The Portrayal of Hamlet's Conflict in Hamlet's Soliloquy

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In soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the eponymous character uses language that displays him in a power driven mood, aiming to extract information from his mother. The presence of dynamic, dark words like “witching,” “bitter,” and “daggers,” is a constant reflection of his intense internal psyche, influenced by the news of Claudius reacting strangely to the play that Hamlet arranged, indicating he is the guilty party. Along with this assumption, Hamlet is thinking to himself that his mother, Gertrude, played a pivotal role in the killing of his father, as she is now married to Claudius. This completely erodes any previous trust and turns his mother into an adversary. He still feels love for her but is pained by this realization and is aiming to get a confession out of her.

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From the reference of Nero’s soul to speaking in daggers and not acting with them, Hamlet is conveying the importance of duality - using cruel words yet not acting violently in the pursuit of the truth. To get the truth out of his mother, it seems like Hamlet is trying to manipulate his own behavior and words to hide his true emotions. One important example of this strategy of acting cruel with no ill intent was expressed through lines 426 - 428, as Hamlet attempts to find a medium. Specifically, I thought it was interesting that Hamlet referenced a Roman emperor, Nero, in his soliloquy. Nero was known for his extreme cruelty, specifically in the case of murdering his mother, and although Hamlet wanted to be cruel, he used Nero’s reputation as a boundary to his cruelty in pursuit of Gertrude’s confession. A second example of his duplicity is in line 429. This line immediately strikes a chord of emotion, as “speaking daggers” is such a powerful way to convey how one might speak. What he means by this is that his speech will be the only malicious thing happening, and that no real daggers will be used against his mother. The importance of this callous dialogue is that it makes the receiving party fear physical violence. This comes to life when Gertrude gets scared, which incites a response from Polonius, and then creates a bloody, unwanted situation for all parties.

It is also important to look at the sentence structure throughout the passage. The rhythm is very short and choppy. The sentences are concise, yet extremely powerful and loaded with words that conjure excitement in the readers. This structure mimics Hamlet’s mood because he is excited that his plan to catch Claudius was a success and he is confident that he will be able to exact revenge on his uncle. Through this new information and these mixed emotions, Hamlet cannot express his thoughts in a full monologue, rather he does so in short bits as he develops his plan for his mother.

Lastly, it is crucial to view this soliloquy in the context of the story and the characters involved. Hamlet’s plan to act cruel towards his mother rattles Gertrude so thoroughly that it makes Polonius cry out for help too - resulting in Hamlet killing Polonius, while thinking it was Claudius. This murder sets into motion a sequence of killing and lethal plans. This soliloquy was the last time that Hamlet had to himself before he was entrenched in a world, fully out to get him. This passage displays to the audience how conflicted yet strategic Hamlet is, as he is hurt by his mother’s actions but is able to put on a facade of cruelness in order to facilitate an admission of guilt from Gertrude.  

Works cited

  1. Shakespeare, W. (1992). Hamlet. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  2. Bloom, H. (1998). Hamlet: Poem Unlimited. Riverhead Books.
  3. Dover Wilson, J. (1953). What Happens in Hamlet. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Edwards, P. (1985). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Greenblatt, S. (2004). Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton University Press.
  6. Kastan, D. S. (2001). Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time. Cornell University Press.
  7. McDonald, R. (2006). Hamlet: A Guide to the Play. Greenwood Press.
  8. Nuttall, A. D. (2002). Shakespeare the Thinker. Yale University Press.
  9. Thompson, A., & Taylor, N. (2006). Hamlet: The Arden Shakespeare. Arden Shakespeare.
  10. Wells, S., Taylor, G., Jowett, J., & Montgomery, W. (2005). The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

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