Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
In having to enter and act in the world of his uncle, Hamlet himself becomes an unwilling creature of that world. When he chooses to obey the ghost’s command and revenge his father, Hamlet accepts the inevitability that he must become part of Denmark’s “unweeded garden”. As the ripple of original vengeful intent widens and Hamlet is slowly but surely entangled in Claudius’ brutal world through his madness, his murders, his plots, his relationship with other characters and his revelations on life and more importantly, death.
Even before the ghost urges Hamlet to avenge his death, Hamlet teeters on the edge of his uncle’s brutal world. Whilst never evil in intent Hamlet is simply one of the finest tragic heroes. Caught between his agony of mind and indecision Hamlet’s nature is neither treacherous like Claudius’ nor rash like Laertes’. This combination of values carries only tragedy when one such as Hamlet suffers such a fate as he did. Prior to his dead father’s prompting, Hamlet is already devoured by melancholy over the loss of Old Hamlet and his mother’s “o’er hasty” marriage to Claudius. This suggests that Hamlet was already inexorably linked to his Uncle’s brutal world.
“It is not, nor it cannot come to good.”
Hamlet also feels jealousy towards his mother as their relationship goes beyond that of a normal parent/child relationship. Whilst perhaps not sexual, their mere fifteen years age difference has enclosed them in a very close-knit co-dependant affair.
“You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife,
And, would it not so, you are my mother.”
This jealousy and hatred Hamlet feels is close to pushing him over the edge, so when the Ghost commands revenge Hamlet has already positioned himself at the starting line ready to begin his descent into Denmark’s brutal court.
Hamlet’s acceptance of the task of revenge, even if somewhat reluctant, is the key to entering Claudius’ world. Revenge in any context is morally wrong. Hamlet himself realises this and is aware that the deeds he is charged to commit can never bring about good, yet he knows he must complete them.
“O, cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right.”
Hamlet’s intent to revenge his father’s murder dooms him from the start because of his wish to catch Claudius where bystanders may also be witness to his guilt, therefore turning Hamlet from an assassin to an executioner. Although Hamlet does get his wish the price he pays is far too dear, perhaps however the death of those eight people was the only solution to correct the times that were “out of joint”. Some may say that the end justifies the means but Hamlet does become an unwilling creature of Claudius’ world because as the original seed of revenge took root Hamlet could do nothing but let it grow.
Hamlet’s plots to catch Claudius centre on his will to find out whether or not the apparition he witnessed was telling the truth. In Shakespeare’s time a ghost was often regarded as a misleading spirit so in this way Hamlet’s procrastination coupled with his conscience makes it understandable that he does not act quickly.
The Mousetrap, the metatheatre used within the play is Hamlet’s most cunning scheme. This shows us the treachery which Hamlet is capable of, in stark contrast to his almost jovial mood at the thought of revenge on Claudius. This orchestration of a play paralleling the murder and incest his uncle commits, shows us how Hamlet has become part of the diseased world shown on the stage.
“The plays the thing,
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”
We see in Hamlet a drastic change with the arrival of the players. His mood lightens considerably and there is a hint that this may have been more like the prince of Denmark before his father’s murder. However, within this jovial and perhaps slightly too good-natured behaviour we see Hamlet’s underlying malaise – he needs to prove his uncle’s guilt.
“Had he the motive and cue for passion,
That I have?”
This causes his manner becomes vicious, paralleling with his existence in Claudius’ world.
The Mousetrap catches its prey just as Hamlet intends but instead of finishing it there, Claudius is allowed to escape. Many view this as Hamlet’s most grievous fault, in fact it is his saving grace. To have struck down his unknowing uncle on his knees in prayer would have turned Hamlet from righteous assassin to conscienceless villain. To murder Claudius then, Hamlet would have had to go from being part of Denmark’s devious world to believing in it’s ideals and ultimately no longer just act in it but actively belong to it.
“A villain kills my father, and for that
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
Hamlet is never a fully corrupt party but he has to become creature as a matter of survival.
