Hamlet Issues Essay, Research Paper
Shakespeare in his famous work, Hamlet, conveys many issues that people have to deal with in today s world. Issues that force the protagonist, Hamlet, to make life or death decisions on what to do with his outrageous fortune . Using the theme of appearance versus reality throughout the play, Shakespeare has several issues that he talks about. Six of these are: friendship vs. crown, Ghost: good or evil, man vs. self, a fear of action by Hamlet, despite having the knowledge that Claudius killed King Hamlet, and his inadequate knowledge of knowing what to do with his mother, whom he detestes for being unfaithful and full of incest, while his dead father tells him to let her be and to let heaven decide her fate. However, Hamlet s problem of being unsure about whether or not to do away with his horrendous life brings up the principal issue of life versus death.
Hamlet starts off the play in a depression, a depression that was not directly caused by the murder of his father by his uncle. Instead it was caused by his mother s incest and her lack of mourning for his father and her immediate marriage to his uncle Claudius. Hamlet wishes that his sullied flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew. However Hamlet refuses to commit suicide due to God s canon gainst self slaughter. He wants to die, to end his own life, not for his father s death which he still considers the bite of a viper- though he does have a suspicion about Claudius- but for the incest of his mother. It shames him and wants to have his flesh melt which creates and excellent word picture. It also shows exactly how much shame the sad Hamlet is feeling. To him honor is life and life is honor. Without honor, he can not live as dishonor is one of the worst things that can happen to him. Thus, his mother has made him doubt his honor due to her being dishonorable and he now wants to end it all. However, God who is gainst self slaughter , against suicide, saves him. For Hamlet knows not of what lies at the end of the final journey into the undiscovered country . He fears the afterlife tremendously and this fear fights against all of his actions for the rest of the play as he wishes and wants to know what is out there, but lacks the knowledge and is paralyzed by this fear.
This paralysis is continued in Scene V, Act I. When the Ghost comes to Hamlet to bid Hamlet to get revenge on Claudius. The Ghost says that he is forbidden to tell the secrets of my prison house and could tell things that would harrow up thy soul, and freeze thy young blood . This plays a backdrop for the rest of the play. Hamlet now has a little knowledge and he knows that if he kills Claudius, he will go to join his father in purgatory or go to hell. And if purgatory is that bad, who knows how bad hell is? If the very speaking of it will freeze his blood, then does he really want to see it and to feel it for eternity? Is the eternal damnation for murder, worth the immediate revenge? This contributes to the lack of action by Hamlet and it also plays a major role in Act III.
Act III, Scene I has perhaps the most famous soliloquy and line in the whole English Language. To be or not to be: that is the question is it. This line means so many things but the most important is that it shows that Hamlet is considering to end his own life. To be is being alive. Not to be is being dead. He is once again pondering the only sin that God can not forgive: suicide. However, the cause of his desire to die is no longer his mother s incest. Instead, it has become much more ignominious and infamous. He is paralyzed by the lack of willing to go on, to kill his uncle for the murder. He is also caught in a dilemma of a cycle of death. If he kills Claudius, he will probably be killed himself. This incapacitates him for the fact that he dreads death and the very thought of it. During the soliloquy, Hamlet asserts than in our human life, we are born, we live and we die. However, he explores what lies after death. Does anything lie after death? Is death the end? He wonders Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. He asks himself should he try to affect his fate? He wonders if he should suffer his fate or take action against his sea of troubles which include his dilemma and his incestuous mother and end them by taking his own life. Can he end his troubles this way, but how does he know? Death is one big enigma, not only to Hamlet, but too all of mankind. Hamlet hopes that death is nothingness. He hopes that death will end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. It will end everything he hopes. It will end all conscious thought, but he ultimately says that the fear that our consciences will torment us forever is what makes us keep on living. We know life. We don t know death.
Hamlet is paralyzed at this point, but decides not to commit suicide on the simple fact that death is a variable and an unknown throughout life. Thus, he bides his time, watches The Mousetrap and then afterwards sees Claudius praying. He is ready to end Claudius outrageous fortune for him. However, the conundrum of death continues here. He knows that Claudius will continue to be tormented here in life but he wonders if he will send to heaven , Claudius. He does not want to prevent Claudius from getting his due in the afterlife, if there is one, so he waits. He lets Claudius endure life for awhile longer until death can punish the sinner in a horrific hell that will torment his flesh and be so sadistic to his soul until it cries for mercy.
