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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
The Key Elements Making Shakespeare s Hamlet, Hamlet
William Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet, can arguably be discussed, through
his rare mix of witty intelligence, hostile impatience and dual personalities, as
Shakespeare s most interesting character. At times, Hamlet displays sheer brilliance,
evident as he devises a plan to catch Claudius for King Hamlet s murder. Hamlet then
loses his senses and kills Polonius, leaving no remorse behind him, eventually acting as
seemingly two different characters by unexplainable mood changes. Author and play-
write, Shakespeare, usually following Aristotle s Guidelines, leaves readers baffled by
creating this mind-boggling character, and even more baffled by Hamlet s unforeseen
demise, a demise caused by three swelling emotions. These characteristics are all part of
this timelessly treasured masterpiece.
Hamlet’s sanity is displayed through his use of time. Hamlet takes the desired
time for his devised plan of killing Claudius, so that it would flow smoothly and
mistake-free. Hamlet s plan of attack seemed to be working perfectly as it created a state
of confusion amongst the other characters, baffling them as to what Hamlet was
scheming. Through this poised timing, he had produced more confidence in knowing that
he could kill the king whenever he wished. Hamlet s delay of vengeance was necessary
in order for his ideal revenge to come about. Unfortunately Hamlet s ideal plans never
came to be. It is ironic that someone devious enough to commit murder, as Hamlet was,
would not take advantage of his first opportunity to kill Claudius. As Claudius prayed,
Hamlet refuses to let Claudius die in the good graces of God. The young Prince s tragic
situation applies to a quote by his author Shakespeare, There is a tide in the affairs of
men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune (Jorgenson 23). Hamlet had the
opportunities, or the tide that leads on to fortune, all around him, but he simply failed to
act on them. This emphasizes Hamlet s failure to remain in a single mindset.
Hamlet experiences multiple mood swings, changing his moods abruptly
throughout the play, for unexplainable reasons. Hamlet appears to act of great anger
when he hears of his father’s murder, then onto speaking very wild and whirling words to
Horatio, and finally the anger dissipates as he goes onto being totally consumed by the
ghost s arrival, disposing his just-recent anger. These mood swings are, however, an
indication of what is to come for Hamlet, an overwhelming of emotions, that will drive
him into a deranged mindset. His emotions are twisted between four emotional distresses:
the pain of his father s murder, the rejection of Ophelia s love, the abandonment by his
mother to marry his uncle Caudius, and lastly, the task and pressure of avenging his
father s death.
Hamlet s ever-changing state of mind and inability to act, are characteristics
following the guidelines of other great cherished tragedies. Timeless tragedies are written
according to Aristotle s Poetic Guidelines. These Guidelines are based upon a character s
inability to end up with glory, as the character instead fails at their goal and concludes in
demise (Heilman 287). These guidelines seem to structure all great tragedies. Hamlet s
failure to kill the king, his slow decisions and, his unsettling mind are all present within
Hamlet s character. Author William Heilman, explains, It s certainly not a rarity to have
a timeless and treasured classic centered around a tragic plot, whose director or author
follows the poetic guidelines of Aristotle (Heilman 297). Aristotle feels that tragedy is
“any action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude (Aristotle 222), as
Shakespeare s work left one party, Hamlet, short of his complete goal. This
goal is comprised of killing Claudius, receiving Ophelia s unconditional love, and
gaining his mother s awareness and realization that she had married King Hamlet s
brother. These problems drive Hamlet toward insanity. He maintains an inconsistent
personality throughout the play.
One problem that exists, solely due to Hamlet s differing and changing
personalities, is that there are seemingly two Hamlets in this play; one that is both
sensitive and an ideal Prince, and the other, who is insane and barbaric, who from an
outburst of passion and rage, slays Polonius with no feeling of remorse. Hamlet expresses
his anger with, Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better.
Take thy fortune; Thou find’st to be too busy is some danger (III.IV, lines 31-33, p.974),
explaining his guilt-free mind and furious anger. This madness engulfing Hamlet s
mind leads him to withholding the whereabouts of Claudius s body, replying upon being
questioned, Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of political
worms are e’en at him. If your messenger find him not there, seek him i’ th’ other place
yourself. But if indeed you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go
up the stairs into the lobby (IV.III, lines 20-21 33-36, p.983). The kind and gentle
Hamlet, the one who once bestows his heart to Ophelia, seems to have vanished, and he
is now filled with anger and hatred. Hamlet s mood inconsistency now begins to turn
negative, evident in his duel with Laertes.