Hamlet’s madness is one of his strongest links to his uncle’s “unweeded garden”. There are many opinions on the nature of Hamlet’s madness, if it was real and what it was caused by. Whilst we can never be certain of Shakespeare’s aim it seems most likely that Hamlet’s madness was feigned in part, as a way for Hamlet to enter and deal with the dark, impassive world of Denmark. At times, especially in the presence of the two women in his life, Hamlet seems to have a true vein of madness running through his character, brought on by despair, hatred or jealousy. Perhaps Hamlet simply becomes neurotic rather than psychotic. It is clearly shown, however, that Hamlet is aware he must put on an “antic disposition” before he tries to take his revenge. It seems that this is his way of preparing himself to deal with his Uncle’s brutal world.
In Act Three, Scene Four Hamlet’s manic conversation with his mother does at times bring him close to madness through his mad rage this in turn causes him to lose his normal self-control, stabbing Polonious believing it to be his uncle.
“Nay, I know not. Is it the King?”
This is one of the only times when Hamlet’s feigned madness oversteps the boundary to something far more serious. It happens again to some extent in Act Three Scene One where Hamlet abuses Ophelia under the pretense of madness believing her to be party to the plot against him.
“You should not have believed me……….
……I loved you not.”
These occasions lend belief to the view that the events that Hamlet experiences did cause him to lose control of his senses at times. This indicates that if the events which sparked his revenge did indeed also spark his madness, then the more desperate his revenge became, the worse his madness became, showing how he was pulled deeper and deeper into rank weeds, despite his originally passive behaviour.
The murders Hamlet committed show how through entering
Claudius’ world he becomes an unwilling creature of it. One of Hamlet’s biggest failings it would seem is his unwillingness to murder. He is not rash or unthinking unlike Laertes who does not even think twice about challenging the King as he does in Act Four Scene 5.
“O thou vile King,
Give me my father.”
However, as the ripples of revenge spread Hamlet rashly kills a hidden Polonius whilst in a rage, believing him to be Claudius. When his error is revealed Hamlet’s sorrow is evident, even though this was a man he did not trust or like. Hamlet is shocked that this “intruding fool” should have come to such an end by his hand. Hamlet is excused for this murder , it being done so passionately, however the two that follow it are so treacherous and cold it seems Hamlet has lost his former compassion and truly begun to act willingly in the brutal world that surrounds him. These two murders are of those who would be murderers themselves; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. On their way to England, carrying letters from the King which include Hamlet’s death warrant, Hamlet displays a villainous cunning matching that of his uncle. Whilst his old school friends sleep Hamlet switches the original letters with counterfeits and escapes back to Denmark. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive in England they hand over their own death warrants. This act is one of the most interesting as it portrays Hamlet as being without conscience or guilt, traits I which would be more typical of Claudius.
“Why, man, did they make love to this employment.
They are not near my conscience.”
However Hamlet does not attempt to hide what he has done which shows that although he did become a part of the “unweeded garden” he was never totally bound by it.
Hamlet’s two final murders were simply revenge. He slew Laertes or else be slewn himself. Yet the tragedy unfolds, as the scratch he receives from Laertes poisoned sword carries his own death sentence. His final murder of Claudius was right in it’s wrongs. Hamlet achieved his wish of becoming executioner instead of assassin.
“Treachery! Seek it out.”
In this near-final scene we see that Hamlet has indeed been caught and strangled by the weeds that he had no choice but to exist among.
Hamlet’s relationships with the other characters in the play demonstrate how he begins to act differently as he goes deeper into his uncle’s world. His relationships with Claudius, Gertrude and Ophelia are all markedly different but all show symptoms of Hamlet himself becoming an unwilling part of Denmark’s doom.
It is understood that Hamlet greatly dislikes his Uncle Claudius even before the ghost’s revelation.
“A little more than kin, and less than kind!”
After Hamlet’s acceptance of the command to revenge his father this dislike turns to hatred.
“O, villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!”
