Hamlet's First Soliloquy (Act 1, Scene 2): Text, Summary, and Analysis
Original Text of Hamlet's First Soliloquy From Act 1, Scene 2:
O that this too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! O fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this!
But two months dead! — nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother,
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month, —
Let me not think on't, — Frailty, thy name is woman! —
A little month; or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears; — why she, even she, —
O God! a beast that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer, — married with mine uncle,
My father's brother; but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month;
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married: — O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not, nor it cannot come to good;
But break my heart, — for I must hold my tongue!
What Is a Soliloquy?
Hamlet's first soliloquy occurs in Act 1, Scene 2 of the play from lines 333 to 363, and is reproduced in full above. A soliloquy is a type of monologue in a play that is intended to advance the audience's understanding of a character, including his inner thoughts and feelings, his motivations, and, sometimes, what he plans to do next. In this case Hamlet's soliloquy serves the purpose of informing the audience of his intense negative feelings toward his mother's remarriage and highlighting the inner turmoil those feelings create within him.
The first soliloquy takes place after King Claudius and Queen Gertrude urge Hamlet in open court to cast off the deep melancholy which, they believe, has taken possession of his mind as a consequence of his father’s death. In the opinion of the king and queen, Hamlet has already sufficiently grieved and mourned for his father. Prior to the soliloquy, King Claudius and Queen Gertrude announce their upcoming marriage. According to them, the court could not afford excessive grief. This announcement sends Hamlet into a deeper emotional spiral and inspires the soliloquy that follows.
Summary of Hamlet's First Soliloquy
Hamlet refers the world as an ‘unweeded garden’ in which rank and gross things grow in abundance. He bemoans the fact that he cannot commit suicide and explains in lines 335-336 that "self-slaughter" is not an option because it is forbidden by God. In the first two lines of the soliloquy, he wishes that his physical self might cease to exist on its own without requiring him to commit a mortal sin:
“O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!”
Though saddened by his father’s death, the larger cause of Prince Hamlet’s misery is Queen Gertrude’s disloyal marriage to his uncle. She announces the new marriage when barely a month has passed since his biological father's death. Hamlet mourns that even "a beast would have mourned a little longer." Additionally, he considers this marriage to be an incestuous affair, since his mother is marrying her dead husband's brother.
This soliloquy shows Hamlet’s deep affection for the late King Hamlet. It also paints the dead king as a loving husband and a respected father and further serves to demonstrate to the audience the hasty nature of Queen Gertrude's second marriage, which she announces without mourning for a respectable period of time.
Hamlet scorns his mother, but accuses her of weakness rather than malice with the line:
“Frailty, thy name is woman!”
He concludes the soliloquy by voicing his frustration that he must keep his objections to himself.
Line-By-Line Analysis of Hamlet's First Soliloquy
Lines 333-334: Hamlet is saying that he wishes his body would dissolve into a puddle of its own accord. In other words, he is saying he doesn't want to exist any more.
Lines 335-336: He also wishes that it wasn't against the laws of God to commit suicide.
337-338: He is saying that all the joy has gone out of life and its pleasures.
339-341: Hamlet likens life to a garden that has been allowed to run wild and grow gross and disgusting things in it as a result of a lack of tending.
342: The person he is speaking of (his father, King Hamlet) has been dead for less than two months.
343-346: Hamlet says his father is a great king and compares him to Hyperion (one of the mythological Titans, a god of light and wisdom) and his uncle Claudius to a satyr (a mythical part-human-part-animal monster with a constant, exaggerated erection). He goes on to say this his father was so loving to his mother that he would stop the very winds from blowing too hard against her face.
347-349: Hamlet describes the way his mother used to dote on his father as if all of the time she spent with him constantly increased her desire for more. He ends line 349 with the acknowledgement that "yet, within a month..." we are left to assume he means that even within a month she was considering remarriage.
350: Hamlet refuses to finish the previous thought and states that women are the embodiment of weakness.
351-352: He describes how it has only been a month and his mother's brand new shoes that she wore to walk in his father's funeral procession are not even broken in yet.
353: He likens his mother's behavior at the funeral to Niobe, a figure from Greek mythology who wept for nine days and nights when all her children were slain by the gods. (And implies that even still, she didn't stay faithful to his father's memory for long.)
354-359: Hamlet claims that even a brainless beast would have mourned a loved one longer. He discusses how his mother not only didn't mourn for long, but she married her dead husband's own brother. He also states that Claudius and King Hamlet were as different from each other as Hamlet himself is from Hercules. The reader is meant to understand that serious, scholarly, melancholy Hamlet is very different from the mythological hero, Hercules, a man of action and strength (and not really one of intelligence).
360-361: He complains that she married with "wicked speed" and got into bed with her brother-in-law before the salt of her tears for King Hamlet had even dried.
362-363: Hamlet thinks things will turn out badly, but he knows he can't protest openly.