All pieces of poetry, the soliloquies, are written in blank verse using Iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter consists of ten syllables per line, of which the five even ones are stressed. As a result of Hamlet’s delicate, fragile sensitivity, when anger in Hamlet prevails, we see a break in iambic pentameter. Therefore, it is the variation of iambic pentameter rhythm that narrates Hamlet’s character: A nicely balanced iambic pentameter presents a stable and ordered Hamlet, however a deviation from iambic pentameter reveals a chaotic and frantic state of Hamlet’s mind.
An example of this frantic Hamlet in his first soliloquy can be seen when he is expressing hatred toward his stepfather Claudius: “Hyperion to a Satyr; so loving to my mother”. In the soliloquy “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! “, in the first few lines (act 2,sc 2 li 570-575) although the language is poetically emotive, “passion, tears, Tears in his eyes”, it is controlled and nicely balanced with end-stopped lines. However, when Hamlet plunges into thought about his own piteous self, the controlled pattern breaks up with abrupt exclamations: “And all for nothing!
“, and we see short-lined sentences: “For Hecuba! “. Also, the sentence beginning “Yet I” and “O vengance! ” breaks up the regular stressed syllable rhythm pattern. It seems that Hamlet’s mind is most distracted when turning thoughts to himself and what he has failed to do. Hamlet is also distracted when expressing hatred to Claudius- as can be seen from the rhyme deviation: “Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! “. The onomatopoeic language in the soliloquy of sharp S sounds expresses the cutting nature of the action: “breaks, plucks, blows, face”, emphasising Hamlet’s anger and frustration.
The soliloquy “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! “, is a great example of how Hamlet’s thought develops, and how his perspectives change during a soliloquy. The beginning of the soliloquy starts off very well organised, comparing theatre to real “passion”. However, the soliloquy looses shape when, in anger, he compares his mother to “Hecuba”. Abruptly, the blank verse regains order and structure when Hamlet considers the play, although it contains words of hysteria/disorder, like “mad”, “amaze”, “appal”.
The majority of the rest of the poetry is Hamlet expressing self-disgust, leading to a series of insults to himself, that he is a coward: “Pigeon-liver’d”. He is aware of his ineffectual nature: “Unpregnant of my cause”. This despair as to why he cannot take action in avenging Claudius, despite having a firm motive, can be seen also in another soliloquy: “How all occasions do inform against me, and spur my dull revenge. What is a man if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed”. Once again Hamlet continues to question the purpose of life, still on the suicidal note.
I believe, like ‘AC Bradley’ and ‘Dover Wilson’, that in the soliloquy “To be or not to be”, Hamlet is ‘considering suicide’, as the opening line of the soliloquy suggests. The fact that the opening line of this soliloquy has the longest string of monosyllabic words, “To be or not to be”, hit me as a very strong and firm opening, suggesting something so serious and weighted as suicide! Unlike previous soliloquies, this one is impersonal, less of ‘I’, which allows it to be different to other soliloquies in that the tone is much calmer and reflective.
The present iambic pentameter implies of Hamlet’s calm thought process. Here we see Hamlet’s deep philosophical nature, discussing logically the merits of life and death, that people would rather live and “suffer” and “bear those ills we have” rather than face the “dread of death”. The only lines of the soliloquy that one could relate to Hamlet’s current state is his “pale cast of thought” that prevents “enterprises of great pith and moment”- “enterprises” being Hamlet’s pursuit of revenge.
Hamlet, as a sensitive and philosophical poet, explores the wonders and fears of the after-life, the “undiscover’d country”. Looking generally at the soliloquies, the themes that protrude greatly are Hamlet’s suicidal state and his self-disgust at his inaction. Therefore these soliloquies highlight that Hamlet is unable to endure the cruel pressures of the world, as he thinks too much; thinking around the action: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all”. The soliloquies show how Hamlet is finding it difficult to cope with life at that particular moment.
