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Shakespeare’s character Hamlet

Shakespeare’s character Hamlet has been a source of fascination for readers for over 400 years. He has spawned many disputes; many have argued over his true nature, over his state of mind and above all, over his morality. Similarly to a few other characters in Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet is not easy to figure out. He does not reveal himself from the beginning of the play. As a matter of fact, he does not reveal himself completely at any point. The reader is challenged to a duel where the spears are wit and eloquence.

Hamlet does not pretend to be easy to understand; moreover, he informs the other characters, notably, Guildenstern, Rosencrantz and even his mother, Queen Gertrude, that there is always something hidden under the apparent meaning of his words. He is a young man whom we are introduced to in heart-wrenching circumstances, i. e. upon his arrival from his studies at the news that his father had died. Hamlet’s nature is deeply contemplative and philosophical; he spends a great amount of his time pondering the mystery of death, the afterlife, and even his own suicide.

He does not dismiss any possibility, nor does he accept any answer to his questions; this quest for the truth is in fact the catalyst of his actions. His tools of investigation are plays upon words, sharp observation, wonderfully constructed monologues and replies, but also the tendency to look behind the surface and doubt everything around him. Nevertheless, perhaps the most interesting aspect about the character of Hamlet is his apparent moral ambivalence as it results from his words and actions.

It is my belief that Hamlet is both good and bad; he is human. It is somewhat difficult for the reader to regard the protagonist of his readings as a common man. In many ways, Hamlet is extraordinary, but above all, this moral duality is what makes him as human as each of his numerous readers. He is sometimes weak, sometimes hesitant, in a perpetual dialogue with himself, discontent with the state of his country, distrustful of women and saddened by his mother’s marriage to his uncle whom he openly criticizes.

My standpoint is that Hamlet is not a bad man. To support it, I have chosen Scenes iii and iv from Act IV, more precisely the dialogue between Hamlet and King Claudius as to the whereabouts of Polonius’ body and the episode of the arrival in Denmark of Prince Fortinbras. In my opinion, these two scenes from Act IV are relevant to Hamlet’s character and state of mind. Following the murder of Polonius and his encounter with his mother, Queen Gertrude, Hamlet becomes pray to frenzy and a mental instability very similar to madness.

He pretends to be excited about the trip to England with his old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but at the same time, true to his instinct, he lets his mother understand that he trusts them as much as he would trust a couple of poisonous snakes. Claudius is a crafty politician, very much aware of the danger his young nephew is to him and his throne. Instead of executing Hamlet in Denmark as a punishment for the murder he committed, but possibly stirring up the discontent of his own people, the King makes up an entire scenario which would result in Hamlet being murdered in England.

To some extent, Hamlet is a better politician than his uncle. He becomes suspicious of his uncle’s plan and his old schoolmates’ intentions. Moreover, he is a master at confrontation and metaphor. Whenever the King or any other character thinks he/she can be sure of what Hamlet is thinking by listening to the words he utters and analyzing the actions he performs, they are terribly wrong, which allows Hamlet to pursue his goal right under his enemy’s eyes.

His endeavor is inductive; Hamlet knows that the King is guilty, but tries to build his case by looking for evidence. Despite the fact that they seem to be complete opposites, there is one great similarity between the two characters: they are both Machiavellian politicians, who would do anything to reach their goals, even though these goals are different. The following scene from act IV (scene iv) represents a change in the focus of the play, from the confrontation between the King and Hamlet, to the latter’s encounter with the Norwegian captain.

Hamlet is astonished by Fortinbras’ willingness to waste a large number of lives, even risking his own, with the aim of reclaiming a small piece of land from the Poles. Hamlet is doubtful as to Fortinbras’ morality and willingness to use force in order to obtain his goal. This encounter acts both as a source of inspiration and a moral incentive for Hamlet, who decides to use force in applying his plan: “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! ” (IV. iv).

This final exclamation acts as a conclusion and marks a shift in Hamlet’s perspective in the sense that he tries to overcome his doubt and to follow what he thinks is his true fate, i. e. to revenge his father’s death by killing his uncle. His hesitance is the best proof of the frailty of his resolution to murder the King. This is precisely why he keeps postponing taking a particular course of action; he is first a man of theory and fine observation, and then a man of action. Hamlet is not a character dominated by strong will or consuming passions, but by refined thoughts and sentiments.

This reinforces the idea that he does not in fact want to kill his uncle, and rushes into a particular course of action only when led by an extreme sport of circumstances, such as in the scene where he murders Polonius thinking it was in fact, the King. Hamlet is by no means a killer. He does not see himself as one either; on the contrary, he seems himself as a victim of fate and as a mere tool in the hands of destiny. He expresses his unwillingness to fix the unjust killing of his father through murdering his uncle early in the play: “O cursed spite, /That ever I was born to set it right!

” (I. v). Despite the fact that he knows he cannot fight what was written for him, he tries to delay his duty as much as he can, even at an unconscious level. Also, he is not a bad man. Although murder cannot be justified by any set of events or circumstances, it is the fight inside of the character that is crucial to understanding his actions: he is a contemplative man, inclined to meditation and melancholy, who finds himself in the midst of a battle he does not want to take part in, but which proves inescapable.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. <http://shakespeare. mit. edu/hamlet/>

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