Hamlet seeks to send the soul of Claudius to the underworld and attempts to do so by stabbing the tapestry in Act III, Scene iv. Alas, he kills Claudius goon; Polonius. Thus the ambivalence of Hamlet towards his duty has been resolved in a deadly determination to do the dastardly deed. However, when he kills Polonius, he puts on his own head the murder of Polonius and therefore is at another dilemma facing him as he retreats back towards indecision upon acting on his revenge. He has overcome his paralysis, chosen death and then killed the wrong man! Later in Act IV, Scene iii, he is forced to talk about death. He makes light of it, by saying that Hamlet is at supper as we fat ourselves for maggots. Hamlet is treating death from an existentialist viewpoint here. He sees life as the here and now and there is no afterlife. Polonius is gone, death consists of nothingness and our rotting corpses are devoured by maggots who eat on king and beggar alike. He makes light for he is once again paralyzed by the fear of the unknown and knows that he will be sent off to England.
In Act IV, scene iv, exactly that happens. Hamlet is with his good friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, his watchers. And while traveling the road to England, he comes across Fortinbras and the Norweigan army who is going off to fight for the plains of Poland, a worthless land as it is considered by many. He ponders why they are willing to do this. He also finally realizes that no matter what happens, the consequences of the event whether they be in heaven or hell, in this world or the next do justify the act. The ends do justify the means. He realizes that he thought too precisely on th event. The event is merely that an event, and it must be done so he can avenge the murder. He has resolved to act. Death is now no longer a fear for Hamlet like it is for many people throughout the world.
However, not all see death this way. When Ophelia commits her own suicide, Gertrude laments, Claudius worries and Laertes screams in fury. Death is final, Shakespeare says, it is a one way trip, there is no way back. However, by exploring the responses of the people still living, the reader can see that all of them conclude what Hamlet concluded at the beginning, that one must deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because it is better than a mystery known as death. Shakespeare continues to develop this theme. He uses Ophelia s death to bring up the conflict of life versus death as sort of a precursor to the final scene of the play, Hamlet.
The final scene, Act V, Scene ii, brings the conflict once again into full force. Life versus death, the primordial issue that Hamlet has wrestled with since the beginning of the play, is now solved. The issue is ended for so many by their own plots or by others. The issue resolves. Hamlet starts off the scene with a carefree attitude as he does not care that he put Guildenstern and Rosencrantz to their deaths. When Horatio says So, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go to t. Hamlet responds with a little care of the world. He has resolved his own personal issue of life versus death and is ready to face death. He also now knows he must act before the news of this comes to Claudius. However, not all the rest are ready to face the issue. Claudius evades the issue and hopes that all will go well. Tragically for him, he finds himself dead by the end of the scene. His own hope that he will be fine is off, and he perishes to go meet his fate- if there is an afterlife. Gertrude too, dies. Though by accident, she dies not having faced the issue of deciding whether to take off this mortal coil . It is her death that destroys Hamlet s final will to live and the last thing for him to live for. He now has nothing to lose, especially with the knowledge of that he will die with a half hour and runs through Claudius. However, the main issue of Hamlet facing his own death still has yet to be addressed. It is a few moments later as he makes peace with Laertes, gives the crown to Fortinbras and leaves Horatio behind to tell the tale. Hamlet has faced life and he rushes forward at the end of the play to face death. The enigma that has puzzled him so long, he will now solve. Death was chosen for him by Claudius and his accomplice, Laertes, but Hamlet, now at peace and happy with the knowledge that he has avenged his father, greets it with open arms. Normally calm Horatio even addresses the taking of his own life and says here s some liquor yet. Faithful Horatio is ready to follow Hamlet to the great beyond, no matter what lies there. To Horatio, he is the antithesis of Hamlet. Hamlet spends the entire play deciding this question, wrestling with it and making several long soliloquies about it while Horatio decides in an instant. To Horatio, the issue is worthless as long as he obeys his friend, Hamlet.
Today, this issue of life versus death is still in full force. The critics and the pious have argued for decades over this issue which boils down to many continuing on with their lives because they lack the knowledge of death. Death is the great equalizer, we are all treated the same way by it. We will all die, but what lies after fears people to their bones. Supposedly, the afterlife treats people based on their true accomplishments during life, whether they be good or bad. However, this is all an unknown. We know nothing and probably we will never know anything. Death is a stop that so many want to put off for as long as possible that they continue to live just so they do not have to face their fears.
This issue of life versus death is perhaps the most famous of all of the issues in the play, Hamlet. It produced the most famous soliloquy in the English language and brought forth people to think and meditate about the great beyond. Life versus death is something that we all think about and fear even today for death is an enigma. Does it end it all? Or is there something after death? Nobody knows. Some insinuate they do, but there is a definite lack of irrefutable proof to prove to all, whether they be skeptic or believer. As long as this remains, which may be for eternity. People will continue to be like the early Hamlet in the play. We will continue on with our lives in dreadful anticipation of the undiscovered country.