The study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been one that is very extensive as wellas enormous. Books upon books have been written about this great play. About anequal amount of books, however, have been written about one character; Hamlet. Acritic of Hamlet once said, “a man set out to read all the books about Hamletwould have time to read nothing else, not even Hamlet.
” What is the greatfascination with Hamlet and the characters contained within. The great intriguecomes from the ambiguity of the play and it’s characters. “Hamlet is thetragedy of reflection. The cause of the hero’s delay is irresolution; and thecause of this is excess of the reflexive and speculative habit of the mind. ” (Halliday. 217) The reason that there are so many critics is that there are just as manytheories and speculations.
Even in the twentieth century on could create or”discover” a new theory or criticism based on the play or it’s characters. The character Hamlet, alone, has over two dozen critics from Quinn to Coleridge. Some critics come up with sane interpretations of Hamlet while others use wildand crazy themes. Some conclude that the problem with Hamlet, and a classicthesis used by many students, is insanity versus sanity. The theories progressfrom there.
The theories range from manic-depressant to homosexual. Some areeven very creative; such as the thesis that Hamlet is actually a female raisedas a male. But no matter how many theories, speculations, or thesis there are,many hold some ground. This thesis paper will not stress on any of thestatements I have listed above. However, I will take a stand with Coleridge andspeak about Hamlet’s genius and cognitive activity. Hamlet’s true dilemma isnot one of sanity -Vs- insanity; but one pressing his intellectual capacity.
Being a scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than actions. “Cause ofHamlet’s destiny. . . in intellectual terms .
. . is a tragedy . .
. ofexcessive thought. ” (Mack. 43) Hamlet’s role was to make a transcendentalmove from scholarly prince to man of action.
Hopefully this report will helpopen another, or even stress a classic, view as to Hamlet’s character and hisprolonged delay. When a student goes to write about Hamlet’s character theyoften begin by hitting a wall. Not the usual writers block in which the mindgoes blank, but one of information loaded upon information. Where does a pupilbegin? In this vast mound of information, where do we start? The Beginning wouldbe a proper place. The background of Hamlet may help to bring some insight ontohis character analysis.
“Hamlet is . . . a man who, at thirty, still livesamong students. ” As the play opens, Hamlet has just returned from WittenbergGermany, most likely attending Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg.
Hamlet was in-fact so found of this Wittenberg university, that he had requestedfor his immediate return there. Hamlet probably felt a little out of place in apolitical environment. For the hasty marriage of his uncle and his mother mayhave been one only of convince. To add fuel to this enraged fire, Claudius soboldly denies Hamlet’s return to his asylum. This could not have angeredHamlet anymore. For where Hamlet saw that “the time is out of joint,” Hamlethimself was “out of joint.
” How? Hamlet saw Elsinore as a prison rather thana sanction. Denmark’s a prison. . .
world. . . in which there are manyconfines, wards, and dungeons . .
. Denmark’s oath’ worst . . .
I could bebounded in a nutshell and cut myself a kind of infinite space . (II. II. 243-255) A man who is a mere “prince of philosophical speculators,”as F. E. Halliday puts it, would not feel at home in an incestuous tomb ofpolitics.
Hamlet is so out of place and suffering from his newly lost andhomesickness of Wittenberg, that he must spend all of his days in deepcontemplation. As a university student, Hamlet is used to nothing but thoughtand contemplation. Hamlet is not accommodated with the environment of politics. Hamlet suffers from a “superfluous activity of the mind. ” (Coleridge.
35) Heknows of nothing else but thought and reason. Unbeknown to Hamlet, his next taskwould soon bring him to be caught between being a man of though and a man ofaction. As the play progresses hamlet’s thought and reason takes on a greatform. Most of Hamlet’s thoughts, like that of many scholars, are about that ofthe world and those things contained within them. “Characteristic ofShakespeare’s conception of Hamlet’s universalizing mind that he should makeHamlet think first .
. . entirely. ” (Mack.
39) Hamlet has come to terms withthe fact that the world, even including his mother, is nothing but an un-weededgarden filled with evil. Hamlet’s one true problem is with himself. He seeshis character as something most desirable; and the character of Horatio as evenmore coveted. Hamlet does not understand the life of his uncle, mother, andothers within Denmark. For these people use no reason.
What is a man if hischief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A best, no more. Sure he that mad us with such large discourse, gave us not that capability andgodlike reason to rust in us unused. (IV. IV. 33-39) . Hamlet believes that lifeis useless if men do not use their great power of reason and intellect.
