Essay on The Use of Soliloquy in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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A Soliloquy is a dramatic convention, in which the character stands alone on stage, speaking. Originally it was a plot device, to enable a character to tell the audience what he planned to do next, for example, in the course of revenge. But the device is heightened in Shakespeare as it enables a character to reveal the ‘inner soul’ to the audience without telling the other characters. It is usual that one discovers more of a character from a soliloquy than from the action of the play alone. Shakespeare uses the soliloquies in ‘Hamlet’ to great effect; with Hamlet’s state of mind, his indecision and his use of imagery.

Hamlet’s state of mind in his first soliloquy is deeply
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His disappointment in his mother, his suicidal tendencies and his oppression are all portrayed far more deeply that they would have been otherwise.

Shakespeare also uses the soliloquies to expose Hamlet’s indecision. The first soliloquy finds him posing the tricky question of whether to commit suicide or not. He longs for death, but finds God has

‘fixed his Canon ‘gainst self-slaughter’

It is evident that he is indecisive from this, but with good reason - if he kills himself he will go to Hell. But it is in Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy that his indecision comes to the fore. By asking himself

‘To be or not to be - that is the question’

He wonders whether to kill Claudius - if he does, he could be put to death, the equivalent of suicide. Suicide is evidently one source of Hamlet’s indecisiveness, but there is a far greater source which provides a much bigger clue to his indecisiveness. It stems from his conversation with the ghost of his father, which said;

‘Let not the royal bed of Denmark bee
A couch of luxury and damned incest
But however thou persuest this act
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught’

His first and last request are incompatible - to kill Claudius and not upset Gertrude would be impossible. Thus Hamlet has an excuse for his indecision. However, Hamlet never uses the excuse in his
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