’s Suicide Essay, Research Paper
Mr. Thompson 4º
European Literature 2 Honors
March 18, 2000
Reasons for the Anticipation of Claudius’s Suicide
In the tragic play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, a particular deterrent in Hamlet’s quest to be rid of his regal uncle is his procrastination. This act of murder intended to set the future right is Hamlet’s sole responsibility, ordered by his deceased father. Hamlet’s main target throughout the play is for Claudius to commit suicide. To achieve this goal, he produces a play chiefly for the king called the "Mousetrap." This play is used as one of many tools for Hamlet’s indirect manipulation of Claudius’s mind. Just as a mousetrap lures a pest to its own self-destruction while in search of ways to gratify itself, so does Hamlet use the play as a lure to trap the king in his own conscience. Claudius’s possible suicide would be the result of the guilt traps Hamlet sets with the use of mental stratagem.
As Hamlet scolds his mother for her behavior toward the king’s honor, he says many cruel things to her. Yet, among these are his pleas for her to repent. One of the last pieces of advice he gives his mother is not to let Claudius tempt her again: "Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse" (III.iv.200). Hamlet’s uncle, besides tempting the queen, is also willing to let her be the mouse that gets caught in the mousetrap intended for him. He does not love Gertrude as Hamlet’s father once did and probably never will. To the plotting king, his only regard for her is purely to serve his own selfish needs. Most of Hamlet’s efforts to make the king want to kill himself fail because of Claudius’s strong hold on his mother, which is Hamlet’s weakness.
Hamlet puts off certain efforts to kill Claudius for various reasons. At one point, Hamlet does not go through with Claudius’s murder because he does not want him to enter heaven at the time of his death: "Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven / And that his soul may be as damn’d and black / As hell, whereto it goes" (III.iii.97-98). If Claudius had killed himself, which in almost all religions is considered a sin, he would surely go to hell. Hamlet prefers Claudius’s acknowledgment of the impetus behind his actions to be his method of self-destruction. The more that Claudius thinks about his evil deed, the more he will come up with reasons as to why he should not go on living.
Claudius is lured into taking the throne by the bait of Gertrude, which was the thought that he could have a privileged place in society alongside the queen. He lusts after her and soon finds himself in the former king’s shoes: "A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that fed of that worm" (IV.iii.30-31). Claudius uses the king’s wife as bait to fish for his own personal gain. He is oblivious to Hamlet’s determination to seek silent vengeance on the person who has trapped him in a world of repugnance. To Claudius, Hamlet will be that ever present, yet scheming force in his life. Hamlet’s desire is for Claudius to be reminded of his evil deed so much that, like the fish that fed of the worm, he will nourish his every thought bringing him closer to trapping himself in his own guilt.
When asked what Hamlet meant by the fish analogy by the king he gives a strikingly similar example of his relationship towards Claudius: "Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar" (IV.iii.33-34). When he says this, Claudius is not clear as to what he is speaking of, but he does give a clue that offers insight into Hamlet’s mission in the play. The king that is talked about by Hamlet is his real father. He is telling Claudius how his father is using him as an instrument to gain vengeance. Like the fish Claudius captures, Hamlet is this creature which carries the blood of a king within him. The memory of the king that lives in his son is the fish that "goes a progress though the guts of a beggar." This idea of Hamlet’s is to keep the remembrance of the king alive through himself in the very gut of Claudius. If he decides to kill himself it would be a triumph for Hamlet. This act would completely remove Hamlet’s physical attendance at his uncle’s death. Yet, since the job does not get carried out by the king, Hamlet seems to be procrastinating throughout the play.
Occasional points in the story demonstrate how Hamlet falls victim to the memory of his father instead of Claudius. With a passive outlook of what Claudius does to Hamlet, he avoids letting his murderous act bother him. Hamlet cannot help but think of his father. The ghost of his father is always on his mind because his memory lives in him and is constantly reiterating that he be remembered. Without a continuous image of Claudius’s brother in his conscience, Hamlet feels obligated to change all that. He senses he is alone and feels the deepest pain of losing his father when he was the one who did nothing at all to harm him. Hamlet tries to vent his anger toward Claudius’s inconsiderate nature by trying to make him know his distress twofold.
Although it seems, throughout the play, as if Hamlet is watching nature take its course, this is in fact what he is doing. He is watching and waiting for Claudius to react to his set traps. One of these traps is the play Hamlet produces for Claudius to watch. The only real reaction he gives is a demand for the play to be stopped and for the presence of light. This symbolizes the authority he has to sever Hamlet’s attempts at defeating him as well as his newfound awareness of Hamlet’s scheme. When Hamlet notices that the play has no real effect on the king’s mental health, it is an indication that the king will never feel any guilt. This may well be the point where Hamlet begins to realize that he cannot totally change the king. The king must play a role in being responsible for taking his own life. An example of Hamlet seeming paralyzed in his effort to kill the king is found in a comparison with a Trojan battle:
"Takes prisoner Pyrrhus’ ear. For lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seemed i’ the air to stick.
