The Sociological Hamlet Essay, Research Paper
In William Shakespeare s play Hamlet, cultural identity is explored through Hamlet s isolation which is created by the conflict between his duty to his father, and his duties to the throne and society. Hamlet is isolated from his society due to his turbulent emotions, which result from his indecision on how to respond to his father s murder. Hamlet s duty as a son is to avenge the death of his father and he would be supported by society if the murderer was believed to be guilty. Hamlet s duty as a citizen and a Prince is to protect the King and to ensure the stability of the throne. In order for Hamlet to revenge his father he would have to kill the King, which creates a conflict between his two main responsibilities. Because of this, Hamlet has a hard time in deciding how to move forward and which responsibility to focus on. However, Hamlet decides to gather evidence as proof of Claudius guilt so that his revenge is justified to society and to himself.
Hamlet s duty as a son, in his social situation and circumstances, is one which encourages him to seek revenge for his murdered father. For Hamlet to be perceived as a noble and faithful son, he would have to kill his father s murderer. In Hamlet s first soliloquy after being told by his father s ghost to seek revenge, Hamlet quickly acknowledges his duty as a son.
Hamlet: I ll wipe away all trivial fond records, / All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past / That youth and observation copied there, / And thy commandment all alone shall live /
Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter. (I.v.99-104)
Hamlet seems to decide with strong determination that he will wipe away all of his memories of youth , and all past pressures so that the ghost s commandment to avenge his death would be his only focus, without the distraction of baser matter . Hamlet s loyalty as a son is shown clearly as he accepts the ghost s guidance, and he appears to decide that he must fulfill his duty and kill Claudius. If he were to do otherwise, Hamlet would not be following the values that he believes in and also the values of the society that raised him.
Hamlet s duty to the kingdom and his role in society are in direct conflict with his duty as a son. Hamlet s responsibility to the throne is to protect the King and his role in society as a Prince is to live an honorable and exemplary life, and ensure the stability of the kingdom. Socially, Hamlet is expected to protect the King and to obey the moral values of the people who he reigns over. In order for Hamlet to remain a noble and respectable person in the eyes of the public, he must try to fulfill the expectations laid upon him. Direct conflict would occur if Hamlet were to kill Claudius because he would carryout his duty as a son, but society would view his actions as betraying. If Hamlet executes one responsibility, the other is left behind. He would be acting against socially enforced values and in the opinion of society, and possibly in his own mind, he would be committing the highest form of treachery. Since his obligation to the monarchy and to society is in direct conflict with his obligation to his dead father, Hamlet is torn and his indecision and isolation result. Claudius illustrates society s view of murdering a King as the most sacrilegious of all crimes when he reflects on his unholy actions in killing his brother.
King: O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; / It hath the primal eldest curse upon t, / A brother s murder. Pray can I not, / Though inclination be as sharp as will. / My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent. (III.iii.36-40)
Claudius is unable to pray even though his inclination is as sharp as will , and his determination is overpowered by his stronger guilt which defeats his strong intent to find peace with God. This shows society s view of this crime as being unholy. Claudius emphasizes the reality of murdering a brother by describing the offence as rank and as having the primal eldest curse upon t . Through Claudius words, society s views on murdering a King and a close relative become clear, and this leads to a better understanding of the conflict facing Hamlet and of his hesitation to act, which ultimately leads to his isolation and death.
The uncertainty of Claudius guilt and the importance Hamlet places on gathering evidence against the King is demonstrated when Hamlet plans to organize a trap for the King in his soliloquy at the end of Act II when he says, I ll have grounds / More relative than this. The plays the thing / Wherein I ll catch the conscience of the King. (II.ii.615ff) Hamlet knows that society would not tolerate him murdering Claudius as an act of revenge if there was no corroborating evidence to prove the King s guilt. Hamlet also wants to be positive of Claudius guilt to reassure himself that what he is doing is right. Claudius reaction to the play is the more relative evidence that Hamlet is looking for. An important part of Hamlet s revenge is for Claudius to be perceived as the killer he really is. Even though Hamlet uses the lack of evidence to justify his own previous inaction in this soliloquy , he also realizes that he needs proof for society to believe that Claudius is guilty in order to keep his noble status as Prince. The plan to use Horatio as a witness to any possible reaction of the King shows Hamlet s awareness that proof will be necessary to justify his revenge.