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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
The study of Shakespeare?s Hamlet has been one that is very extensive as well as
enormous. Books upon books have been written about this great play. About an equal
amount of books, however, have been written about one character; Hamlet. A critic of
Hamlet once said, ?a man set out to read all the books about Hamlet would have time to
read nothing else, not even Hamlet.?
What is the great fascination with Hamlet and the characters contained
within. The great intrigue comes from the ambiguity of the play and it?s characters.
?Hamlet is the tragedy of reflection. The cause of the hero?s delay is irresolution; and the
cause 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 many theories 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
wild and crazy themes. Some conclude that the problem with Hamlet, and a classic thesis
used by many students, is insanity versus sanity. The theories progress from there. The
theories range from manic-depressant to homosexual. Some are even very creative; such
as the thesis that Hamlet is actually a female raised as 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 the statements I have listed
above. However, I will take a stand with Coleridge and speak about Hamlet?s genius and
cognitive activity. Hamlet?s true dilemma is not one of sanity -Vs- insanity; but one
pressing his intellectual capacity. Being a scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than
actions. ?Cause of Hamlet?s destiny. . . in intellectual terms . . . is a tragedy . . . of
excessive thought.? (Mack. 43) Hamlet?s role was to make a transcendental move from
scholarly prince to man of action. Hopefully this report will help open another, or even
stress a classic, view as to Hamlet?s character and his prolonged delay.
When a student goes to write about Hamlet?s character they often begin by
hitting a wall. Not the usual writers block in which the mind goes blank, but one of
information loaded upon information. Where does a pupil begin? In this vast mound of
information, where do we start? The Beginning would be a proper place.
The background of Hamlet may help to bring some insight onto his
character analysis. ?Hamlet is . . . a man who, at thirty, still lives among students.? As
the play opens, Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg Germany, most likely attending
Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg. Hamlet was in-fact so found of this
Wittenberg university, that he had requested for his immediate return there. Hamlet
probably felt a little out of place in a political environment. For the hasty marriage of his
uncle and his mother may have been one only of convince.
To add fuel to this enraged fire, Claudius so boldly denies Hamlet?s return
to his asylum. This could not have angered Hamlet anymore. For where Hamlet saw that
?the time is out of joint,? Hamlet himself was ?out of joint.? How? Hamlet saw Elsinore
as a prison rather than a sanction.
Denmark?s a prison. . . world. . . in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons . . . Denmark?s oath? worst . . . I could be bounded in a nutshell and cut
myself a kind of infinite space [thought]. (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 of politics. Hamlet is so out of place and
suffering from his newly lost and homesickness of Wittenberg, that he must spend all of
his days in deep contemplation.
As a university student, Hamlet is used to nothing but thought and
contemplation. Hamlet is not accommodated with the environment of politics. Hamlet
suffers from a ?superfluous activity of the mind.? (Coleridge. 35) He knows of nothing
else but thought and reason. Unbeknown to Hamlet, his next task would soon bring him
to be caught between being a man of though and a man of action.
As the play progresses hamlet?s thought and reason takes on a great form.
Most of Hamlet?s thoughts, like that of many scholars, are about that of the world and
those things contained within them. ?Characteristic of Shakespeare?s conception of
Hamlet?s universalizing mind that he should make Hamlet think first . . . entirely.?
(Mack. 39) Hamlet has come to terms with the fact that the world, even including his
mother, is nothing but an un-weeded garden filled with evil.
Hamlet?s one true problem is with himself. He sees his character as
something most desirable; and the character of Horatio as even more coveted. Hamlet
does not understand the life of his uncle, mother, and others within Denmark. For these
people use no reason.
What is a man if his chief 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 and godlike reason to rust in us unused. (IV.IV.33-39)
Hamlet believes that life is useless if men do not use their great power of reason and
intellect. In-fact men become evil, ?stale, and flat.?
The next show of Hamlet?s intellect is his 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 soliloquies in which Hamlet is questioning some action or feeling.
