Hamlet is a very complex character who changes a lot throughout the play. In fact I think that somewhere along the lines, he loses his sanity. If I am right then he would be an insane person, pretending to be insane, making it very hard for the audience (including myself) to have any definite feelings towards him. He does a lot of things which would normally be considered unforgivable, but given the circumstances, he still manages to be loved by the reader / audience and we feel sorry for him when he dies.
His personality is similar in the sense that it is complex. He has strengths and weaknesses, things we like and things we don’t like, but we still love him even if he is a murderer, and verbally attacks his mother and girlfriend. We also gain insight to some of his redeeming qualities. He is loved so much by the general danish population that Claudius considers him a threat to his kingship even when Hamlet has adopted an antic disposition. If his is so then he must be loved for a reason. He certainly isn’t all bad, that we know for sure.
You cannot help but admire his loyalty to his father, his determination to complete the task the ghost asks of him, the fact that he will go so far to prove Claudius’ guilt before attempting to kill him at all (which I don’t think most people would do if they found out the way Hamlet did), his bravery considering he is accepting the task of killing the king of Denmark, where the punishment if he is caught would be certain death and the fact that it is not something he would normally do at all, Hamlet is more of a thinker than a person of action but he tries his hardest to follow through with his promise to gain revenge for his father, even at the cost of his own sanity, his life and in fact other peoples lives too! The balance of good and bad makes Hamlet a very plausible character and I like that about him. He isn’t like the fictional heroes you read about in most books, he is realistic and humane.
The fact that he has weaknesses makes him more attractive as a character, because you might be able to relate to why he does what he does and acts how he acts. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet is a person of two extremes. He is either very passive, thoughtful, deep and withdrawn or he is very rash, overcome with emotion and/or passion, and liberal with his harsh words. He has a bad tendency for over-thinking things without carrying them out. The lack of action can make him very irritating to read as he constantly contradicts himself. However in doing so, he also creates tension, making it difficult to put down the book as you always want to find out what he will do next.
I think that even though it is frustrating at the time, Hamlet’s tendency of dragging things out makes the play far more enjoyable and keeps your eyes glued to the pages. because you know that he will do something suddenly, you just don’t know when. Polonius was killed in one of these sudden passionate and thoughtless moments. “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better. ” In this sense, Hamlet’s inaction and conscience are weaknesses to him and so are his rash behaviour and sudden outbursts as a character but the sudden excitement after building tension forces you to become addicteed to the play and forced to keep reading to find out what he does next.
In this sense, his mood swings are a strength to the play. One of Hamlet’s strengths that you cannot deny is his intellect. The battle between him and Claudius is not a physical battle, but a battle of wits. They both keep their motives hidden and as secretive as possible until the very end. Hamlets idea of using the play to discover if his uncle was guilty or not was pure genius. “The play’s the thing, Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. ” No one can deny this. We also get a huge insight into the vast amount of his intellect through his monologues. We see his in his “To be, or not to be” silioquy. They give us a great idea of what he is thinking and how he goes about it.
We see multiple times throughout the play that Hamlet likes to use his wit and wordplay to confuse those around him. The Shakespearean audience would have enjoyed his way with words. We see examples of this when he makes Polonius change his opinion several times, and makes the courier of a message take off and replace his hat three times before letting him deliver his message. Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?…. Very like a whale. ” Hamlet always thinks two steps ahead. However, in that sense, his intellect is also a weakness. We see before the boat trip that he was always planning things, always thinking about the next move and how to act it out, but followed very little of it through until the end.
That is just the type of person he was until after he sends Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to their deaths, when his anger peaks at the thought of his very own friends betraying him for the king and he loses it. Less pleasant examples of him using his words to hurt and berate people are when he attacks his mother, accusing her of incest and moving on too soon after Hamlet senior dies. Gertrude must beg him to stop. “No more, sweet Hamlet”. He also causes Ophelia to be confused and insulted. He tells her that he did “love you once” but then contradicts himself by saying “I loved you not”. He uses his words on multiple occasions to hurt, confuse, insult and belittle the women in his life.
This is a very negative aspect of Hamlet, but considering that Ophelia just ‘randomly’ ignores his messages,love letters and poems he sends her, and he see’s his mothers remarriage as too hasty and incestuous, then there is very little confusion in my mind as to why he acts so cruelly to them, and so we can forgive him for his outburst and still like him for the good aspects of his intellect. We can see from reading the text, that Hamlets personality changes throughout the text. It is most obvious after he escapes off the boat to England, and narrowly avoids death. Before the boat trip, he is indecisive, aimless and completely at a loss as to what to do. Afterwards, he shows little regret sending for Rosengrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, “They are not near my conscience”. You can’t but admire his strength of resolve afterwards considering how unsure of himself he was beforehand, even if it does turn him into a cold-blooded killer.
However he is a far stronger person after that boat trip than he was before it. After the boat trip, he seems to have very few weaknesses apart from being more spontantious and not thinking as far ahead as he used to. This allows the play to move on at a quicker pace and so it isn’t as frustrating, which is a very good thing as this is the part here the play is getting exciting and you do not want to be left waiting. This is another example of where we like one of Hamlet’s weaknesses. He has been betrayed by nearly everyone in the play, so is it really shocking when he finally decides to do something, rather than watch and procrastinate, since it has only made things worse and worse for him thus far?
I don’t doubt that he feels as if everyone he has trusted has turned their back on him in some way or another: His mother marrying his uncle, his uncle killing his father, Polonius snooping on his rant to his mother, Ophelia suddenly ignoring him for no reason (because of Polonius telling her too), Guildenstern and Rosengrantz bringing him to his death and doing the bidding of the king he dislikes so much without so much as questioning his orders. If you look at it that way, is there any reason he should trust those people, when they have already turned their backs on him? Did he make the first move? Or did he just finish what they started? Hamlet is a very good judge of character. I like Him just for the fact that he can still trust the few people who haven’t betrayed him, Horatio is a very good example of this.
He can differentiate between those who are loyal to him and those who act loyal to him, and that shows he is very observant, even if it might not seem it in the play because he fools everyone into thinking that he has lost his mind. He can entrust Horatio with his confession of killing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern without fear of resentment from Horatio, “he should the bearers put to sudden death, not shriving-time allow’d”. Hamlet is indeed a very complicated character with many strengths and weaknesses. his strengths help to endear him to us, and when he is good, he is pretty great. However given what he has been put through, the audience can also appriciate his weaknesses and understand why he has them. He also covers his weaknesses adequetely with his strengths so that they do not hold him back for long before he overcomes them.
This is very admirable of him and nearly makes Hamlet an inspirational character to a degee. Even though Hamlet has caused the deaths of multiple people, he has done so to fulfill his father’s last wish and to avenge him. He could have just ignored the wish, and gone on with his life (which probably would have been much longer), but he didn’t. He remained true to himself and those he cared about until the very end. I cannot help but feel pity for Hamlet’s death as he was a very dutiful and good-intentioned character with a lot of potential to be a good leader, if only he had gotten a chance to prove it, “For he was likely, had he been put on, to have prov’d most royal”.