THe unraveling of Hamlet
Hamlet (c. 1600) is perhaps the most famous of all the tragedies created by William Shakespeare. The main character – Hamlet — may be the most complex and controversial character any playwright has ever placed onstage. Hamlet’s erratic behavior poses a question: is he being rational in his acts and sacrificing himself for the “greater good” or is he simply mad? How and why does Hamlet move from one state of mind to the other? What significance does this have for the play? Throughout the play Hamlet goes through several different stages of life, constantly being in a tortured mental state, caught between love, grief, and vengeance. His different states of mind are the result of his controversial personality and his ability to objectively analyze any situation. Over the centuries there have been a multitude of different explanations for Hamlet’s behavior. One of the views is that Hamlet is simply a victim of circumstances; the other presents him as a beautiful but ineffectual soul who lacked the willpower to avenge his father. Hamlet can also be viewed as something close to a manic-depressive whose melancholy moods, as his failure to take revenge continues, deepened into self-contempt. His disturbing gift of laughing at his own grief as well as at the shortcomings of the world in general also contributes to the complexity of his character. His laughter strengthens the plot, by becoming one of the qualities of his mind that enable him to avoid his mission and postpone his revenge. The reader can see that Shakespeare meant to create Hamlet to be such a complicated character. Hamlet is a person of exceptional intelligence and sensitivity, raised to occupy a high station in life and then suddenly confronted with a violent and terrifying situation in which he must take drastic action. He admits that he is not ready for this task: “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” (1.5.188-89). At this point Hamlet’s mind is torn apart by the controversy of vengeance. It’s hardly surprising to find him veering between extremes of behavior, hesitating, demanding proof, and looking for the most appropriate way to carry out his task. The Ghost appears before Hamlet at a very disturbing time in his life — his father’s tragic death and his mother’s quick remarriage are more than Hamlet’s mind can bear. The reader can easily find justification for this point of view, especially in Hamlet’s own soliloquies. Early in the play Hamlet manifests his anger: Let me not think on’t; frailty, thy name is woman— A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she followed my poor father’s body Like Niobe, all tears, why, she— O god, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer—married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules. Within a month, Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (1.2.146-58) Linked to the theme of revenge is the great question of Hamlet’s inner meditations: Is there a point to life at all? Do humans suffer in this harsh world for a purpose, or simply because they are afraid to find out what may lie beyond it? Is there a higher power, and how does one seek its guidance? Hamlet’s anguish is caused by his effort to link even the most trivial event to the order of the universe. His inability to coop with reality because of his philosophical beliefs causes Hamlet’s state of mind to constantly change. His dilemma is in his unsuccessful attempts to create a tangible bond between his passion, which would spur him to immediate vengeance, and reason, which is God-given, and which would soothe Hamlet’s action with sensible judgment. Hamlet is trapped between two worlds: the ideal world that he created in his head and the existing reality. Worst of all however, is that he realizes that the weakness of his mind prevents him from acting: “Why, then ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2. 253-54). Another point worth mentioning is the effect that the concept of revenge has on Hamlet. This powerful demand is countered in Hamlet’s mind by three questions: Is revenge a good or an evil act? Is Claudius truly guilty and so to be punished? Is it Hamlet’s responsibility to punish him? The fact that Hamlet is a thinking as well as a feeling person, conscious of the good and bad points in every step he takes, makes the act of revenge particularly painful for him. Revenge is not Christian, and Hamlet is a Christian prince; it is not rational, and Hamlet is a philosopher; it is not gentle, and Hamlet is a gentleman. Hamlet does not approach his task in an unquestioning, mechanical way. He has doubts about it, as any of us might if asked to do the same thing. It releases violent emotions in him, the intensity of which shocks and unbalances him. Both Marcellus and Horatio fear that the Ghost may be an evil spirit intending to damn or destroy Hamlet. Hamlet himself seems to toy with this idea at times; however, he accepts the ghost’s story, at first cautiously and then unquestioningly after the Play Scene: I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds More relative than this. (2.2. 