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Hamlet

Written: c. 1600; Texts: Quartos 1603 (Q1 bad quarto), 1604 or 1605 (Q2 variously dated), First Folio 1623 (Tragedy)
Source: Thomas Kyd (1558-94). Ur-Hamlet (c. 1589); Francois de Belleforest (1530-83). Histories Tragiques Book 5 (1570)
Characters: Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, Horatio, Laertes, Gertrude, Ophelia, Ghost of Hamlet's Father; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Setting: Elsinor Castle, Denmark
Time: c. 9th Century

The soliloquy reaches a new level of importance within this play. In no other play by Shakespeare does the dramatic conflict become more central within a single character than it does in Hamlet himself. And so this part becomes an actor's great challenge – acting against himself, alone on stage. The part is made more difficult since literary critics don't agree on exactly what Hamlet's problem is. Is he struggling to bring himself to avenge his father's death out of fear or from genuine uncertainty about the veracity of what may or may not be his father's ghost? Is spectral evidence enough to commit murder or does he need corroboration? Is he procrastinating or searching for genuine proof of his uncle's purported crime?

Video: To Be Or Not To Be

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David Tennant as Hamlet in a film of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s award-winning production of Shakespeare’s greatest play.


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Hamlet’s First Soliloguy

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This is Hamlet’s first extended soliloquy.
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Birds — Martial and Marital

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In Hamlet (1.1.432), a cock trumpets in the morn, a bird more fitting to the combative nature of Hamlet than the lark that heralds the morn after the first night of marital bliss in Romeo and Juliet (3.5.6).
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Hamlet’s Last Soliloquy

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Hamlet’s final soliloquy appears in earlier quarto versions of the play but is omitted from the First Folio. Scholars continue to debate reasons for this.
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Hamlet’s First Words

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Hamlet’s first words in the play, about being more kin than kind, are an aside, not to another character but to himself. This Hamlet’s first and shortest soliloquy. Fittingly, they introduce Hamlet’s propensity for seeing a situation in two different and opposing lights, and his inclination to muse on his condition to himself rather than to discourse with another character.
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Seasons, Elements and Humors

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The four seasons, the four elements and the four humors were all related. The four seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter paralleled the four humors blood/sanguine, yellow bile/choleric, phlegm/phlegmatic and black bile/melancholic, which in turn paralleled the four elements air, fire, water and earth. Good health and good disposition of character or personality were believed to be a matter of keeping one’s humors in proper balance.
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Tush, tush, ’twill not appear

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Horatio 
Tush, tush, ’twill not appear.Alliteration & Epizeuxis
Barnardo
Sit down awhile,
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story,Synecdoche & Assonance

What we have two nights seen.Anastrophe

Before my God,
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 35

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In the most high and palmy state of Rome

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In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.
As stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands,
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
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Act 1
Scene 1
Line 124

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But soft, behold! Lo where it comes again!

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But soft, behold! Lo, where it comes again!
I’ll cross it though it blast me. Stay, illusion!
It spreads his arms.

If thou art privy to thy country’s fate,
Which happily foreknowing may avoid,
O, speak!

If thou hast any sound or use of voice,
Speak to me.
If there be any good thing to be done
That may to thee Hendiadysdo ease and grace to me,

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Line 138

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It was about to speak when the cock crew

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Barnardo
It was about to speak when the cock crew.
Horatio
And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons.Simile
I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the mornMetaphor,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day,
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Seasons, Elements and Humors, Birds — Martial and Marital

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death

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Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death
MetaphorThe memory be green, and that it us befitted
To bear our hearts in grief, and Personificationour whole kingdom
To be contracted in one brow of woe,
PersonificationYet so far hath discretion fought with nature
That we with wisest sorrow think on him
Together with remembrance of ourselves.

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And now, Laertes, what’s the news with you?

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King Claudius
And now, Laertes, what’s the news with you?
You told us of some suit. What is ’t, Laertes?
You cannot speak of reason to the Dane
And lose your voice. What wouldst thou beg, Laertes,
That shall not be my offer, not thy asking?
The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
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Act 1
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Hamlet’s First Words

Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off

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Queen Gertrude
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,Anthimeria
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.Synecdoche
Do not forever with thy vailèd lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust.
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
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O that this too too solid flesh would melt

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O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!Epizeuxis & Metaphor

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!Metonymy
O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!Apostrophe & Epizeuxis

O God,
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Thrift, thrift, Horatio

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Hamlet 
Thrift, thrift, Horatio.Epizeuxis The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.Alliteration
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
My father—methinks I see my father.

He was a man. Take him for all in all,
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Act 1
Scene 2
Line 187

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For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,

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Laertes
For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favor,
Hold it a fashion and a toy in blood,Hendiadys & Synecdoche
A violet in the youth of primy nature,Metaphor
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
Hendiadys & MetaphorThe perfume and suppliance of a minute,

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