In-factmen become evil, “stale, and flat. ” The next show of Hamlet’s intellect ishis question of everything. Whether it is the world as a whole or death itself;Hamlet finds a need to question all. The play Hamlet is filled with soliloquiesin which Hamlet is questioning some action or feeling. This problem ofHamlet’s comes from his over use of his brain.
For, he has to contemplateevery action, prepare for the reaction, and also prepare for any consequences. Hamlet is a perfectionist who’s questions help to make sure everything runssmoothly. “Hamlet’s skepticism, is purely an intellectual matter. ” (Mack. 64) Hamlet begins his questioning with the death of elder Hamlet.
First, Hamletwonders if the ghost of his father is but a figment of his imagination. Or evena servant of the devil. If this is so, then Claudius would not be at fault forhis brother’s death. After he finds out that both the ghost is really hisfather and Claudius is truly guilty, Hamlet next dilemma is how to kill Claudiusand seek revenge. What would be the best way to get his revenge? While Claudiusis praying? Hamlet sees a great opportunity to take his life.
But wait! IfHamlet were to seek revenge now, Claudius would go straight to heaven. Hamlethere spends an eloquent soliloquy pondering this sudden hasty murder. Now mightI do it pat, now a is a-praying and now I’ll so’t. . .
and so am I revenged. That would be scanned: a villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son,do this same villain send to heaven. (III. III. 73-78) Next show of Hamlet’sover used, over questioning brain is his contemplation of his own death.
As Ihave stated before, Hamlet felt very much imprisoned in Elsinore. No doubt hewas intellectually imprisoned, not allowed to use his brain to the fullest. Notbeing allowed to return to his great Wittenberg university, Hamlet questionswhether life is more beneficial than death. To be, or not to be, that is thequestion: whether ?tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows ofoutrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing endthem. To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ackeand the thousand natural shocks.
. . (III. I. 56-65) Using his genius brain,Hamlet also weighs the pros and cons of suicide.
Preparing for the worst actionsto follow his suicide; eternal damnation, or eternal sleep; Hamlet votes againsthis death. These two situations help to show the great problem facing Hamlet;his mind. Any normal man would not hesitate in the movement towards revenge. They would also not question the attributes behind it. But Hamlet is a thinkernot a doer.
It poses a problem for a man of such profound thought to take such ahasty and unreasoned action such as revenge. The questioning attitude of Hamletadds to his procrastination. Many believed that Hamlet was merely a man who wentmad due to his father’s unlawful death and his mother’s hasty marriage. These critics look to soliloquies and Hamlet’s seemingly mad conversations asproof of his insanity.
But if one were to observe and analyze these passages,they would see that truth and sanity behind them. But the sanity is only a smallpart. For these passages hold great and profound thought. There are manysituations in which Hamlet’s thoughts are profound. These are not theponderies of a man gone mad, but of a brain contained within a prison.
Of a manwhose intellect is holding him back. The first occasion in which Hamlet’swords, perceived mad, proved to be profound, was with his encounter withPolonius. Polonius, trying to keenly pry from Hamlet his ailment, strikes up aseemingly innocent conversation with Hamlet. To test his madness, Polonius asksHamlet if he knows Polonius. when Hamlet replies wittingly, Polonius is assuredthat it was the talk of a mad man. “Do you know me, my Lord? .
. . excellentwell. You are a fishmonger . . .
“(II. II. 173-4) For in the ordinary sense”it is . .
. Polonius . . .
breed . . . ” A fishmonger being a honesttradesman would prove mad for Hamlet to say to Polonius. But in the senserelated above, it makes perfect sense. Besides making perfect sense, it could bethought to be the speech of the great Socrates or Aristotle.
This showsHamlet’s great depth of knowledge, uses of words, and creativity in punning. Fit to be a witty philosopher, this young man proves not to be a goodpolitician. Not digressing, Hamlet’s ingeniousness continues. Hamlet thenprecedes with further banter: “For yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am – iflike a crab you could go backward.
“(II. II. 202-3) Though his words seemabsurd, Hamlet has hit the mark. For Polonius would indeed need to crawlbackwards in order to reach hamlets age.
All Polonius can retort is, “. . . this be madness.
” (II. II. 205) The next great display of hamlet’singeniousness is when all within the castle are looking for the late Polonius’body. Already thinking Hamlet is mad they begin to clutch harder to that theorywhen questioning Hamlet.
Upon being asked where Polonius’ body is, Hamlet,once again, gives a philosophical and intellectual comment. To the non-universitatstudent, these statements prove to be the evocations of a mad man. But to agreat philosopher like Hamlet, Socrates, or even Plato they hold more truth thanthey are thought to hold. Not where he eats, but where a is eaten.
