Passages reflecting

Hamlet's Introspection


The American actor Edwin Booth as Hamlet, ca. 1870
"I have that within which passeth show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe" (1.2.85-86). In his first scene Hamlet speaks to his mother, and mocks her lack of grief for his father, her dead husband. At this point in the speech, Hamlet may merely mean that his grief for his father is genuine, but "passeth show" may also mean that he has some sort of feeling that can't be shown by "the trappings and suits of woe"--his black clothing and cloudy face. [Scene Summary]
Hamlet says that the King is "My father's brother, but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules" (1.2.152-153). This comment, which appears in Hamlet's first soliloquy, makes it appear that Hamlet does not consider himself particularly strong or heroic. [Scene Summary]
"The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!" (1.5.188-189). These famous lines occur at the end of the scene. Near the beginning of the same scene he asks the Ghost to tell him about his father's murder, saying "Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge (1.5.29-31). Somewhere between these two passages, Hamlet seems to have lost heart. [Scene Summary]
"O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" (2.2.254-256). This is Hamlet's response to the suggestion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is ambitious. [Scene Summary]
"I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth" (2.2.295-296), says Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. After discovering that they are spying on him, he says he'll tell them what's wrong with him, to save them the trouble of finding out for themselves. Because of this, it's hard to tell how to take the famous speech. When he says "man delights not me" (2.2.308-309) is he sincere, or is he playing the melancholy Dane for the benefit of his false friends? [Scene Summary]
"O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" (2.2.550), says Hamlet at the beginning of his second soliloquy. He blames himself for lack of passion and accuses himself of cowardice. [Scene Summary]
"To be, or not to be: that is the question" (3.1.56), says Hamlet at the beginning of his third soliloquy. He longs for death and blames himself for thinking rather than acting. [Scene Summary]
"I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me" (3.1.122-123). So Hamlet describes himself as he is urging Ophelia to get to a "nunnery." [Scene Summary]
Hamlet exclaims, "you would pluck out the heart of my mystery" (3.2.365), when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are pressing him to say what his problem is. [Scene Summary]
In his fourth, and last, soliloquy, Hamlet says:
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. (4.4.39-46)
This self-accusation is a more than a little fuzzy. Hamlet thinks of two possible explanations for his failure to act, but doesn't commit himself to either one. Furthermore, neither explanation seems particularly persuasive. "Oblivion" is total forgetfulness, but the soliloquy begins with Hamlet's exclamation, "How all occasions do inform against me, / And spur my dull revenge!" (4.4.32-33). If Hamlet feels that everything is reminding him to take revenge, how can he think that he has forgotten about taking revenge? As for the idea that he is a coward, he has thought of this before, in the second and third soliloquies, but here again there is fuzziness. He accuses himself of thinking too much about the "event," that is, the outcome of an action. We could guess that the worst possible outcome would be for Hamlet to die in the attempt to kill King Claudius, but that would only be our guess. There could be other possible outcomes, and Hamlet himself doesn't say what "event" he's thinking about. [Scene Summary]
"I prithee, take thy fingers from my throat; / For, though I am not splenitive and rash, / Yet have I something in me dangerous, / Which let thy wisdom fear" (5.1.260-263), says Hamlet to Laertes, as they grapple in Ophelia's grave. [Scene Summary]

Hamlet's assertion that he is not "rash" seems to contradict what he says at the beginning of the scene, when he tells Horatio about his adventures at sea. He says that his stealing of his own death warrant was an act of rashness, and "praised be rashness for it" (5.2.7). Also, when Hamlet killed Polonius, the Queen exclaimed, "O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!" (3.4.27), and she had a point, because the killing of Polonius wasn't the result of any careful planning.
"I am very sorry, good Horatio, / That to Laertes I forgot myself" (5.2.75-76), says Hamlet after he has grappled with Laertes in Ophelia's grave. He explains to Horatio that "the bravery of his grief did put me / Into a towering passion" (5.2.79-80), but he doesn't explain why he should care if Laertes over-plays his grief. [Scene Summary]
Just before the fencing match with Laertes, Hamlet says to Horatio, "thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart" (5.2.212-213). Horatio is very concerned for his friend, but Hamlet stops himself from saying much more about what's going on in his heart. [Scene Summary]