Hamlet Evolution

Hamlet evolves during the course of the play. Nowhere is this more visible (and audible) than in his soliloquies. For instance, his soliloquies in Act II, Act II, and Act IV are each distinctively different from one another. This is even evident in the punctuation Shakespeare uses. The number of exclamation points Shakespeare uses in writing Hamlet’s soliloquies decreases significantly during the course of the play.


In Act II, Hamlet is blaming himself for many problems. He is angry with himself because he has not yet acted on his plan to kill Claudius. He attacks himself for not being as emotional as the actor on the stage.

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O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!/Is it not monstrous that this player here,/But in fiction, in a dream of passion,/Could force his soul so to his own conceit/That from her working all his visage wann’d,/Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,/A broken voice, and his whole function suiting. With forms to his conceit? (II, ii, 490-497)
In this soliloquy, he is questioning how other people become emotional. He asks what Hecuba means to the mere actor on stage, who cried because of her. He wonders what he would do, had the actor had the same reasons to cry as Hamlet had. He says:
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,/that he should weep for her?/What would he do,/Had he the motive and the cue for passion that I have? (II, ii, 499-502)
He answers his own questions. He says that the actor would “drown the stage with tears” (II, ii, 502) and “cleave the general ear with horrid speech.”(II, ii, 503) He does not talk about his mother at all in this soliloquy. He is, however, still disgusted by what has just happened. He hates Claudius and talks about him more in this soliloquy. He says:
I should have fatted all the region kites/With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy villain!/Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! (II, ii, 521-523)
His diction is very visual and physical. It is quite concrete, and can easily be imagined, and it certainly is not a pretty picture. Towards the end of the play, he comes up with yet another plan to find out for sure if Claudius indeed murdered his father. He stops assaulting himself and starts to talk more declaratively about his new plan.


Even at the very start of Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act III, it is evident that he is in a more philosophical mood.

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? (III, i, 56-60)
These are Hamlet’s renowned lines. They start the listeners off and prepare them for some deep lines. He is not attacking himself in this soliloquy; rather he is contemplating an issue. He doesn’t use words such as “I” and “me”, instead he uses words such as “he” and “us”. He is talking about mankind as a whole, as opposed to himself personally. He compares death to sleep, and argues that man does not know what dreams he will see during death. He argues that the reason people don’t commit suicide, is because they don’t know what comes after death:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil/Must give us pause: there’s the respect/That makes calamity of so long life; (III, i, 66-69)
His diction is relating to sleep or a voyage relating to death. He has absolutely no references to his mother or his father in this soliloquy. He does not talk about the reason behind his mood at all. He is very calm, and very philosophical in this soliloquy.


By the fourth soliloquy in Act IV, Hamlet starts to wonder again why he hasn’t yet acted and avenged his father’s murder. He has just heard that Fortinbras is about to fight over a worthless piece of land, but he can’t even do anything even if his uncle killed his father and stained his mother. He says:
Witness this army of such mass and charge/Led by a delicate and tender prince,/Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d/makes mouths at the invisible event,/Exposing what is mortal and unsure/To all that fortune, death and danger dare,/Even for an egg-shell. (IV, iv, 47-53)
In this soliloquy, however, he is not attacking himself. He is encouraging himself to act. His personality has changed since the second soliloquy. His diction is no longer visual. It is spiritual and relating to various ideas. He implies that one is not a man without honor.

Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument,/But greatly to find quarrel in a straw/When honour’s at the stake. (IV, iv, 53-55)
By the end of this soliloquy, he is giving himself the ultimate words of encouragement. He says let “His thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (IV, iv, 64) He ends in a good note, making it seem as if he will get up right at that moment and go off to kill the king.
These three soliloquies of Hamlet, in Act II, III, and IV, emphasize a successive change that is seen in Hamlet. The change in his tone of voice makes this change more audible to the listener’s ears. His evolution thus, is shown by these three of Hamlet’s soliloquies.

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