The term ‘soliloquy,’ when defined in literary terms, is described as ‘a dramatic convention which allows a character in a play to speak directly to the audience about his motives, feelings and decisions as if he were thinking aloud. Part of the convention is that a soliloquy provides accurate access to the character’s innermost thoughts: we learn more about the character than could ever be gathered from the actions of the play. ‘ Therefore, by definition, we have a considerably weaker understanding of a text without soliloquies.
Soliloquies played a major part in many Elizabethan plays as they served as a useful narration device for the audience and gave them a clear insight into the character’s feelings, motivation and reasons behind their actions at a specific point in a play. They also give the audience an idea of what the character may be doing later in the play as their future actions are also outlined in their soliloquies. It can also be noted that soliloquies take the format of the character’s line of thought, which furthers our understanding of the character’s mindset.
Shakespeare was acutely aware of the theatre’s dependence on the audience and his success, specifically with regard to Hamlet, was and is due to the fact that he never forgets the audience and seeks to involve them at every opportunity. The joy of an exciting plot is only achieved through the sophisticated means through which Shakespeare reveals the story line. Shakespeare’s master technique, particularly in Hamlet, is his use of soliloquies to achieve this effect.
Following this argument, soliloquies are essential to our understanding as they reveal vital aspects of the plot and the essence of the play itself. After reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is clear that the soliloquies are particularly important because in the atmosphere of spying and intrigue where Hamlet constantly has to watch what he says, and in his assumed madness, it is only when he is alone that we can hope to learn his true feelings, and therefore gain true understanding. In addition, we must note that the soliloquies are Hamlet’s true perception of what is taking place: his interpretation of events.
In this way, the audience is somehow forced to empathise with Hamlet and see at least some of the things that are happening from his point of view. In short, the soliloquies are an indispensable unadulterated communication between Hamlet and the audience as they reveal his true state of mind. Most importantly, however, Hamlet’s soliloquies hold such a great importance as they are the only release for his pent up emotions; he cannot confide in anyone completely. Hamlet is portrayed as the silent suffering hero.
Thus, his soliloquies provide a central interest in the play: Hamlet as a malcontent, allowing the audience to share his disgust and pessimism in order to experience tragedy. But in general, the soliloquies see Hamlet at his most honest. The density of Hamlet’s thought is extraordinary. Not a word is wasted; every syllable and each sound expresses the depth of reflection and the intensity of his emotion. The soliloquies are, in effect, the hidden plot of the play because, if one puts them side-by-side, one notices that the character of Hamlet goes through a development, again enriching our understanding.
By comprehending the developments in Hamlet’s character, we can understand the developments in the plot. After reading Hamlet, it is clear that in this ‘Shakespearian tragedy,’ the soliloquies are particularly important because in the atmosphere of spying and intrigue where Hamlet constantly has to watch what he says, and in his assumed madness, it is only when he is alone that we can hope to learn his true feelings. In total there are seven of Hamlet’s soliloquies, each providing the reader with the essential greater insight into Hamlet’s true character.
They are all centred on the most existential themes: the emptiness of suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of humans, and the difficulty of acting under thought which ‘makes cowards of us all. ‘ A good example of soliloquy being used to give vital aspects of the plot while furthering our understanding is Hamlet’s first soliloquy.
This soliloquy is particularly important as the audience bases their first impressions on this introduction. In this first soliloquy, he rails against the world in a reflection of his mourning the loss of his father. Before the soliloquy we learn of the death, but not of the murder, of old Hamlet and the subsequent remarriage of Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, who declares her strong love for Hamlet. We also begin to see his obsessions with the sexual aspects of the relationship between his mother and his uncle.
In each soliloquy we learn a little more about the character of Hamlet, and the plot progresses, no matter how slightly. Without the aid of Hamlet’s soliloquies, the audience would be left without knowledge of any of the fundamental factors that are essential in our understanding. The first soliloquy shows us some of Hamlet’s impetuous, bitter side though lines such as ‘Oh God, Oh God’, and ‘Frailty thy name is woman. ‘ All of his bile is focused on the outside world. He spends most of the soliloquy paying homage to his dead father.
Without understanding how much Hamlet loved and respected his father, we cannot fully understand his actions later on in the play. Hamlet believes that he is no worthy successor to his father. This is the first of many of Hamlet’s self depreciating thoughts during his soliloquies; we also see continuous referenced to suicide (‘Oh that this too solid flesh would melt/ Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew/ Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/ His cannon ‘gainst self-slaughter. ) This is one of the many patterns that emerge from his soliloquies throughout the play. Again, without this, we are left ignorant to many aspects. The first soliloquy gives the audience a picture of Hamlet’s thoughts at this point in the play; although his depression and mourning are made clear earlier by his black attire etc, the audience is not made aware of the reasons behind his mourning, such as his hatred of his uncle and belief that his mother had betrayed his father.
Significantly, Hamlet also gives us a brief background of events leading up to the beginning of the play. Hamlet also lets the audience know his dilemmas and the fact he must ‘hold his tongue’ and speak his grief. Again, without this soliloquy, we could be led to think that Hamlet is a nondescript character without particularly strong feelings. With the aid of this soliloquy we know his feelings on all the issues facing him, we know the cause of his silence, adding to our impression of him as a character.
In conclusion, I agree with the statement entirely; Hamlet’s soliloquies are of fundamental importance in establishing, developing, and consolidating our understanding. The soliloquies are our only way of really understanding Hamlet’s true state of mind, and therefore our only way of truly understanding the play. Without them, Hamlet lacks the rudiments which have ensured that its brilliance goes down in history as one of Shakespeare’s finest pieces.