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Hamlet – An Imprisoned Soul

Conversing casually with Guildenstern and Rosencratz, Hamlet remarks Denmark is a prison, indeed the worst of all “wards, confines, and dungeons” of the world. In the same breath he utters one of the most famous of Shakespearean observations: “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. ” But going by his own logic it is clear that Denmark is his prison because it is his thinking that makes it so. He has the choice of interpretation and chooses a negative side. He is the prince of Denmark.

If he chooses to, he could rule Denmark in a wise way and usher in a golden age to his kingdom, bringing a new freedom in everyone’s life. However, for this, he would have to choose “to be” – instead he chooses “not to be. ” He is not life-affirmative, he negates life and abandons the responsibility that goes with it. Nothing comes out of his life in the end. Hamlet is not imprisoned in Denmark, he is trapped in his own ‘bad’ thinking that is his tragedy. 2 “To be, or not to be: that is the question,” ruminates Hamlet.

This could be seen as the conflict lying at the very heart of Hamlet’s character and story. It is also the dilemma that ravages everyone of us in general. Many of us can instinctively identify with Hamlet. Of all Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, the Prince of Denmark… is the one whose experience comes closest to and impinges most intimately on that of men in general. It has, despite its highly unusual and at times, almost bizarre nature, a representative quality about it. (Hibbard 1) Positive thinking can only happen when we embrace life whole-heartedly and with a profound sense of gratitude.

However, we constantly waver between life-affirmation and life-negation, even if only at an unconscious level. To be human is to choose. Choice implies thinking and responsibility. For a conscious human being, existence means responsibility, and quite correctly so, but this responsibility should not be construed as a burden. Or else, there would be no point in living, if life has become merely a drag and a burden. Existence is responsibility. And responsibility is existence. The more responsibility we can assume, the more meaningful our life and existence can be.

We have to see ourselves as conscious agents of action, capable of making a difference in this world, by our choices and efforts, thereby creating more possibilities of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and others around us. This is a positive approach to life. Only then would we be able to go beyond unnecessary suffering and tragedy. But Hamlet does not seem to be bothered about others, nor seems to realize his responsibility to his kingdom and his people, in spite of being a prince. If he had positive thinking, he could have been a liberator of his people.

But because of his negative thinking, he feels imprisoned in his own kingdom. His prison is not Denmark, it is his own self. He is excessively preoccupied with his own self, his father and his mother, even as a small child would. But when we realise that the centre of Hamlet’s interest, thought motive and emotion is his own self, the play becomes as clear as the solar system after Copernicus… (Madariaga 13) 3. No wonder then that he feels the whole world is ominously conspiring to obstruct him, just as a child could fantasize about ghosts lurking in every corner, ready to fall upon him and devour him.

And then to escape these imaginary ghosts, he would promptly slip into sleep. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy continues: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks (Act III, Scene I). This passage makes clear to us Hamlet’s pessimistic view of life and his negative interpretation of the world. He is the archetypical negative thinker who is extremely prone to focus more on the thorns and overlook the roses.

Whether he sees himself as a passive sufferer or as an active doer, Hamlet’s world, or rather his interpretation of the world around him, is one where the human being is beleaguered with an endless succession of woes. Such a darkly negative interpretation of things can unfortunately be very self-fulfilling. All the events of Hamlet’s life seem to be moving on a planned course to end up in tragedy, as if fate were deliberately conspiring against him, or at least as if the author is forcefully contriving to create a strong element of pathos in his play.

It is Hamlet’s wrong interpretation of the nature of life and world, his excessive sentiment of victimization at the hands of fate, that render him incapable of taking proper decisions and action at proper time, thus exacerbating the sorrow and anguish in his life. Fate is not responsible for Hamlet’s tragedy, but he himself. 4. Hamlet has sometimes been described, and rightly so, as “the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind” (Toshack 32). Hamlet is indeed powerfully portrayed by Shakespeare as a man deeply divided against himself, he has moral integrity, but no psychological integration.

This is in essence of his misery: he does not have the crystallization and consolidation of the inner self which could have let him face the vast world outside with an optimal degree of resoluteness and responsibility. As a consequence, he feels imprisoned and victimized. This is not natural. There is no need for it to be so. There is no need for the life of Hamlet to end in premature death and tragedy. The tragedy we associate with Hamlet is unnatural and as much an instance of exaggeration as it would have been the case if the story of Hamlet were a fairy tale and in the end Hamlet and Ophelia married and lived happily ever after.

This world is neither a fairy-tale land of dreams nor a dismal place of anguish, sorrow and suffering. This world is simply a place of possibilities, and will become what we make it to be through our efforts and striving, and above all our positive thinking. Hamlet is indeed a king of “infinite space,” but since he feels himself to be in suffering in a nut shell, he is unable to get out of his bad dream and see the beauty and glory of the real world. 5. It is the duty of a son to avenge the death of the father.

Hamlet would have been able to do so without creating any fuss and mess had he been in a state of mind to think coolly and calmly. Instead he lets his sorrow and anger becloud his mind, and ruin his life in the end. If we let negativity and a morbid despondency take over our thinking and actions, the inevitable outcome is tragedy.


Hibbard, George Richard (Ed). William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 1998. Oxford : Oxford University Press. Madariaga, Salvador de. On Hamlet. 1948. Oxon, OX : Hollis and Carter Toshack, H S. Hamlet: A Study Commentary. 2003. Wordsmith Publishers

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