Shakespeare's use of soliloquies to present Macbeth and Hamlet

How does Shakespeare use soliloquies to present the characters of Macbeth and Hamlet? A soliloquy is a comprehensive and unremitting dialogue spoken by a single person. The speaker is presenting his or her thoughts audibly, thus providing a forthright, outspoken, unremitting, and uninterrupted flow of thought, which channels his or her consciousness directly to the audience. Shakespeare uses soliloquies to present the characters of Macbeth and Hamlet in speckled ways; the soliloquies define the thoughts and feelings of the character’s at the time.

They also give the spectators a personality identification of the character’s involved as well as a dept and narrow focus of the imagination of the characters. In the following essay I will provide a thorough analysis and explanation as to how Shakespeare’s soliloquies present the characters of Macbeth and Hamlet. The openings of the plays show the characters of Hamlet and Macbeth to be incredibly dissimilar. Hamlet appears discouraged with life; he comes across very melancholy and theatrical.

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At the beginning of the play, Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, has recently died, and his mother, Queen Gertrude, has married the new king, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius. Hamlet is dejected, astringent, and sceptical, full of hatred for his uncle and disgust at his mother for marrying him. This is very contradictory to the first portrayal of Macbeth. At the begging of the play, Macbeth is shows as an energized, forceful, and premeditated warrior. He is seen as the bravest of them all and faithful to his King Duncan.

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He does not have any hatred to his king, but pure adulation and reverence, unlike Hamlet, who has very bitter feelings for King Claudius. The foremost soliloquy of Hamlet falls in the Act 1, Scene II. Hamlet refers the world as an ‘unweeded garden’ in which rank and coarse things grow in profusion. In the first soliloquy, Hamlet bemoans the fact that he cannot commit suicide. He wishes that his physical self might cease to exist, a sense of self-depreciation. He says: “O that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” Though saddened by his father’s death, the larger cause of Prince Hamlet’s misery is Queen Gertrude’s disloyal marriage to his uncle, barely in a month of his actual father’s death. He scorns his mother by saying: “Frailty, thy name is woman!” Prince Hamlet mourns that even ‘a beast would have mourned a little longer’. Hamlet considers this marriage of his mother, to be an incestuous affair. This soliloquy shows Hamlet’s deep affection with his beloved father. It also puts light on the character of the dead King that he was a loving husband and a respected father.

The soliloquy also enlightens the fact in the haste in which Queen Gertrude decides to marry with the dead King’s brother, without mourning for a respectable period of time. This soliloquy further brings to light Hamlet’s tragic flaw of indecisiveness. The Macbeth soliloquy in Act One, Scene Seven reveals several things about Macbeth as a person. From the opening line it is immediately evident that Macbeth wants the murder to be settled in one blow, to be performed and finished efficiently; “If it were down when ‘tis done.” The imagery of Macbeth’s soliloquy reveals the intentions he would like to achieve (“assassination,” “success”), but its construction shows the workings of a mind still very much in confusion. Macbeth goes on to speak about “pity, like a naked new-born babe” – this shows the wild emotions of Macbeth’s mind are struggling for utterance, one metaphor crowds upon and displaces another.

“Pity” is first personified as a newborn infant, naked and miserable, then this very infant carries the news of Duncan’s murder. The second soliloquy illustrates Hamlet’s continued inability to do anything of consequence, regarding the situation in which he finds himself. Hamlet indicates frustration, that an actor might show what appears to be real emotion at a mere story. His act includes ‘tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect’ and ‘all for nothing’. Yet Hamlet may not show either. He wonders how the actor would behave if he had real cause for distress, responding to his own question by stating that he would ‘drown the stage with tears’. However, there is some settling of his feelings, when Hamlet remembers that a play, reflecting the murder of King Hamlet, by Claudius, might cause the latter to react in such a way as to prove his guilt.

Nevertheless, Hamlet still feels grief-stricken, frustrated and angry. The supernatural is a recurring theme in ‘Hamlet’, a theme that is recognised in this soliloquy. Hamlet’s spotting of his father’s ghost leads to the appearing of question marks in Hamlet’s mind about what is right and what is wrong. Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 1 occurs whilst Macbeth is waiting for the signal to kill Kind Duncan.

The focus of the soliloquy, the invisible dagger, is our first glimpse of Macbeth’s powerful imagination – imagination that is largely responsible for his mental torment throughout the drama. Although Macbeth knows that the dagger is an optical illusion, and suspects that it could be brought about by his potentially “heat-oppressed brain”, he nonetheless allows the phantom dagger, soon stained with imaginary “gouts of blood”, to affect him greatly. In the second half of the soliloquy, Macbeth describes himself moving towards Duncan across a nightmarish landscape; “Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse” – Macbeth is subconsciously sure that Duncan’s death is unnatural and that they act will haunt him.

“Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives”; the oxymoron emphasises the relationship between the two contradictory terms of ‘heat’ in the deeds and ‘cold’ breath. Just as talk of the murder is about to stifle his courage, Macbeth’s intense illusion is shattered by the bell, a signal from Lady Macbeth, which results in a most heinous crime. This soliloquy reveals a tragic flaw of Macbeth – his naivety. Macbeth had convinced himself that murder was the wrong thing to do, but the sound of the bell flared his temptation and he could not resist. In Hamlet’s first two major soliloquies, he seems frenzied by emotion; this is not the case in his third and most famous speech in which he seems governed by reason. Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy is very informative about the contemplation Hamlet is facing in his mind and opens a lot of doors and telling the audience the thoughts behind Hamlet’s potential actions.

The opening and arguably the most well known line in and Shakespearean soliloquy tell us a lot about Hamlet, from the start. It shows Hamlet’s cowardly nature and that he thinks too much before acting. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles” – Hamlet is wondering if it would be easier to accept things the way they are and suffer in silence or to take action and fight for what he believes in. This further reinforces the idea of Hamlet’s over-contemplative nature. Moreover, Hamlet is well aware that suicide is condemned by the church as a mortal sin; “dread of something after death.” Hamlet sparks an internal philosophical debate on the advantages and disadvantages of existence and whether it is one’s right to end his or her own life. Certain critics argue that Hamlet is debating suicide; however nothing anywhere in the speech relates it to Hamlet’s individual case.

He uses the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ – this gives the idea that he is not contemplating suicide but is rather in an internal philosophical debate. Nearing the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet is interrupted by Ophelia, some critics argue that Hamlet’s greeting; “The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons” – is strained and coolly polite, and his request that she remembers him in her prayers is sarcastic. Nevertheless, others claim that Hamlet, emerging from his moment of intense personal reflection, genuinely implores the innocent Ophelia to pray for him. Contrasting this with Macbeth, a line from a soliloquy in ‘Macbeth’ is “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time” – Hamlet’s speech can be thought of as a continuation from this idea. For Macbeth, life has becomes worthless; the same applies for Hamlet who is caught up in depression, a “sea of troubles.”

The soliloquy by Macbeth in Act Five, Scene Five shows how Macbeth has developed as a character. The soliloquy revolves around the opening line, more precisely the word “should” which in Shakespeare’s time meant “inevitably would.”Macbeth is admitting to himself that the cold, hard fact is that ultimately everyone dies yet he feels that she ought to have died later so there was more time for mourning. “To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow” suggests the slow passing by of time and “brief candle” demonstrates a short life. The break in iambic pentameter at the end shows Macbeth’s despondency. This soliloquy is a pivotal point as it demonstrates the change Macbeth’s persona has undergone, from brave and courageous to weak and defeat-accepting – a step in the opposite direction when comparing this change to that of Hamlet’s who gains confidence.

The death of Lady Macbeth links in with the reoccurring theme of ‘death and disease’ in both plays, mentioned in several soliloquies. Critic L.C Knight argues that Hamlet’s judgments were ‘brooding upon evil, pathologically unbalanced’. In a way, I agree with this statement. It is for certain that Hamlet did have mental troubles; troubles which are evident from many of his soliloquies, nevertheless I do not believe he was evil in any way but was simply manipulated and isolated – this very feeling of isolation and vengeance lead to his committing of heinous acts, not based on evil intentions but simply due to a troubled series of events prior.

The same applies for Macbeth as he also felt guilty after he committed murder. Focusing on specific relationships, Hamlet’s relationship with his mother is one of constantly changing emotions. Hamlet and Gertrude’s relationship is one of the most important if not textually tenuous of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Hamlet’s relationship with his mother defines, for the worse, his relationship with other women.

He feels betrayed by his mother and is thus unable to trust those closest to him, like Ophelia. This can be most succinctly expressed in his soliloquy from Act 1; Scene 2, when he declares outright – “frailty thy name is woman”. He does this because he is confused at how his mother, who had shown his father so much affection, could so quickly forget this affection and remarry Claudius. Hamlet isn’t entirely misogynistic, he’s a scarred young man who is frustrated and feels betrayed. He misplaces his anger against his uncle at his mother. The thoughts and feelings that the other characters share towards Macbeth and Hamlet are very important. Lady Macbeth thinks Macbeth is a valiant and noble soldier. However, she believes his flaw is having too much of the ‘milk of human kindness’.

Ophelia’s thoughts about Hamlet are debateable as she makes no effort to see Hamlet and rejects his entreaties to see her and returns his letters; “I did repel his letters.” At no time does Ophelia ever give a sign of loving Hamlet nor does she say to anyone that she loves him. All in all, Shakespeare uses soliloquies to show the inner thoughts and feelings of Macbeth and Hamlet. The soliloquies bring to light what the characters are thinking. One significant link that can be noted is Hamlet’s change from depressiveness, in the first soliloquy, to bravery (in his last) – a step in the opposite direction compared to Macbeth who gradually loses courage. This informs the audience about the type of characters Macbeth and Hamlet are including the changes and traumas they face. The soliloquies have a deep and listening impact on the audience – they proved an engraved description of the characters’ inner feelings and are very direct.

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Shakespeare's use of soliloquies to present Macbeth and Hamlet. (2016, Apr 16). Retrieved from

Shakespeare's use of soliloquies to present Macbeth and Hamlet

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