Prepared by: Abdul Qaddir
‘Hamlet’ the character, as well as, the play has, very often and rightly, been referred to as a ‘riddle’ by learned critics, and there have always been attempts to solve this riddle. But to endeavor to reach any answer, whether that answer is satisfactory or not is another issue, to the riddle of Hamlet’s character without probing into his soliloquies is a hard pill to swallow. These soliloquies give us an insight into the intentions, thoughts and feelings of Hamlet at different stages of the play, and these are very crucial to the development of his character. His seventh soliloquy is no exception. The seventh soliloquy occurs when Hamlet, on his way to England, encounters a captain from the army of Young Fortinbras, and learns from him that they are going to attack Poland for a plot “That has in it no profit but name’.
Whatever the information Hamlet gathers from the captain, it sets him pondering over his inaction in taking revenge of his father’s ‘most foul and unnatural’ murder:
“Why yet I live to say this thing’s to do
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
He starts abusing and scolding himself for that, and by doing so exhorts himself to action of taking revenge, which should be, for him, a be all and end all, as a revenge hero. The earlier mentioned line spoken by the captain also forces him to think about the sense of honour, and he concludes that one should
“……………………………..find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake.”
And he does not have mere ‘a straw’ to find quarrel but ‘a father killed, a mother stained’. In this perspective, he compares and contrasts himself with the young Fortinbras. He sets him as an example for finding quarrels for the sake of name and honour. And then comes the resolution
“…………………………….O, from this time forth
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.”
If we have a close study of this soliloquy, we can divide it into four sections. First, there is identification of Hamlet’s mission. Secondly, he exhorts himself to action. Thirdly, he sets Fortinbras as an example, and finally, his resolution to take revenge.
For a better understanding of this soliloquy, we may compare it with the third soliloquy of Hamlet as these two soliloquies have almost the same theme and structure with just one difference.
In the third soliloquy, Hamlet starts scolding himself when he sees the player shedding tears for Hecuba who has no relation with him.
“…………………………………….what would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?”
In this way, he sets the player as an example and model for himself just as in seventh soliloquy, there is Fortinbras for this purpose. He calls himself a ‘rogue’, ‘a coward’, ‘a peasant slave’, ‘a muddy mettled rascal’ and so on. But at the end of this soliloquy, after all these scoldings and exhortations, he, instead of planning for taking revenge from Claudius, starts thinking about the ‘Mouse Trap’.
Now if we compare the endings of these two soliloquies, there is a marked difference. The resolution, found at the end of the seventh soliloquy, is absent in the third soliloquy. Even in other soliloquies of Hamlet, we find the same tendency. In almost all of them, after giving vent to his passions in a vehement way, he starts softening himself. It is only the last soliloquy which ends with the same tone with which it starts.
This difference indicates one of the most important aspects of Hamlet’s character. It is indicative of the change that occurs in the character of Hamlet with the passage of time. It is the first sign of that change which culminates in the line ‘there is a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow’, after going through all the reasoning of the grave digger scene. Here, he has started coming out of his ‘illusion’:
“The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.
He vows to put an end to his habit of thinking too precisely on the ‘event’, and to make his thoughts bloody for the purpose of avenging his father’s murder, though yet again he takes a long time to do this.
Thus, we can say that the last soliloquy of Hamlet is all too important as a starting point of the change that takes place in the character of Hamlet, slowly but surely.
Prepared by: Abdul Qaddir