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,
And, like a neutral to his will and matter,
Did nothing" (II.ii.484-89).
Hamlet is similar to Pyrrhus in that both of them are unable to kill because of something holding them back. Hamlet and Pyrrhus are perfectly capable of slaughtering their enemies, except for this major hindrance. For Pyrrhus, it is almost as if the hands clenching his sword will not move until the victim accepts the fact that he is worthy to die and finally shouts, "Just kill me!" and he will do it. This is exactly the type of acceptance Claudius needs to face up to before Hamlet’s plan for his death succeeds.
Another trap Hamlet sets for the king is the false pretense that he is mad. He acts as though he is mad to show the king that he is suffering deeply from his father’s death, which he is, but not visibly. He wishes to spark guilt in Claudius, causing him to see the effects of his evil deed on his brother’s son. Again, his attempts fail. Claudius does nothing noticeable to show emotion for his brother or any genuine sympathy for Hamlet, yet he keeps thinking of more possibilities that might work against Claudius: "Thanks to the notion of strategy, men can postpone revenge indefinitely without ever giving up. They are equally terrified by both radical solutions and they go on living as long as possible, if not forever, in the no man’s land of sick revenge" (Girard,180). Hamlet figures that the more strategic his ideas for revenge become, the more effective they will be. The progress of his strategy can be seen as he goes from a visual image (the Mousetrap play) to a more melodramatic act (his false madness).
Hamlet continues to draw courage to maintain his silent plot against the king. The driving force behind his will to carry out the plan to kill him thrives off of Claudius’s neutrality to all his efforts: "Hamlet, on the other hand is always studying himself" (Lowell,36). Hamlet notes his qualifications for getting the job done when he says,
"Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me.
Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,
Makes mouths at the invisible event" (IV.iv.47-52).
Hamlet recognizes his duty to his father. What keeps him going is Claudius’s "examples gross as earth." This is the way he acts toward things that would normally bring anyone guilty of a crime to suffer the plights of their conscience. The absence of guilt that should come as natural and as normal as earth disgusts Hamlet. Although Hamlet is as determined in his quest to bring the king to suicide as a powerful army, he goes about it as a "tender" favor to help Claudius die with a clear conscience. A violent battle between the two will never occur because "the invisible event" can only take place in Claudius’s mind when he agrees to take on the mental dual between the memory of his brother and himself.
Hamlet is so convinced that Claudius just has to kill himself, he denies the fact that it will only take the murderous action of himself for him to die: "Hamlet is continually drawing bills on the future, secured by his promise of himself to himself, which he can never redeem" (Lowell,35). It is no wonder that along with the pressure of avenging his father’s death, his efforts to undermine the king proving unfruitful, and finding not even his mother to confide in, Hamlet contemplates suicide instead of Claudius: "His hope of recovery to the normal state of healthy mental life depended largely on his ability to forget his father, to forgive his mother" (Knight,81). Both of these things are almost impossible for him. The memory of his father and seeking justice for him is what keeps him going every day and his mother is almost to blame for her inability to be virtuous: "She seems not to care, and seems particularly not to care about his grief" (Kirsch,132). The moral stress Hamlet undergoes is entirely meant for the appropriate person being Claudius.
Hamlet knows that conscience makes cowards of people which is why he figures that if Claudius had one, he would have a fear of living his life. Suicide victims are often referred to as cowards or individuals who refuse to find a way to deal with life’s problems. A person’s conscience tends to make one weigh moral pros and cons before carrying out an action. It also tends to perpetuate a feeling of disappointment in oneself after carrying out a wrong action depending on the severity of it. As always, Hamlet suffers from what Claudius does not. Hamlet is a coward, not for refraining from murdering the king, but because he cannot find it within the confusion he experiences to make peace with himself and continue living life like the king has been able to do: "This paralysis arises, however, not from physical or moral cowardice, but from that intellectual cowardice, that reluctance to dare the exploration of his inmost soul, which Hamlet shares with the rest of the human race" (Jones,103). Hamlet is repulsed by the fact that someone who can be so horrible can also maintain their mental stability better than he can with the least of effort: "The tragedy is titanic because the effort and the mind are titanic" (Erlich,253). Although this is not fair, it is the true tragedy in Hamlet.
