In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the protagonist, Hamlet, encounters deception and corruption throughout the action. In this corruption and deception, Hamlet works to create his identity and struggles to find himself. Hamlet struggles to find his purpose as he encounters the corruption of the characters around him. This is seen in a series of soliloquys that occur throughout the play. This will be discussed in this paper through the use of these soliloquys and how they push Hamlet towards his true purpose.
In Act I, Scene 2, Hamlet recites his famous, “Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt” soliloquy. In this one, Hamlet regrets his human qualities and the human qualities of others around him. Hamlet begins to contemplate suicide in this section because he recognizes the corruption of those around him, namely that of Gertrude, his mother, and his new step-father, Claudius, his previous uncle. He feels they married in haste, which was corrupt.
In Act II, Scene 2, Hamlet continues to ponder this deceit that surrounds him. He does this in the soliloquy “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” At this point, Hamlet has encountered his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They have been brought to the castle to trick him. He has also just had an exchange with Polonius. Polonius is the father of Ophelia and one of the most devious characters in the play; Polonius may be the most conniving figure next to Claudius. He questions how individuals could have learned to have become so deceitful at this point and he questions where his soul is headed since he is surrounded by this level of deceit.
In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet engages in the most well-known soliloquy in the English language: To be or not to be. Hamlet is not truly questioning deceit at this point. He is debating whether or not to commit suicide. The “be” in the opening line refers to the actual act of existence. He is debating whether or not he wants to exist. The reason he question whether or not he wants to exist is because he has discovered the level of deceit that surrounds him in the castle. This is seen in the end of the section when he encounters Ophelia. He loves her, but he begs her to go to a nunnery (convent). He does this because he does not want her to succumb to corruption. He hopes that she can remain pure and good. He feels that the only way that she could do this is to be in a convent. This is an important moment of his awareness. He is willing to give up the woman he loves in order to save her from what he has experienced. He also recognizes that he is becoming corrupt himself to some level. He does not want her to experience this either. He is actually cruel to her at this moment and that is part of his development as a character.
In Act 3, Scene 3, Hamlet debates killing Claudius, his uncle/step-father. Hamlet believes, based upon the word of his father’s ghost, that Claudius is responsible for the death of his father. He realizes that his father was murdered and he wants to avenge his father’s murder. However, by avenging his father’s murder, he would, himself, actually become a murderer. In this way, Hamlet realizes that his purpose is to avenge his father’s death; however, it is also to submit himself to the level of deceit and venality that surrounds him. He is becoming one of the individuals that he essentially despises.
In the last soliloquy to be discussed, Hamlet ponders the struggles that exist within men to act like civilized human beings when there is also the bestial side of our identities. This occurs in Act IV, Scene 4. The soliloquy “How all occasions” indicates that Hamlet recognizes that humans do struggle with a natural level of corruption that comes from our animal instincts. He is not sure how to overcome this and appears ready to submit to this at this time.