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William Shakespeare



But I, Hamlet says, am a dull, daydreaming good for nothing, who can't even avenge a murdered king. No one has accused me of being a coward, but I would deserve it if they did; I must be a coward, or my uncle would long ago have been a corpse for the carrion crows to pick at. The fact that I stand here cursing this way, like a common servant, shows what an idiot I am.

Once these violent emotions roused by the player's speech have calmed down, Hamlet goes on to describe what he will do to remedy this situation: He will have the players perform a story that resembles the murder of his father, and he will carefully watch Claudius' reactions. If Claudius turns pale it will prove the ghost was telling the truth. This test is important to Hamlet, for it is still possible that the ghost may have been a devil, "and the devil hath power / T' assume a pleasing shape." The act ends with Hamlet declaring roundly:

The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.


Though Hamlet's moods are always changing, you can see that his second soliloquy is different in its overall quality from his first. "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt" is all depression and sorrow. Now, the presence of the players sets off Hamlet's anger, first at himself and then, remembering his task, at Claudius ("Bloody, bawdy villain! / Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!"). The last third of the speech, triggered by his anger and his guilt at having delayed, is at last a practical step forward on Hamlet's part. The player's speech has given him a role model to emulate. Although the fact is never mentioned, Hamlet would of course know that Pyrrhus' attack on King Priam is revenge for the killing of Pyrrhus' father by Priam's son Hector. Pyrrhus is the archetype of the revenger. But can Hamlet be that violent, and cause Gertrude the grief Pyrrhus brings to Priam's wife, Hecuba? Note that with the player's speech, and Hamlet's soliloquy after it, the play has returned to blank verse.  


[Hamlet Table of Contents] []

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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