This problem of Hamlet?s comes from his over use of his brain. For, he has to
contemplate every action, prepare for the reaction, and also prepare for any
consequences. Hamlet is a perfectionist who?s questions help to make sure everything
runs smoothly. ?Hamlet?s skepticism, is purely an intellectual matter.? (Mack. 64)
Hamlet begins his questioning with the death of elder Hamlet. First,
Hamlet wonders if the ghost of his father is but a figment of his imagination. Or even a
servant of the devil. If this is so, then Claudius would not be at fault for his brother?s
After he finds out that both the ghost is really his father and Claudius is
truly guilty, Hamlet next dilemma is how to kill Claudius and seek revenge. What would
be the best way to get his revenge? While Claudius is praying? Hamlet sees a great
opportunity to take his life. But wait! If Hamlet were to seek revenge now, Claudius
would go straight to heaven. Hamlet here spends an eloquent soliloquy pondering this
sudden hasty murder.
Now might I 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?s over used, over questioning brain is his
contemplation of his own death. As I have stated before, Hamlet felt very much
imprisoned in Elsinore. No doubt he was intellectually imprisoned, not allowed to use his
brain to the fullest. Not being allowed to return to his great Wittenberg university,
Hamlet questions whether life is more beneficial than death.
To be, or not to be, that is the question: whether ?tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble
and by opposing end them. To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we
end the heart-acke and 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 actions to follow his suicide; eternal damnation, or eternal sleep; Hamlet votes
against his 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 thinker not a doer. It
poses a problem for a man of such profound thought to take such a hasty and unreasoned
action such as revenge. The questioning attitude of Hamlet adds to his procrastination.
Many believed that Hamlet was merely a man who went mad due to his
father?s unlawful death and his mother?s hasty marriage. These critics look to soliloquies
and Hamlet?s seemingly mad conversations as proof 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 small part. For these passages hold great and profound thought.
There are many situations in which Hamlet?s thoughts are profound. These are not the
ponderies of a man gone mad, but of a brain contained within a prison. Of a man whose
intellect is holding him back.
The first occasion in which Hamlet?s words, perceived mad, proved to be
profound, was with his encounter with Polonius. Polonius, trying to keenly pry from
Hamlet his ailment, strikes up a seemingly innocent conversation with Hamlet. To test
his madness, Polonius asks Hamlet if he knows Polonius. when Hamlet replies wittingly,
Polonius is assured that it was the talk of a mad man. ?Do you know me, my Lord? . . .
excellent well. You are a fishmonger . . .?(II.II. 173-4) For in the ordinary sense ?it is . . .
Polonius . . . breed . . .? A fishmonger being a honest tradesman would prove mad for
Hamlet to say to Polonius. But in the sense related above, it makes perfect sense. Besides
making perfect sense, it could be thought to be the speech of the great Socrates or
This shows Hamlet?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
good politician. Not digressing, Hamlet?s ingeniousness continues.
Hamlet then precedes with further banter: ?For yourself, sir, shall grow old
as I am – if like a crab you could go backward.?(II.II. 202-3) Though his words seem
absurd, Hamlet has hit the mark. For Polonius would indeed need to crawl backwards in
order to reach hamlets age. All Polonius can retort is, ?. . . this be madness.? (II.II.205)
The next great display of hamlet?s ingeniousness 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 theory when questioning Hamlet. Upon being asked where
Polonius? body is, Hamlet, once again, gives a philosophical and intellectual comment.
To the non-universitat student, these statements prove to be the evocations of a mad man.
But to a great philosopher like Hamlet, Socrates, or even Plato they hold more truth than
they are thought to hold.
Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms
are e?en at him. . . . A man may fish with the worm 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 thus far. For it is
humbling to think that those who are royal now, may soon be humbled by the fact that
they will simply return to the dirt.
To not digress from out earlier statement, we have to acknowledge how
and when Hamlet has mad his transition from a ?prince of philosophical speculators? to a
price of actions. The road and journey to action was a hard and treacherous one for
Hamlet. 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 to the throne,
but a very wise intellect.
