Christy, 23, is a freelance writer from Canada. She also works as editor-in-chief at Read Unwritten.
The Way Hamlet Changes Throughout the Play
The play Hamlet is one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known plays of all time. Written in the early 1600s, Hamlet includes a series of the protagonist’s soliloquies that to this day have been referenced in many other works. In this play, the protagonist, Hamlet, goes through a major change from the beginning of the play to the end. Hamlet’s transformation from a helpless man in despair into a determined, confident man is revealed in the soliloquies, which are reflections of his experiences of self-realization. There is a drastic change in Hamlet's character from the first soliloquy to the seventh soliloquy. His growth is seen best through the soliloquies, as that is the only time that Hamlet can truly open up and let out his inner thoughts and feelings.
The Soliloquies and Facts
The first soliloquy is where Hamlet’s true self is first shown to the reader. This soliloquy is in Act 1 Scene 2. At this point in the play, Prince Hamlet is depressed and in what was called a deep melancholy state which the King and Queen believe has taken over Hamlet. There are many reasons behind Hamlet’s depression which include the death of his father, his mother remarrying his uncle so quickly, and as a result of the marriage, his uncle is appointed as his father’s replacement as king.
The death of the king is still fresh at this point, and Hamlet is upset about the court not grieving for a lengthier period because the king and queen do not believe the court cannot afford a large amount of time to mourn. Since the king, queen, and all of the court act this way about Hamlet’s father’s death, Hamlet refers to the world as an unweeded garden meaning the world is a place where only bad things grow, referring to the people in the court as bad people for not grieving the death of their king for long enough. The death of a father is never an easy task to overcome, and it does not help Hamlet’s case when he does not agree with their short period of mourning in comparison to how he feels, for it is not just a man, but the late king of Denmark. Hamlet is also told that he should not mourn any longer by Queen Gertrude, which only adds to his anger and sadness.
After the death of the king, Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, quickly jumps into another marriage with Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. This added to Hamlet's melancholy suffering, worsening his depression and sparking his anger further. In this soliloquy, Hamlet states, “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourn’d longer” (1.2.150-151). Hamlet claims that a beast would mourn a death like this for more time than his mother did, saying that what she did is worse than what even a beast would do. This shows that Hamlet’s depression is not just because of his father’s death but also because he feels betrayed by his mother’s disloyalty to his father. This affects Hamlet intensely, showing the reader how much Hamlet loves and cares for his father and how loyal he is to him.
This soliloquy is the start of Hamlet’s depression and anger towards his uncle and his mother’s disloyalty. Hamlet is severely upset about all the new changes in his life that he deliberates suicide; although he knows he cannot do that, the thought is still there. This soliloquy is only the start of the emotions that this character goes through throughout the play. The character Hamlet starts off feeling depressed, frustrated, defeated, and angry towards all of the new changes that happened within only a month of his life. What Hamlet refers to in this soliloquy shows that he feels this way because of his uncle being king and marrying his mother after his father so recently deceased.
After the first major soliloquy from Act 1, another one takes place in Act 3, Scene 1. Hamlet states a lot of what he is feeling in this soliloquy that is actually emotions that are far worse than the ones that took place in Act 1. Before this, Hamlet had created a plan and was starting to regain a sense of confidence back, only to have it crash, and his depression becomes far worse than it had already been. In this soliloquy, Hamlet is beginning to play mind games with himself, which causes him to be unsure of what action to take and penalize himself for slacking on revenging his father’s death.
The first part of this soliloquy includes the most famous lines of the play 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” (3.1.56-58). In this section, Hamlet is playing with the idea of suicide again because he does not want to continue the suffering. At this point, Hamlet is so depressed that he wants to commit suicide just to be free of the depression within him and the cruelties of what fate has brought him. Hamlet’s inner turmoil of whether he should suffer through what his life has become or fight against the misfortunes. Hamlet is unsure of what he wants because he wants to be free of the misery he feels all the time, but he is terrified of death. Hamlet does not know what waits for him in the afterlife and is afraid of what it might be, adding to the inner battle with himself. This shows that Hamlet’s depression is worse at this point in comparison to the first soliloquy because he is debating further about suicide and deeply thinking about it rather than suicide just being a simple thought he had. He also is having an inner battle in his mind about what he should do whereas in the first soliloquy he was not fighting with himself that way.