In the play, the mental strength Hamlet uses up in order to come up with ways to punish Claudius is exasperating. All of this because Hamlet’s father had things his brother did not. He had riches, a desirable queen, and the authority and wisdom of nobility. Jealousy was a factor in his death and prosperity was his enemy. Every opportunity Hamlet gets at mental revenge-the play he produces and his faked madness-he is faced with his ultimate destiny: "We will see that in these incidents Hamlet needs to fail because, in part, success would confront him with his father’s weakness." If Hamlet was to murder the king he would thus be putting an end to his own nature. It is not normal for him to be the center of attention: "He was clam in his temper, artless in his conduct; neither pleased with idleness, nor too violently eager for employment" (Goethe,9). The opposite would be the result if he sought physical revenge on his uncle. Yet, this quality of being more forward has always been his father’s nature. This can be seen in the king through his ghost who dominates Hamlet’s thoughts. Hamlet, on the other hand, is the one who tends to dwell on his things from a distance as opposed to acting upon them.
When it comes time for the death of the king, Hamlet does stab him once and for all. When this long awaited action is finally complete, Hamlet has no other choice but to die because he goes against his nature. Even though the death of his father is avenged, there exists a violation of what was sustaining Hamlet for the longest time. This is his hope for Claudius to suffer the mental strain of killing his brother before his death. If Hamlet had seen this in Claudius before both of their deaths, he would have finally found someone who could relate to what he was feeling. Maybe if he had experienced what he silently sought out in all his efforts to trigger the king’s conscience, he might have been able to go on with his life. Without a father figure and his mother unemotional toward his loss, there is nowhere he can turn for an outlet to direct his confusion. However, he finds a way of expressing himself through creating his play and being dramatic. They may be disguised as frivolous forms of entertainment for the king and queen, but they are also hidden cries for help coming from a confused Hamlet.
Toward Hamlet’s death when he is about to fight Laertes, he comes to a realization. These few words he speaks to Horatio tell much about what happens before his death: "When our deep plots do pall; and that should learn us / There’s a divinity that shapes our ends / Rough-hew them how we will" (V.ii.9-11). Hamlet uses what he has experienced in life and applies it to mankind. After many times wherein Hamlet’s plots have seemed to not have any effect, he makes known a phenomenon that occurs which makes it worthwhile to have suffered things not going a certain way. He says that individuals should learn that the intentions that they set before them will not always dictate what is sure to happen. This is basically what happens to Hamlet in his plot to capture the king’s conscience. Still, there is some sort of divine intervention that changes the course of our nature near death. For Hamlet, this was the sudden ability to do what was against his nature for so long and that was to carry out the action of stabbing the king.
Hamlet also talks about the nature that will soon manifest itself before killing Claudius: "Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes / Between the pass and fell-incensed points / Of mighty people" (V.ii.64-66). This "baser nature" Hamlet speaks of is the nature of what humans are supposed to have basically stemmed from-the beasts. Hamlet refers to this total disregard of compassion toward human life as being "dangerous." This is exactly the word to describe what happens when the king and Hamlet, the "mighty opposites" they are, are at both of their ends. What takes place thereafter is total destruction. Four people wind up dead in their presence where the atmosphere was already extremely tense before any deaths had occurred.
In the end, Hamlet realizes that his nature was not able to allow what his intentions willed to happen. If Claudius had indeed killed himself, he would have violated his nature as well. Claudius acknowledges that Hamlet’s righteous obligation to avenge his father’s death held ulterior motives that Claudius could relate to: "There is no shuffling, there the action lies / In his true nature, and we ourselves compell’d" (III.iii.64-65). Claudius knows that there is no doubt about it, or "no shuffling," that the action to kill him is there. Claudius is "compelled" to his bestial nature that he does not want to deny Hamlet also has within him. Although, he knows it is his true nature that he is unable to feel anything for his brother: "Try what repentance can. What can it not? / Yet what can it when one can not repent?" (III.iii.68-69). When one cannot repent, it is said that their sins are not forgiven. When Claudius is unable to at least attempt repenting, this suggests his inability to want to be like everyone else. Most people would favor being forgiven than not.
Hamlet is an individual who wants to change a person with a certain mindset and drive him to end his own life. At the same time he struggles with his own physical incapabilities. Yet, the physical aspect of killing someone does not mean that the mind can not do the same damage. Hamlet fails most of the time, but each time he does he gets more creative in his plans and finds a new way to express his anger about the action never being carried out. He is an individual who is faced with many tasked and in the end is aware of his status in dealing with them all. He is an "instrument" that no human is worthy to make speak, yet the "divinity that shapes our ends" is all that is able to "play upon him." This silent control of himself toward his death coming from a divine force assumes the task he tries to make happen for what is remaining of his life. And "the rest is silence."