It is the very beginning of the play at act 1, scene 2, and Claudius, with Gertrude by his side, has just been crowned the new king of Denmark. Claudius’s first action as the king is to give his inaugural speech, in which he tells the kingdom that rather than mourning the old king everyone should be celebrating the new marriage between himself and Gertrude. After his introductory speech, Claudius gives Laertes permission to return to school in France but doesn’t allow Hamlet to go back to school in Wittenburg. Claudius does this because he is wary of Hamlet and fears that he might be a problem, so he chooses to keep him in Denmark so that he can keep an eye on him. Although Gertrude, Claudius, and Hamlet act like a happy family in front of the courtiers, their real feelings towards each other are drastically different than the persona they put on in front of everyone else.
Concealing the truth through acting is a major theme that reoccurs multiple times throughout the play and even though it’s only the second scene we have already been exposed to three people putting on fake performances. After Claudius and Gertrude leave with the rest of the courtiers, Hamlet is left all alone and is finally able to talk about how he really feels regarding his situation in his first soliloquy. Mood: Hamlet is in a vulnerable state and now that he is all alone he is able to confess how he really feels. This is the first time that we are exposed to Hamlet’s true emotions and because of this he talks mostly about the sadness he feels after the death of his father and his anger towards Gertrude. The soliloquy is split into two main parts, in the first half Hamlet talks about how depressed he is but as he talks more his sadness turns into rage and disgust in the second half. Hamlet is so distraught by his situation that his life feels stale and boring to the point where he would rather die and have his flesh melt then continue living. Hamlet goes as far as to say that he would kill himself if God hadn’t made self-slaughter a sin. The fact that Hamlet is contemplating a serious decision like suicide gives the soliloquy a very dark and somber tone. The melancholic tone of the soliloquy takes a drastic turn as Hamlet spirals into a fit of anger towards his mother for re-marrying Claudius so soon after the king’s death. Hamlet explains the state of his world using the metaphor of a garden and how it is unweeded and repulsive now that Claudius is the king, this marks the beginning of the more aggressive section of Hamlet’s speech.
The rapid change in language shows that Hamlet is in a very volatile state, which adds a layer of tension and uneasiness to the already somber scene. Hamlet spends a much larger portion of his speech focusing on his mother and uncle rather than grieving his father, indicating that he is much more distraught by Gertrude’s incestuous actions as opposed to his father’s death. Hamlet sort of contradicts himself by doing this since he is critiquing his mother for having not spent enough time mourning the king but at the same time he himself spends only a small amount of his speech feeling lamenting his father. Language Analysis Syntax: Shakespeare uses short sentences in Hamlet’s soliloquy as a way to make the scene more energetic and passionate. The constant use of punctuation marks such as commas and exclamation marks makes Hamlet speech have a lot of dramatic pauses which work to emphasize his aggression. The shorter sentences force the actor playing Hamlet to say the lines with a venomous and cutting tone that otherwise couldn’t be achieved with regular length sentences. Hamlet is extremely upset since not only is he dealing with the death of his father, but he is also facing the metaphorical death of his mother who betrayed him by marrying Claudius.
The bitter resentment Hamlet feels towards his mother is apparent in the last few lines of his speech, which are full of short sentences “She married. O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”(161-162). By adding a sentence with only two words into the end of the soliloquy, Shakespeare is really stressing how infuriated and lonely Hamlet is. Comparison: One of the main literary devices Shakespear uses in this passage is comparing one character to another as a way to highlight the differences between them. One example of this is when Hamlet describes his father as Hyperion, the god of heavenly light, and then says that Claudius is a lowly satyr compared to the old king. Hamlet comparing his father to the god Hyperion accentuates the imagery of the old king being wise and righteous. By comparing the great Hyperion to the hideous and pathetic creature such as a satyr, Shakespear is able to make Claudius seem like even more of an abomination. Hamlet is using the high opinion he holds of his father as a foil to show how disgusting and repulsive the new king is compared to the old one. Another example of a comparison in this passage is Hamlet explaining that his mother is the complete opposite of Niobe, an ancient Greek queen who grieved so hard at the death of her children that she couldn’t stop crying and turned to stone. By bringing up Niobe, who eternally mourns the death of her children, Hamlet is showing that Gertrude got over her previous husband’s death much too fast for her to have ever genuinely loved him.
Hamlet even compares himself to the mighty Hercules to show how low of an opinion he holds of himself “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.” (157-160). Shakespeare is using Hercules greatness to highlight how weak and powerless Hamlet feels as well as make the differences between the old and new kings even more profound. Foreshadowing: Another key literary device used in Hamlet’s soliloquy is the use of foreshadowing to hint at some of the main themes that arise later on in the play. In the first few lines of his speech, Hamlet proclaims that he is so depressed that he wants to kill himself but is unable to do so since it is a sin and he would be going against his religious beliefs. Hamlet wishes that God hadn’t made suicide a sin, which foreshadows the theme of going against the word of God, which is a major part of the second, third, and fourth acts of the play. After the ghost of the dead king tells Hamlet that he was murdered, the main conflict of the play is introduced and Hamlet is forced to decide whether or not he should kill his uncle.
On one hand, doing so would mean his father’s death would be avenged, but on the other, he would be going against the law of God and be damned to hell as a result. Hamlet understands that killing the new king will have serious repercussions and only decides to go through with it after seeing Fortinbras’ willingness to go to war only to defend his honor. Metaphors: Hamlet describes Denmark as a garden that has become overrun with weeds as a way to show how bad the Kingdom is now that Claudius is king. The mention of a garden is an allusion to the garden of Eden, which was a paradise until Eve ate the forbidden fruit and the garden made mankind endure pain, sickness, and war as a punishment. This allusion points out how Denmark used to be a utopia but ever since Claudius became king and incestuously married Gertrude the kingdom became disgusting and unholy. Diction: Shakespeare uses words with very aggressive and violent connotations throughout the soliloquy as a way to make Hamlet’s dismay clearer to the reader. Graphic descriptions such as “sullied flesh would melt” and “rank and gross in nature” work to portray Hamlet’s bloodlust towards his uncle and mother. Hamlet also repeats himself multiple times throughout his dialogue in order to add emphasis to the things that he’s saying. The very first line of the speech included the repetition of “too, too”, and Hamlet later repeats “God” twice while he explains that he wants to commit suicide to make what he’s saying more dramatic. Conclusion: There are a total of seven soliloquies throughout the play, but Hamlet’s first soliloquy is a special one because, for the very first time, the reader is given a glimpse into the mind of our protagonist.
After being introduced to Hamlet for the very first time earlier in the scene and seeing that his interactions with his family were mostly tame, the reader is led to assume that Hamlet might actually be content with his situation. This presumption is shattered when Hamlet is left alone with his thoughts and explains how he really feels about his mother and uncle. After seeing Hamlet’s innermost thoughts being exposed creates a very intimate moment that almost everyone can relate to in some way. There is a reason that Hamlet, a play which is over 400 years old, is still being taught today in high schools across the nation, its because the themes and messages throughout the play are still relevant today. Even though most people reading Hamlet haven’t had their father murdered by their uncle, anyone can still relate to the feelings that Hamlet displays in his seven soliloquies. This strong sense of emotion would never have been possible if Shakespeare hadn’t used literary devices such as metaphors, foreshadowing, comparisons, and specialized syntax and diction.