I agree with the statement that we admire Hamlet for his weaknesses as much as we do for his strengths. Hamlet is a complex character who finds himself in an impossible situation – he has been charged with a task that he is temperamentally unsuited to fulfil - the task of vengeance. However, Hamlet’s weaknesses or negative qualities only serve to accentuate his status as a tragic hero. Hamlet’s weaknesses of character are demonstrative of his humanity and underscore the emotional turmoil of his predicament and can only be admired and respected. One such weakness is Hamlet’s propensity towards self-deprecation and self-pity.
Hamlet is self-deprecatory when he begins to vacillate over the Ghost’s ‘dread command’. He knows that as a loyal and noble son that revered his father, it is his filial duty to fulfil his father’s command. However, Hamlet finds this task morally repugnant and he recoils from it wishing that he had never been born to execute such a task: ‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right’. He is consumed by self-deprecation: ‘I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall’, ‘What are rogue and pleasant slave am I’, ‘I do not set my life at a pin’s fee’. This self-deprecation and feeling of inadequacy in compounded by his sense of guilt when he compares himself to decisive revengers like Fortinbras and Laertes who are not inhibited by any such moral scruples as Hamlet is.
While self-deprecation and self-pity are generally viewed as negative human attributes, in Hamlet, I feel they depict the enormity of suffering. Hamlet clearly revered his father ‘a combination and form indeed where every god did seem to set his seal to give the world the assurance of a man’.
Hamlet’s self-pity and self-deprecation is to be understood in terms of a young man who feels in terms of a young man who feels that he is letting his beloved father down.
Hamlet’s self-deprecation is a weakness of character and it does inhibit him from executing revenge. However, Hamlet’s feelings of inadequacy and self-deprecation underscore the psychological and emotional duress that Hamlet is under. He wonders whether it be ‘bestial oblivion on some craven scruple/ of thinking too precisely on th’ event’. He self-deprecatorily announces ‘Thus conscience makes cowards of us all and thud the nature hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought’. Hamlet’s weakness towards self-deprecation and self-pity is indicative of an extremely conscientious person who wants to give everything they do a hundred percent. This weakness elicits our sympathy and admiration as we feel for this troubled young man who is torn between honouring the memory of his dead father and adhering to the integrity of his conscience. Hamlet’s propensity towards self-deprecation and self-pity then can be understood as a human response to very difficult situation and we admire him as he struggles to ascertain the best course of action.
Furthermore, another weakness of character that we can admire in Hamlet is his bitterness. Hamlet as the play’s malcontent, is an extremely bitter character. However, this bitterness of character only serves to evoke our admiration as Hamlet does not conform to the ubiquitous corruption that emanates from Claudius’ debauched reign.
Hamlet is refreshing in his bitterness in contrast to fulsome characters like Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as whose primary concern is ingratiating themselves with Claudius ‘soak up the king’s countenances, rewards and authorities’ Hamlet views Denmark as an ‘unweeded garden’ as a ‘prison’ and Claudius as this ‘canker of our nature’. He views his duplicitous friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as ‘sponges’ and ‘addered fangs’. He views his mother’s hasty remarriage with bitterness and tells her that his grief is genuine; that he does not know ‘seems’. He cleverly adopts the mask of ‘antic disposition’, a type of bitter spezzatura, a defensive form of irony that allows him to impugn the hypocrisy and corruption of the ‘bloat’s king’s’ reign.
Whilst bitterness of character is normally perceived as a negative human attribute that serves to alienate as oppose attract, in the character of Hamlet, it serves to evoke our admiration because it is demonstrative of Hamlet’s nobility and integrity of character, what Horatio calls his ‘noble mind’. Hamlet does not ingratiate himself with Claudius even though he could have so easily ‘you are most immediate to our throne’. Hamlet’s bitterness serves to remind us that he does not conform to the status quo of hypocrisy and corruption. Hamlet is a man of conscience and integrity. His bitterness in in response to the pervasive corruption and duplicity of the Danish court. Hamlet’s bitterness of character is compounded by the fact that he cannot openly challenge ‘the smiling damned villain’. He is forced to adopt the ‘antic disposition’ and consequently ‘unpack my heart with words and fall a cursing like a whore, like a scullion, a drab’.
The morally scrupulous Hamlet feels that it is incumbent on him to challenge the falseness and unlawfulness of Claudius’ reign and yet he is forced to do so surreptitiously. Hamlet is then to be perceived as the ‘honest man picked out of ten thousand’ because he bitterly defies the status quo and we admire this.
While it is clear that Hamlet has many weaknesses of character, it is also conveyed that he has many strength of character also. We admire Hamlet got his noble idealism. He clearly revered his father, seeing him as ‘a combination and firm indeed where every god did seem to set his seal to give the world the assurance of a man’. He also shows that he looked upon the marriage between his mother and father with great respect and admiration ‘why she would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown on what it fed on’. Hamlet’s idealism is touching and endearing. His solicitous concern for his mother is also touching as he intends to ‘speak daggers’ to her though he makes it clear that he has no intention of physically hurting her.
His noble idealism is one of many Hamlet’s strengths of character. It is this noble idealism that motivates him to preserve with his father’s request even though it is counter-intuitive to him and causes him great psychological and emotion bedevilment. His sense of filial duty is evident in the scene of the Ghost’s second apparition ‘Do you come your tardy son to chide’. Hamlet’s noble idealism is admirable here because it demonstrates his fervent desire to be loyal to the memory of his dead father ‘Remember me, remember me’ the Ghost urges him while Hamlet tells us that he will remember his father above all in ‘his distracted globe’.
In conclusion, we admire Hamlet for his weaknesses as much as for his strengths. Hamlet’s weaknesses serve to accentuate the humanity of his character and serve to elicit our sympathy and admiration for this deeply flawed character. Despite being ‘the noble prince the rose and expectancy of the fair state’, Hamlet’s weaknesses are demonstrative of the human spirit of perservence in the face of adversity and therefore can only be admired.
The theme of conflict both internal and external is central to the play ‘Hamlet’. I agree with this assessment of the play.
The theme of conflict both internal and external is central to the play ‘Hamlet’. I agree with this assessment of the play. In the play ‘Hamlet’ we are presented with two dramas, the internal drama that takes place in the mind of our mentally bedevilled protagonist and the external drama that ensues as a result of Hamlet’s battle of wits with Claudius as he impugns the corruption of Claudius’ unlawful reign.
The internal conflict within Hamlet’s mind engages the audience and is used by Shakespeare to make us empathise with this deeply flawed tragic hero. Were it not for the fact that the audience is made privy to Hamlet’s fragile state of mind, Hamlet would be completely alienated from our sympathies.
