Hamlet Notes – Act 3
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Questions 2) What is most significant about ACT 3?
Isolation of Hamlet – all are conspiring against him Soliloquy - Hamlet’s state of mind – suicidal ‘To be, or not to be: that is the question’ Three dimensional character – audience sees something that not even the actor is aware of – his sub-conscience He says that the miseries of life are such that no one would willingly bear them, except that they are afraid of “something after death” (III.i.80). Because we do not know what to expect in the afterlife, we would rather “bear those ills we have,” Hamlet says, “than fly to others that we know not of”The entire soliloquy strongly suggests that he is toying with suicide and perhaps trying to work up his courage to do it. But at no point does he say that he is in pain or discuss why he wants to kill himself. In fact, he never says “I” or “me” in the entire speech. He’s not trying to “express” himself at all; instead, he poses the question as a matter of philosophical debate. This creates the general impression that there are things going on in Hamlet’s mind that he can’t think about directly.
How Ophelia is used by her father, the King and Hamlet Ambiguity of Hamlet’s dialogue (Loved but never loved) Sexism towards women – specifically through Hamlet’s speech Bitterly commenting on the wretchedness of humankind, he urges Ophelia to enter a nunnery rather than become a “breeder of sinners” (III.i.122–123). He criticizes women for making men behave like monsters and for contributing to the world’s dishonesty by painting their faces to appear more beautiful than they are. Working himself into a rage, Hamlet denounces Ophelia, women, and humankind in general, saying that he wishes to end all marriages.
Claudius suspicious of Hamlet, concerned his depression is leading to something and wants to send him away (English) Polonius’ stupidity leads him to encourage Claudius to send Hamlet to Gertrude and hide himself to listen, leading to his death Incestuous relationship with his mother – preoccupation with her sexuality Hamlet’s lack of reaction to the death of Polonius
3) Key themes reflected? Madness, suicide, action vs inaction, murder/killing, revenge, sexuality, guilt, art imitating life, religion 4) Significant turning points? 1) Exposing the King through the ‘Mousetrap’ play 2) Confronting the Queen – overcome with guilt 3) Hamlet cannot kill Claudius 4) Claudius cannot pray – overcome with guilt 5) Stabs Polonius – succumbed to violence and anger
5) Analyse/Interpret ‘To be or not to be?’ The question for him was whether to continue to exist or not – whether it was more noble to suffer the slings and arrows of an unbearable situation, or to declare war on the sea of troubles that afflict one, and by opposing them, end them. To die. He pondered the prospect. To sleep – as simple as that. And with that sleep we end the heartaches and the thousand natural miseries that human beings have to endure. It’s an end that we would all ardently hope for. To die. To sleep. To sleep. Perhaps to dream. Yes, that was the problem, because in that sleep of death the dreams we might have when we have shed this mortal body must make us pause. That’s the consideration that creates the calamity of such a long life. Because, who would tolerate the whips and scorns of time; the tyrant’s offences against us; the contempt of proud men; the pain of rejected love; the insolence of officious authority; and the advantage that the worst people take of the best, when one could just release oneself with a naked blade? Who would carry this load, sweating and grunting under the burden of a weary life if it weren’t for the dread of the afterlife – that unexplored country from whose border no traveler returns? That’s the thing that confounds us and makes us put up with those evils that we know rather than hurry to others that we don’t know about. So thinking about it makes cowards of us all, and it follows that the first impulse to end our life is obscured by reflecting on it. And great and important plans are diluted to the point where we don’t do anything.
Explanation and Analysis of Act III, Scene 1, Lines 55-87 Explanation: Hamlet ponders whether or not he wishes to exist, inquiring whether it's better to struggle through the trials of life or commit suicide. He declares death would be the better option if not for the unknown that death brings. It is this mystery that causes men to suffer through their mortal existence instead of ending their lives.
