Hamlet's Soliloquy: Now might I do it pat, now he is praying (3.3)
Hamlet has thought himself prepared to "drink hot blood" (3.2.382) and carry out the murder of the King. Now, as he happens upon the unattended Claudius, the time has come to take action, but Hamlet finds that he is unable to kill. Hamlet's reason for delay is that Claudius is in the midst of praying, and in order for revenge to be complete, the King must be engaged in some sinful act such as sex, gambling, or drinking, and thus be condemned to eternal damnation. While it is true that similar reasoning is common in other revenge plays, such vengence seems unworthy of our noble prince.
Many critics believe that Hamlet uses Claudius's prayer as an excuse for further delay because his conscience will not allow him to commit premeditated murder. Others claim that it is not Hamlet's altruism which saves Claudius in this scene, but his own paralyzing habit of "thinking too precisely on th'event" (4.4.41). However, the second argument is moot because the basis of his procrastination is his inability to commit premeditated murder.
Ironically, Hamlet's soliloquy is ultimately irrelevant, for Claudius is not sincerely repentant, as he reveals in the concluding couplet of scene 3:
My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (97-8)
Questions for Review
1. Morris LeRoy Arnold, in his book The Soliloquies of Shakespeare, argues that Claudius' soliloquy is similar to King Henry's prayer before battle in Henry V (4.1.306-322). They both "give the impression of rhetorical pageantry rather than sincere contrition." Is this a fair statement?
2. Do you feel sympathy for Claudius?
3. In Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), Claudius is sitting in a confessional and Hamlet is on the other side with his dagger drawn. If you were producing the play, how would you stage Hamlet finding Claudius at prayer?
4. Do you agree with A. C. Bradley that the turning-point of the drama is Hamlet's refusal to kill Claudius while he is praying? Bradley argues Hamlet's failure there "is the cause of all the disasters that follow. In sparing the King, he sacrifices Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencantz and Guildnestern, Laertes, and the Queen and himself" (Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 108).
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet Soliloquy Analysis. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/hamlet/soliloquies/doitpatanalysis.html >.
Arnold, Morris LeRoy. The soliloquies of Shakespeare; a study in technic. New York: Columbia University Press, 1911.
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean tragedy: lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. London: Macmillan, 1905.
Hamlet's irresolution arises from his morality. Goethe spoke of Hamlet's "lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature." He cannot kill Claudius in cold blood. The Ghost has demanded an action abhorrent to his very soul. Even with the proof of Claudius' guilt, his heated soliloquy seems mere "words, words, words." Even now Hamlet could, and not will, drink hot blood (381). How is Hamlet's soliloquy similar in style to Macbeth's Is that a dagger... (3.2.33-64). How does it show their differences?
Did You Know? ... An English translation of Belleforest's mid sixteenth-century Histories Tragiques appeared in quarto form in 1608. It is The Hystorie of Hamblet. The translation was possibly in circulation before this, but whether it or Shakespeare's work came first in unknown. The focus of Chapter Three of the The Hystorie of Hamblet is the closet scene and it is fascinating to compare it to Shakespeare's version. To say that Hamblet is more vengeful than our hero is an understatement:
"drawing his sworde thrust it into the hangings, which done, pulled the counsellor (half dead) out by the heeles, made an end of killing him, and beeing slaine, cut his bodie in pieces, which he caused to be boyled, and then cast it into a vaulte or privie, that so it mighte serve for foode to the hogges."