The internal conflict is fascinating because Hamlet is essentially at war with himself. Hamlet has been given the task to avenge his father’s ‘foul and most unnatural murder’. However, the problem lies with the fact that Hamlet is temperamentally unsuited to the role of revenger. Hamlet’s nobility of character, his introspective disposition and his moral scrupulousness inhibit him from executing his revenge even though he know it is his filial duty to do so. He promised the Ghost that he would ‘sweep’ to his revenge’. Hamlet face a Scylla-Charybdis dilemma, a Catch 22. He knows that if he kills Claudius, then his nobility will be vitiated as there is nothing noble about killing someone; if he doesn’t kill Claudius then he will be branded a coward and there is nothing noble about being a coward. Either way, Hamlet’s nobility of character will be vitiated. Hamlet is in a no-win situation and hence the internal conflict.
This internal conflict underscores his status as a tragic hero. Hamlet recoils from the task, wishing that he had never been born to fulfil such a repulsive act: ‘The time is out of joint; O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right’. We see the internal conflict and drama play out in Hamlet’s mind as he becomes self-deprecatory and overwhelmed with despair over his inability to fulfil his father’s ‘dread command’.
He self-deprecatorily wonders ‘Am I a coward?’ He accuses himself of being ‘pigeon liver’d and lack gall’. We see the internal conflict further as he brands himself as ‘rogue and peasant slave’. The internal conflict within Hamlet’s mind is such that he becomes to have no regard for his own life: ‘I do not set my life at a pin’s fee’. Hamlet’s sense of guilt and inadequacy is further compounded by decisive revengers such as Fortinbras and Laertes who he envies because they are not paralysed by moral scruples or overanalyses. He wonders whether it ‘be bestial oblivion or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event’ the paralyses him from executing revenge. The internal conflict is evident in his reasoning that it is his conscience that it responsible for his inaction: ‘Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought’.
We see the augmenting conflict in Hamlet’s mentally bedevilled mind in the scene with the players when he asks himself: ‘What Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba that he should weep for her? What would he do had he the motive and cue for passion that I have?’
Hamlet acknowledges and admires Fortinbras’ strict adherence to the law of lex talionis: ‘Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument/But greatly to find quarrel in a straw/When honour’s at the stake’.
He understands rather than condemns Laertes’ quest for revenge when Laertes tries to kills him: ‘For, by the image of my cause, I see/The portraiture of his’ and yet he procrastinates, further compounding his sense of self-deprecation and sense of inadequacy. His sense of self-deprecation and inadequacy underscores the internal conflict within Hamlet’s mind. In the Prayer scene this conflict reaches its climax as Hamlet is unexpectingly faced with a praying Claudius. Just in the previous moments, Hamlet had resolved to fulfil his father’s wish: ‘Now could I drink hot blood and do such bitter business that the day would quake to look upon’. However, Hamlet did not expect to find Claudius praying and this throws him. Hamlet is completely mentally bedevilled: ‘A villain kills my father: and for that,/I, his sole son, do this same villain send/To heaven’. The resolve of the previous scene dissipates as Hamlet becomes an emotional wreck. He urges his sword up so that it may know a more ‘horrid hent’ so that Claudius will be more ‘fit for his passage’. Hamlet hopes to find him doing something ‘that has no relish of salvation in‘t/Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,/And his soul may be as damn’d and black/As hell, whereto it goes’. The internal conflict heightens our enjoyment of the play because Hamlet is essentially at war with himself and we are kept on tenterhooks as to whether or not, Hamlet will execute revenge.
Furthermore, Hamlet’s external conflict with Claudius is also formidable to watch because of its surreptitious nature. It is an interesting psychological battle of wits, mind-games as opposed to a physical battle between enemies. Hamlet espouses an ‘antic disposition’ as a tactic in his psychological battle against Claudius. His madness is a form of sprezzatura, a defensive form of irony that allows him to impugn the corruption, duplicity and hypocrisy of Claudius’ debauched reign. Similarly, Claudius must too be surreptitious as his archenemy is his beloved wife’s son: ‘‘The queen his mother/Lives by his looks, and for myself-/My virtue or my plague, be it either which /She is so conjunctive to my life and soul/That, as the star moves not but in his own sphere/I could not by her’.
Hamlet and Claudius must appear to be civilised to each other but in reality they absolutely despise each other, both of them actively plotting to bring about the downfall of the other. When Claudius fears that Hamlet represents a threat to his reign: ‘The terms of our estate may not endure hazards so dangerous as doth hourly grow out of his lunacies’, he reassures his wife Gertrude that it is in the best interests of her son that he goes to England for a vacation. However, we know in reality that Claudius plans to have Hamlet executed in England: ‘Do it England for like the hectic in my blood he rages’.
Even Claudius’ final attempt on Hamlet’s life adds to the fascinating nature of the external conflict between Hamlet and Claudius because of its surreptitious nature. Claudius has manipulated Laertes into doing his dirty work for him (get rid of Hamlet) under the guise of a friendly fencing match.
The atmosphere appears to be one of entertainment and good humour as both the king and queen sit around and toast the health of Hamlet, when in reality we the audience know that this is a perfidious attempt on Hamlet’s life.
The external conflict accentuates the drama of the play because of its surreptitious nature. It is fascinating because we the audience are made privy to a lot more information than some of the characters at times. It internal and external conflict make for compelling drama. This is a play predicated on psychological manoeuvrings, toing and froing both internally in the mind of Hamlet and externally with his formidable battle with Claudius.
‘The characters in Hamlet embody social and moral issues that are of as much significance to a modern audience as they were to the society of Shakespeare’s time’.
‘The characters in Hamlet embody social and moral issues that are of as much significance to a modern audience as they were to the society of Shakespeare’s time’. Issues such as dysfunctional families, the abuse of power and the pursuit of revenge and justice are all issues that are germane to a twenty-first century audience. At the essence of these issues is the conflict between what is right for the individual and what is in the best interest for the common good of society.
The play ‘Hamlet’ looks at the concept of dysfunctional families. When we first meet Hamlet, he is grieving the recent death of his beloved father. We feel for Hamlet when his mother rather insensitively chastises him for his sadness: ‘cast thy nighted colour off’. Claudius further compounds Gertrude’s insensitivity by telling him ‘But to persever/In obstinate condolement is a course/Of impious stubbornness; tis unmanly grief’. Hamlet struggles with the new dynamics of his family structure as Claudius, his uncle has married his mother with what appears to Hamlet as ‘indecent haste’. Hamlet makes it clear to Claudius that his loyalty belong to his father and not to him through his acerbic pun: ‘I am too much i’ the sun’. In the play ‘Hamlet’ we see a conflict that is reminiscent of an episode from the Jeremy Kyle show. The noble Hamlet is torn between loyalty to his father’s memory and obedience to his mother: ‘I shall in all my best obey you Madam’.
Hamlet revered his father ‘A combination and a form indeed/ Where every god did seem to set his seal/To give the world assurance of a man’. His animosity towards his mother’s new partner is clearly evident in Hamlet’s comparison of him as a ‘satyr’ to his Hyperion-like father.
