By Clarence Nelson,2014-06-25 02:03
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    Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

    Act III, Scene I

    A room in the castle

    (The textbook: PP.76-77)

I. The Aim of This Class:

     To enable the students to appreciate the figurative expressions, which

    may enrich their cultural & linguistic knowledge, in this soliloquy so that

    they may get a better understanding of it;

     To enable the students to have a fairly good idea of Hamlets mental

    conflict and character.

    II. Some Background Information

     1. The Nature of Tragedy

     Tragedies were concerned with the harshness and apparent injustice

    of life. They involved the trials and eventual death of a hero who was an

    important person and whose death led to the downfall of others. Often,

    the heros fall from happiness was due to a weakness in his character (a

    weakness such as the overweening ambition of Macbeth, the uncontrolled

    jealousy of Othello or the excessive pride of Coriolanus.). Hamlet is

    among the most complex of Shakespeares tragic heroes and it is thus not easy to pinpoint one specific flaw which brought about his untimely death.

    But it would be true to say that he was a thinker involved in a dilemma

    which could only be resolved by a man of action. His inability to act

    swiftly & decisively in connection with his fathers murder brought havoc to the Danish court.

    Hamlet belongs to a genre of plays often called revenge tragedies.

    These were popular in Elizabethan England and in them a hero was called

    upon to punish an evildoer for a crime he had committed. Often in such

    plays there was a ghost who could not rest until the person who had

    caused his death was killed. The ghost in Hamlet is thus a traditional

    figure whose role was to urge the hero to avenge an evil deed.

    2. Soliloquy

    A soliloquy is a dramatic device which allows a character to reveal

    his thoughts to the audience but not to the other characters in the play. In

    Shakespeares time soliloquies were widely used. When an actor was

    alone on the stage he could speak aloud his thoughts, thus giving the

    audience clear insights into his character and his intentions.

    The soliloquy is used quite frequently in Hamlet. The Prince

    addresses the audience directly on six occasions (lst: in Act I, Scene2,

    129-59 when he is oppressed by the problems surrounding him, his

    fathers death and his mothers fickleness; 2nd: in Act II, Scene2, 522-80

    when he contrasts his failure to respond to his fathers murder with the

    actors expression of grief for imaginary characters; 3rd: in Act III, Scene

    l, 56-88 he expresses his disillusionment with life: To be, or not to be-

    that is the question; 4th: in Act III, Scene 2, 362-72 he uses language to work himself into a frame of mind in which he can visit his mother and

    show her the evils of her incestuous marriage; 5th: in Act III, Scene 3,

    73-96 he decides not to kill Claudius while he is at prayer but to surprise

    him; 6th: in Act IV, Scene 4, 32-66 he reveals his firm intention to take

    his vengeance at the earliest possible opportunity while at the same time

    he condemns his earlier inactivity.) (cf. Monologue: more often than not,

    a poetical device, e.g. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning1812--1889).

    3. Some of the Problems Troubling Hamlet:

    (1) His father was murdered by his uncle who has become the king of


    (2) His mother was married to his uncle right after his fathers death;

    (3) The Ghost of his father urged him to seek revenge for his murder,

    but Hamlet was not quite sure that the ghost was his fathers spirit,

    for he feared it might have been a devil sent to torment him;

    (4) His former friends Rosencrantz & Gildenstern were dispatched by

    the king to spy on him (A betrayal of friendship! As a humanist he

    attached great importance to friendship);

    (5) His girl friend Ophelia was sent as a tool to find out whether or

    not he was really mad(A betrayal of love!).

One incident after another seems to reveal to him that the time is out of

    joint, and man is not good as he had imagined.

III. The Text:

    Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


    A room in the castle

Hamlet. To be, or not to be: that is the question:

     Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer

     The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

     Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

     And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep;

     No more; and by a sleep to say we end

     The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

    That flesh is heir to, tis a consummation

     Devoutly to be wishd. To die, to sleep;

     To sleep! perchance to dream: aye, theres the rub;

     For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

     When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

     Must give us pause: theres the respect

     That makes calamity of so long life;

     For who would bear (the whips and scorns of time,

     The oppressors wrong, the proud mans contumely,

     The pangs of despised love, the laws delay,

     The insolence of office and the spurns

     That patient merit of the unworthy takes),

     When he himself might his quietus make

     With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

     But that the dread of something after death,

     The undiscoverd country, from whose bourn

     No traveler returns, puzzles the will,

     And makes us rather bear those ills we have

     Than fly to others that we know not of ?

     Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

     And thus the native hue of resolution

     Is sicklied oer with the pale cast of thought,

     And enterprises of great pitch and moment

     With this regard their currents turn awry,

     And lose the name of action. Soft you now!

     The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in your orisons

     Be all my sins rememberd.

IV. The Fragment of the film Relevant to the Text.

V. Questions on the Soliloquy

    (Here are some questions which aim to direct your attention to some of

    the important points in Hamlet`s troubled thoughts. You should try to

    answer all the questions in English)

    1. How does Hamlet explain what is to be and what is not to be?

    Quote his own words, and then try to explain what was meant by the


    To be

    Your quote: (to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.)

    Your understanding: (to live by enduring the injustices and miseries of

    the life.)

    Not to be

    Your quote: (to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing

     end them.)

    Your understanding: (to fight against and end a sea of troubles by

    taking his own life.)

    2. `Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish`d.---What is this ideal

    state, according to Hamlet?

    Your answer: (Hamlet longed to end all his sufferings, and death

    seemed a perfect solution . )

3. What is death compared to ? What makes one hesitate to end the

    troubles of life by death ?

    Your answer: (Death is compared to sleep. The thought of what

    dreams may come in that sleep of death makes one

    hesitate to end the troubles of life by death. )

    4. There`s the respect that makes calamity of so long life ---What does the word respect mean here ?

    Your answer: (consideration.)

    5. What puzzles the will of death ?

    Your answer: (The dread of something after death.)

    6. What influence, according to Hamlet, do thoughts have upon

    resolution and action ?

    Your answer: (Too much thinking has weakened the resolution and

    delayed the action.)

    7.(an essay question)What do you learn about Hamlets mental conflict and character through this soliloquy?

    (In this soliloquy, Hamlet is detached, reflective, analytic and

    moral. His thoughts were philosophical rather than practical; his

    concerns were on the nature of things rather than any specific plans for actions; his feelings were of a deep sorrow over the injustice and

    vanity, a sea of troubles which brought pains into human life. His

    melancholy and procrastination are also revealed. Here he is

    pondering on the question of life and death. He is thinking of

    committing suicide. But he hesitates for he doubts whether death can

    give him rest and peace. Besides, he is not sure whether the world of

    death would be better than this one. He gives the reasons why he

    wants to commit suicide. Apart from his personal revenge(He hasn`t

    mentioned it in this soliloquy), he cannot bear the social injustices

    and grievances. He is conscious of his own weakness of thinking too much which makes him dilatory, allowing many opportunities to slip


VI. Written Work:

Write a prose paraphrase of this soliloquy.

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