
of the play and even though Hamlets mental nadir is evident through his soliloquy he is
speaking on behalf of everyone who is torn and faces a similar dilemma. He asks who would
bear the whips and scorns of time? or who would grunt and sweat under a wear life?
Hamlet offers us the answer, saying it is the dread of something after death and thus
conscience doth make cowards of us all. He tells us that even though death may be
preferable to life, we are restricted from action by fear and moral judgement. Perhaps this is
the explanation for why Hamlet cannot kill Claudius? He ruminates too much oer the issue
and deep down feels that murder is a callous and cold act. This is an extremely important
soliloquy, as it develops the character of Hamlet and gives us an insight into the numerous
facets of his complex mind.
This reflective nature and procrastination is also evident in Hamlet in the Prayer Scene. He
says now might I do it pat, now he is praying. This soliloquy underlines Hamlets dilemma
and exemplifies his constant vacillation. He now has concrete proof that Claudius killed his
father, as he admits it, but Hamlet refuses to kill him and offers us excuses as to why. He
says:
Am I revengd to take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasond for his
passage? No.
Hamlet feels that he cannot kill Claudius because he is praying and will therefore go to
heaven. In terms of dramatic function, this soliloquy gives us the opportunity to delve further
into the mind of Hamlet we see that he is motivated by revenge, but he is guided by his
morals and his conscience.
However, the great irony is that Claudius isnt praying he is merely admitting his offence.
Like Hamlets, Claudius soliloquies give us an insight into his true character. It is only
through his soliloquies that we see the real Claudius. In the same scene (the Prayer Scene),
Claudius says:

O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven,


It hath the primal eldest curse upont,
A brothers murder! Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will.
The speech portrays Claudius as a villain with a conscience he is duly aware of the
enormity of his offence. He wants to pray for forgiveness for his most unnatural crime, but
he is unwilling to give up the merits of his anomalous act namely my crown and my
queen. This is Claudius most important soliloquy because it presents him in a three
dimensional manner he is not the cold hearted villain we though he was Claudius knows
that he will always be struggling to be free.
The dramatic irony a soliloquy creates can be seen in Act 4, Scene 3, when through his
soliloquy, Claudius informs us of his intentions towards the unsuspecting Hamlet. Claudius is
aware that Hamlet poses a threat to his crown and recognises the fact that he needs to deal
with is, describing Hamlet as a desperate disease. He arranges for Hamlet to be sent
toEnglandto be killed, saying: the present death of Hamlet. Do itEngland. Like the hectic in
my blood he rages. Aside from creating a dramatic irony, this soliloquy also exposes the true
Claudius. He is most certainly not the noble king he would like us to believe he is. Claudius
is ruthless and callous to the bitter end.
Shakespeare uses the soliloquy to reveal fascinating insights into his characters in Hamlet.
Both Hamlet and Claudius are evenly matched adversaries and are both shrewd and
unscrupulous, albeit to different degrees. The soliloquies express the motivations behind their
actions and allow the audience to gain an understanding as to why they behave as they do.
The soliloquies engage the audience in the drama, as we are parties to deceptions which the
other characters themselves are unaware of. Shakespeares use of soliloquies in Hamlet
acquiesces our desire to pluck the heart of Hamlets mystery and indeed expose the
treacherous, lecherous, kindles villain that is Claudius.