Hamlet’s behavior throughout the play becomes most obvious as inconsistent,
especially on two accounts, one being when he jumps into Ophelia’s grave, and actually
fights with Laertes. He professes, I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers Could not
with all their quantity of love Make up my sum (V.I, lines 243-245, p.1006). Now,
Hamlet is denying his love for Ophelia, whose tragic death was a key ingredient to
Hamlet s downfall, and whose love denial set Hamlet into a depression. Hamlet also
changes his feeling towards his mother, losing all patience towards her. Hamlet has a
violent outburst at her, seemingly out of jealousy as a victim of hopelessness. He
alone sees his father’s ghost in his mother’s chambers. Every other time the ghost
appeared prior to this encounter, someone else has seen it. During this scene his true
madness arises, because his mother does not see the ghost. Hamlet screams, On him, on
him! Look you how pale he glares!/ his form and cause conjoined, preaching to stones.
Would make them capable (Act III.IV, lines 126-128). These changes in feelings are
eventually realized by Hamlet, enough that he subtly hints at his awareness of his
dissolving sanity, informing Laertes, that he murdered Polonius in a rage of madness. It is
obvious, that if Hamlet can still admit that he is seeing himself transform into a madman,
he has not lost total sanity just yet.
One supporting fact that displays Hamlet’s sanity, is seen in a witty move by the
Prince. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is going to actually feign madness, and that if Horatio
notices any strange behavior from Hamlet, it is because he is merely putting on an act.
This hints that maybe Hamlet is fully aware and in control all along. As these details of
sanity compromise his madness, his mental state is balanced. This is actually realized by
some of the characters, such as Claudius and Polonius, deeming Hamlet presently lucid
and of sound-mind.
Hamlet’s madness is apparent to only a portion of the supporting characters of the
play. Other characters confess that Hamlet’s actions still leave them unsure as to whether
Hamlet’s insanity is authentic or not. Claudius confesses that Hamlet’s actions are strange,
although they do not appear to stem from madness. And I do doubt the hatch and the
disclose Will be some danger; which for to prevent, I have in quick determination (III.I,
lines 165-167, p.958). Polonius admits that Hamlet’s actions and words have a method to
them and appears as if there is a reason behind them; they are logical in nature. Though
this be madness, yet there is method in’t (II.II, line 201, p. 943). Hamlet still feels he is
not mad, but feels he still is crafty in his personal mind games. Hamlet expresses this (to
his mother), That I essentially am not in madness, But mad in craft (Act III.IV, lines
188-199, p. 979). Hamlet believes that he has never lost control at any time, and never
doubts his control over his sanity, though, he did indeed lose control. Hamlet is killed by
sword, Laertes sword, as Laertes was commanded by Claudius to kill the Prince. If only
Hamlet took advantage of his earlier opportunities instead of basking in his own personal
sorrow, he may have survived.
Hamlet, a tragic hero, meets his disastrous end, not because he was sane or insane
but his existence comes to a this disastrous conclusion in an untimely manner because of
his own unfortunate flaws, procrastination and grief. Whether he is truly insane or had
only lost control of his actions, are both theories supported by various evidence. The
supporting substantiation makes each theory a sensible one. Hamlet, as seen from the
beginning to end as a Prince stricken with grief to a Prince of rage and passion, has
developed through these stages by his own sanity and madness. Even if this madness was
pinpointed true or false, Hamlet still portrays the role of a mad man, as he has taken it
upon himself to lose control of his actions.
Hamlet is the inner person of all mankind”, stated by actor Alan Bates (Newell
128). Bates stresses this because Hamlet s attributes and characteristics are traits of the
common person. These traits include the mood swings, the emotional outbursts and
anger at the feeling of being violated. The difference between a common individual and
Hamlet, is that Hamlet brings these traits to another level, and by him bringing these
traits to another level, he is bringing utter psychosis upon himself.
Disillusionment, Depression and Despair: These are the burning emotions that
William Shakespeare has churned inside Hamlet’s soul, as he attempts to come to terms
with his father’s death and his mother’s incestuous marriage. When Hamlet tries to pick
up the pieces of his shattered idealism, he consciously embarks on a quest to seek
the hidden truth. On his journey, Hamlet displays witty intelligence, hostile impatience
and dual personalities, a mixture of traits that enforce the fact that Hamlet is
Shakespeare s most interesting character.
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