610-16) Yet again Hamlet is reminded of his own conflicting impulses and of his inability to feel sufficient desire for revenge or sufficient grief over his father’s death. Although Hamlet’s mind is still possessed by doubts, he suppresses them and makes a first definite decision to act. It becomes clear that Hamlet constantly battles the fear that the idea of revenge is inspired by his own deranged mind, and therefore by carrying it out he would be committing a sin. By the end of the play however, there is no question that the ghost was speaking the truth. Whether its advice was good and heaven-sent, however, is unclear, considering the death and destruction to which its desire for revenge has led. It is also important to point out yet another controversy of Hamlet’s character — the cruel and barbaric aspects of his behavior– his mental badgering of Ophelia, his reason for refusing to kill Claudius at prayer, and most of all the coldhearted and possibly unjust way he has dealt with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All those scenes suggest that Hamlet is himself a crude and unpleasant character, and his poetic speeches merely sugarcoat the bitter pill. On the other hand, the emotional violence of his scene with Ophelia is often explained by suggesting that Hamlet knows their meeting is being watched by the King and Polonius. The murder of Polonius, though perhaps an excessive punishment for his eavesdropping, is the inevitable outgrowth of his spying on behalf of the King. However, Hamlet does not think that murdering Polonius is enough of a punishment – he also hides his body. When the King questions Hamlet about the whereabouts of Polonius’s body, Hamlet replies: “In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him I’ th’ other place yourself. But if indeed you find him not within this month, you shall nose as you go up the stairs into the lobby” (4.3. 33-7). Naturally Hamlet realizes that by denying Polonius the proper Christian burial, he denies him the possibility of going to heaven. Remembering Hamlet’s deliberations about revenge and his fear that the Ghost was sent by the devil, the reader might wonder – what is happening to Hamlet? Hamlet’s state of mind changes yet again – he becomes ruthless. At that point it is clear that Hamlet is ready to kill Claudius, since he does not hesitate even for a moment when he kills Polonius. His sacrilegious playing with Polonius’ corpse serves as evidence that he accepted himself as the true avenger of his fathers’ death. Similarly, Hamlet’s execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is warranted by their willingness to serve Claudius. Hamlet justifies his actions, saying essentially that his friends got caught in the middle, between him and Claudius; that their “own insinuation” (5.2. 59) has brought about their defeat. In the end of the play Hamlet says: “There is special providence in fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be” (5.2. 220-5). Hamlet expresses his belief in fate – whatever is meant to be will come sooner or later. Perhaps he feels that he is destined to die, or he might feel confident enough to win. With the full acceptance of the idea of revenge came the acceptance of fate. Hamlet’s philosophical nature wins. Hamlet’s different states of mind are essential to the play. Through those changes Shakespeare shows the reader the birth, growth and demise of Hamlet’s character. From the beginning Hamlet faces several questions — he must decide whether to avenge his father or not, and if so, how. Those are not easy questions. By showing Hamlet’s uncertainty and inability to make a decision throughout the play Shakespeare makes him so human that the reader starts to wonder whether Hamlet did actually exist. Also Shakespeare shows the reader that for a man with Hamlet’s ideals the world is out of joint with itself, in which he can only hope for perfection, but never achieve it.
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THe unraveling of Hamlet
