Analysis and Commentary on Hamlet's Last Soliloquy: "How all occasions do inform against me"
Hamlet the Thinker
Hamlet's Thoughts and Feelings: 'How all occasions do inform against me'
In Shakespeare's play, 'Hamlet', Act 4, Scene 4, the audience is, once again, able to access Hamlet's thoughts, emotions and feelings via a soliloquy.
'How all occasions do inform against me', he thinks, in response to noting the contrast between himself and Prince Fortinbras.
It is clear, here, that Hamlet feels lost; defeated; a failure ~ and he cannot understand why.
He feels that he has tried, so hard, to do the right thing; yet nothing has gone right for him ~ and all occasions have informed against him.
He is disgusted with himself; contemptous of his own weak inadequacy and his fearful failings.
Through this soliloquy, the audience continues to learn more about Hamlet; to appreciate his confused emotional state; to understand his depressed guilty turmoil.
Battle Death Honour Revenge
'How all occasions do inform against me' analysis
After seeing the soldiers of Fortinbras's army marching to fight ~ and possibly die ~ in a meaningless battle, Hamlet looks inward and wonders why he cannot do battle over a much worthier cause.
These men are likely to perish over a small piece of worthless land, simply for the glorification of Fortinbras's reputation as a warrior, yet he, Hamlet, knows that his uncle has killed his father and he is doing nothing about it.
This was fratricide, regicide and treason. Furthermore, his uncle Claudius has now taken over the throne of Denmark ~ which might have been Hamlet's own ~ and he has married the queen, staining her with the sin of incest ~ and incest with a murderer at that.
This queen is Hamlet's mother, who should have been sharing Hamlet's grief, but who has betrayed her role as wife and mother, in order to marry the man, whom Hamlet hates.
Hamlet feels that he has every reason to take revenge ~ yet he does not.
Hamlet learns about Fortinbras's expedition
'Hamlet' - by William Shakespeare.
Act 4. SCENE IV.
Setting: A plain in Denmark.
Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee.
Why, then the Polack never will defend it.
Yes, it is already garrison'd.
Hamlet is not Fortinbras
But Hamlet is not Fortinbras. Certainly they have much in common. Their fathers have been killed. They each might have 'inherited' their country's thrones, but did not, since each currently has an uncle on their nation’s throne. Both feel somewhat impotent, being princes without power. Unlike Hamlet, though, Fortinbras is not an intellectual; he is a soldier ~ as 'Old Hamlet' had been. Leading armies and fighting battles is his raison-d’être. Hamlet is different. He is a thinker; a philosopher. He wants to be sure that the ghost who claims to be Old Hamlet really is his father, and not a lying demon from hell, before acting upon his orders. He wants to prove that Claudius really is a murderer, before deciding to kill him. He cannot kill him for incest alone, as wrong as he thinks it is, because that would be a crime unacceptable to the country. Furthermore, on that basis, it would also mean killing his mother, which is out of the question. In addition, the ghost has given an indication of the horrors of purgatory, and that is where Hamlet believes that he, too, will go, if he kills Claudius. This is enough to give him cause for concern.
The player's apparent distress over Hecuba in Act 2
But if the gods themselves did see her then
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport
In mincing with his sword her [Hecuba's] husband's limbs,
The instant burst of clamour that she made,
Unless things mortal move them not at all,
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven,
And passion in the gods.'
Look, whether he has not turned his colour and has
tears in's eyes. Pray you, no more.
Chance Meetings and Reflection
This is not the only chance meeting that has made Hamlet reflect ~ and soliloquise ~ in such a manner. The speech by the travelling player also made him ask questions of himself.
How could the actor weep and despair over Hecuba ~ a mythical woman in a story ~ when Hamlet could not respond in such a manner to his own father's death ~ or do anything to avenge it?
Yet he had shown emotion over Old Hamlet's death ~ to the extent that his mother asked him why grief 'seems so particular with thee?'
And he did do something related to avenging the old man's murder; he set a trap, to discover whether Claudius really did commit the deed.
As Hamlet said: 'The play's the thing' ~ and he uses that play to confirm his uncle's guilt.
Spurred on to Revenge
Hamlet feels, now, that everything is spurring him on to avenge the old king’s death ~ as the ghost has instructed him to do ~ yet he believes that his revenge is ‘dull’. He has complained and considered, but he has not acted. He is doing nothing of any moment. He is just eating and sleeping ~ like any animal. Yet he acknowledges that god has given him a large god-like brain, with which to reason. He realises that intelligent thoughts should not be allowed to rot, but should be used to learn ~ to learn from the past and to apply the acquired knowledge to the future. But, having given a great deal of thought to his uncle’s situation, Hamlet is still unsure of what is holding him back from killing Claudius ~ whether it is animal-like forgetfulness or cowardly scruples, caused by too much pondering. Whatever is causing the delay, Hamlet still believes that he has the ‘cause, and will, and strength, and means to do it’.