His revulsion of Claudius and his mother’s relationship is clearly manifested in his employment of bestial and prurient imagery especially when talking about their sex life: ‘Nay, but to live/ In the rank sweat of an ‘enseamed bed,/Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty’. He feels disappointed and let down by Gertrude. He denigrates her, lamenting that ‘a beast that lacks the discourse of reason would have mourned longer’. This is completely understandable to a modern audience who see Hamlet’s initial struggle as that of a young man whose is forced to come to terms with the recalibration of his family unit.
Hamlet’s bitterness and world-weariness can be understood in terms of a young man whose idealistic perception of his parents’ relationship has been completely undermined by his mother’s recent hasty remarriage to his morally inferior uncle: ‘she would hang on him/ As if increase of appetite had grown’. Doubting something as fundamental as one’s perception of their family inevitably and quite understandably results in Hamlet’s sense of self-doubt, self-deprecation and his place in the world: ‘O! that this too too solid flesh would melt,/Thaw and resolve itself into a dew/Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d/His canon against self-slaughter’. Hamlet’s family is clearly dysfunctional as Claudius and Gertrude in their enrapture with each other, overlook the emotional needs of Hamlet. The moral and social implications of Gertrude’s remarriage are of interest to an audience of today as we are made cognisant of the implication of a remarriage on the children. We see how some children like Hamlet can end up feeling resentful towards their parent. Some might end up feeling displaced within their own family like Hamlet, with them vying with their parent’s new partner, for their parent’s affection.
Another issue of social and moral import that is germane to a modern audience is the abuse of political power. Claudius has usurped his brother and taken the Danish throne unlawfully. As a result, he has no legal or moral legitimacy to the throne and what ensues is a reign of corruption and duplicity. Claudius is a Machiavellian opportunist who uses his power as king to get what he wants. He encourages Polonius to spy on Hamlet and Ophelia for him. He exploits Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for his own sinister purposes. It is just too easy for us to dismiss characters like Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as obsequious sycophants who just want to ingratiate themselves with the king. One has to question how much freedom did these characters have to say no to Claudius? After all, Claudius is the king, the purported representative of God on earth whose decrees must be adhered to. Claudius abuses his power as king in order to satisfy his political agenda. This is particularly germane to a modern audience who tend to view politicians with a fair amount of cynicism and mistrust.
The Netflix series ‘House of Cards’ has immortalised this age old problem, of the ruthlessly Machiavellian opportunist, who exploits his political power in a similar fashion to Claudius in the character of Frank Underwood. When Claudius feels that Hamlet is a threat to his reign: ‘I like him not, nor stands it safe with us/To let his madness rage’, Claudius ruthlessly plans to have Hamlet executed: ‘Do it England;/For like the hectic in my blood he rages/And thou must cure me’.
Finally it would be remiss of me if I were not to discuss the concept of revenge and justice as the play ‘Hamlet’ after all, is a revenge play. It would be erroneous for us to think that the pursuit for revenge is an anachronistic concept. One only has to switch on the nine o clock RTÉ news to listen to gruesome tit-for-tat killing connected to the Kinahan/Hutch feud. The pursuit for revenge is as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare’s day. In the play ‘Hamlet’, three sons are seeking revenge for the deaths of their respective fathers. The concepts of filial duty, family honour and loyalty are explored extensively in the play.
Hamlet is charged with the task of avenging his father’s ‘foul and most unnatural murder’. Hamlet knows that it is his duty to seek this vengeance as he promises the Ghost that he will ‘sweep’ to his revenge. However, the noble, introspective and morally scrupulous Hamlet struggles with this task and with this type of vigilantism. Hamlet recoils from the task because of his conscience. Hamlet’s response probably reflects the majority of people when wronged, in that while they may desire revenge and justice, they refrain from taking the law into their own hands. However, in characters like Fortinbras and Laertes, Shakespeare presents us with an uncompromising ruthlessness when honour is at the stake: ‘Rightly to be great/Is not to stir without great argument/But greatly to find quarrel in a straw/When honour’s at the stake’.
We see Laertes’ hardnosed response as he tells Claudius: ‘To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil/Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit’. Fortinbras is willing to jeopardise the lives of twenty thousand men for ‘a little patch of ground/That hath no profit but the name’. The desire for revenge and the need for justice though we might be reluctant to acknowledge it, is a deeply innate human response to a wrong perpetuated. Hamlet is cognisant of the fact that he has ample justification for killing Claudius:
‘He that hath killed my king and whored my mother,/ Popped in between th' election and my hopes,/Thrown out his angle for my proper life/(And with such cozenage!)—is ’t not perfect conscience/To quit him with this arm?
Despite this Hamlet vacillates in executing his revenge. The nobility of Hamlet, his intellectual brilliance, his morally scrupulous nature inhibit him from cool-headedly killing Claudius. Hamlet is not by nature a vigilante and he struggles psychologically, moral and emotional with having to take the law into his own hands. It is only in a frenzied attack after Laertes has made him aware of Claudius’ treachery and his attempt on his life, that Hamlet flips it and kills Claudius.
The social and moral issues embodied by the characters in the play ‘Hamlet’ are as germane to a modern audience as they were to those of the Elizabethan era. The success of the play and the enduring appeal of the play lies in the play’s ability to resonate with audiences down through the centuries because of the universality of these human issues. The intricacies and moral ambiguities of these issues are the compelling ingredients for great drama.
‘Shakespeare explores the destructive nature of deception throughout the play Hamlet’. There is a strong correlation between the theme of deception and the theme of ingratiation in the play. The world conveyed in ‘Hamlet’, is one of self-advancement and obsequiousness. The main proponent of this philosophy of self-advancement is Claudius. Claudius has deceived the Danish court by unlawfully taking the Danish crown. He has committed the heinous crime of regicide and thus the natural moral order has been violated. Claudius has inaugurated a reign of corruption, duplicity and of self-interest.
The correlation between the morality of the king and the body politic has been compromised because Claudius is nothing more than a ruthlessly ambitious usurper. He has no legal or moral legitimacy to the throne. His deception is mirrored in the body politic through self-seeking characters like Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Polonius. Like the opportunistic Claudius these are characters who want to get ahead in life in terms of money, power and prestige. Claudius’ deception is the catalyst for further deceptions that result in further destruction in the play. This state of moral and social anarchy is evoked in phrases such as ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ and ‘tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely’ and the description of Claudius himself as ‘this canker of our nature’.
Claudius is a ruthless Machiavellian opportunist who killed his own brother and married his widow. The Ghost alludes to Claudius’ deception in his use of serpentine imagery: ‘The serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown’. Hamlet refers to Claudius’ deception and duplicity of character in his description of him as a ‘smiling damned villain’.