Hamlet (c. 1600) is perhaps the most famous of all the tragedies created by William Shakespeare. The main character – Hamlet — may be the most complex and controversial character any playwright has ever placed onstage. Hamlet’s erratic behavior poses a question: is he being rational in his acts and sacrificing himself for the “greater good” or is he simply mad? How and why does Hamlet move from one state of mind to the other? What significance does this have for the play? Throughout the play Hamlet goes through several different stages of life, constantly being in a tortured mental state, caught between love, grief, and vengeance. His different states of mind are the result of his controversial personality and his ability to objectively analyze any situation. Over the centuries there have been a multitude of different explanations for Hamlet’s behavior. One of the views is that Hamlet is simply a victim of circumstances; the other presents him as a beautiful but ineffectual soul who lacked the willpower to avenge his father. Hamlet can also be viewed as something close to a manic-depressive whose melancholy moods, as his failure to take revenge continues, deepened into self-contempt. His disturbing gift of laughing at his own grief as well as at the shortcomings of the world in general also contributes to the complexity of his character. His laughter strengthens the plot, by becoming one of the qualities of his mind that enable him to avoid his mission and postpone his revenge. The reader can see that Shakespeare meant to create Hamlet to be such a complicated character. Hamlet is a person of exceptional intelligence and sensitivity, raised to occupy a high station in life and then suddenly confronted with a violent and terrifying situation in which he must take drastic action. He admits that he is not ready for this task: “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right!” (1.5.188-89). At this point Hamlet’s mind is torn apart by the controversy of vengeance. It’s hardly surprising to find him veering between extremes of behavior, hesitating, demanding proof, and looking for the most appropriate way to carry out his task. The Ghost appears before Hamlet at a very disturbing time in his life — his father’s tragic death and his mother’s quick remarriage are more than Hamlet’s mind can bear. The reader can easily find justification for this point of view, especially in Hamlet’s own soliloquies. Early in the play Hamlet manifests his anger: Let me not think on’t; frailty, thy name is woman— A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she followed my poor father’s body Like Niobe, all tears, why, she— O god, a beast that wants discourse of reason Would have mourned longer—married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules. Within a month, Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears Had left the flushing in her galled eyes, She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! It is not, nor it cannot come to good. (1.2.146-58) Linked to the theme of revenge is the great question of Hamlet’s inner meditations: Is there a point to life at all? Do humans suffer in this harsh world for a purpose, or simply because they are afraid to find out what may lie beyond it? Is there a higher power, and how does one seek its guidance? Hamlet’s anguish is caused by his effort to link even the most trivial event to the order of the universe. His inability to coop with reality because of his philosophical beliefs causes Hamlet’s state of mind to constantly change. His dilemma is in his unsuccessful attempts to create a tangible bond between his passion, which would spur him to immediate vengeance, and reason, which is God-given, and which would soothe Hamlet’s action with sensible judgment. Hamlet is trapped between two worlds: the ideal world that he created in his head and the existing reality. Worst of all however, is that he realizes that the weakness of his mind prevents him from acting: “Why, then ‘tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” (2.2. 253-54). Another point worth mentioning is the effect that the concept of revenge has on Hamlet. This powerful demand is countered in Hamlet’s mind by three questions: Is revenge a good or an evil act? Is Claudius truly guilty and so to be punished? Is it Hamlet’s responsibility to punish him? The fact that Hamlet is a thinking as well as a feeling person, conscious of the good and bad points in every step he takes, makes the act of revenge particularly painful for him. Revenge is not Christian, and Hamlet is a Christian prince; it is not rational, and Hamlet is a philosopher; it is not gentle, and Hamlet is a gentleman. Hamlet does not approach his task in an unquestioning, mechanical way. He has doubts about it, as any of us might if asked to do the same thing. It releases violent emotions in him, the intensity of which shocks and unbalances him. Both Marcellus and Horatio fear that the Ghost may be an evil spirit intending to damn or destroy Hamlet. Hamlet himself seems to toy with this idea at times; however, he accepts the ghost’s story, at first cautiously and then unquestioningly after the Play Scene: I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be a devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape, yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds More relative than this. (2.2. 