Original Text & Summary of Hamlet's Seventh Soliloquy
Hamlet's seventh and last soliloquy falls in Act 4, Scene 4.
The scene develops when Prince Hamlet, on his way to England, sees Fortinbras, who is leading his army through Denmark to capture some part of Poland, a small territory which, according to the captain, “hath in it no profit, but the name.”
This little revelation induces Hamlet to ponder upon his inability to execute his father's revenge, even with sufficient motive and cause. Then Hamlet delivers the following soliloquy, which is also his last.
Original Text: (Act 4, Scene 4)
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 godlike 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, quartered, 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 it. 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 puffed,
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 killed, a mother stained,
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!
A Modern Translation of Hamlet's Last Soliloquy
All the signs I see point to my own weakness and prod me to hurry up and do something about it.
What is a man if all he can do is eat and sleep? Nothing more than an animal.
God didn’t give us godlike reason for it to just rot inside us.
Now, whether it’s beast-like mindlessness or the weakness that comes from overthinking everything (thinking thoughts that are 75% gutless), I don’t know why I’m still alive to say “I have to do this” instead of doing it already. I have the reason, the willpower, the strength, and the ability to do it.
Obvious clues nag at me. Look at this huge army led by a delicate and tender prince who’s so puffed up with godlike ambition that he puts his life on the line for a reason that's as thin as an eggshell.
To be truly great doesn’t mean you’ll only fight for a good reason: It means you’ll fight over nothing if your honor is at stake.
So where does that leave me, one whose father has been murdered and mother dirtied, things that make my brain and my blood boil, but still I do nothing?
I should be ashamed of myself looking at these men who march towards death for dreams of fame, who make dying look as careless as going to sleep. They fight for a tiny bit of land that's not even big enough to bury them all.
Oh, from now on, if my thoughts aren’t violent, they're not worth thinking.
Summary and Explanation
The information given to Hamlet by the captain stimulates his thoughts of revenge and makes him scold himself for his inaction. He realizes that thousands of soldiers are ready to die for a piece of worthless land, but he, Hamlet, who is equipped with an excellent motive to take revenge for his father’s death, is still unable to do anything about it.
This soliloquy sheds light on the fact that he has a natural deficiency that always thwarts his purpose. His tendency to generalize and universalize, to think instead of act, one that can be seen in his other soliloquies, is, once more, evident here also.
He tells himself that every person has a purpose and they should fulfill it. A man is no better than a beast if he is satisfied only with sleeping and feeding himself. God gave reason to human beings so that they may make use of it. He says that a man is justified in taking action if his sense of honor demands that he should, that he could “find quarrel in a star” i.e. accept the challenge, even if the provocation is far and distant.
Hamlet remembers his powerful motive with “a father killed, a mother stained.” These are the images that torture him.
This is a turning point for Hamlet where he stops mulling over the past, licking his wounds, and fantasizing about revenge and instead, starts acting on his thoughts.