It would appear initially that deception is something advantageous to Claudius. His duplicitous character allows him to get ahead and rule Denmark with consummate ease. His mendacity and ability to tell little white lies or to bend the truth make Claudius an effective king. He appears diplomatic and amenable to everyone, even the officious and verbose Polonius, whom he is able to employ in order to spy on Hamlet.
We see how Claudius is able to deceive Laertes by manipulating him for his own ruthless purpose. Hamlet is posing a great threat to Claudius’ reign but Claudius is quite content to let Laertes get rid of Hamlet for him. He deceptively tells Laertes: ‘I loved your father’ and that he is outraged that Hamlet has murdered him. He deceives Laertes by convincing him that it is almost his duty to seek vengeance. He asks Laertes whether or not he loved his father: ‘Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like the painting of a sorrow,/A face without heart?’
Then Claudius surreptitiously asks Laertes the following question: ‘What would you undertake/To show yourself your father’s son in deed/More than in words? When Laertes responds: ‘To cut his throat i’ the church’ Claudius is delighted as he knows he can use Laertes in a new piece of deception. Claudius praises Laertes: ‘Now you speak like a good child and true gentleman’. He deceptively tells Laertes that he must not get involved because of the great love that Hamlet’s mother bears him. However, we see the destructive nature of deception here as the reckless but well-intentioned Laertes is prepared to kill a former friend by deceptive means.
Laertes’ nobility of character is vitiated because he has stooped to such deceptive chicanery. The fencing match is nothing more than a charade. It is a piece of dissemblance, designed to hide the attempt on Hamlet’s life. However, Laertes pays a Pyrrhic price for his deception, openly acknowledging to Hamlet that he got what he deserved: ‘I am justly killed by mine own treachery’
Claudius’ propensity towards deception is not only directed at other characters in the play. Indeed Claudius is not immune to practising self-deception on himself. He had convinced himself that if he killed his brother, he would have everything that he wanted. However in the Prayer scene, Claudius struggles with his conscience and his own deception. The Prayer scene is a pivotal moment of clarity, insight and honesty for Claudius as he confronts the reality of his situation. He struggles with the lies that he told himself. He is well aware of the immorality of his crime: ‘O my offence is rank; it smells to heaven’. He hopes that he may be pardoned but doesn’t fool himself into believing that he would relinquish the fruits of his crime: ‘May one be pardon’d and still retain the offence?’ He knows that he may evade justice here but he will be held accountable for his crimes eventually: ‘In the corrupted currents of this world/ Offence’s gilded hand may shove past by justice…….. but ‘tis not so above’. Claudius knows that his deceptions are destructive and will lead to his spiritual ruin. His proclivity towards lying has put him on the road to spiritual damnation and this is something he cannot evade. His deceptions are responsible for the deaths of others and this is something that he must eventually face up to.
The destructive aspect of deception is further underscored by characters such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Like King Hamlet, Hamlet employs serpentine imagery to convey the duplicitous nature of his fulsome friends. They are ‘adders-fanged’, ‘sponges’ that ‘soak up the king’s rewards, countenances and authorities’. They deceptively pose a Hamlet’s friends in order to ‘glean’ what they can from Hamlet’s melancholy so they can ingratiate themselves with Claudius. They are obsequious sycophants who try to deceive Hamlet into a false confidence. However, their deception serves only to destroy what was once a loving and sincere friendship. Hamlet challenges their deception by asking them to play a pipe. He accuses them of trying to play on him and manipulate him: ‘Why look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops: you would pluck out the heart of my mystery’. Hamlet rewards their deception and perfidy by sending them to their deaths. Hamlet indifferently remarks that: ‘why they did make love to their employment’.
Another creature of deception and duplicity is Polonius. He is an officious old man, who makes everyone’s business, his business. He is a sententious character, hypocritically preaching to Laertes when he is just about ready to embark for France: ‘Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice’ and ‘to thy own self be true’. However, Polonius is a deceptive hypocrite. He pays Reynaldo to tell lies about Laertes and spread rumours about him. Polonius has no moral qualms about casting aspersions on his son’s reputation: ‘I’ll lay it a fetch of your warranty you laying these slight sullies against my son’.
As an obsequious sycophant, Polonius is quite happy to use his daughter Ophelia as ‘bait’ in order to eavesdrop on what should be a private conversation between two lovers. Furthermore, he encourages his daughter to take part in this deceptive charade. This is deplorable behaviour from a man who sententiously advises his son ‘to thine own self be true’. The only person that his obsequious sycophant is true to is himself. He is a self-absorbed character, masquerading as a concerned and loving father. We are made aware of the destructive aspect of deception as Polonius becomes enmeshed in his own web of deceit. Polonius pays a Pyrrhic price for being an officious busybody as Hamlet kills him. If Polonius had not be spying on Gertrude and Hamlet, then Hamlet would not have had the opportunity to mistake him for Claudius: ‘I took you for your better’.
Even the noble idealistic youth Hamlet becomes embroiled in this world of lies and duplicity. Hamlet is forced to espouse an ‘antic disposition’ as part of his role as the play’s malcontent. Hamlet’s feigned madness is a type of sprezzatura, a defensive form of irony that allows him to impugn the corruption, hypocrisy and ostentation of the Danish court. Hamlet is forced to appear mad because he is not free to speak his mind against the king: ‘O break my heart for I must hold my tongue’. Hamlet asserts that ‘to be honest as this world goes is to be one man plucked out of ten thousand’. However, we are cognisant of the destructiveness of this deception on Hamlet as he is made to feel like a ‘whore, must unpack my heart with words, and fall a-cursing like a drab, a scullion’. Hamlet’s feigned madness wounds his mother’s as she begs him to stop: ‘O Hamlet! Thou has cleft my heart in twain’. This destructive lie on Hamlet’s part only serves to compound the growing distance between Hamlet and his mother.
In conclusion, the theme of deception and its destructive power is an integral part of the play. The play is quite didactic in this regard as it makes the audience cognisant of the destructive harm of lies that we tells ourselves and others. This theme is interesting, thought-provoking and very relevant especially when we compare it with Netflix series such as ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘House of Cards.’
‘Hamlet’s problem is not that of a man who does not want to do his duty; it is of a man who cannot find out what his duty is’. Discuss.
‘Hamlet’s problem is not that of a man who does not want to do his duty; it is of a man who cannot find out what his duty is’. Hamlet has been assigned three conflicting roles in the play; the role of noble idealistic prince; the role of malcontent; the role of sanguinary revenger. It is my argument that these roles are wholly incompatible with each other and as a result Hamlet’s problem strikes me as that not a man who does not want to do his duty but rather of a man who cannot find out what is his duty.