A certainconvocation of politic worms are e’en at him. . . . A man may fish with theworm that hath eat of a kind, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
(IV. III. 19 -28) This is one of the most profound statements that Hamlet has mad thusfar. For it is humbling to think that those who are royal now, may soon behumbled by the fact that they will simply return to the dirt. To not digressfrom out earlier statement, we have to acknowledge how and when Hamlet has madhis transition from a “prince of philosophical speculators” to a price ofactions.
The road and journey to action was a hard and treacherous one forHamlet. Many acts went by where Hamlet had to sit and contemplate every action,reaction, and consequences. This proved Hamlet to a very poor prince, heir tothe throne, but a very wise intellect. Many attempts and ponderies did Hamlethave towards his revenging actions. His first attempt toward revenge was whileClaudius was praying.
this plan failed as Hamlet had to sit, once more, andcontemplate Claudius’ ascend into heaven, thus proving not the be a true andvictorious revenge. This left Hamlet in a mournful sate. For he knew that he wasa thinker and not a man of action. In act I, scene V , Hamlet promises “that,I with wings as swift as meditation . . .
may sweep to my revenge. ” ButHamlet’s swift meditation slowed the process of his revenge. When met with theplayers great display of emotions of Hecuba (Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is movedto think about his feeling, his duty, and his lack of action. What’s Hecuba tohim . .
. that he should weep for her . . .
yet I, a dull and muddy-mettledrascal, peak . . . unpregnant of my cause and can say nothing .
. . who does methis. (II. II. 552-570) Hamlet mourns over his inability for swift and hastyaction.
He knows that he is damned to his prison of though. Hamlet has nocontrol over what he does, or better yet, what he does not do. Hamlet’s firstact towards “action” is with the death of Polonius. In a heated argumentwith his mother, Hamlet believes to hear the outcry of Claudius.
Believing hehas caught the newly kind in an enraged state; thus sending him straight tohell; Hamlet finds it the best time to take what is due him. But the life ofClaudius was not taken. For it proved to be Polonius. From here Hamlet began hisdecision into action. Hamlet still begins to question why he, unlike others,have a problem moving himself to action. When he hears about Fortinbras”plan to take over the polish and he begins to scold himself, for Hamlet believesthat he, at least, has just cause to avenge his fathers death.
How stand I then,that have a father kill’d . . . and let all sleep .
. . the imminent death oftwenty thousand men . . for a fantasy and trick of fame .
. go to their graveslike beds, fight for a plot. (IV. V. 55-63) The true test of Hamlet’stranscendence into kingship is his arrangement over the death of Rossencrantzand Guildenstern. Hamlet, like a true politician, uses his great mind to savehis life, and pay back what was given to him.
“That on the view and knowing ofthese contents, without debatement further more or less, he should those bearersput to sudden death, not shriving-time allow’d . . . ” (V. II 44-47) When hetells this well designed plan to Horatio, Horatio retorts “why, what a kind isthis!” And Horatio is correct. For this was Hamlet’s second attempt, whichwas followed through, over the death of another person.
Hamlet was on the righttrack for kingship. But the true show of his transcendence was his notrepenting. Hamlet justified his actions. He believed that I was right to killhis friends.
” My excellent good friends” (II. II. 224) because of theirdeceitful plan. Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are notnear my conscience, their defeat does by their own insinuation grow. “Tisdangerous when the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed pointof mighty opposites.
( V. II. 57-62) Hamlet’s thought , “Be bloody or benothing worth. ” In retrospect one may see that Hamlet’s problem was one thatwas easy to diagnosis. It is humorous when one find critics that spend yearsupon year trying to figure the ailment to this fictional character.
However,There can be no set diagnosis for Hamlet. Hamlet’s character is very muchcomplex and intricate. For a critic or scholar to single his character down toone thesis or report would be impossible. Despite this seemingly true statement,this paper should have given the reader some insight onto one of the manyailments that troubled Hamlet.
I believe that in order for Hamlet, and the restof Denmark to avoid the troublesome butchery at the end of the play, it wouldhave been advisable for them to send Hamlet back to Wittenberg. It is not goodto keep one out of joint, for that person will try to find some way to get backinto joint. All and all, Hamlet has fulfilled the role that he set out tofulfill. By the end of the play, Hamlet made a rough and rocky transcendencefrom price of scholars to a prince of action. By they end of the play, Hamlethad no need to think, for action was his newfound friend.
Even Fortinbras, inthe last scene, saw that Hamlet had the makings of a very, very admirable king. BibliographyBevington, David. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Prentice-Hall,Inc. Englewood Cliffs.
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