Age Range: 20s - Late, 30s - Early, 30s - Late
Dialects: Standard American, Standard English
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Copyright Status: Public domain
Hamlet - 2nd Soliloquy - Oh, what a rogue and peas
AuthorName: William Shakespeare
Eras: 1601-1700, 1501-1600
At the end of Act 2, Hamlet's soliloquy "O what a rogue and peasant slave am I" conveys his emotional upheaval at the events around him. Throughout this speech, his emotional journey takes him from self-disgust to solving the act.
The soliloquy concerns Hamlet's delay of action. He feels ashamed that he has not avenged his father's death with the speed and expression exhibited by the actors in the play. Hamlet compares his inaction to the dramatic expression the actor exhibits for the death of his character's father. "What would he do, / Had he the motive and cue for passion/ That I have? " (II, ii, 512-514) Hamlet is amazed that the actor can conjure such emotions without a real impetus, while he is incapable of doing anything in response to his father's murder. Hamlet then calls himself a coward for his inability to say anything in defense of his father. "Am I a coward?" (II, ii, 523) This is ironic because he is concentrating on the actor's expression of grief, not a proactive response, which will only inhibit one's action. Hamlet never discusses the act of vengeance, only the actor's ability to cleave the general ear with "horrid speech" (II, ii, 515). Hamlet also displays his low self-esteem in this soliloquy as he sarcastically describes his inaction. "This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murdered, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must like a whore unpack my heart with words And fall a-cursing like a very drab" (II, ii, 536-539). Hamlet is his own worst critic throughout the play. Through this statement, Hamlet incites himself to the point that he plans some action. "The play's the thing/ Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king" (II, ii, 567-568). He plans to put on a play that will mirror his father's murder in order to see Claudius' guilty reaction. Finally, Hamlet makes a plan.
Shakespeare varies Hamlet?s language with relentless changes in tone, the peaks of rage inter-cut "Bloody, Bawdy Villain!" (II, ii, 532) with short moments of profound depression (Yet I / A dull and muddy- mettled rascal (II, ii, 518-519) or of incredulous questioning Who does me this?" (II, ii, 527). This emphasizes Hamlet's intensive emotional journey throughout the speech and lack of stability. The constant change in the tone mimics the constant change in Hamlet's environment, which Shakespeare expresses through his language.
Throughout this speech the audience's perception of Hamlet may change as the soliloquy gives a deeper insight into his persona. The audience can perceive Hamlet as extremely self deprecating and insecure ?O What a rogue slave am I? (II, ii, 502) The audience can relate to the responsibility undertaken by Hamlet that he does not know how to fulfill. As a result, he is unsure of himself and unable to arrive at a quick decision and take action. Despite his determination to carry out revenge, he procrastinates too long and allows time to slip by without doing a thing to avenge his fathers death.
Furthermore, he finds that he has been thrown into an emotional situation that demands a decision against which his morals revolt. Raised a Christian, he believes in forgiveness rather that in revenge; therefore, the responsibility for avenging his father's death completely transforms him and he is unsure of who to believe.
Thus, the soliloquy gives us a further understanding into his persona and rational behind his actions which steer the course of the tragedy. Shakespeare uses this to help the audience identify with the character to help create suspense and belief in the play, Hamlet.
eCheat, Hamlet Soliloquy Analysis, 05 Sep 2005, (29 Dec 2009).
O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! Is it not monstrous that this player...View Full Monologue Text
O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That, from her working, all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech;
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing! No, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by th' nose? gives me the lie i' th' throat
As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this, ha?
'Swounds, I should take it! for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal. Bloody bawdy villain!
Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murther'd,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must (like a whore) unpack my heart with words
And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! Hum, I have heard
That guilty creatures, sitting at a play,
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murther, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ, I'll have these Players
Play something like the murther of my father
Before mine uncle. I'll observe his looks;
I'll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this. The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.