Hamlet’s tragedy lies in the fact that his noble disposition and the circumstances that he finds himself in conspire to bring about his downfall. Hamlet’s noble disposition is his hamartia. Hamlet is too noble, too introspective and too morally scrupulous for his own good. When the Ghost’s informs him to get revenge, Hamlet initially promises to ‘sweep’ to his revenge, nobly adhering to the principle of lex talionis. However, on further reflection, Hamlet recoils from the idea of seeking vengeance because it is counter-intuitive to his noble nature. Hamlet finds himself in a Catch-22 situation, Scylla- Charybdis predicament. If he fails to kill Claudius then he is a coward and there is nothing noble about being a coward; if he does kill Claudius, then he is a murderer and there is nothing noble about taking human life; either way Hamlet’s nobility will be vitiated. As a result Hamlet does not know what he should do and as a result becomes totally bedeviled as a result.
After the Ghost’s ‘dread command’, Hamlet vacillates and becomes extremely indecisive. He knows that he should seek vengeance for his father’s murder but he struggles with this task because he is not temperamentally unsuited to play the role of sanguinary revenger. His introspective nature means that he over analyses the situation to such an extent that he is inhibited from acting decisively. He laments that ‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied ov’r with the pale cast of thought’. He agonises over his procrastination, beating himself up as to whether it is ‘bestial oblivion or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event’.
He fears that the Ghost might be the devil that has ‘assume a pleasing shape’ come to abuse him so to damn him to hell. Hamlet becomes totally confused and bewildered as to what he should do. The Ghost’s ‘dread command’ is a heavy burden on the mentally fragile Hamlet. He becomes self-deprecatory, wishing that he had never been born in order to seek vengeance for his father’s death: ‘The time is out of joint; o cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right’. Hamlet wants to do something but the problem that he does not know what he should do. This yearning to do something only exacerbates his sense of frustration with himself. He asks if he is a coward: ‘Am I a coward?’ He says that he is ‘pigeon liver’d and lack gall’, ‘What a peasant slave and rogue am I’. His failure to do something and his frustration of not knowing what to do is summed up in his sense of low self-worth: ‘I do not set my life at a pin’s fee’, ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt and thaw and resolve itself into a dew’.
Hamlet’s sense of self-loathing and inadequacy are compounded by decisive revengers such as Laertes, Priam and Fortinbras who seem to have no moral qualms about fulfilling their filial obligations. Laertes tells Claudius ‘To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil/Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit I dare damnation’ and Fortinbras has no moral qualms about putting the lives of twenty thousand men in jeopardy for a ‘little patch of ground’. However, Hamlet procrastinates because he is unsure what it is that is required of him. Hamlet feels that everyone has all these expectations of him; Gertrude expects him ‘to cast thy nighted colour off’; Claudius expects Hamlet to be all affable and behave like a son to him: ‘But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son’; the Ghost expects him to seek revenge for his murder and not to ‘let the bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest’. All these different people and their expectations of Hamlet serve to underscore and exacerbate Hamlet’s sense of confusion and uncertainty. Is Hamlet supposed to be the noble idealistic young prince? Or the outspoken malcontent, impugning the corruption inaugurated by Claudius’ unlawful reign or is Hamlet supposed to be the sanguinary revenger?
The real problem with Hamlet is not that of a man who does not want to do his duty; it is a man who cannot find out what his duty is. As the play’s malcontent, Hamlet makes it clear to us of his intention to espouse ‘an antic disposition’ in order to speak out and impugn the corruption, the duplicity and hypocrisy of the Danish court. However, this role is contrary to his role as idealistic noble prince. The role of malcontent is incompatible with the role of noble prince and as a result Hamlet’s noble idealism is vitiated by the corruption that permeates Denmark.
Hamlet’s uses of sprezzatura makes Hamlet feel like a ‘whore’ that ‘must unpack my heart with words and a-fall a cursing like a drab, a scullion’. Hamlet’s sense of confusion and bewilderment is further exacerbated by the Ghost’s second visitation. Hamlet is totally bewildered and cries out that he hopes that the Ghost has not come ‘to chide his tardy son’. Hamlet is totally bedeviled as to what is it exactly he should be doing. As the play’s malcontent, Hamlet thought it was incumbent on him to ‘speak daggers’ to his mother and save her from perdition. However the Ghost makes it absolutely clear what his role is and what he expects from his son: ‘This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose’.
Hamlet encourages his mother to confess herself to heaven ‘repent of what’s past. Avoid what’s to come’. This is in keeping with his role as malcontent. Hamlet tries to fulfill his filial obligation in the Prayer scene when Claudius looks to be praying but Hamlet recoils from the task of vengeance, claiming that vengeance should have ‘no relish of salvation i’ it’ and he urges his sword up and to know a ‘more horrid hent’. However, this sanguinary delight that Hamlet seems to exhibit in the Prayer scene seems to be counter-intuitive to his noble nature.
It would appear that all these facets of Hamlet’s character, the noble prince, the malcontent, the revenger are all competing with each other for supremacy. It is no wonder that Hamlet questions his main objective and his main role in the play. We see the noble prince emerge in the Graveyard scene where his heartfelt and sincere grief over Ophelia’s death is clearly palpable: ‘Forty thousand brothers with all their quantity of love could not make up my sum’.
We see the noble prince emerge in the fencing scene where Hamlet fails to examine the foils and fails to suspect any duplicity and chicanery. His role as noble prince is at odds with that of revenger and Hamlet pays a Pyrrhic price for such noble naivety. It is clear to me then that Hamlet’s problem is not that of a man who does not want to do his duty; it is of a man who cannot find out what his duty is.
‘Even seemingly negative qualities such as indecisiveness, hate and obsession enhance Hamlet’s position as tragic hero; a prince among men’- Discuss
‘Even seemingly negative qualities such as indecisiveness, hate and obsession enhance Hamlet’s position as tragic hero; a prince among men’. I would agree with this assessment of Hamlet’s character. It is Hamlet’s nobility of character and circumstances not of his own making that conspire to bring about the demise of Hamlet. Hamlet is a noble character whose introspective nature and his moral scrupulousness (moral rectitude) of character enhance his status as noble prince. However, the tragedy of the play lies in the fact that Hamlet is given a role that he is temperamentally unsuited to- the role of revenger. When he hears of his father’s ‘foul and most unnatural murder’, Hamlet promises that he would ‘sweep’ to his revenge. However, on further reflection, Hamlet vacillates as he recoils from seeking vengeance, wishing that he had never been born to fulfill this task: ‘The time is out of joint; O cursed spite that ever I was born to put it right’.
Hamlet finds himself in a Catch-22 situation, a moral quandary. If Hamlet kills Claudius, then his nobility will be vitiated because there is nothing noble about taking human life; if he does not kill Claudius then he is a coward and similarly there is nothing noble about being a coward. Hamlet is stuck in an impossible situation, Scylla-Charybdis situation.
