Hamlet The Great Essay, Research Paper
Hamlet the Great
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “through the heroism and nobility of its hero, his superior power of insight into, and reflection upon, his situation, and his capacity to suffer the moral anguish which moral responsibility brings,” is considered one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. Throughout the play, Hamlet, through both soliloquies and actions, displays these characteristics, which make Hamlet such an important and intriguing individual.
Hamlet’s heroism and nobility displayed throughout most of the play, classify Hamlet as a tragedy that “towers above other plays of its kind.” The main reason Hamlet is considered honorable and noble is because of the audience’s sympathy for Hamlet. At the beginning of the play, he has just lost his father, and immediately his mother and uncle marry. Hamlet’s anguish is justifiably explained when Gertrude states, “If it be/ why seems it so particular with thee?” Hamlet responds, “‘Seems’ madam? Nay, it is.” Hamlet is obviously upset about the death of his father and circumstances of the marriage between Gertrude and Claudius. This situation intends to evoke sympathy for Hamlet from the reader. The sympathy becomes more significant in Act I, Scene 5, when the Ghost appears to Hamlet. The Ghost tells Hamlet that he, King Hamlet, is “Doomed for a certain term to walk the night/And for the day confined to fast in fires/ Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature / Are burnt and purged away,” and that Claudius, “in the porches of my ears did pour/ The leprous distilment.” Thus, King Hamlet’s murder, due to the high esteem kings are held to as a “divine ruler,” makes the Ghost a more sympathetic figure to the reader. This then justifies Hamlet’s eventual choice to seek revenge and kill Claudius. Although society tends to favor forgiveness and mercy of Christianity over the “eye for an eye” notion, Shakespeare pleads with them to understand the notion of revenge as a noble and heroic characteristic in this circumstance. A second illustration of Hamlet’s heroism and nobility is in his perception of Laertes. Hamlet recognizes himself in Laertes by saying, “But I am sorry, good Horatio,/That to Laertes I forgot myself,/ For the image of my cause, I see/ The portraiture of his. I’ll court his favors./ But sure the bravery of his grief did put me/ Into towering passion.” He understands Laertes’ motives for taking revenge on Hamlet, because Hamlet went through the same situation with Claudius. Hamlet, by admitting this and forgiving Laertes for killing him, is perceived as honorable and courageous. Hamlet, because of his circumstances and actions, evoke sympathy from the reader for him, and in turn portray him as a heroic and honorable character.
Shakespeare has a great ability to show insight or reflection upon the situations in Hamlet, often through Hamlet’s soliloquies. An example of this is when Hamlet, because of the death of his father and incestuous nature of his mother, considers committing suicide. He portrays this to the audience in a soliloquy when he states, “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world!” because his mother, who “within a month…/she followed my poor father’s body…/married with my uncle.” This then moves Hamlet into a suicidal state, and the only reason he does not succumb to his feelings is because of “His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter.” As a reader, one has the ability to understand the essence of Hamlet’s emotions towards what is happening in his life through this soliloquy whereas one would not be sure how Hamlet was feeling without it. A second example of Hamlet revealing his insight and reflection on his situation is through his famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be.” Hamlet’s dilemma of whether he should seek revenge on Claudius motivates the entire soliloquy. If he decides to do the deed, he is sure he will die himself. Hamlet fears the unknown, and since death is unknown, he fears death and is not yet ready for it. He admits this cowardice when he states, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” He realizes that he has a responsibility to avenge his father’s death, but by doing this will relegate himself to his father’s fate. It is insight into his character that allows us to understand Hamlet’s motives and reasoning. Finally, Hamlet makes a very important decision not to kill Claudius at the Church. This resolution has a great effect on the course of the play and Shakespeare allows the reader to have great insight on why Hamlet acts as he does and his reflections on this action. When he sees Claudius praying at the altar, Hamlet does not attempt to kill him because Hamlet thinks that he is repenting and, “A villain kills my father, and for that,/ I, his sole son, do this same villain send/ To heaven.” Even though Claudius does not repent, one gains insight on Hamlet’s reasoning for not killing him. The reader also gains insight to how he feels later about this decision. Hamlet observes thousands of Norwegians and Poles giving their lives over a worthless piece of land in Poland. He then says, “How stand I, then,/ That have a father killed, a mother stained.” This turning point in Hamlet’s attitude leads him to a Machiavellian outlook on revenge. With this perception, he obviously sees the flaw in his reluctance of the Church a mistake. These displays of reflection and insight of his situation shines light on Hamlet the character and helps secure the play as one of the greatest pieces of works ever written.
Without a doubt, Hamlet hovers over other literature of its kind, and a reason for this is because of Hamlet’s capacity to deal with the moral distress he must face in the play. Throughout the play, morality plays a large role in the decisions Hamlet makes about his own fate and the fate of those near him. The moral anguish that Hamlet faces mostly comes from the differences between his Christian ideals and the ideals of the Middle Ages. For example, as mentioned before, at the onset of his father’s death and mother’s incestuous relationship, Hamlet says he wishes he could “melt, thaw, and resolve himself into a dew.” Rather, though, he decides not to commit suicide, against his feelings, because Christianity does not permit it and he fears going to Hell. Hamlet often is torn between satisfying both Christian morals and the medieval code of honor, especially in his decision to seek vengeance for his father on Claudius. The medieval custom of a blood feud is generally seen as “out of date” to the modern, Christian philosophy of mercy when this play was written. To make sure that what he was doing was as Christian as possible, Hamlet requires an elaborate trick (the play within the play) to ensure the spirit that came to him was indeed King Hamlet and not a demon from Hell. Hamlet is terrified to move much farther than this, because he is uneducated as a warrior and fears the consequences of his actions. Thus, he is able to put in perspective both his Christian ideals and still eventually avenge his father’s death. This is further elaborated in the “to be or not to be” soliloquy when he mentions his fears for not only dying himself, but also killing another human being. Hamlet assures that he does not feel he is ready to take another man’s life, and as a result die himself. In addition, in the Church scene when, instead of taking the opportunity to kill Claudius, he is hesitant to kill, because he fears he will send Claudius “to heaven.” This moral anguish which moral responsibility brings is responsible for Hamlet’s long hesitation to act upon his father’s death. Eventually, though, he does deal with this moral anguish by avenging his father’s death and killing Claudius, as his sense of vengeance fortifies him. This capacity to deal with moral anguish is also prevalent at the end of the play, when both Hamlet and Laertes are dying and ask for forgiveness. Although, both Hamlet and Laertes have succumbed to the medieval ideal of a blood feud instead of mercy, Laertes pleads with Hamlet to “Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet,” so that both may be resolved of their sins and ascend to heaven. Hamlet concurs, still acknowledging his Christian ideals. Hamlet shows a wonderful capacity to deal with moral anguish from moral responsibility, an important theme in Hamlet, which helps create the play as one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written.
Helen Gardner is correct in her statement that the reason Hamlet is such a great piece of literature, especially when compared to other tragedies, is because of the nobility of Hamlet, his insight and reflection on his situation, and Hamlet’s ability to deal with his moral anguish. Shakespeare creates the elaborate character of Hamlet and the many aspects of his character not only through Hamlet’s actions, but more importantly through his soliloquies. Hamlet has secured its place in literature as one of the greatest plays ever, because of Shakespeare’s complicated and intriguing character, Hamlet.