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Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

One of the most unique elements of the Hamlet character is that he is so human. Many

types of readers can identify with him. Hamlet is imperfect, and he is fretful. Hamlet has

human properties, and it is his humanity that I intend to explore. Indeed it is these human

qualities and imperfections that make his story so tragic. Another tragic part of the play is

the plays irony. Irony is an important tool in the hands of the playwright to achieve both

comical and/or dramatic effect. There is usually little reason for a tragedy to be funny, so

Shakespeare has used this tool to add more tragedy to the play. I will investigate the

nature of this irony. Also, I will investigate the types of conflict that play a major part in

the play and the relationships between Hamlet and the two people who have been closest

to him; Ophelia and the Ghost.

Hamlet cannot share his strong feelings and emotions with his mother or his

girlfriend. While his mother is literally sleeping with the enemy, Ophelia has chosen the

side of Claudius because of her father, Polonius. It is especially difficult for Hamlet to

talk to Ophelia. The only other woman in his life, Gertrude, has betrayed his father by

marrying Claudius. Hamlet may be obsessed with the idea that all women are evil, yet he

really does love Ophelia, because when he finds out Ophelia has died, he cries out, “I lov’d

Ophelia; forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my

sum.”(Act V, Scene 1)

The ghost provides Hamlet with a dilemma. In Shakespeare’s plays, supernatural

characters are not always to be trusted; think of the three witches in MacBeth, who are

instrumental in his downfall. Hamlet does not know whether the ghost is telling the truth

or not. If Hamlet had killed Claudius solely on the ghost’s advice, he would certainly have

been tried and put to death himself. There would probably have been a war to choose the

new king. Being the humanitarian that he is, and taking account of his responsibilities as a

prince and future king, Hamlet most likely would want to avoid civil war. Even though

Claudius is a murderer, and probably not as noble a king as Hamlet’s father was, he is still

a king. He brings order to Denmark. Hamlet does not wish to plunge his country into

chaos. He realizes that this will happen when he kills Claudius. Hamlet is unable to

combine the spiritual world (in the form of his father’s ghost) with the tangible, every-day

world that surrounds him.

There is much irony throughout this play. One occurrence of irony I found

particularly striking was the fact that Hamlet effectively maneuvers himself into the same

position as Claudius. Claudius had attacked and killed a man who did not have the

opportunity to defend himself, but when Hamlet kills Polonius, is he not guilty of the

same? It is intriguing that both Claudius and Hamlet have killed fathers. It is interesting

to see how these two completely different characters deal with this problem in different


Other interesting parallels I found are the numerous deaths by poison. Hamlet’s father

was murdered by Claudius with poison. In the final act, the queen is the first to be

poisoned, by drinking from Hamlet’s cup. Then, Hamlet is wounded by the poisoned tip

of Laertes’ sword. When they change swords, Hamlet gets the upper hand and Laertes is

poisoned. When the queen dies, Laertes explains all to Hamlet, before he dies. Hamlet

then kills Claudius before dying himself. It is ironic that, as Claudius is poisoned because

of his own plotting, he had already signed his own death warrant when he killed Hamlet’s

father, the first tragic action of the play. There are only three people in this play who

don’t die by poisoning: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet their deaths in England, after

being outsmarted by Hamlet. The third is Ophelia, who is drowned.

There are three types of conflict I can identify in the play: ‘man versus man’, ‘man

versus nature’ and ‘man versus himself’. Hamlet’s fight with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave and

the subsequent duel would both easily classify as ‘man versus man’ conflicts. Man also

struggles with nature in this play, most notably in the form of Ophelia’s drowning and

Hamlet’s crossing the sea to England – although the latter conflict plays more of a

background role.

The ‘man versus himself’ conflict is most directly exposed in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy,

where he is wrestling with his conscience. The realization he comes to in this soliloquy is

that we are afraid to kill ourselves because we do not know what is to be found after

death. Another ‘man versus himself’ conflict is Claudius’ inability to pray. He cannot

really justify his past deeds. For him this is actually another step into darkness.

