What Is the Figurative Language in "Hamlet"?

Figurative language in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is symbolic or metaphorical language used by the playwright to express the motivations, feelings and actions of characters. Such language is most effusively and poignantly used by the main character Hamlet, but it is also widely used by other characters such as Ophelia, Gertrude, King Claudius, Polonius and the ghost of Prince Hamlet's father.

Figurative language is effective because of the manner in which it richly suggests the essence of a character without stating things directly, which is dramatically blunt and lacks tension. For instance, when Hamlet is feeling both suicidal and apathetic about following through with it, he does not say, "Oh, I wish I could just die right here." This would be forgettable, not dramatic and commonplace. Instead, he says, "Oh that this too too solid flesh would thaw, melt and resolve itself into a dew."

Through the expressiveness of this figurative language the audience not only gets the meaning of the original intention but also a host of other suggestions about Hamlet's character, such as his discomfort with his present being, his "too too solid flesh" (note the magic of the repetitive "too"), his romantic notions (suicide expressed in beautiful, nature-inspired imagery) and a host of other expressions of his character.

Similarly, when Hamlet makes the case clear to his mother in comparing his uncle and his father, he does not state that one is exemplary and the other is a derelict, or even that one is godlike and the other is simply a randy nobody. Instead, as noted by No Sweat Shakespeare, Hamlet drove home the absurdity of his mother's choice of the uncle over his father by comparing "Hyperion to a satyr." Only a fool would compare the powerful god to the lusty woodland creature. So aside from making the difference known to the audience, Hamlet calls his mother a fool without directly doing so. Such depth and richness is impossible with non-figurative language.