Many attempts and ponderies did Hamlet have towards his revenging
actions. His first attempt toward revenge was while Claudius was praying. this plan failed
as Hamlet had to sit, once more, and contemplate Claudius? ascend into heaven, thus
proving not the be a true and victorious revenge. This left Hamlet in a mournful sate. For
he knew that he was a 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.? But Hamlet?s swift meditation slowed the
process of his revenge. When met with the players great display of emotions of Hecuba
(Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is moved to think about his feeling, his duty, and his lack of
What?s Hecuba to him . . . that he should weep for her . . . yet I, a dull and
muddy-mettled rascal, peak . . . unpregnant of my cause and can say nothing . . .
who does me this. (II.II.552-570)
Hamlet mourns over his inability for swift and hasty action. He knows that he is damned
to his prison of though. Hamlet has no control over what he does, or better yet, what he
does not do.
Hamlet?s first act towards ?action? is with the death of Polonius. In a
heated argument with his mother, Hamlet believes to hear the outcry of Claudius.
Believing he has caught the newly kind in an enraged state; thus sending him straight to
hell; Hamlet finds it the best time to take what is due him. But the life of Claudius was
not taken. For it proved to be Polonius. From here Hamlet began his decision 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 believes that 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 of twenty thousand men . . for a fantasy and trick of fame . . go to their
graves like beds, fight for a plot. (IV.V.55-63)
The true test of Hamlet?s transcendence into kingship is his arrangement
over the death of Rossencrantz and Guildenstern. Hamlet, like a true politician, uses his
great mind to save his life, and pay back what was given to him. ?That on the view and
knowing of these contents, without debatement further more or less, he should those
bearers put to sudden death, not shriving-time allow?d . . .? (V.II 44-47)
When he tells this well designed plan to Horatio, Horatio retorts ?why, what a kind is
this!? And Horatio is correct. For this was Hamlet?s second attempt, which was followed
through, over the death of another person. Hamlet was on the right track for kingship. But
the true show of his transcendence was his not repenting. Hamlet justified his actions. He
believed that I was right to kill his friends. ? My excellent good friends? (II.II. 224)
because of their deceitful plan.
Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not near my
conscience, their defeat does by their own insinuation grow. ?Tis dangerous when
the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed point of mighty
opposites.( V.II. 57-62)
Hamlet?s thought , ?Be bloody or be nothing worth.?
In retrospect one may see that Hamlet?s problem was one that was easy to
diagnosis. It is humorous when one find critics that spend years upon year trying to figure
the ailment to this fictional character. However, There can be no set diagnosis for
Hamlet. Hamlet?s character is very much complex and intricate. For a critic or scholar to
single his character down to one thesis or report would be impossible.
Despite this seemingly true statement, this paper should have given the
reader some insight onto one of the many ailments that troubled Hamlet. I believe that in
order for Hamlet, and the rest of Denmark to avoid the troublesome butchery at the end
of the play, it would have been advisable for them to send Hamlet back to Wittenberg. It
is not good to keep one out of joint, for that person will try to find some way to get back
All and all, Hamlet has fulfilled the role that he set out to fulfill. By the
end of the play, Hamlet made a rough and rocky transcendence from price of scholars to
a prince of action. By they end of the play, Hamlet had no need to think, for action was
his newfound friend. Even Fortinbras, in the last scene, saw that Hamlet had the makings
of a very, very admirable king.
Bevington, David. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Prentice-Hall,
Inc. Englewood Cliffs. N.J.1973
Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. Roundable Press, Inc. New York. N.Y. 1990
Coleridge, Samuel T. Shakespearean Criticism. Vol I. J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.
London, England. 1960
Halliday, F. E. Shakespeare & Criticism. Berald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. London,
Holland, Norman N. Psychoanalysis & Shakespeare. Octagon Books. New York.
Jenkins, Harold. Hamlet. Methuen & Co. Ltd. UK. 1982
Quinn, Edward. The Major Shakespearean Tragedies. The Free Press. New
?Tragedies of William Shakespeare and Sonnets: Commentary.?
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