Hamlet may be a thinking man; however, this does not mean he actually likes to think.

Although he might have liked to think in the time preceding the play, when the time has

come for him to take action, he cannot because of this urge to contemplate. His capacity

of thinking becomes a handicap rather than an advantage. And this is not even the most

painful or tragic part of the Hamlet character. The biggest problem is that he is aware of

this. Not only is he incapable of acting without thinking, he knows that this is the case,

which makes the burden even heavier. Hamlet cannot face reality. It is already a

traumatic experience for him when he has to believe the words of the ghost, and actually

the ghost’s demanding him to act on this information is too much for him.

Hamlet is however, a man of decision. But he is also contemplative. He needs to think

in order to justify his actions, and his intellectual characteristics are the major difference

between Claudius and himself. Hamlet is very aware of the relationship between action

and reaction and realizes that he has to proceed very carefully. In the play, Claudius is the

decisive character, and the man of action. He takes the first action, the action that sets the

story in motion – the poisoning of Hamlet’s father. He also instigates the final action, the

poisoning of the blades and the cup; an action that will backfire and cause his own death.

In the play, there seems to be a constant shift of action, where only one party can act at

any time. These two parties are of course Hamlet and Claudius. When Claudius has taken

the action that secures him the throne, he allows Hamlet to become the man of action.

But Hamlet procrastinates. The only action Hamlet takes is staging the play, which seems

more to serve the purpose to establish that Claudius is indeed guilty of his father’s murder.

He does this for himself and for Horatio. Then he proceeds to kill the eavesdropping


Hamlet is given the chance to avenge ”this foul and most unnatural murder” when he

sees Claudius praying. Hamlet, being a Christian prince, cannot bring himself to kill

Claudius while he is praying, as this would secure his place in heaven. Hamlet wants to

make sure Claudius will suffer in the afterlife, just as his father did. Hamlet leaves just

before Claudius gets up, declaring he cannot pray; “My words fly up, my thoughts remain

below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go” (Claudius, Act III, Scene 3). Had

Hamlet known Claudius was unable to pray, then he could have had his revenge right then

and there, instead of waiting until the end, and taking everyone else with him.

Most of the other characters would probably have acted much quicker than Hamlet if

they were in his position. Imagine Polonius in the situation Hamlet found himself in. He

would not procrastinate as much. It would have most likely been off with the head of the

murderer! Any other character in the play would not have stayed as quiet as Hamlet does

(confiding only in his best friend, and even keeping the truth from his mother until the end

of Act III). Although not every one of them might have come to killing Claudius. But

Hamlet does not seem to do anything. Again, he thinks too much. But why?

Hamlet is self-conscious, while the majority of characters that surround him are not.

This explains why he feels inhibited to act. Hamlet resembles a real person more than any

other character in the play, which might be another reason why he still remains a subject of

discussion, and why the play remains so popular. Hamlet is one of the most interesting

characters in English fiction because we can identify with him, and understand, although

not always agree with his actions.

Hamlet is also set apart by his elusiveness. Many of the characters in the play can be

categorized within minutes of their introduction. I’m not calling them caricatures, but

there is definitely a caricature-like side to some of them. The pompous Polonius and the

deceitful and thick-headed Guildenstern and Rozencrantz come to my mind. However,

this does not hold true for some other characters, such as Laertes and Ophelia.

The character of Hamlet refuses categorization. Interesting with regard to this is his

love of theater. He is particularly interested in the idea that things may seem different

from what they really are, just like the people that surround him. His mother is no longer

his father’s wife, but his uncle’s, his girlfriend is no longer there for him, and Guildenstern

and Rosencrantz are no longer his friends. Also, he is aware that he will have to disguise

himself and his real motives and goals in order to attain them – this is why he fakes his

madness. It is not until he picks up Yorick’s skull in the beginning of Act V that he finds

out what is real and what not. In the end, when the truth is revealed and everyone’s

“masks” are removed, death is all that is to be found.



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