Hamlet’s negative qualities that are exhibited throughout the play can be understood in response to this impossible situation that he finds himself through no fault of his own. The Ghost’s imposition for Hamlet to revenge his ‘foul and most unnatural murder’ is a heavy burden on the noble Hamlet and these negative traits such as his indecisiveness, hatred and obsessiveness should be viewed as a human response to a very difficult situation. Hamlet is completely mentally bedevil‘Hamlet’s problem is not that of a man who does not want to do his duty; it is of a man who cannot find out what his duty is’. ed. The Ghost’s command is an imposition and Hamlet does not volunteer of his own volition to kill his uncle Claudius, therefore our sympathies are firmly aligned with the tragic youth who is being emotionally coerced by a parent into doing something that they don’t want to.
Hamlet’s indecisiveness of character serves to underscore his tragic status and works to illicit our sympathy for this mentally bedeviled character. Indeed, it is this indecisiveness of character that makes Hamlet an attractive character. Hamlet does not impulsively seek vengeance without ascertaining the truth about the situation. His indecisiveness allows him to doubt the veracity of the Ghost whom he speculates might very well be the devil come to ‘abuse’ him and so ‘damn’ him. Hamlet devises the ingenious play within the play, ‘The Mousetrap’ as a ploy to ascertain the veracity of the Ghost: ‘The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king’. He jubilantly tells Horatio that he will ‘take the Ghost’s word for a thousand pounds’ when he see Claudius’ response to this trickery: ‘What, frightened by false fires!’ His indecisiveness of character afforded him time to think before acting on the impulse. This indecisiveness of character is therefore to be viewed as an admirable quality especially when contrasted with the decisive hastiness of Fortinbras who is willing to put the lives of twenty thousand men in jeopardy for the sake of a ‘little patch of ground that has no profit but the name'
Furthermore, this indecisiveness of character serves to accentuate Hamlet’s status as a tragic hero when understood in context of his self-deprecation and his incessant self-comparison with decisive revengers like Laertes, Fortinbras and Priam. His sense of self-inadequacy and guilt is compounded by these characters who have no trouble in fulfilling their filial obligation. He questions whether or not he is a coward: ‘Am I a coward?’ He says of himself: ‘What a peasant slave and rogue am I’, ‘I am pigeon liver’d and lack gall’. He envies decisive revengers like Laertes and Fortinbras. Hamlet’s introspective nature paralyses him from seeking revenge. He questions whether it be ‘bestial oblivion or some crave scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event’ that inhibits him from action. He asserts ‘Thus conscience makes cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied ov’r with the pale cast of thought’. Hamlet over analyses the situation and is in turn paralysed from acting even though he knows that he should and it is his duty to do so. We the audience can then view this indecisiveness of character as further evidence of a mentally bedeviled youth, allowing us to sympathise with Hamlet who is being emotionally blackmailed into doing something that is counter-intuitive to him.
Similarly, Hamlet’s vehement hatred also serves to enhance his status as a tragic hero. As the play’s malcontent, it is Hamlet’s job to speak out against and impugn the corruption, duplicity and hypocrisy of the Danish court. However, Hamlet is forced to espouse an ‘antic disposition’ in order to fulfill this role: ‘But break my heart I must hold my tongue’. We see how the idealistic noble youth becomes embittered by the culture of corruption and ingratiation.Hamlet is forced to feigned madness in order to impugn the corrupt status quo and in doing so feels like a ‘whore that must unpack my heart with words/And fall a-cursing like a drab, a scullion!’
Hamlet’s hatred is evidence of his repulsion of Claudius’ debauched reign. He feels ‘Denmark is a prison’. Hamlet recoils from the debauchery, the decadence and the lasciviousness of the Danish court as underscored in Hamlet’s use of bestial and putrescent imagery throughout the play. We the audience are made to feel sorry for the noble youth whose noble idealism has been vitiated as a result of Claudius’ unlawful reign. Through no fault of his own, Hamlet becomes embroiled in a web of corruption and deceit and as a result becomes cynical, disillusioned and embittered by life. Hamlet’s hatred is further evidence of his nobility of his character and we can empathise with the ‘prince among men’ whose noble idealism dissipates, only to be replaced by hateful skepticism.
Hamlet’s obsessiveness can also be understood in terms of the corrupt world that he finds himself in. Hamlet’s obsessiveness of character can be seen with regards to his prurient language in relation to Gertrude and Claudius’ marriage. Again, this is further evidence of Hamlet’s noble idealism. Hamlet had immense respect for his father. He looked up to him regarding him as a ‘Hyperion’-like figure. He revered his father: ‘a combination and form indeed wherein every god did seem to set his seal to give the world the assurance of a man’. However, Hamlet is disgusted at his mother, lamenting that a ‘beast that lacks the discourse of reason would have mourned longer’.
He employs prurient bestial imagery to convey his disgust and revulsion towards his mother’s new marriage. They are like pigs who ‘live in the rank sweat of an enseaméd bed, honeying and making love over the nasty sty’. As the play’s malcontent, Hamlet intends to ‘speak daggers’ to his mother so that she may repent. He urges her ‘to confess yourself to heaven, repent what’s past. Avoid what’s to come’. Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s sex life can then be understood in terms of a solicitous son who is gravely concerned about the spiritual well-being of his mother. His obsession serves to underscore his nobility of character, a young man who endeavours in vain to put rights the wrongs committed by others, thus cementing in the minds of the audience, Hamlet’s status as a tragic hero.
It is noteworthy that every single character gives testimony to the fundamental nobility of Hamlet’s character. Hamlet is not afraid to direct his negative impulses towards himself as he self-deprecatingly asserts: ‘I could accuse myself of such things it were better that my mother had not borne me. I am proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape and time to act them in’. Hamlet’s self-deprecation and his sense of inadequacy over his reluctance to fulfill his filial duty towards his father all serve to solidify Hamlet’s status as a tragic hero.
Hamlets madness whether genuine or not adds to the fascination of his character for the audience.
Hamlet’s madness is a very contentious issue throughout the play ‘Hamlet’. We ask ourselves many times throughout is his madness mere pretence or is Hamlet genuinely mad? At some stages throughout we think that his madness is a tactic put on in order to confuse and trouble his usurper uncle Claudius however on other occasions he seems genuinely mad. This puzzling trait within the character of Hamlet definitely adds to the fascination of his character for the audience.
Following Hamlet’s encounter with his father’s ghost in the opening act of the play he becomes aware that it was his uncle Claudius who killed his beloved gather so he could take his Danish crown and also his wife. Hamlet’s father then presents him with a role that he is temperamentally unsuited to play – Role of Revenger. It is Hamlet’s filial duty to seek revenge on Claudius for his father’s murder. Hamlet however has one fatal weakness and this is that he is too noble, too idealistic, too introspective and too moral for his own good which brings about his downfall. “Revenge my foul and most unnatural murder”.