Cause and Conscience
He has ‘cause’, but he also has conscience ~and as he commented in an earlier soliloquy, ‘’Conscience does make cowards of us all’ ~ or, at least, it may appear that way. Hamlet is not a soldier ~ not a professional killer, like Fortinbras, nor is he a cold-blooded murderer, like his uncle. He is a thoughtful, intelligent young man, for whom killing in cold blood does not come easily. He is actually following the advice that Polonius gave to Laertes: ‘To thine own self be true’. Also, even if Hamlet had been a cold-blooded killer, it would not have been easy to kill a king. Claudius would have had his wife and attendants with him much of the time. Although there was an occasion when Hamlet appeared to have a suitable opportunity, this was, in fact, not the case, because it was while Claudius was, seemingly, at prayer. Killing him then, for someone who believed as Hamlet did, would have meant sending Claudius directly to heaven, while his murdered brother ~ and ultimately Hamlet, himself ~ would have differed purgatory and probably the torment of hell. However, when Hamlet kills Polonius, he believes that he is actually killing his uncle, so the ability and will are there, when the right opportunity appears to present itself.
Unfair Comparison with Fortinbras
Indeed, Fortinbras is not acting on a matter of honour, only on gaining the name of a winner of battles. For Hamlet to compare himself to Fortinbras is unfair. Hamlet cannot ~ or should not ~ be compared to Fortinbras. In spite of some similarities between their lives, they are very different people. Old Hamlet killed Old Fortinbras in battle. They were soldiers, as is Young Fortinbras. The latter may wish to regain his father’s land, but his father’s death was a warrior’s death. He was not murdered, as Hamlet’s father was. Claudius is not a soldier. He killed his brother in cold blood, in order to steal his crown and his wife. For Hamlet, that truly is a matter of honour. The response of a philosopher to his father’s murder cannot be compared to the response of a soldier to his father’s death in battle. Both may grieve. Both may even hope to avenge the deaths, but the events are not fully comparable.
Hamlet's Last Long Soliloquy
'Hamlet' - by William Shakespeare.
Act 4. SCENE IV.
Setting: A plain in Denmark.
'How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
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. 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. How stand I then,
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,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!'
Comparison with Fortinbras
Hamlet returns to the example of Fortinbras, who, though just another young prince, is proudly and ambitiously, leading an entire army, without care as to the outcome. There will be danger and death and all for a worthless piece of land, yet he leads with spirit, because great men will fight over trivia when honour is at stake. Compared to Fortinbras, Hamlet’s honour has been severely besmirched, causing him huge emotional distress: his father has been murdered and his mother defiled ~ by the usurper king who is his uncle. Yet he does nothing. Hamlet asks himself: ‘How stand I then?’ ~He wonders how he can do nothing when he has good reason to kill, while hundreds of men march to certain death ‘for a fantasy and a trick of fame’.
Hamlet - a complex individual
Hamlet is a complex individual in a very complex situation but he realises, finally, that the time for thinking is over and that it is now time for him to act; ‘from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth’ he states. He gives the impression that, having mulled over recent events at great length, he has finally made the decision that he feels will be right. Since he is a philosophical young man the time taken may not have been anything to reproach himself over, but, rather, the process through which he had to travel, in order to draw his momentous conclusion.
‘How all occasions do inform against me’
What are these ‘occasions’ which Hamlet believes reflect badly upon him?
His father has been murdered by his uncle, Claudius.
His mother has been dishonoured, also by Claudius. She has married him, and sleeps with him, though he is her husband’s killer and her brother-in-law, making the union incestuous.
His father’s murderer is now king ~ not only having killed and usurped Old Hamlet, but usurping Young Hamlet, as well.
Hamlet feels unable to escape the Danish court ~ Elsinore ~ so he feels like a prisoner.
Some of his best friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are betraying him and helping the murderous king.
His mother appears to be betraying him, by forgetting his grief and celebrating a new marriage.
Ophelia, the girl he seems to love, first ignores and then betrays him, by involving herself in a plot where her father and the king spy on him.
His father’s ghost is insisting that he commit murder ~ thus, as he sees it, condemning him to purgatory.
He accidentally kills Ophelia’s father.
He seems to have little support at court ~ his only real friend being Horatio.
For some reason, he has been unable to do anything about all of his problems, except reflect upon them and feign madness, so he considers that he must be a coward.
The meeting with the actors, where the senior player gave a speech about Pyrrhus ~ who did nothing ~ reminded him of his inaction.
The meeting with Fortinbras’s captain reminds him that men are fighting and dying, with far less cause than he has.
Note on Elsinore
'Elsinore' was Shakespeare's Anglicised version of Danish 'Helsingør'.
Helsingør is a city on Denmark's island of Zealand.
The castle of Elsinore is based upon Kronborg Castle, with its history dating back to the fifteenth century
"... When honour's at the stake. How stand I then, That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd ...?"