In Shakespeare’s masterful play Hamlet, Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, experiences inner turmoil after his father’s premature death and his mother’s subsequent remarriage to his uncle Claudius. In this passage, Hamlet’s first soliloquy and the reader’s first real glimpse at Hamlet, Hamlet expresses his frustration with the situation that he has been thrust into; as he expresses his emotionally-charged diatribe, the reader gleans important insights into Hamlet’s psyche. Shakespeare uses Hamlet’s first soliloquy in order to develop Hamlet’s character as both highly emotional while intelligently analytical, tracing his thought processes to ultimately establish the theme of the turbulent conflict between a man’s reason and emotions.
In the beginning of the passage, Hamlet lets his emotions loose and vividly depicts his poetic wish of suicide, typifying the role of emotion in one’s thoughts. Hamlet initially uses imagery to express his depressed state of mind: “O that this too, too solid flesh would melt/ Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!” Hamlet feels so low that he wishes that he would “melt” out of despondency. The image he provokes of flesh liquefying progressively becomes more gentle; at first, he uses the harsh word “melt”, followed by the more gentle “thaw”, and finally the encouraging “resolve itself into a dew”. Shakespeare establishes the pattern of a harsh initial outburst, followed by an unsuccessful mellowing of emotion, and a repeated harsh exclamation. This pattern characterizes the passage: Hamlet makes outlandish declarations out of emotional frustration, yet he is unable to contain his feeling. He thus uses imagery to make his point more vivid and emotional to the reader, and then softens his imagery to uphold the pattern. Hamlet speaks about the world, likening it via extended metaphor to an unweeded garden. Hamlet states, “[Life] ’tis an unweeded garden,/ That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature/ Possess it merely.” To express his discontent with life, Hamlet compares life to an unkempt garden, with all manner of uncouth ingredients. Just prior to this exclamation, Hamlet expressed his frustration with God’s law; he thus alludes to the Garden of Eden, complaining that God’s creation is imperfect. Just as a serpent corrupted the Garden of Eden, so too, impure things taint the world. As Hamlet will soon find out, Claudius murdered Hamlet senior and blamed it on a “serpent”; already, Hamlet labels Claudius with uncomplimentary appellations such as “satyr”. Thus, Hamlet complains emotionally about how impure matters corrupt his life. At this stage in the passage, Hamlet is merely expressing his discontent about the world; he poetically uses extended metaphor, in order to show how he already (and somewhat rationally, as he will go on to prove) suspects certain creatures of being responsible for his world turning upside down. However, he isn’t yet able to back up his emotionally-based suspicions with reason; the next part of his thoughts proceeds to do so. Thus, Hamlet’s emotionally-charged initial diatribe shows how his suspicions and frustrations have a firm emotional bases, so much so that he is unable to restrain his feelings from bursting within him; his emotion-marked by exclamation points-will continue to permeate his more reasoned arguments.
