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Hamlet As A Comment On Humanity Essay, Research Paper

The Elizabethan play The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark

is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works. One of the

possible reasons for this play’s popularity is the way Shakespeare

uses the character Hamlet to exemplify the complex workings of the

human mind. The approach taken by Shakespeare in Hamlet has generated

countless different interpretations of meaning, but it is through

Hamlet’s struggle to confront his internal dilemma, deciding when to

revenge his fathers death, that the reader becomes aware of one of the

more common interpretations in Hamlet; the idea that Shakespeare is

attempting to comment on the influence that one’s state of mind can

have on the decisions they make in life.

As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the encounters that

Hamlet must face to demonstrate the effect that one’s perspective can

have on the way the mind works. In his book Some Shakespeare Themes &

An Approach to Hamlet, L.C. Knight takes notice of Shakespeare’s use

of these encounters to journey into the workings of the human mind

when he writes:

What we have in Hamlet.is the exploration and implicit

criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness.In

Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the

complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion,

and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a

judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human

life. (192)

Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet’s internal dilemma in

Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears and

calls upon Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”

(1.5.24). It is from this point forward that Hamlet must struggle

with the dilemma of whether or not to kill Claudius, his uncle, and if

so when to actually do it. As the play progresses, Hamlet does not

seek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, and it is the

reasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that becomes paramount

to the reader’s understanding of the effect that Hamlet’s mental

perspective has on his situation.

In order to fully understand how Hamlet’s perspective plays an

important role in this play, the reader must attempt to answer the

fundamental question: Why does Hamlet procrastinate in taking revenge

on Claudius? Although the answer to this question is at best somewhat

complicated, Mark W. Scott attempts to offer some possible

explanations for Hamlet’s delay in his book, Shakespeare for Students:

Critics who find the cause of Hamlet’s delay in his internal

meditations typically view the prince as a man of great moral

integrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against his

deepest principles. On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make

sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, which

Shakespeare presents as soliloquies. Another perspective of Hamlet’s

internal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchanted

with life since his father’s death that he has neither the desire nor

the will to exact revenge. (74)

Mr. Scott points out morality and disenchantment, both of which belong

solely to an individuals own conscious, as two potential causes of

Hamlet’s procrastination, and therefore he offers support to the

idea that Shakespeare is placing important emphasis on the role of

individual perspective in this play. The importance that Mr. Scott’s

comment places on Hamlet’s use of personal meditations to “make sense

of his moral dilemma” (74), also helps to support L.C. Knight’s

contention that Shakespeare is attempting to use these dilemmas to

illustrate the inner workings of the human mind.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives the reader an opportunity to

evaluate the way the title character handles a very complicated

dilemma and the problems that are generated because of it. These

problems that face Hamlet are perhaps best viewed as overstatements of

the very types of problems that all people must face as they live

their lives each day. The magnitude of these “everyday” problems are

almost always a matter of individual perspective. Each person will

perceive a given situation based on his own state of mind. The one,

perhaps universal, dilemma that faces all of mankind is the

problem of identity. As Victor L. Cahn writes, “Hamlet’s primary

dilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place and

these circumstances, How is he to respond? What is his

responsibility?” (69). This dilemma defined by Mr. Cahn fits in well

with the comments of both L.C. Knight and Mark Scott, because it too

requires some serious introspection on the part of Hamlet to resolve,

and also supports the idea that Shakespeare is using Hamlet’s dilemma

to illustrate the effect that perspective, or state of mind, can have

on a given situation.

Hamlet’s delay in seeking revenge for his father’s death

plays an important role in allowing Shakespeare’s look into the human

mind to manifest itself. If Hamlet had killed Claudius at first

opportunity, there would have been little chance for Shakespeare to

develop the internal dilemma which all three critics, L.C. Knight,

Mark Scott, and Victor Cahn, mention in support of the widely held

view that, in Hamlet, Shakespeare is attempting to make a comment

about the complexity of the human mind, and the power that a person’s

mental perspective can have on the events of his life.


Cahn, Victor L. Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the

Complete Tragedies, Histories, and Romances. New York: Greenwood

Press, 1991.

Knight, L. C. Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet. San

Francisco: Stanford University Press, 1966.

Scott, Mark W., ed. Shakespeare For Students. Detroit: Gale Research

Inc., 1992.

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” Literature: An Introduction to

Reading and Writing Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs.

Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995. 1129-1230.

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