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    Hamlet: The Theme of Having A Clear Conscience Essay

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    Hamlet: The Theme of Having a Clear Conscience

    The most important line in Hamlet is, “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (II, ii, 617). In the play, the issue of a clear conscience forms a key motif. When the conscience of the characters appears, it does so as a result of some action; as in the case of the aforementioned line, which follows Hamlet’s conversation with the player. This line is of particular significance because it ties action and its effect on the conscience of the characters. The nature of Hamlet is conscience, and action plays an important role in creating the development of the plot.

    Nowhere is this development seen more clearly than with Hamlet. The Prince’s development comes as a result of self-evaluation of the actions that have taken place, and the ensuing actions that he takes are a clear result of this self-evaluation. So, in essence, the actions cause him to think of his conscience and then act upon these feelings. Hamlet’s several soliloquies are a testament to this method. His first soliloquy, following a conversation with his recently wed mother and uncle, reflects the uneasiness he feels.

    He feels betrayed. O, most wicked speed, to post, with such dexterity to incestuous sheets…”

    But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue. (I, ii, 156-159). Hamlet’s conscience tells him what is wrong – in this case, the hasty marriage – but he is ambivalent as to how to approach it. Before he meets the ghost, silence is his method. When Hamlet meets his father’s ghost, however, he feels sure of himself and knows what he must do.

    As a result of the dialogue with the ghost, Hamlet’s conscience makes him feel that revenge is the best method to deal with the problems that face him. The consciences of Hamlet and, to a lesser extent, Claudius affect their decisions in the play. However, both characters only question themselves after they have been prompted by specific action or dialogue. By self-evaluation, the characters then make the conscious decision to take action with their feelings. An example of this is at the end of Act II following Hamlet’s conversation with the player.

    In the soliloquy to end the act, Hamlet questions his passion for the plot he has planned, and his conversation has clearly affected this ambivalence. However, after mulling over his passion – or lack thereof – towards his plot, Hamlet ends the soliloquy determined to carry out the play. Hamlet is questioning his allegiance to the pact” he made with his father in Act I, but by the end of the soliloquy, he has a clearer conscience and knows what action he is to take. Claudius is prompted by the Murder of Gonzago to do penance for his sins. He does this to absolve himself of his guilty conscience, and it is the first time we see the king show any penitence towards the sins he committed, offering a different perspective towards Claudius.

    Although he is a crafty and wicked man in the play, his actions following this confession do little to offer anything to the contrary. However, it is possible to say that the penance is the action which follows a conscience-mulling action by the king. At the beginning of Act III, Claudius states, How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience” (III, i, 49-50). The remark is made in response to a statement by Polonius speaking of “sugaring the devil,” which Claudius alludes to himself. By doing this, the king’s conscience is brought up because this is the first time he confesses to committing the “crimes.” With a little insight, even the actions of the king follow suit with the conscience-to-action motif.

    All of the soliloquies in Hamlet are prompted by some sort of action, and they all serve to clear the Prince’s conscience. From the first soliloquy to his last soliloquy following his conversation with the captain of Fortinbras’ forces, Hamlet’s conscience is affected by some action. Hamlet’s decisions are based on pondering over his conscience, and it is the decisions he makes that further the actions of the play. Action prompts Hamlet to mull over his conscience, and clearing his conscience prompts action. English.

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