He also burns with a great shame and jealousy that his mother shares such “incestuous sheets”. However, Hamlet is careful to mask his feelings from his enemy, mostly using the veil of madness. Whilst Claudius knows Hamlet is a threat, especially after the “Mousetrap” incident he can only hope to use his deceit to prevent the truth from coming out. Claudius is the epitome of villainy yet Hamlet cannot bring himself to kill him. The irony is that the longer Hamlet delays, the more he finds himself becoming part of Claudius’ brutal world.
Hamlet’s relationship with his mother, Gertrude is the deepest and most complex of the play. Hamlet hates her and yet loves her at the same time and judges all women by her actions.
“Frailty, thy name is woman.”
At the beginning of the play we are shown that she is troubled by his melancholy and is frivolous at the same time.
“Thou knowest it common, all that lives must die,”
As the play progresses it becomes clear that the mere fifteen year age difference between the two has caused an unnatural bond to be built. From this comes Hamlet’s intense but supressed jealousy and great shame that she would so quickly forget the “wholesome” Old Hamlet for his “mildewed” brother. These feelings which he does express to her in near madness are the driving force behind his revenge, As Gertrude is undeniably a part of Claudius’ brutal world Hamlet’s intense relationship with her only entangles him further.
Ophelia, Hamlet’s true love, is doomed in her relationship from the moment Hamlet takes on the task of revenge. Whilst Hamlet only reveals at her death that, “I loved Ophelia.” his treatment of her immediately before shows how once inside his uncle’s world he did become an unfortunate creature of it. From his love letters to Ophelia, Hamlet has idealised the idea of perfect love and Ophelia with it.
“Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”
This can be paralleled with Hamlet’s idea that his father’s and mother’s love was perfect also.
“So excellent a king………….so loving to my mother.”
After Hamlet’s entrance into his uncle’s world, Ophelia becomes an unknowing pawn to aid Claudius and Polonius, who are under the false impression that Ophelia is the source of his madness. In Act Three Scene One Ophelia is set up to meet with Hamlet so Polonius and Claudius may observe. When Hamlet realises he is being watched he assumes Ophelia has betrayed him and is part of the scheme. He proceeds to abuse her physically and mentally under the act of feigned madness, causing her great confusion and angst. Hamlet urges her “get thee to a nunnery” for he wishes her not to be corrupted as his mother is and spawn something evil, such as he himself. His soliloquised line spoken just before their meeting
” Oh what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”
could be fairly applied to Ophelia overthrown by Hamlet’s hand. Hamlet’s continued mistreatment of her coupled with her father Polonius’ death, by his hand, cause Ophelia to go mad and drown, perhaps in suicide whilst Hamlet is on his way to England. To blame Hamlet entirely for Ophelia’s death would be unfair but as surely as Ophelia madly handed out her herbs Hamlet strangled them within the garden of weeds.
Never intentionally did our tragic hero mean to cause those he loved harm but in his quest for revenge all were entwined in the dark garden of Denmark.
Throughout the play, as Hamlet sinks deeper into the brutal world of his Uncle, he experiences revelations on life and consequently death that he would never had come by had he not entered into the brutal world. In Act 4, Scene5 Hamlet is amazed by what little a man’s life can count for and how quickly it is lost in death. He taunts the King about Polonius’ whereabouts while talking about the degradation that comes equally with death.
“Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.”
Act 5, Scene1; the infamous grave scene Hamlet is shaken with the morbid fascination of finding the skull of his fathers jester. Apon finding this abhorring thing coupled with the lighheartedness that the grave-digger displays causes Hamlet to contemplate the tragedy
“that that earth which kept the world in awe
should patch a wall t’expel the winters flaw!”
Hamlet becomes increasingly disturbed throughout the play by the idea that life is but a mere prelude to death, which in turn is forgotten. Without becoming a creature of Claudius’ world Hamlet could have never have come to such baneful conclusions.
Through his madness, his murders, his plots his relationships with other character and his discoveries about life and death, Hamlet becomes inevitably part of his uncle’s brutal world. Even though he may never have been inclined to enter, his acceptance that he must to achieve his revenge proves that however unwilling Hamlet did indeed become a creature of the “unweeded garden, that grows to seed.”