Soliloquy Essay - Theatre and Language in the Soliloquies of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Soliloquy Essay - Theatre and Language in the Soliloquies of Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Theatre and Language in the Soliloquies of Hamlet  

The first Folio is prefaced with an address to the reader to "Read him again and again". In terms of words and action, Hamlet is the most self conscious play about its own theatricality. Words and actions throughout the play are inextricably linked, as is the notion of "playing" a part.

From the outset of the play we see evidence of the external show compared with the underlying reality. In Act One, Hamlet's speech to Gertrude (Nay seems...etc) shows us the Prince talking about actions that a man "might play" and also about what is "inside" him which "passes show". (NB "Action" in Elizabethan definition meant "acting")

Throughout the play we see inner reality beneath the surface performances of not only Hamlet, but other characters, too. Hamlet has only "one-liners" at the beginning of the play until we hear his first soliloquy, which is an attempt to look at "that within, which passes show".

The soliloquies create a bond between the character and the audience and were a dramatic convention inherited from Greek drama. By the time of Shakespeare they had moved away from commentaries on the plot and events of the play and had become illustrative of the inner thoughts of the character. In the soliloquy the character tells the truth as he perceives it, although "truth" is subjective and can have different meanings for different characters.

In Hamlet we have seven soliloquies, five major and two smaller ones, and Hamlet's character is revealed through them as the play progresses.


Hazlitt - "This is that Hamlet the Dane...whom we remember...but all whose thoughts we know as well as we know our own..Reality is in the reader's mind..It is we who are Ham...

... middle of paper ... to the grave. Hamlet describes himself as "Crawling between earth and heaven". Shakespeare's audience would have had a physical picture of this before them, which added great weight to the imagery of his text, as of course would the scuffle over Ophelia's corpse.

At the end of the play Hamlet stops musing and the language becomes very direct and simple, "there is a divinity.." "the readiness is all". In the final scene Hamlet "acts" in all senses of the word, and "theatre" takes over. The final speeches are terse and contain references to the theatricality of the occasion. he refers to the "mutes" (extras on stage) and the "audience to this act". Fortinbras commands him to be "carried to the stage", perhaps a last comment on a play which is characterised so much as actors playing to actors in a kind of Chinese box puzzle of outward show and inner secrets.


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