In this soliloquy, Hamlet switches tone from being frustrated and irritated to seemingly sure, powerful, and bloodthirsty.
Hamlet begins speaking in a frustrated manner, beating himself up that although everything around him should lead him to take revenge, he has not. Shakespeare’s diction, such as “dull” (4.4.35) and “beast” (4.4.
37) show Hamlet’s disgust with only being able to fulfill a life of an animal, only sleeping and eating. Hamlet is frustrated since God did not create him to be lazy. He cannot even fight for a worthy cause dear to his heart, but Fortinbras’ men fight for a worthless cause. Shakespeare uses particular words such as “death” (4.4.55), “danger dare” (4.4.
55), “eggshell” (4.4.56), and “honor” (4.4.59) to show that Fortinbras’ men are much braver and greater than Hamlet when it comes to action. For this Hamlet is irritated since they only are fighting for an eggshell, a simple and useless item. However, this irritation and realization leads to a powerful ending of the soliloquy as Hamlet vows to only have “bloody” (4.
4.69) thoughts and make Claudius pay for his wrongdoings. At this point, Hamlet is seeking violence and action. This whole soliloquy is similar to a call to action for Hamlet.What is Hamlet trying to say? What is his purpose and overall message?Throughout the majority of the play, and even during the play within the play, Hamlet has meticulously contemplated killing his uncle, King Claudius.
Hamlet has gone back and forth on the true intentions of the ghost, whether for evil or good, and his own procrastination has caused him not to act. However, in act 4, scene 4, Hamlet evaluates his current situation in one of his most famous soliloquies. After crossing paths with Fortinbras on his way to Poland, Hamlet is alone to reveal his inner thoughts about his revenge plans. Hamlet begins by saying, “How all occasions do inform against me / And spur my dull revenge” (4.4.34-35). Hamlet first identifies the topic of his speech as revenge and makes the audience or reader think back to all the “occasions” that point him to take revenge. Some of these include: his father being murdered by King Claudius, his rightful throne taken by a murderer, his mother, according to Hamlet, dishonored in an incestuous marriage, and his best friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern working for the King.
Everything in Hamlet’s life thus far has pointed him toward taking revenge, but he has not done it.Hamlet says that humans are nothing but beasts if they just “sleep and feed” (4.4.37).
God did not create humans with all of our power not let it go to waste. Hamlet’s actions are similar to an animal and he calls himself a coward for hesitating and overthinking his situation. He has the motivation and all the reasons to go through with avenging his father’s death, but he has to take action. This is similar to his speech in act 2 scene 2 after the player gives a speech about Hecuba.
Hamlet essentially says: why would he weep for Hecuba when she means nothing to him. Hamlet continues by saying, just imagine what he would do if he had motives and passion. This foreshadows Hamlet’s inability to act on something he has intense feelings and passion for. His father has been killed and his “mother stained” (4.4.
60): two actions against people whom Hamlet loves. Therefore, this warrants action. Hamlet realizes that he has the capability to act and the reasons to do so.
Furthermore, Hamlet is reminded of Fortinbras’s massive army that goes into battle led by a prince fighting “even for an eggshell” (4.456). Although they are not fighting for a great reason, when “honor’s at the stake” (4.4.59), they fight to their “imminent death” (4.4.63). This is an example of how Hamlet should act since his justification for seeking revenge is far greater than this army’s reasons for taking the land.
Since these soldiers “go to their graves like beds” (4.4.65), Hamlet acknowledges that he must take action and have his “thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” (4.4.69). In this soliloquy, Hamlet realizes that it is necessary to take action now.
He has always been worried about the consequences and ramifications of murdering his uncle, but he has been motivated by Fortinbras’ army dying for a seemingly worthless cause. Although the ending is a bit ironic as Shakespeare uses the diction, “thoughts be bloody” as opposed to actions be bloody, this soliloquy is a representation of Hamlet’s last time dwelling on killing his uncle. He pronounces that he will take action.What does the soliloquy say about human nature?This soliloquy makes multiple interesting notions about human nature. Throughout the entire soliloquy, Hamlet explores how actions justify life. When Hamlet says, “He has made us with such a large discourse…gave us not the capability and god-like reason / To fust in us unused” (4.