Throughout the play when Hamlet is pretending to be mad we know that this is a tactic used by him to learn the truth of his father’s murder and also so that he can express his feelings of rage at his mother’s betrayal of his father, “look you how cheerfully my mother looks and my father died within two hours.”. In the first few acts of the play it does come across as if Hamlet is genuinely mad and both Claudius and his mother become worried about him. “I like him not nor stands it safe with us to let his madness range”. Hamlet’s mother Gertrude however believes that she knows the reasoning behind his madness as she informs Claudius. “I doubt it is no other but the main, his father’s death and our o’er hasty marriage. At times I do believe that Hamlet is mad as he is clearly under considerable mental and emotional strain. This stems from the visit from the ghost of his father and the duty that he must undertake. Hamlet genuinely is under a lot of pressure following being presented with this task and vacillates constantly throughout. I almost understand that Hamlet may be in madness mainly stemming from the no win situation that he finds himself in really adds to the fascination of his character, as we are left wondering throughout, what will he do? If he seeks revenge he will be fulfilling his father’s wish however he will be killing another human being, but if he doesn’t kill Claudius he will not be fulfilling his father’s wish and seeking revenge for his “foul” murder. Hamlet is so lost and doesn’t know what to do that he does into a state of self-deprecation. “The time is out of joint O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”.
Throughout the play Hamlet is very unpredictable due to his madness which fascinated me and I’m sure other readers felt the same. We feel sorry for Hamlet many times throughout the play for the fact that he has been presented with the duty to seek revenge however at some stages we have no sympathy for him whatsoever. We see a different side to the character of Hamlet when he kills Polonius. This is very unlike his character and arises questions and confusion with readers. As a reader however I condoned Hamlet for this as I believe it was a moment of genuine madness. The more we think about this horrific act from Hamlet, the more we believe that he is mad, as this is very unlike the character of Hamlet. We come to the conclusion that Hamlet must be mad if he killed an almost innocent man and cannot kill the man that is responsible for killing his father. “Hamlet in madness hath Polonius slain”. Another act that fascinates readers and raises questions about his true character is when he visits Ophelia. Ophelia describes Hamlet as looking “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. Hamlet supposedly loves Ophelia however he does not show this very clearly throughout. On this day when Hamlet visits Ophelia in my opinion he is in madness. “He took me by the wrist and held me hard”. The fact that Hamlet did not speak to Ophelia makes us question his love or her and leads us to believe he was not in sound mind. This action also leads Polonius to believe that Hamlet was mad because of his lover for Ophelia. Another reason to support this is the fact that he jumped into Ophelia’s grave in the graveyard. This again fascinates readers as his love for Ophelia throughout the play was questionable, however now that she is dead he claims his true love for her. “The love of forty thousand brothers could not make up my sum”. These impulse actions by Hamlet fascinate readers and lead them to believe he is in madness.
Hamlet’s madness interests readers also as it causes him to act differently towards other. During the play Hamlet engages in a violent outburst towards his mother which is unlike Hamlet. Although Hamlet is disgusted at the fact of his mother “honeying and making love over the nasty sty” with Claudius violence is not in his nature, as he cannot manage to seek revenge.
Although there are many reasons to show that Hamlet’s madness was genuine there are many reasons to show that it was and “antic disposition” put on by Hamlet. Hamlet admits to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is not always mad, “I am mad north north west when the wind blows southerly. I know a hawk from a handsaw”. Hamlet also confides the true nature of his “madness” to his mother, “I essentially am not in madness but mad in craft”.
Other characters also are not fooled by Hamlet’s madness. Polonius speaks of a “method” in Hamlet’s madness. “Though there is madness yet there is method in it “. Guildenstern also refers to Hamlet’s “crafty madness” which enables him to avoid difficult questions. This evidence leads us to believe that Hamlet’s madness was a clever tactic used by him in his battle against his usurper uncle Claudius.
There are many reasons to support the fact that Hamlet’s madness was genuine, and also many reasons to show that his madness was put on. This really adds to the fascination of his character as even at the end of the play we are still unsure of the truth.
By Sarah Lambe, 5th Year
The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is a fascinating one” Discuss.
The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is undoubtedly a fascinating one and I agree wholeheartedly with the above statement. Their battle, like most doesn’t (for the most part) consist of weapons, but rather of psychological warfare and mind games and is an incredibly captivating battle to follow.
It became conspicuous to me very early on in the play that Hamlet and Claudius are both extremely intelligent characters. Claudius is awfully good at keeping up his duplicitous facade which proved to me that he is a very ‘tuned in’ person. “What wouldst thou have Laertes?” He appears to be one of the most affable, friendly and nice characters in the play at first glance but when we learn of the heinous crime he committed, it made me believe that his kind exterior is merely an act or mask to hide his true evil self. This false duplicitous act as noble king must take a lot of commitment to keep up and the fact that he manages to do so without making anyone suspicious makes me think that he is a very crafty, clever character.
Hamlet is also an extremely intellectual character. He employs an “antic disposition” in an attempt to get away with carrying out his filial duty: getting revenge for his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder.” This antic disposition he employs is obviously a well thought out plan and proved to me that Hamlet is a very introspective thinker and a very clever man.
The fact that both characters are so very intelligent plays a huge role in the type of battle they endure. They deal with their struggle through a series of mind games. It is a battle of wits and intellect and because both characters are pretending to be something that they’re not, it makes for a very intriguing struggle. Hamlet uses a lot of sprezzatura- a defensive form of irony when he employs his “antic disposition.” He calls Polonius a “fishmonger” and talks complete nonsense on numerous occasions throughout the play, all in an effort to make people believe that he has in fact gone completely mad.
The only person that eventually sees through Hamlet’s ‘madness’ is Claudius, the usurper king and Hamlet’s uncle. Claudius knows when Hamlet puts on ‘The Mousetrap’ that his so called madness is feigned. It is here that Claudius realises that is life is in grave danger. Claudius then plays along with Hamlet’s mind games and tells Gertrude that he is sending Hamlet to England to prevent him from being arrested for his “rash and bloody deed” [killing Polonius in the arras]. However, we the audience, know that Claudius just wanted Hamlet out of the way so that no-one else would become aware that it was he who was the cause of King Hamlet’s death. Their mind games make Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, a very different, original and enrapturing play, adding to the fascinating qualitied that Hamlet and Claudius’ struggle possess.
It became transparent to me that both characters have very admirable qualities which also added to my utter fascination of their struggle. Although Claudius is unquestionably the villain of the play, he appears to be a very kind, people pleasing person. He seems to be a loving husband and he’s certainly not just your average evil villain like those of fairy tales who do nothing but go out of their way to make people’s lives a misery. Perhaps this is all part of his act, but it can be very hard to hate Claudius at times while reading the play.
Hamlet also has a list of good qualities. He’s noble, commendable and moral. He is referred to as “noble Hamlet” on countless occasions throughout the course of the play which really outs emphasis on this characteristic he’s endowed with.