Hamlet’s poetic diction is presented not always in the soliloquies, but in normal speech to other characters: “More than kin, a little less kind… Too much in the sun”. These puns, or plays on word show elements of ambiguity, that although Hamlet is related to Claudius, “More than kin”, he is “less than kind” as he lacks family feeling for Claudius. In the same way, Hamlet is “too much in the sun”, as he rejects Claudius’ claims for a father/son relationship. Both show sour revulsion toward his stepfather, rather than the “clouds still” hanging upon Hamlet in mourning for his father’s death.
The commonplace ambiguity of a poet can be seen in Hamlet when he introduces the central theme of opposition, “appearance Vs reality”. This theme is simply expressed by one line of speech: “Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not seems”. He plays on the word “seems” to imply of the “seeming” mourning of Claudius to his brother’s death, in contrast to Hamlet’s true “trappings” of grief and “suits of woe”. Hamlet describes, using personified imagery, that actors, such like Claudius, may “seem” woeful in ‘appearance’: “inky cloak… windy suspiration of forc’d breath…. fruitful river in the eye…
shapes of grief”. However, in reality Hamlet has the true “trappings” of grief that is not outward show, and Claudius appears as a corrupt, sly politician. Hamlet can be seen as a very brave individual, as he speaks to the ghost despite his friends’ warnings. In the Elizabethan days, the audience would have been a lot more superstitious than today’s more sceptical modern audience. The Elizabethan’s would have been truly terrified, as the ghost signifies witchcraft and wrongs with the natural order, as the nights watchmen put it: “a portentous figure” that “bodes some strange eruption to the state”.
Even though the though that the ghost may be evil, “the devil”, and that he will go where “hell itself should gape” and trap his soul, Hamlet still wishes to speak to the ghost, emphasising his bravery. If we look back in history, we see that Shakespeare borrowed the plot of Hamlet from “Saxo Grammaticus” written two hundred years earlier. However, Shakespeare adds the ‘ghost’ into his version, which wasn’t included in “Saxo Grammaticus”. Therefore, I believe Shakespeare added the ghost not as an important method to reveal the vengeance theme, but more significantly as a theatrical and atmospheric device.
This is evident due to Shakespeare’s deep love for the power of theatre (“actors are the chroniclers of the time”), in which he actually played the role of the ghost in the 1600s. the ghost would have made a dramatic appearance through a ‘large cellar’ called ‘Hell’ in the globe theatre, combined with a cold, dark, bleak night atmosphere providing a powerful piece of theatre. Hamlet had every reason to be afraid of the ghost, yet he was brave! Hamlet is very intelligent, having studied at Wittenberg university, where his great ability to think was born.
It seems that his intelligence, and character flaw combined produces his ability to organise the “mouse-trap”, to catch the “king’s conscience”. The intelligence segment can be seen in his organisation skills of the play, and also in his keen knowledge of theatre: “the rugged Pyrrhus, like th’ Hyrcanian beast… With eyes like Carbuncles” says Hamlet with “good accent and discretion”. I believe the “mouse-trap” is a mere result of Hamlet’s character flaw- a delay tactic.
One may claim that the “mouse-trap” is decisive action on Hamlet’s part, that he does it to ensure the veracity of what the ghost explained. However, I feel that Hamlet still speculates far too much, like he speculated before on the “course of nature” and his “one defect”, he speculates now on his father, that he may be the “devil”. Hamlet uses the “devil” issue as an excuse to delay, because although ghosts were seen as evil, the dead king seems honest. For instance, he gives a true, loving account of Gertrude: “radiant angel…
in a celestial bed”, which corresponds to their ideal marriage: “he who was so loving to her…. she hang upon him”. It can therefore be said that everything Hamlet enacts must be in the interest of moral justification, thus finding resolve to act. How can we believe that Hamlet will find resolve to act, especially in considering his contradictory nature: “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms…. ” promises Hamlet, that he will never turn to education again, instead the ghost’s “commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of” his brain.
However, the next thing Hamlet does is turn to education by “writing” down his resolve, which is what he previously said he’d never do- He is contradicting himself. Hamlet acts inversely to how he thinks; unable to live up to his promises, and this makes it difficult to believe that Hamlet will ever act out the vengeance (before reading to the end and not knowing it is a revenge tragedy! ). Hamlet continues to contradict himself as he ‘educates’ himself by “reading on a book” in act 2, scene 2.