4.38-41), he is referencing God. Hamlet is saying that God did not give humans the ability to think and look for us to waste this great power. Hamlet insinuates that humans have a “god-like reason” (4.
4.40), but it is not used and will just rot inside of all humans. In addition, Hamlet acknowledges the difference between animals and humans. Whereas humans have the ability to think, make decisions, and act, beasts just sleep and eat. Hamlet has been thinking meticulously about his revenge plans, but in this soliloquy, Shakespeare suggests that thinking through everything will not allow Hamlet to accomplish his goal.
Dwelling on something causes people to not start and therefore not act. Humans have a cowardice nature. Along the lines of God providing humans the capability to achieve great things, Hamlet looks at achievement himself by referencing Fortinbras’ army going into battle. Although they do not wait for a great reason, they are great because they “find quarrel in a straw / When honor’s at the stake” (4.4.58-59).
These soldiers will not stand and wait to act, but seize the moment to defend their honor. This is what greatness is. Furthermore, as these soldiers enter battle, they do so willing to die. Death can come at any moment in the battle, but these soldiers have made their life with a purpose since they did not wait to fight. Finally, Hamlet’s idea of seeking revenge, though not first introduced in this soliloquy is an intrinsic human reaction to being upset or insulted. Throughout this entire play, Hamlet is showing this element of human nature.
Are there any literary techniques used such as analogy, metaphor, irony, personification, similes, hyperbole, puns, etc? If so, what impact does this have?This soliloquy is filled with literary techniques, including metaphors, alliterations, similes, strong imaging, and foreshadowing. Shakespeare incorporates metaphors into Hamlet’s soliloquy to help describe Hamlet’s irritation with his current situation and Fortinbras’ army. The metaphor, “even for an eggshell” (4.4.56) describes the uselessness of the land Fortinbras’ army is fighting for. An eggshell is so simple and unworthy of fighting, yet these men take action, unlike Hamlet. The other metaphor is “a mother stained” (4.4.
60) which refers back to Hamlet’s disgust with his mother’s marriage to his uncle, dishonoring the family. Both of these metaphors help the reader understand Hamlet’s situation.In addition, Shakespeare utilizes alliterations to put emphasis on the mood of the soliloquy.
Shakespeare uses alliterations such as “makes mouths” (4.4.53) and “death, and danger dare” (4.4.
55). These alliterations complement the structure of the soliloquy to create a tone in which Hamlet is frustrated that these men fight and dare to their deaths but he has not.Furthermore, Shakespeare uses similes to relate Hamlet’s feelings to images. When Hamlet says, “gross as Earth exhort me:” (4.4.49), he is that it should be clear as the Earth itself that I should take revenge.
Later, when Hamlet discusses Fortinbras’ men, he says they “go to their graves like beds” (4.4.65). This is used to contrast Fortinbras’ actions with Hamlet’s lack of actions. This simile makes it seem as though there is no effort to go to these graves and it is normal and comforting.
These men are welcoming battle and death even for something not worth it. The land Fortinbras’ army is fighting for is not even big enough for all the men. Lastly, Hamlet ends the soliloquy by saying: “My thoughts be bloody or nothing worth!” (4.4.69). This is a strong image that foreshadows the ending of the play as death is all around. Blood relates to fighting, and in this case, it foreshadows Hamlet taking action and finally drawing blood.
How is the passage significant within the context of the play?This passage is significant as it reminds the reader of Fortinbras’ army and of Hamlet’s inability to act. In this passage, Hamlet finally decides that he needs to take action, rather than continue contemplating the proper way to avenge his father’s death. Taking revenge is harder than Hamlet thinks, but this passage marks a turning point for Hamlet as he acknowledges the importance of action and realizes thinking is not as productive. In previous acts, Hamlet has considered killing Claudius but has stopped himself. The potential ramifications of the death, for instance, accidentally sending Claudius to heaven while he is praying, have hindered Hamlet from acting. Hamlet ends this passage with “bloody” (4.
4.69) thoughts, showing that he is bloodthirsty as he has never been before.