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
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.