Hamlet's Soliloquy: How all occasions do inform against me (4.4)
Hamlet's final soliloquy appears in Q2 but not in the First Folio. Some critics argue that Shakespeare himself cut the passage from the Folio as he made revisions to his work over the years before his death. It is possible that the editors of the Folio printed a copy revised by Shakespeare, but it is highly unlikely that Shakespeare would mutilate his own work by removing such an integral part of the play.
Hamlet's last soliloquy is crucial to our understanding of his character development. By the end of the soliloquy, Hamlet brings to a halt his solemn contemplation on the immoral act of murderous revenge, and finally accepts it as his necessary duty. It is not that Hamlet has presented a solid and reasonable argument to convince himself of his terrible responsibility; rather he has driven himself to the conclusion with intense and distorted thoughts. Hamlet accuses himself of forgetting his father in that "bestial oblivion" (43), yet, he thinks his problem could be "thinking too precisely on the event" (44). Moreover, although Hamlet has seen Fortinbras only for a moment earlier in the play, and knows nothing of his true motives for going to war, Hamlet convinces himself that Fortinbras is fighting to protect his honor. Part of Hamlet relishes the idea of such conviction, however illogical and futile, and so he focuses on the image of Fortinbras courageously leading his troupes. Hamlet's reason, the part of him that has been dominant throughout the play; the part of him that questions the "honor" in murder and revenge, this time cannot provide a rebuttal. So Hamlet is overcome by his obligations to enact revenge.
Hamlet was once greatly distressed over having to exact payment for his father's murder, even though the reason for such revenge was weighty indeed. Now, Hamlet commends the idea of the "imminent death of twenty thousand men" for a ludicrous "fantasy and trick of fame" (63-4).
It should be noted that this soliloquy presents problems for the reader due to a corruption of several preceding lines, when Hamlet meets the Captain in Fortinbras' army. The Captain tells Hamlet that they are invading Poland
to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold in fee. (4.4.18-22)
Hamlet is doubtful that Poland would even bother to defend such a useless plot of land, but when the Captain declares "Yes, it is already garrison'd" (24), Hamlet concludes that such fighting over something so trivial is the result of "wealth and peace" (27) and not the result of impugned honor as he clearly states in the soliloquy.
Shakespeare's audience was far more boisterous than are patrons of the theatre today. They were loud and hot-tempered and as interested in the happenings off stage as on. One of Shakespeare's contemporaries noted that "you will see such heaving and shoving, such itching and shouldering to sit by the women, such care for their garments that they be not trod on . . . such toying, such smiling, such winking, such manning them home ... that it is a right comedy to mark their behaviour" (Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, 1579). Read on...