Hamlet

10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies

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07.12.2021

We asked an expert panel to handpick some of their favourite soliloquies. Today, we round off our series by revealing their final choice.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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10. Hamlet (Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2)

Few people are more immersed in Hamlet’s soliloquies than actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson, who plays the Danish Prince in Bell Shakespeare’s acclaimed production. Among her many lines in the play, Gordon-Anderson says Hamlet’s first soliloquy stands out.

“Soliloquies are perhaps more associated with poetry or imagery but what I like about this one is that it captures how the human mind works, the jumbled way that thoughts run around our heads,” says Gordon-Anderson.

“Apart from a few quips and jibes beforehand, this soliloquy is the first thing we hear from Hamlet. After seeing him in a public setting, the soliloquy occurs in the small window when he is alone. The first thing that comes out of his mouth is that pregnant vowel: Oh. It’s an exhale. That sense of relief and woe. It’s gorgeous. The only way you could open this is with that one vowel.

“This soliloquy opens a little door in Hamlet’s heart and shows us the pit of the sorrow he’s feeling. There’s some exposé involved, which is a function of this soliloquy. But the genius is to put that in the mouth of someone who hasn’t yet come to terms with what’s happening and doesn’t yet know everything.”

Bell Shakespeare’s Head of Education, Joanne Erskine, also adores this soliloquy: “It sets the tone for the play we’re about to see. Claudius and Gertrude have just told Hamlet to ‘man up’ and move on. But then Hamlet turns to us and shares the depth of his grief and his raw anger. He also tells us he will put on a guise and that he’ll hold his tongue for now. As the audience, we are now complicit in his plans, so we connect with him right from the start.”

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Here’s Hamlet soliloquy in full:

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t, ah fie! ’Tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed: things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this:
But two months dead – nay, not so much, not two –
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on. And yet within a month –
Let me not think on’t: frailty, thy name is woman –
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body
Like Niobe, all tears. Why she, even she –
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer – married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules. Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets.
It is not, nor it cannot come to good,
But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

To read about the other nine soliloquies in our series, see the Bell Shakespeare blog.

Harriet Gordon-Anderson plays the title role in Bell Shakespeare’s 2022 production of Hamlet in Sydney (4 March – 2 April), Melbourne (7 – 16 September) and Canberra (28 April – 14 May).

Listen to Harriet Gordon-Anderson discuss another classic Hamlet soliloquy in the Speak The Speech podcast.