Another issue Hamlet is having in this soliloquy is he is holding off on killing Claudius. Hamlet has chastised himself in the past for failing to avenge his father's death. Hamlet now gives himself reason for holding off on murdering Claudius. Hamlet’s reasons for not killing the king is that he believes that if he murders Claudius, he will have himself condemned to a similar fate. By that, Hamlet will make his soul impure and lose his chances of going to heaven. Hamlet is now scared of murdering the king because he wants to stay pure. This causes Hamlet’s depression to deepen and causes a lot of conflict and self-hate for being afraid of revenge.
In this part of the play, Hamlet’s character has evolved from someone who is depressed into someone with a deeper depression who lacks confidence and is even scared. Before, Hamlet at least knew that he wanted to kill his uncle to avenge his father’s death, and now he is unsure if killing Claudius is even a good idea and is worried about the consequences of it. Overall, Hamlet’s character has become significantly worse compared throughout the course of the play.
The Turnaround in the Seventh Soliloquy
The seventh soliloquy in this play occurs in Act 4 Scene 4 and portrays an entirely new Hamlet compared to the previous one. This soliloquy occurs after Hamlet learns that Fortenbras is about to invade a part of Poland. Hamlet is beginning to turn himself around and get rid of the melancholy mood within him. He realizes at this point what he wants to do and evolves into a better person compared to the Hamlet that has been seen throughout almost the entire play.
Hamlet’s change shown in this soliloquy is how Hamlet finds the courage to finally do his dead father's deed. After hearing that Fortenbras is about to invade Poland, Hamlet scolds himself again for holding off on getting his revenge. Hamlet thinks to himself that if a thousand soldiers are willing to die for a piece of land, then surely he could die on behalf of his father. Hamlet believes that every man should live with a purpose that should be fulfilled, and he realizes that his purpose is to avenge his father’s murder by killing Claudius in return. At the very end of this soliloquy, Hamlet says, “O, from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” (4.4.65-66). This shows Hamlet’s determination to finally take his revenge and is no longer scared to do so. Hamlet knows now what actions he must take and has gained confidence that he lost when he first heard of his father’s death. He finds his motivation when he claims, “That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d. excitements of my reason and my blood, and let all sleep while to my shame I see the imminent death of twenty thousand men” (4.4.57-60). He decides now that he is done being depressed and playing games with himself. Hamlet has become an entirely new character now who is confident, ready for action, and no longer going to sit around in despair.
This part of Hamlet is also shown in Act 5 with the “The readiness is all” scene. Although this does not include a soliloquy, it further shows Hamlet’s character evolution from a depressed man into a confident one when Hamlet displays how prepared he is to take on Laertes in the sword fight. Hamlet claims that he has been practising and strongly believes that he may be able to beat him, which portrays how he has gained confidence back.
"Hamlet By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act V: Scene 2." Hamlet: Act V Scene 2 3 Summary & Analysis. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/h/hamlet/summary-and-analysis/act-v-scene-2-3>.
"Hamlet Play History: Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Chamberlain's Men." Hamlet Play History: Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Chamberlain's Men. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014. <http://www.shakespeare-online.com/playanalysis/hamletplayhistory.html>.
"Hamlet's Seventh Soliloquy - Original Text & Summary." HubPages. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. <http://hunbbel-meer.hubpages.com/hub/Hamlets-Seventh-Soliloquy-Original-Text-Summary>.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. N.p.: Oxford UP, 1992. Print.
Blair on March 29, 2019:
I am citing your writing and using it as an exemplar for my students' writing about Hamlet.
Reda on May 16, 2017:
Amazing interpretation. Thank u
Christy Maria (author) on April 21, 2015:
Thank you. This character can be portrayed various different ways, I guess it really all depends on the reader, the viewer, the actor, or the director. It is interesting to see how everyone sees the story of Hamlet evolve.
Besarien from South Florida on April 19, 2015:
I have read and seen this play produced more times than I can count. I never really thought about Hamlet in terms of depression before now. Interesting take on a beloved character!
Christy Maria (author) on January 22, 2015:
Thank you for the comment and kind words. Hamlet was one of my favourite Shakespeare works that I ever studied so I enjoyed writing this piece.
Kay Plumeau from New Jersey, USA on January 21, 2015:
Very interesting hub! I loved reading Shakespeare in college, and it's always nice to get a fresh perspective on his great works. Voted up and sharing, thank you!