Analysis: This Hamlet soliloquy uses the following literary elements: 1. Line 55 - To be or not to be is an example of antithesis, a rhetorical device containing a contrast of ideas in a balanced parallel construction. The use of antithesis draws attention to the first line of the soliloquy and focuses the reader on one of the play's prominent themes. ‘To be, or not to be?’ 2. Lines 59, 60, 61 - Hamlet uses metonymy, a special type of metaphor that substitutes the name of one thing with something it is closely associated with. In these examples sleep represents death. 3. Lines 57, 69 - Hamlet uses a metaphor, comparing slings and arrows and the whips and scorns of time to life's problems. 4. Lines 69-73 - Hamlet uses parallel structure, a rhetorical device comprised of phrases with like grammatical structure, to create rhythm and draw attention to life's woes. We are watching a play while the characters are watching a play. 5. Line 79 - Hamlet uses a metaphor, calling death "the undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns." 6. Lines 83-84 - Suicide is referred to as "the native hue of resolution," a metaphor; the fear of death is referred to as the "pale cast of thought."
Shakespeare, the Bard, regularly uses double entendres (word games), metaphors (even extended ones) and allusions. These are things that Shakespeare uses a great deal in his plays. Double entendres: When Claudius demands to know where Polonius' body is hidden, Hamlet explains that he is at supper. When questioned, Hamlet explains that it is not about what Polonius eats, but what eats Polonius. This is words with double meanings. Hamlet does this quite a bit with the innocent Ophelia. Because he believes she has betrayed him and he cannot trust her, he torments her with insults, like "Get thee to a nunnery," and with feigned madness, like running in to her chamber half undressed. Then, after this cruel treatment, when Polonius dies, she loses her mind. Another example of word play and double meaning is that when Hamlet arranges to have the players present a play to "catch the conscience of a King," he tells the members of the court that the play is entitled Mousetrap—what a clever way to infer that he is searching out a "rat" or some other vermin: namely Claudius. One implied metaphor is when Hamlet explains that he has little value for his miserably saddened life, thus little fear of losing it from an encounter with a ghost. When Horatio worries about his friend approaching Old Hamlet's ghost, Hamlet notes: Why, what should be the fear? I do not set my life in a pin's fee; (I.iv.67-68).
What Hamlet means is that the cost of a pin (an insignificant cost as pins are usually sold many at a time for one price) is worth more than Hamlet's life, or so he feels in his tragic circumstances of a dead King and father and an abominably remarried Queen and mother. As an allusion, Polonius notes that he once acted the part of Julius Caesar and was stabbed by Brutus. This is an historical allusion to the Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, and one of his assassins. The allusion also provides foreshadowing of what will come because it will be the way that Polonius dies: Hiding in Gertrude's room behind a curtain ("arras"), Hamlet stabs him believing him to be a traitor in Queen Gertrude's room. I did enact Julius Caesar; I was killed i' the Capitol; Brutus killed me. (III.ii.98-99) Shakespeare used a wide variety of literary devices in all of his plays, and a lengthy essay would be needed to discuss them all. I can explain a few of them, as well as provide a link that will help you further understand them. Each example below is from Hamlet's famous speech in Act III, scene 1 ("To be or not to be"): antithesis: contrary ideas expressed in a balanced sentence Example: "To be, or not to be, that is the question:" (opposite ideas of being or not being, living or dying, are expressed in this sentence). alliteration: repetition of an initial consonant sound in two or more words of a phrase, line or sentence. Example: "With a bare bodkin?" (the "b" sound beginning bare and bodkin). allusion: the mention of a person, event or condition thought to be familiar (but sometimes actually obscure or unknown) to the reader. Example: "The fair Ophelia.--Nymph, in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered" (a nymph is a mythological entity, or mythological allusion). soliloquy: a speech delivered by a character in a play while talking to themselves but "overheard" by the audience. Example: Hamlet's entire "To be or not to be" speech is a soliloquy; it is to himself and meant to be heard by the audience.