O that this too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! O fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! — nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother,
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month, —
Let me not think on't, — Frailty, thy name is woman! —
A little month; or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears; — why she, even she, —
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer, — married with mine uncle,
My father's brother; but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month;
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married: — O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good;
But break my heart, — for I must hold my tongue!
Hamlet to himself.
The first soliloquy takes place after King Claudius and Queen Gertrude urge Hamlet in open court to cast off the deep melancholy which, they believe, has taken possession of his mind as a consequence of his father's death. In the opinion of the king and queen, Hamlet has already sufficiently grieved and mourned for his father. Prior to the soliloquy, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude announce their upcoming marriage. According to them, the court could not afford excessive grief. This announcement sends Hamlet into a deeper emotional spiral and inspires the soliloquy that follows.
Hamlet refers the world as an 'unweeded garden' in which rank and gross things grow in abundance. He bemoans the fact that he cannot commit suicide and explains in lines 335-336 that "self-slaughter" is not an option because it is forbidden by God. In the first two lines of the soliloquy, he wishes that his physical self might cease to exist on its own without requiring him to commit a mortal sin.
Though saddened by his father's death, the larger cause of Prince Hamlet's misery is Queen Gertrude's disloyal marriage to his uncle. She announces the new marriage when barely a month has passed since his biological father's death. Hamlet mourns that even "a beast would have mourned a little longer." Additionally, he considers this marriage to be an incestuous affair, since his mother is marrying her dead husband's brother.
This soliloquy shows Hamlet's deep affection for the late King Hamlet. It also paints the dead king as a loving husband and a respected father and further serves to demonstrate to the audience the hasty nature of Queen Gertrude's second marriage, which she announces without mourning for a respectable period of time.
Hamlet scorns his mother, but accuses her of weakness rather than malice with the line:
"Frailty, thy name is woman!"
He concludes the soliloquy by voicing his frustration that he must keep his objections to himself.
BASICALLY Hamlet is suicidal but won't kill himself because it is a sin. Hamlet is upset with his mother for remarrying so quickly.
O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?
And shall I couple hell? Oh, fie! Hold, hold, my heart,
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee!
Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!
O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables!—Meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
At least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark.
Now I am alone. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat,
As deep as to the lungs? who does me this?
wounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a *****, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! I have heard
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players
Play something like the murder of my father
Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, Hamlet's second soliloquy uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict. For he is undeniably committed to seeking revenge for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting that cold and calculating revenge. "Hamlet's sense of himself as a coward is derived from a crude, simplistic judgment turning on whether or not he has yet taken any action against the man who murdered his father. His self-condemnation takes several bizarre forms, including histrionic imaginings of a series of demeaning insults that he absorbs like a coward because he feels he has done nothing to take revenge on Claudius" (Newell 61).
Determined to convince himself to carry out the premeditated murder of his uncle, Hamlet works himself into a frenzy (the culmination of which occurs at lines 357-8). He hopes that his passions will halt his better judgement and he will then be able to charge forth and kill Claudius without hesitation. But Hamlet again fails to quell his apprehensions of committing murder and cannot act immediately. So he next tries to focus his attention on a plan to ensure Claudius admits his own guilt. He returns to an idea that had crossed his mind earlier -- that of staging the play The Mousetrap. Hamlet is convinced that, as Claudius watches a re-enactment of his crime, he will surely reveal his own guilt. Hamlet cannot take the word of his father's ghost, who really might be "the devil" (573), tricking him into damning himself. Thus, he must have more material proof before he takes Claudius's life -- he must "catch the conscience of the king."
BASICALLY Hamlet is mad at himself for not killing Claudius yet after watching an actor cry over fiction. Hamlet has enough reason reason to kill him, so he must be a coward since he hasn't done it yet.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
Hamlet to himself
Hamlet is torn between killing himself and living in his suffering. He thinks people who don't commit suicide are cowards because they fear death.
Unlike Hamlet's first two major soliloquies, his third and most famous speech seems to be governed by reason and not frenzied emotion. Unable to do little but wait for completion of his plan to "catch the conscience of the king", Hamlet sparks an internal philosophical debate on the advantages and disadvantages of existence, and whether it is one's right to end his or her own life. Some scholars limit Hamlet's discussion to a deliberation of whether he should take his own life. "Yet nothing anywhere in the speech relates it to Hamlet's individual case. He uses the pronouns we and us, the indefinite who, the impersonal infinitive. He speaks explicitly of us all, of what flesh is heir to, of what we suffer at the hands of time or fortune - which serves incidentally to indicate what for Hamlet is meant by to be" (Jenkins 489).
Hamlet asks the question for all dejected souls -- is it nobler to live miserably or to end one's sorrows with a single stroke? He knows that the answer would be undoubtedly yes if death were like a dreamless sleep. The rub or obstacle Hamlet faces is the fear of what dreams may come (74), i.e. the dread of something after death (86). Hamlet is well aware that suicide is condemned by the church as a mortal sin.
Hamlet's soliloquy is interrupted by Ophelia who is saying her prayers. Hamlet addresses her as Nymph, a courtly salutation common in the Renaissance1. Some critics argue that Hamlet's greeting is strained and coolly polite, and his request that she remembers him in her prayers is sarcastic. However, others claim that Hamlet, emerging from his moment of intense personal reflection, genuinely implores the gentle and innocent Ophelia to pray for him.
Hamlet's plan to "catch the conscience of the king" has been a success, and Claudius has retired, distraught, to his chamber. Thrilled that his scheme worked, Hamlet experiences a sudden surge of confidence which prompts the first half of this short soliloquy. Hamlet is now sure that he could easily complete the "bitter business" of revenge; sure that he could murder his uncle without hesitation. However, Claudius is out of reach for the moment, and so Hamlet turns his attention to his mother, revealing in the second half of the soliloquy his intentions to force Gertrude to make a full confession. Although Hamlet still loves his mother, he must be cruel to her in order to facilitate the admission of her guilt. Hamlet says, "My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites" (389), because he knows that he must feign violent intentions towards his mother, and that his words must express those false intentions.
BASICALLY Hamlet will allow himself to be angry with and mean to his mother, but he will not hurt her.
Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann'd:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
'Tis heavy with him. And am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season'd for his passage?
Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent:
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At game, a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in't;
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damn'd and black
As hell, whereto it goes. My mother stays:
This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
Hamlet has thought himself prepared to "drink hot blood" (3.2.382) and carry out the murder of the King. Now, as he happens upon the unattended Claudius, the time has come to take action, but Hamlet finds that he is unable to kill. Hamlet's reason for delay is that Claudius is in the midst of praying, and in order for revenge to be complete, the King must be engaged in some sinful act such as sex, gambling, or drinking, and thus be condemned to eternal damnation. While it is true that similar reasoning is common in other revenge plays, such vengence seems unworthy of our noble prince.
Many critics believe that Hamlet uses Claudius's prayer as an excuse for further delay because his conscience will not allow him to commit premeditated murder. Others claim that it is not Hamlet's altruism which saves Claudius in this scene, but his own paralyzing habit of "thinking too precisely on th'event" (4.4.41). However, the second argument is moot because the basis of his procrastination is his inability to commit premeditated murder.
Ironically, Hamlet's soliloquy is ultimately irrelevant, for Claudius is not sincerely repentant.
BASICALLY Hamlet is about to kill Claudius while he's praying but refrains and decides to kill him once he knows he has sinned so he will die unshriven.
Witness this army of such mass and charge / Led by a delicate and tender prince.
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare, (55)
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd, (60)
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot (65)
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!