Hamlet´s Soliloquies

Emphasis on ´to be or not to be´

Term Paper, 2009

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Soliloquy and monologue

3. Overview: Hamlet´s Soliloquies (emphasis on to be or not to be)
3.1 Act 1, Scene 2
3.2 Act 1, Scene 5
3.3 Act 2, Scene 2
3.4 Act 3, Scene 1
3.5 Act 4, Scene 4

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliographical References

Hamlet´s Soliloquies (emphasis on To be or not to be)

1. Introduction

William Shakespeare´s ´Hamlet´ is of great cultural significance. It was published around 1600/1601[1], marking the transition from the 16th to the 17th century[2]. It reflects upon spiritual and cultural conflicts of the Elizabethan period more intensively than any other literary work.[3] It includes a variety of philosophical, theological, political, literary and general references.[4] With Hamlet, a new form of interiority is born, “the sense of being inside a character´s psyche and following it´s twists and turns.”[5] This interiority is predominantly shown to the audience by the use of soliloquies. Shakespeare´s lifework includes a great variety of soliloquies. Hamlet is commonly associated with one phrase: ´to be or not to be`. In this work, I am going to give an overview of Hamlet´s soliloquies, concentrating on `to be or not to be´. .Before that, I am going to briefly explain the difference between soliloquy and monologue.

2. Soliloquy and monologue

Soliloquies and monologues are both forms of speeches in which just one character speaks. However, these terms are not interchangeable. The most significant difference is that the soliloquy is not meant to be heard by anyone but the audience whereas the monologue has a direct addressee. .

Soliloquy is defined as “an instance of talking to or conversing with oneself, or of uttering one´s thoughts aloud without addressing any person.”[6] There is only one character on stage. Consequently, the purpose of the character´s speech is not communication but reflection upon its thoughts and feelings. “In the theatre, the intended recipient is the audience, who is allowed a glimpse inside the character´s internal world within the larger context of the surrounding drama.”[7] However, the soliloquy is impersonal because the speaker is not addressing anyone directly. This affects the language usually used by soliloquists. In many cases, “personal pronouns are replaced by impersonal or reflective pronouns such as `she`, `he`, `it` or `one´, reinforcing the distance between the speaker and the hearer.”[8]

“The monologue is either literally or figuratively delivered to another character or characters, whether these characters are on stage at the time or simply part of the drama as a whole.”[9] The monologist tries to get something across. He is expected to explain his reasoning. Although a monologue is a relatively long and uninterrupted speech by only one person, it can still be part of an interactive process. Therefore, “monologues use personal, directed pronouns such as ´you´, ´I´ and ´we` that strengthen the participatory nature of the communication.”[10]

Monologic situations may occur in everyday conversation. Soliloquies, on the contrary, have been much criticised for being artificial. “The soliloquy in which a character gives vent to his innermost feelings is far removed from being true to life.”[11] Anyway, dramatists have to deal with complex and sometimes abstract issues in short order. The soliloquy is an appropriate technique to give much information in few lines. “It reveals what we could not otherwise divine of the depths of the speaker´s mind, compressing into some twenty lines of vivid illumination what might else have taken the better part of an act to convey.”[12]. William Shakespeare is famous for his soliloquies. “Shakespeare teaches us with his soliloquies (...) that a convention (...) can release effects and reveal levels of existence and of inner developments which could not otherwise and certainly not by a naturalistic technique be shown to us.”[13]

3. Overview: Hamlet´s Soliloquies (emphasis on to be or not to be)

3.1 Act 1, Scene 2

In this soliloquy, Hamlet reveals his innermost feelings for the first time. Shakespeare creates a kind of dramatic tension by making his audience wait for Hamlet to speak. “During this scene Hamlet (…) has been unwilling to speak though our attention has been focused on his person all the time. When he remains alone on the stage we know that he will now open his mouth”[14] This soliloquy is, however, not a stream of well-ordered thoughts; it is rather “a turmoil of emotion, recollection, and violent accusation breaking out into disrupted outcries, exclamations and sudden recognition.”[15] Hamlet begins his first soliloquy with “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew”[16] He refers to the contamination of human flesh through sins like his mother´s incestuous marriage. Suicide is mentioned for the first time but Hamlet dismisses the thought with reference to the sixth commandment ´thou shalt not kill´ which “was generally thought to include self-murder”.[17] Furthermore, Hamlet expresses “his disgust at the world”.[18] He calls it “an unweeded garden that grows to seed”.[19] He then makes clear how he perceives his father and his uncle. He compares the murdered King to “Hyperion, the glorious sun-god of classical mythology”[20] and Claudius to “a satyr, a lustful mythological creature, half-man and half-goat.”[21] These images give the audience an idea of how much he admires his father and of how much he despises his uncle. They also show that Hamlet is at home in Greek mythology, he has obviously got a “wide educational background.”[22]

Hamlet denounces the weakness of women. “Frailty thy name is woman.”[23] For him, the faithlessness of his mother represents moral depravity of all women.[24] He thinks of his mother´s love to Claudius as nothing but a physical desire that is in some way comparable to growing appetite.


[1] cf. Shakespeare, William: Hamlet (englisch-deutsche Studienausgabe), p. 21, l.22

[2] cf. ibid., p. 15, l.13

[3] cf. ibid., p. 15, ll.5

[4] cf. ibid., p. 15, ll.8

[5] ibid., p. 15, ll.17

[6] Davis, James: “Dialogue, Monologue and Soliloquy in the Large Lecture Class”, p.179, ll.53

[7] ibid., p. 179, ll.87

[8] Davis, James: “Dialogue, Monologue and Soliloquy in the Large Lecture Class”, p.197, ll.97

[9] ibid., p. 197, ll.43

[10] ibid., p.197, ll.78

[11] Clemen, Wolfgang: Shakespeare´s Dramatic Art, p.148, ll.12

[12] ibid., p.151, ll.8

[13] ibid., p.150, ll.35

[14] Clemen, Wolfgang: Shakespeare´s Dramatic Art, p.159, ll. 30

[15] ibid., p.160, ll.2

[16] Shakespeare, William: Hamlet, p.14, ll. 129

[17] ibid., p.14, l.132

[18] Clemen, Wolfgang: Shakespeare´s Dramatic Art, p.160, l.7

[19] Shakespeare, William: Hamlet, p.14, ll. 135

[20] ibid., p.14, l. 140

[21] ibid., p.14, l. 140

[22] Clemen, Wolfgang: The Development of Shakespeare´s Imagery, p.108, l.20

[23] ibid., p.14, l. 146

[24] cf. Shakespeare, William: Hamlet, p.431, ll.23

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Hamlet´s Soliloquies
Emphasis on ´to be or not to be´
University of Vechta
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
455 KB
Hamlet, Hamlet´s soliloquies, to be or not to be, Shakespeare, soliloquy and monologue, soliloquy
Quote paper
Dana Jahn (Author), 2009, Hamlet´s Soliloquies, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/146644


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