However, although Claudius is unquestionably the villain of the play and Hamlet the hero, at times I preferred the character of Claudius to that of Hamlet. Claudius is a heinous villain but he is also a charismatic, affable, good- natured individual. While reading the play, I felt like I should hate him, but I have to admit, at times I found it difficult. He really does come across as a likeable and his personality completely clashes with that of Hamlet. Although noble, Hamlet, at times can be an anti-hero. He’s not your average gentle, kind, lovable, innocent hero who you feel deeply sorry for because they are such a genuinely nice person. He is a world-weary, depressing character and at times I felt his grief and self-pity made me feel less sorry for him and not as inclined to root for him as I would for other heroes in other stories, plays or movies. I really felt alienated from pity and lacked sympathy for him. However the fact that I didn’t know whether to root for Hamlet or Claudius fascinated me because such confusion had never happened to me before.
I think the contrast between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Claudius’ decisiveness further made me fascinated by their struggle. Hamlet is a completely indecisive character. He is very introspective and overthinks everything. He cannot kill Claudius and “revenge” his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder” not, I learned, because he is incapable of murder, but because he is paralysed by his overthinking and his indecisive nature. I know he can kill because he killed Polonius in the arras, but only out of rashness. The whole play revolves around Hamlet’s indecisiveness and inability to kill Claudius. Hamlet knows he is indecisive and exclaims that perhaps he is “thinking too precisely on th’event”.
In complete contrast to this, Claudius thinks nothing of trying to kill Hamlet. He firstly tries to get him sent off to England to be killed and when this plan, much to Claudius’ dismay, fails, he attempts to get Hamlet killed in a fight with Laertes. He unlike Hamlet is not paralysed by thought and does succeed in what he set out to do.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree with the thesis statement: “The struggle between Hamlet and Claudius is a fascinating one” I was riveted by their battle of wits and intellect and by the good a bad qualities that both characters possess. I was intrigued by the fact that at times I like Claudius more as a character than Hamlet, and I think that the contrast between Hamlet’s indecisiveness and Claudius’ decisiveness made their struggle even more spellbinding.
By Grace McLeish 5th Year BCS
I believe that both Gertrude and Ophelia have a great deal of importance in Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’. The portrayal of women in this play is largely negative. Women in the play are treated as second class people in such a patriarchal society. The female characters in the play indulge the feeling of being objectified. They are portrayed as extremely malleable and are seen to be pathetically subservient. In this essay, I will discuss why I think Gertrude and Ophelia are important characters.
When we are first introduce to Gertrude, she is seen by the side of Claudius of her new husband. She married her brother-in-law soon after her first husband was killed. I think she personifies the theme of corruption. Her marriage to Claudius highlights how corrupt Denmark has truly become. Although her actions nauseate the audience, she still fascinates us unknowingly.
Gertrude is highly sexualised figure in the play. Her sex life appears to bear no secrets, especially not to her son Hamlet who comes across as a voyeur or peeping Tom. Hamlet is strangely obsessed with his mother’s sex life. His obsession is unhealthy and bewilders the audience in my opinion. We learn that her “o’erhasty marriage” agitates Hamlet and displeases him undoubtedly. Gertrude causes Hamlet to feel like the world is a contaminated “unweeded garden” that is “rank and gross in nature” I think his mother’s sexuality disturbs him more than discovering his father was murdered. Hamlet constantly taunts Gertrude because of her sexual allure and not his father’s murder. Many commentators have theorised on the presence of an Oedipus complex in Hamlet- perhaps the real reason as to why Hamlet agonised and procrastinated so much over killing Claudius is that Claudius done what he himself longed to do.
Gertrude is insensitive towards her only son. He is grieving over his father’s death and she can’t seem to understand what the big deal is. “Thou know’st tis common, all that live must die”. I think you could question whether Gertrude really cherished King Hamlet before he was murdered. She disrespects and ignores Hamlet’s feelings, causing him to feel suicidal leaving Gertrude partially responsible. “O cursed spite, that ever I was born to put it right”.
The way Gertrude acts results in Hamlet’s misogyny towards women. “Frailty, thy name is woman”. Hamlet begins to despise every woman he sees. Sadly, his misogyny affects his girlfriend Ophelia leaving Gertrude responsible for Hamlet’s treatment of poor unsuspecting Ophelia. “Get thee to a nunnery!” Gertrude allows Hamlet to continuously belittle Ophelia because she’s oblivious to the reality outside her marriage to Claudius. Gertrude’s importance as a character lies in her insensitive treatment of Hamlet which in turn has a knock on effect on several other characters.
The actual character of Ophelia has a small role in the play. However, her character has two very important function to serve in my opinion. Part of the importance of her character lies in the fact that her innocence serves to highlight the corruption of the Danish court. Her innocence contrasts the entire play because it is full of corruption. The fact that she is head over heels in love with Hamlet is used as a weapon against her as she is exploited by her father Polonius and Claudius in order to get what they want. Furthermore I think Ophelia is an important character because her death becomes the catalyst for Hamlet to stop dilly-dallying and time-wasting and seek revenge on Claudius.
Ophelia is undoubtedly the most tragic victim in the play. Hamlet and Ophelia are in love but in Hamlet’s eyes the corruption of Denmark prevents them to be together. Ophelia is forbidden to have any contact with Hamlet. This devastates her and when he tells her that “I love you not” Ophelia is totally bewildered. Ophelia and Hamlet were manipulated throughout the play. They were toyed and their love was adulterated.
Ophelia’s mental breakdown and suicide broke the audiences’ hearts when she drowned. Ophelia was took advantage of by all the men in her life: Laertes, Polonius and Hamlet. Polonius used Ophelia as “bait” to unearth the source of Hamlet’s madness. Laertes belittled her into thinking Hamlet was too good for her and would never love her.
Hamlet played games with her and treated her repulsively. The three of them destroyed her self-belief, her confidence and shattered her heart into a million pieces.
Ophelia’s genuine madness contrasts with Hamlet’s fabricated madness. “I am mad north-north west when the wind is southerly” Hamlet fakes his antic disposition to try and get away with murder. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s falsity did play a part in driving Ophelia mad. Hamlet’s actions highlight corruption in my opinion while Ophelia shows proof that there is some good in the middle of all evil.
Ophelia is pure and innocent. She was caught up in the corruption and could not survive in it anymore. It was only once she took her life that people cherished her. “I lov’d Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum”. Hamlet was dedicated to Ophelia and absolutely adored her. Her death changed Hamlet’s attitude towards seeking revenge. He becomes more determined to achieve his goal. He is genuinely devastated by her death and seems somewhat unhinged in the Graveyard scene.
To lose the woman you love can be heart-breaking and may serve to drive you mad. “He took me by the wrist, and held me hard” and “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers with all their quantity of love could not make up my sum” Ophelia rejects Hamlet because her father told her to do so and Hamlet took his bad temper out on his girlfriend because she was the one closest to him. Both of them are victims of the corrupt reign of Claudius.
In conclusion, I think both Gertrude and Ophelia play important roles in the play ‘Hamlet’ even though women were seen as insubordinate to men.