O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba! Hamlet (2.2), Hamlet
In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, Hamlet's second soliloquy uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict. For he is undeniably committed to seeking revenge for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting that cold and calculating revenge. Read on...
King Claudius. Our son shall win. Queen Gertrude. He's fat, and scant of breath.
Gertrude's startling description of her son is not quite what we modern readers have in mind when envisioning the brooding young Prince Hamlet. But how can we explain the Queen's frank words? There is evidence to believe that Shakespeare had to work around the rotund stature of his good friend Richard Burbage, the first actor to play Hamlet. "As he was a portly man of large physique, it was natural that the strenuous exertion bring out the fact that he was fat or out of training, as well as scant of breath....He was the first and the last fat Hamlet" (Blackmore, Riddles of Hamlet). An elegy written upon Burbage's death in 1619 convincingly ties "King Dick", as he was affectionately called by his fellow actors, to the line in question:
No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath,
Shall cry Revenge! for his dear father's death. (A Funeral Elegy)
It is natural to wonder why the death of Burbage was a national tragedy, while the passing of Shakespeare himself just three years earlier received such little attention. There seems, however, to be a simple answer. Read on...