610-16) Yet again Hamlet is reminded of his own conflicting impulses and of his inability to feel sufficient desire for revenge or sufficient grief over his father’s death. Although Hamlet’s mind is still possessed by doubts, he suppresses them and makes a first definite decision to act. It becomes clear that Hamlet constantly battles the fear that the idea of revenge is inspired by his own deranged mind, and therefore by carrying it out he would be committing a sin. By the end of the play however, there is no question that the ghost was speaking the truth. Whether its advice was good and heaven-sent, however, is unclear, considering the death and destruction to which its desire for revenge has led. It is also important to point out yet another controversy of Hamlet’s character — the cruel and barbaric aspects of his behavior– his mental badgering of Ophelia, his reason for refusing to kill Claudius at prayer, and most of all the coldhearted and possibly unjust way he has dealt with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. All those scenes suggest that Hamlet is himself a crude and unpleasant character, and his poetic speeches merely sugarcoat the bitter pill. On the other hand, the emotional violence of his scene with Ophelia is often explained by suggesting that Hamlet knows their meeting is being watched by the King and Polonius. The murder of Polonius, though perhaps an excessive punishment for his eavesdropping, is the inevitable outgrowth of his spying on behalf of the King. However, Hamlet does not think that murdering Polonius is enough of a punishment – he also hides his body. When the King questions Hamlet about the whereabouts of Polonius’s body, Hamlet replies: “In heaven. Send thither to see. If your messenger find him not there, seek him I’ th’ other place yourself. But if indeed you find him not within this month, you shall nose as you go up the stairs into the lobby” (4.3. 33-7). Naturally Hamlet realizes that by denying Polonius the proper Christian burial, he denies him the possibility of going to heaven. Remembering Hamlet’s deliberations about revenge and his fear that the Ghost was sent by the devil, the reader might wonder – what is happening to Hamlet? Hamlet’s state of mind changes yet again – he becomes ruthless. At that point it is clear that Hamlet is ready to kill Claudius, since he does not hesitate even for a moment when he kills Polonius. His sacrilegious playing with Polonius’ corpse serves as evidence that he accepted himself as the true avenger of his fathers’ death. Similarly, Hamlet’s execution of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is warranted by their willingness to serve Claudius. Hamlet justifies his actions, saying essentially that his friends got caught in the middle, between him and Claudius; that their “own insinuation” (5.2. 59) has brought about their defeat. In the end of the play Hamlet says: “There is special providence in fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be” (5.2. 220-5). Hamlet expresses his belief in fate – whatever is meant to be will come sooner or later. Perhaps he feels that he is destined to die, or he might feel confident enough to win. With the full acceptance of the idea of revenge came the acceptance of fate. Hamlet’s philosophical nature wins. Hamlet’s different states of mind are essential to the play. Through those changes Shakespeare shows the reader the birth, growth and demise of Hamlet’s character. From the beginning Hamlet faces several questions — he must decide whether to avenge his father or not, and if so, how. Those are not easy questions. By showing Hamlet’s uncertainty and inability to make a decision throughout the play Shakespeare makes him so human that the reader starts to wonder whether Hamlet did actually exist. Also Shakespeare shows the reader that for a man with Hamlet’s ideals the world is out of joint with itself, in which he can only hope for perfection, but never achieve it.
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Something was definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. The king was dead of a murder most foul, a betrayal from his own brother, young Hamlet was thrown out of the frying pan, which was his fathers passing, and into the fire of revenge. On would think that an act of revenge such as this, retribution from an enraged son over the unjust murder of his father, would come so quickly, wildly, and brutally, driven by anger and rage. This simply was not the case in William Shakespeares Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. As the young prince Hamlet carefully thought out his plans for revenge over a rather large amount of time due to his own apparent weakness, inaction. The smallest deed is greater than the grandest intention(Stokes 90). Hamlet was full of grand ideas and intentions on how to kill the King, but he failed to act and to carry out the deed that was his revenge, the destruction of Claudius. Why did Hamlet choose and it was his choice, not to take revenge on Claudius quickly and decisively? Hamlet had his own reasons for inaction; the strategy that he felt best suited his revenge.