Hamlet uses analogy and reasoned argument, albeit with occasional hyperbole, in order to rationalize his emotions and justify his behavior and feelings. Hamlet ceases to express his frustration, and instead describes why he is so upset. Not only has he lost his father, but that father was replaced by someone far inferior, as expressed by Hamlet’s use of analogy: “So excellent a king; that was, to this [Claudius],/ a hyperion to a satyr.” And again: “My father’s brother, but no more like my father than I to Hercules.” Hamlet uses analogy to vividly paint the vast differences between Hamlet Sr. and Claudius; nevertheless, the actual components of the analogy still reveal that Hamlet can’t separate his emotions from reason. By comparing his father to a hyperion, Hamlet asserts that his father is godlike. In his emotional outburst prior to his reasoned expression, Hamlet laments to “God”, with a capital “G”; now he compares his father to one of the minor gods. Hamlet isn’t merely indulging in hyperbole as he does elsewhere in his soliloquy when comparing his father to a minor god; Hamlet also hints at several similarities between God and Hamlet Sr. For one, both are “Everlasting”; God is eternal, while Hamlet survives as a ghost. Additionally, God looks after His people, and is benevolent; so too, Hamlet Sr. was a very benevolent king. Finally, people only appreciate God in His absence; that is, when things go well, people tend to attribute success to their own hands-it is only when they start failing that they pray to God. People don’t appreciate the sun until it is night, when it is dark and cold. So too, Hamlet suggests, people will only begin appreciating his father after Claudius’ death. Thus, one can’t attribute Hamlet’s analogies to mere eloquence of language and outbursts laced with hyperbole; rather, his analogies suggest the presence of reason in his choices of comparison. Of course, his viewpoint of his father is biased, but his approach includes reason. Hamlet’s second analogy-comparing his father to Hercules, and Claudius to Hamlet Jr-again shows how Hamlet viewed his father as the son of God, while Hamlet himself, like Claudius, is far from him. Again, Hamlet’s use of Hercules is calculated: just as Hercules was killed by someone close to himself, so too does he suspect that Hamlet Sr. was betrayed. His comparison of himself to Claudius shows that despite their many differences-for example, Claudius likes to party while Hamlet wants to study diligently in Wittenberg-they both can’t even come close to the level of Hamlet Sr. By using analogy, Hamlet conveys the deep-rooted differences between Claudius and his father, showing that Hamlet isn’t just upset about his personal loss, but also by Denmark’s loss of a fine ruler and gain of a lousy replacement. The diction used in the soliloquy also shows how Hamlet attempts to keep his cool and continue to use reason. Exclamation points mark the points at which emotion gets the better of him; before the exclamation points, however, Hamlet experiences a brief inner struggle marked by hyphens. “And yet, within a month, -/ Let me not think on’t, – Frailty, thy name is woman! -/ A little month…” “Like Niobe, all tears; – why she, even she; -/ O God!” The punctuation that Shakespeare uses indicates the brief lapses into emotion that Hamlet experiences while trying to reason. By using the particular punctuation, Shakespeare emphasizes the emotions Hamlet experiences as he explores different trains of thought; Shakespeare thus emphasizes Hamlet’s struggle of reason against emotion. In the first part of the soliloquy, emotions-evidenced by exclamation points-reigned supreme; the next segment consists of reason, briefly interspersed with emotion. Finally, Hamlet uses hyperbole to underscore the contentions he tries to prove. “[My father was] so loving to my mother,/ that he might not beteem the winds of heaven/ Visit her face too roughly.” Continuing in the same vein as his analogies, which compared Claudius to a satyr-which may also be defined as a lust-driven man-Hamlet now shows how his father, by contrast, was extremely loving, so much so that he would go to excess in his care for her. By using hyperbole, Hamlet convincingly asserts that his father cared for his mother a lot. If Hamlet had just said, “my father really cared for my mother”, the audience would be dubious as to whether that was the case or not. By engaging in hyperbole, however, Hamlet convinces the audience that though Hamlet Sr. might not have protected his mother from the wind, it is reasonable to say that he cared about her and did his best to protect her. Hamlet thus uses reason in his argument to show how great his father was in comparison to Claudius, explaining his mourning. As his mother pointed out to him before the soliloquy, Hamlet was grieving more than normal. Hamlet now uses reason to rationalize why he mourns so greatly: not only has he suffered personal loss, as shown by his father’s warmth to his family, but Denmark as a whole has just lost a great king. His emotion pierces the surface as he explains why he is upset.
Thus, Hamlet’s inner struggles epitomize the inner struggles of man. Perceived catastrophe strikes; man reacts emotionally, and then, feeling guilty about his subsequent emotions, decides to look at the issue reasonably, although from a slightly skewed viewpoint. In the end, he resigns himself toward the situation, combining rationality and reason. Within the context of the play, Hamlet’s inner struggle mirrors this pattern; he attempts conquers his emotions before resolving on his final attitude of resigned bitterness. Shakespeare thus reveals the thought processes we all employ in response to emotionally unsettling events.