In Shakespeare's Hamlet, explain how the three functions of a soliloquy are evident in this text (furthering the plot, revealing character, adding...


In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the soliloquy in Act Three, scene three, (lines 76-98) performs all the functions it should.

It should be noted that Hamlet comes into this scene with the intent to kill Claudius. However, up until scene two, Hamlet was not sure if the Ghost he had seen in Act One was an "honest" ghost.

Elizabethans firmly believed in the supernatural. They were certain the Ghost could have been sent by the devil, looking like Hamlet's dead father, in order to get Hamlet to commit regicide and forfeit his immortal soul. This, then, explains Hamlet's reluctance (until now) to kill the King. For the Elizabethans also believed in the Great Chain of Being: determined by God, this chain accounted for where each thing/person in the world rested in terms of its/his importance in the universe. God was at the top of the chain, followed by angels, and then by kings (with criminals at the bottom)—it was believed that God ordained who would be king: not man, and certainly not Hamlet...unless the murder was justified. This was a concept that Elizabethans struggled with: when was it—or was it ever—justifiable to kill a king?

Hamlet now has his proof, however, still he hesitates to act. The Ghost shared with Hamlet his deepest regret about his death: that he died with sins on his soul and now must "work them off."


I am thy father's spirit,

Doom'd for a certain term to walk...

...Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away. (I.v.13-14, 16-17)

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin...

...sent to my account

With all my imperfections on my head. (81, 83-84)

The plot is furthered here: Hamlet wants to kill Claudius, but knowing how his father died (in sin, without confession or the Last Rites), he cannot reconcile killing Claudius at prayer. This speaks to Hamlet's goal in the play: to avenge his father's murder. If he kills Claudius now (after prayer), the murderer will go straight to heaven, so Hamlet plans to catch him in the midst of sin so he goes straight to hell. 

When he is drunk asleep; or in his rage;

Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;

At game, a-swearing, or about some act

That has no relish of salvation in't

Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,

And that his soul may be as damn'd and black

As hell, whereto it goes. (91-97)

The soliloquy also gives us further insight into Hamlet's character. He is a devoted son who wishes to do as his father's ghost has asked, avenging his murder. He is a man of faith who believes he can lose his soul if he is tricked by the devil to do so. Finally, he is a man of justice. He cannot allow himself to kill Claudius and reward him with heaven, when his own father—a honorable man and good King—was sent to his death with sins on his soul.

In terms of adding suspense, the audience must now wonder when—or if—Hamlet will kill Claudius: not only exacting his revenge, but punishing this murderer. However, the audience should also note that Hamlet has "tipped his hand" in having the Players reenact Old Hamlet's murder. For now Claudius can be sure that Hamlet—who arranged for the play, and who may be insane (or not)—definitely has knowledge of what Claudius has done. This makes Hamlet a threat to Claudius' crown; Hamlet has become a loose end that the present King will need to take care of if he wants to remain King of Denmark. In other words, Hamlet will have to die in order for Claudius to safely remain King.

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