Sample Close Reading

The Duke's Soliloquy

The Duke Reads Hamet (This is summary)

The Duke's reading is suppose to be Hamlet's famous soliloquy--often called the "To Be or Not to Be Speech". His reading is absurd and ultimately shows the fraud that he is; he butchers the lines and pulls from other Shakespearean plays (notably Macbeth and Richard III)


The Duke and the Dauphin act as if they are intelligent, but by maligning Shakespeare's most famous soliloquy, the audiences sees the two as ignorant. Huck notes that the speech seems to be "made" for the Duke, perhaps indicating how there is a pretentious desire to appear intelligent, but the original content is so misunderstood that Americans "remake" these classics in their own image.

So what Mr. Twain?

Obviously, many characters in the book turn out to be idiots (and that's putting it nicely). The Duke and the Dauphin are con men, and they aren't good at it either. But if Twain's work is satire this means that the Duke and the Dauphin are caricatures. They are exaggerations of somebody real. The question is, who? Twain is suggesting that we look in the mirror. The American people are on display through these two--we can be greedy and always looking for a quick buck. Rather than actually learning a skill or piece of information, we take bits and pieces and try to put something together that looks like we know what we're doing. What's worse--we take things that have real meaning, ignore that, and try to create something new (and then pass it off as the traditional thing).

Additional Questions Raised

1. What distinguishes between the ignorance of Jim/Huck and the Duke/Dauphin/Townspeople? What groups might Jim and Huck represent?

2. Through Twain's satire, what is the effect of this ignorance (and willingness to perpetuate it) on the larger American society?

Image Citations

ALAMY. William Shakespeare. Digital image. Shakespeare Read in Elizabethan Accent Reveals 'puns, Jokes and Rhymes' The Telegraph, 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Bradley, A.F. Mark Twain. 1907. Mark Twain Project, New York. Steamboat Times. Web.

Kemble, Edward Winsor. Duke and Dauphin. 1883. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 3rd ed. New York: U of California, 1958. 141. Print. Norton Critical Edition.

Kemble, Edward Winsor. Hamlet's Soliloquy. 1883. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 3rd ed. New York: U of California, 1958. 153. Print. Norton Critical Edition.

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet. Digital image. Oscar: Best Picture–Hamlet (1948). Emmanuel Levy, 11 Feb. 2014. Web.