Hamlet Study Essay Research Paper The study

Hamlet Study 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 death. 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 Aristotle. 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 action. 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

into joint. 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, W.C.

Holland, Norman N. Psychoanalysis & Shakespeare. Octagon Books. New York.

N.Y. 1976 Jenkins, Harold. Hamlet. Methuen & Co. Ltd. UK. 1982 Quinn,

Edward. The Major Shakespearean Tragedies. The Free Press. New York. N.Y

?Tragedies of William Shakespeare and Sonnets: Commentary.? Http://futures.wharton.upenn.edu/~tariq58/hamlet/cheat/criticism%20on%20hamlet.htm.



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