Shakespeare's Soliloquies

A soliloquy is a speech, somewhat like an aside, revealing a character's thoughts. These long speeches gave the character a chance to strut and fret his time upon the stage — and then be heard some more. Hamlet's “To be, or not to be” soliloquy is the most famous line in theater, followed by Juliet's mournful cry of, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo.” Third is Macbeth's: “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow … ” Then there is Shylock's deeply penetrating soliloquy in The Merchant of Venice. Let's take a look Hamlet's showstopper soliloquy first:

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 't is nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep: No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, — 't is a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life; For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office and the spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes, When he himself might his quietus make With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscover'd country from whose bourn No traveller returns, puzzles the will And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; And thus the native hue of resolution Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, And enterprises of great pith and moment With this regard their currents turn awry, And lose the name of action.

From Macbeth we find these famous lines; no doubt, the most memorized speech in Shakespeare:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life 's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

Shylock, a Jewish moneylender in Venice was a challenging character for Elizabethans. Shylock has some intriguing speeches in The Merchant of Venice about the way that he is mistreated. He has given us one of the great statements that define humanity:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

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