How can we better understand Hamlet by examining Hamlet's soliloquies?

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Answered by: Kelsey, An Expert in the The Plays Category
Hamlet can be better understood by examining Hamlet's soliloquies. All of Hamlet’s soliloquies show Hamlet’s self-hatred and even a willingness to die. However, in Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be”, Hamlet takes this a step further and operates on the assumption that everyone would rather be dead than living, and is alive only because he has a fear of killing himself. Hamlet is no longer questioning whether or not he wants to die, but only whether or he is able to kill himself, because killing himself conflicts with his religion.

Hamlet’s despair over his father’s death and his mother’s quick marriage caused him to wish for death even before he learned that his uncle murdered his father. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, he wishes that his “too too sullied flesh would melt”(I.ii.129), and that “the Everlasting had not fixed his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (I.ii.131-132). Hamlet is distraught over his father’s death and mother’s marriage, and is expecting the worst out of everyone. He declares “frailty, thy name is woman,” generalizing his mother’s flimsy morals to all of womankind (I.ii.46).

Hamlet’s struggle deepens after he meets his father’s ghost. Hamlet, already willing to see the worst in everyone, responds to the news that Claudius murdered Hamlet Sr. by saying “Oh, my prophetic soul!” revealing that Hamlet already expected his uncle of murder. (I.ii.42). Hamlet vows to kill his uncle in order to avenge his father’s soul, but never actually takes action against Claudius. Hamlet’s inability to act drives Hamlet mad and gives him greater reason to wish to kill himself. Hamlet must now either give up his quest for vengeance and break his sear to his dead father or become a murderer. Hamlet now faces an ultimatum between his religion or sense of right and his duty or honor.

Hamlet is desperate and sees suicide as his only option to avoid being a coward or a murderer, but killing himself also poses a struggle between his religion and honor. Hamlet questions “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer…or to take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing end them” (III.i.58-61). Hamlet believes that everyone wishes to kill himself, because who would bear the whips and scorns of time…when he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin?” (III.i.71-77). Hamlet views living as a burden, referring to the “mortal coil” to represent living as a difficult task.

Hamlet reasons that people do not kill themselves solely because they are scared of “the dread of something after death,” and that if people had more courage and certainty, they would commit suicide (III.i.79). This frame of mind shows that Hamlet has progressed passed anger. In this soliloquy, Hamlet does not blame his misfortune on anyone, as he had done in the past. His first soliloquy focused on his incestuous mother, and his second on his murdering uncle. However this soliloquy focuses solely on Hamlet’s self-hatred and struggle with suicide.

Hamlet seems to think that there is no chance of peace for him in life—that his only option is to continue to be tortured on Earth, or to kill himself. It seems that killing Claudius would torment Hamlet, out of guilt for his murder, as not killing him does, out of guilt for his inability to avenge his father’s death. After examining Hamlet's soliloquies, it is apparent Hamlet sees no possible way out of his dilemma without damaging his honor, duty, religion, or sense of morality.

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