Hamlet was undoubtedly and incredible intellectual and throughout the play thoughts in his mind came too quickly for the actions of his body to keep up with(Stokes 92). This intellectual quality provided a roadblock for Hamlet taking a quick revenge on Claudius. Nearly all of Hamlets actions with the exception of his outburst at Ophelias grave were carefully preplanned and precisely calculated. His inborn thought process prolonged his revenge, and while Hamlet may have appeared sluggish with inaction, the wheels in his mind never stopped turning(Stokes 92). Hamlet questioned everything. He may have thought too much for his own good at times, he wrestled with many ideas, thoughts, and feeling over the course of the play, delaying any real action until the time, in his eyes, was right.

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Hamlet questioned the validity of his own fathers ghost. This questioning slowed down Hamlets ability to take action. Hamlet says:
The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil: and the devil hath power
Tassume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: Ill have grounds
More relative than this: the plays the thing
Wherein Ill catch the conscience of the King
(ActII SceneII 1490).


Hamlet was not sure if the ghost was really his father or if it was the devil trying to trick him to commit a crime. He needed to prove to himself that what the ghost said was true or not. Therefore he is going to stage a play that will reenact the killing of his father to see if the King is guilty.

Hamlet was very much a perfectionist in revenge. He wanted everything to be perfect, and this caused him to take unusual and unique steps to gain revenge on Claudius. Hamlets play within a play, a brilliant scheme in which he caught the conscience of the King. It was a prime example of the young princes need for perfection in revenge. The play definitely told Hamlet that Claudius was in fact guilty of killing King Hamlet. Inaction resulted from this perfectionist nature. Hamlet missed golden opportunities, and even passed up a chance to kill Claudius and to take revenge simply because Claudius was praying at the time. Hamlet explains this when he says:
Now might I do it pat, Now he is praying;
And now Ill dot: And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revengd. That would be scannd:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.

Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.

But in our circumstance and course of thought,
Tis heavy with him: and am I then revengd,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and seasond for his passage?
No!
(ActIII SceneIII 1506).


Hamlet did not only want to kill his fathers murder; he wanted to send him to eternal punishment of damnation, so he did not want to kill him while he was praying. But, Hamlet leaves right before Claudius says, My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go(Shakespeare 1507). If Hamlet had known Claudius was not sorry and could not pray.Hamlet could have seeked his revenge right there. The quality of perfectionism, along with his intellectual aspect, caused Hamlet to move slowly and carefully in his revenge, often resulted in periods on inaction.
Hamlets mother, Queen Gertrude warrants Hamlet to come to her. She tells him that she did not like play. Queen says, Hamlet, thou hast they father much offended Hamlet replies, Mother, you have my father much offended, Queen replies, Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue (Shakespeare 1507). Polonius hiding behind the drape makes a noise, Hamlet thought it was Claudius and kills Polonius. The King then sends Hamlet to England to be killed. As Hamlet discovers what was going to happen to him he quick witted them and returned to Denmark to finish off his revenge.
When Hamlet returns to Denmark he finds a grave dug up for someone to be buried. He finds out it is Ophelias. Laertes and Hamlet get into a squabble in Ophelias grave. The attendants pull them apart. Hamlets delay of vengeance was necessary in order for his ideal revenge to come about, unfortunately Hamlets ideal plan never came to be. Hamlet had the opportunities he simply failed to act on them. Hamlets choice to remain inactive did not cause, but certainly helped bring about his downfall, his shallows and his miseries(Prosser 57).Although Hamlets intellectual qualities, perfectionist nature, resulted in inaction that prevented his taking revenge, it was action(Prosser 57). Hamlet revealed himself at Ophelias grave, which finally destroyed his plans for vengeance. Had Hamlet remained inactive, he certainly would have been able to complete his plans for revenge on Claudius. Instead, Hamlet revealed himself at Ophelias grave, losing his element of surprise on the King and causing all of his plans to unravel. In the end inaction did not destroy Hamlets revenge, his action regarding his love for Ophelia did.

Finally, at the end Hamlet may not have got his revenge on Claudius the way he wanted to, but he did kill him. Claudius arranged a duel between Laertes and Hamlet. Claudius also had a few tricks up his sleeve. He placed a poisoned drink near Hamlet incase he got thirsty during the duel. Turns out that Queen Gertrude drank it and died. Also, the sword Laertes was using had poison on it. The poisoned sword then wounded Hamlet. Hamlet somehow got the sword from Laertes and stabs him with it. Laertes exposes what Claudius and him was up to. Hamlet then turns to Claudius and stabs him with the poisoned sword and then makes him drink from the poisoned cup.

Hamlet seemed to think too much, but why? Hamlet is self conscious, while all the other characters in play are not. Maybe this is why Hamlet still remains a subject of discussion and why the play remains so popular. Although Hamlet dies in the end, it is almost for the best. How could he have any happiness in his life, with his parents and Ophelia dead?
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