The Suicidal Soliloquy:
How Hamlet's Appearance and Soliloquy of Act I, Scene II Contribute to Understanding the Play.

Hamlet's first appearance and soliloquy are very important for getting to know who Hamlet is and what precisely he is like. His first line tells us that Hamlet resents his uncle even before he knows that his uncle is his father's killer: "A little more than kin, and less than kind" (65)*.

Hamlet's next line, "I am too much i' the sun" (67), in response to Claudius asking why "the clouds still hang on [him]" (66), is an allusion to an old proverb, "out of God's blessing into the warm sun," which implies passing into an inferior state (Herford, 141).

When Hamlet's mother speaks to him, he seems resentful of her as well. She says, "Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, / Passing through nature to eternity" (72-3). Hamlet agrees with her that it is common, so she asks, "Why seems it so particular with thee" (75)? Hamlet then angrily tells her that it is, it does not seem. He goes on for a bit about it, too, and the King and Queen are, I think, rather surprised. Then the King's little speech, trying to cheer Hamlet up is rather patronising: "'tis unmanly grief" (94), and so on. I would have been offended. The King also says that he does not want Hamlet to go back to school in Wittenberg. The Queen then says that she doesn't want him to go either, and Hamlet does the old "you're not my real dad" sort of thing by saying, "I shall in all my best obey you (emphasis added), madam" (121). The King is probably a bit offended by this, but he doesn't show it.

Now we come to Hamlet's soliloquy. He begins, "O, that this too too solid flesh would melt" (129). He wishes he could die to escape the grief of his father's death. Now, this is wishing for a natural death. Two lines down, he wishes "that the Everlasting had not fix'd / His canon 'gainst self-slaughter" (131-32)! He wishes he could commit suicide, but he fears damnation.

He then talks about how horrible the world is, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable / Seem to me all [its] uses" (133-34), the world that would let his father die and his mother marry his uncle. He compares his father to his uncle: "Hyperion to a satyr" (140). He tells how loving his father was to his mother: "he might not beteem the winds of heaven / visit [Gertrude's] face too roughly" (141-42), and how she loved him: "she would hang on him, / As if increase in appetite had grown / by what it fed on: and yet, within a month-" (143-45). This thought gets him riled up again. "Let me not think on't-Frailty, thy name is woman" (146). Next, he compares his mother to Niobe, "a daughter of Tantalus, turned by the vengeance of Apollo and Artemis into a stone on Mount Sipylus in Lydia, 'where she sheds tears all the summer long'" (Herford, 144), and then to "a beast that wants discourse of reason" (150), saying that she should not have married Claudius so quickly; she should have mourned longer. Then he goes back to comparing his father and uncle: "My father's brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules" (152-53).

It seems to him that he is the only one who realises that this is an incestuous marriage:

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 (156-59).

All of this is important because it is the first impression we get of Hamlet. We see that he loves his mother and father, but resents his mother for marrying Claudius. And he resents Claudius probably for two reasons: marrying his mother, and taking the throne that should have been his. I think that Claudius knows of the latter resent and enjoys it. He seems to rub it in with his line, "You are the most immediate to our throne" (109). The most immediate, but you can't have it.

Without the suicidal soliloquy of this scene, it would be harder to understand the line, "To be, or not to be" (III.i.56), which seems contemplative of suicide, but could just be a trick Hamlet is trying to play on the King. It would be easy to think that perhaps Hamlet knew of his uncle's "espials" (III.i.32) all along and is trying to make him think that he is crazy.

In the scene with Hamlet and his mother, Act III, Scene IV, we see Hamlet's hatred of his uncle and his resentment of his mother. When he shows her the picture of his father, with "Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself; an eye like Mars, to threaten and command" (III.iv.56), compared with Claudius, "like a mildew'd ear, blasting his wholesome brother" (III.iv.64), and going on for some time about this until the Queen begs him to stop, she sees what she hath done in marrying this wretch. Her eyes turned inward "into [her] very soul; / And there [she sees] such black and grained spots / As will not leave their tinct" (III.iv.89-91).

In the soliloquy of Act III, Scene I, we see again Hamlet's fear of death from the first soliloquy: "To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come" (III.i.65-66). He equates death with sleep and fears nightmares. He would rather "grunt and sweat under a weary life" (III.i.77) than face "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn / no traveller returns" (III.i.79-80).

We see again this fear of death in Act V, Scene I, when the clown hands Hamlet Yorick's skull: "Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chop-fallen" (V.i.211)? Hamlet makes jokes to hide his fear that this could happen to him:

Imperious Csar, dead and turn'd to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter's flaw (V.i.236-39)!

This first meeting of Hamlet and his subsequent soliloquy are of great importance to the play and begin some reoccurring themes. The hatred of his uncle, the resentment of his mother, and the fear of death first show up in this scene. It is the scene that establishes Hamlet's character and gives us an insight into his mind. It is one scene without which there would be no play at all.


*All the quotes from the text of Hamlet are from Act I, Scene ii, unless otherwise noted, so only the line numbers are cited.

Work Cited (besides Hamlet): Ed. C.H. Herford. The Works of Shakespeare. Vol. VIII. London:Macmillan, 1904.

On to Page Two