The Great Scenes and Soliloquies
In this section, you'll find a review of some of the play's pivotal moments: moments of drama, such as
the catastrophic mid-tragedy "play within the play," moments of introspection, such as the soliloquies
(Hamlet's in particular, but also those of others), and even a few moments of levity, because the play
thankfully does contain them ... for all its gloom and doom, this is still Shakespeare, after all.
– If you will, this is my invitation to you all to join my imaginary cast and me at an extended dress
rehearsal; albeit one where the director talks back not only to the actors but also to the characters they
are playing (as well as to the members of the audience present on the occasion).
With regard to the analysis and explanations given here, the same holds true as with regard to every other
section of this website: this is merely my personal take. No part of the contents of these pages is in any
way intended to suggest a definitive reading – with a play like "Hamlet," it would be utter foolishness
to assume any such thing could possibly exist in the first place; and there are many people who are
decidedly more qualified than myself to speak with true authority on the scenes and soliloquies addressed
here. If you haven't already done so, you may want to read the
Hamlet's World and individual
cast of characters pages before proceeding with this
section, because the analysis given here is substantially based on my views on each of the play's characters,
and on the setting in which the tragedy takes place.
And as with regard to the cast of characters, I
suggest that you proceed in the order given on this introductory page, because the later scenes' analysis
builds on that of the earlier ones.
Since I've already given a fairly detailed reading of the play's opening scene on the
Hamlet's World page and the character pages of
the Ghost and
the Sentinels, the reviews in this particular section
start with Act I, Scene 2. That said:
Welcome again, Ladies and Gentlemen ... I hope you will enjoy the show!
- "Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death the memory be green ...":
Announcement of an unholy wedding.
- "But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son ...":
Sons, fathers, and lessons in mourning.
- "O that this too too solid flesh would melt ...":
A Prince in pain.
- "Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!":
Precepts in thy memory, or: a father's farewell.
- "For Hamlet, and the trifling of his favour ..."/"What is't, Ophelia, he hath said to you?":
Keepers of a maiden's virtues.
- "The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse ...":
Hamlet and the stamp of one defect.
- "I am thy father's spirit ...":
- "O my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!":
- "My liege, and madam, to expostulate ...":
A not-so-brief expostulation on filial lunacy and love.
- "How does my good Lord Hamlet?":
Fishmongers, crabs, and tedious old fools.
- "I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth ...":
Hamlet gets metaphysical.
- "I heard thee speak me a speech once ...":
Pyrrhus and Hecuba.
- "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!":
Passion and purpose.
- "To be, or not to be":
- "Get thee to a nunnery!":
Offender and offended – but who is who?
- "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you ...":
Hamlet's little acting handbook; or, a playwright's pains.
- "Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man ...":
Hamlet on friendship.
- "For us, and for our tragedy ...":
The play within the play.
- "'Tis now the very witching time of night ...":
Premonitions of bitter business.
- "O, my offence is rank ...":
- "Now might I do it pat ...":
A missed opportunity.
- "What have I done that thou dar'st wag thy tongue ...":
Domestic abuse, or: a mother shent.
- "Now, Hamlet, where's Polonius?":
Worms, Kings, and beggars.
- "How all occasions do inform against me ...":
- "Where is the beauteous Majesty of Denmark?":
Mad songs and prophecies.
- "O heat, dry up my brains!/They bore him barefac'd on the bier ...":
Funeral rites and a flower basket.
- "Now must your conscience my acquittance seal ...":
- "There is a willow grows aslant a brook ...":
- "Is she to be buried in Christian burial when she wilfully seeks her own salvation?":
Clowns and riddles.
- "Alas, poor Yorick!":
Hamlet, face to face with earthly decay.
- "There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow":
Qué sera, sera.
- "Give me your pardon, sir.":
Madness, honour, and forgiving.
- "I am dead, Horatio":
... and the rest is silence.
A complete analysis of the tragedy's every word would, alas, I am afraid, exceed the framework of this
site, so there are some (even hugely popular) scenes you won't find represented here:
- The entire opening scene (which is, however, as I said above, discussed at some length in the chapter on
Hamlet's World and on the respective character pages of
the Ghost and
- Claudius's interactions with Voltemand and Cornelius, his two ambassadors to Norway;
- The first part of Act II, Scene 1 (Polonius and Reynaldo);
- Claudius's and Polonius's respective observations on
"To be, or not to be" and on Hamlet's
subsequent confrontation with Ophelia
("Get thee to a nunnery");
- The lion's share of Hamlet's, Claudius's and Gertrude's interactions with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern;
"Good my lord, vouchsafe me a word with you"/
"Will you play upon this pipe?"
– Act III, Scene 2, following the "play within the play" – and
"What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?"/
"To be demanded of a sponge, what replication should be made by the son of a King?"
– Act IV, Scene 2 – (In part, this material is however addressed on
the two schoolfellows' character page);
- Claudius's and Gertrude's exchange in Act IV, Scene 1, following Hamlet's confrontation with his mother
and the killing of Polonius;
- Fortinbras's brief appearance during Act IV, Scene 4, and Hamlet's exchange with the Norwegian Prince's
messenger to Claudius (prior to
"How all occasions do inform against me");
- Laertes's return to Elsinore (between the two "mad Ophelia" sequences in Act IV, Scene 5);
- Horatio's encounter with the sailor(s) bringing him Hamlet's letter (Act IV, Scene 6);
- Hamlet's exchange with the First Clown/ Gravedigger prior to
"Alas, Poor Yorick;"
- Hamlet's and Laertes's confrontation over (and in!) Ophelia's grave;
- Hamlet's report to Horatio on his discovery of Claudius's (first) plot against his life;
- The Osric scene (this, too, is however discussed on
the respective character page);
- The actual duel sequence between Hamlet and Laertes (between
"Give me your pardon, sir" and
"I am dead, Horatio"); and
- Horatio's final exchange with Fortinbras and the English ambassador.
The omission of an in-depth review of any of this material does, of course, not mean that I consider it
immaterial, or that none of these scenes are included in my screenplay. I may even add some of this stuff
to my analytic parade of the play's major scenes eventually. For the moment, I simply had to draw the line
somewhere, and most of the above scenes are either substantially self-explanatory or live off
rapidly moving dialogue and action rather than off lengthy introspection, and therefore, don't necessarily
require much elaboration in the way of analysis for purposes of this website. – Select issues
associated with scenes not (yet) covered by way of an in-depth analysis of their own are addressed on the
Frequently Asked Questions page, though.
Copyright 2002 – 2009: Ulrike Böhm, all rights reserved.