Passage From Hamlet Essay Research Paper Formal

Passage From Hamlet Essay, Research Paper Formal Critical Analysis of a Passage from Hamlet – Hamlet?s speech (III, iv, 139-180) Sung-Wook Han AP English 4 / Mr. Epes

Passage From Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

Formal Critical Analysis of a Passage from Hamlet – Hamlet?s speech (III,

iv, 139-180)

Sung-Wook Han

AP English 4 / Mr. Epes

Hamlet Paper

Formal Critical Analysis of a Passage from Hamlet

Hamlet is probably the best known and most popular play of William

Shakespeare, and it is natural for any person to question what makes Hamlet a

great tragedy and why it receives such praises. The answer is in fact simple; it

effectively arouses pity and fear in the audiences? mind. The audience feels

pity when they see a noble character experiencing a regrettable downfall because

of his innate tragic flaw, and they fear that the same thing might happen to

them. Hamlet?s speech (III, iv, 139-180) contributes to producing this feeling

of pity and fear. First it explains the thought with particular emotional

effectiveness. Second it conveys Hamlet?s character, both virtue and tragic

fear. Lastly, it marks the beginning of the tragic discovery and Hamlet?s

downfall, answering the question ?why does Hamlet delay?? Observing the

beginning of Hamlet?s downfall and tragic discovery in this passage, which

happens despite his many virtues, maximizes the pity and fear at the same time.

The first contribution is that this passage conveys Hamlet?s thoughts with

poetic and emotional effectiveness. Hamlet denies his madness and urges Gertrude

not to make his madness an excuse for her faults. He asserts that excuses would

only cover the superficial faults and the soul would be corrupted deep within.

He further asks Gertrude not to commit any more sins that make past faults even

worse and to confess herself to heaven. After all, Hamlet sarcastically begs her

pardon for his reproach. Hamlet explains that during the extremely rotten time,

Hamlet, who is good and of virtue, must beg pardon to and get permission from

Gertrude, who represents vice by committing many sins, to do good things such as

urging her to repent. As a method for salvation, Hamlet asks her not to go to

Claudius? bed. Then he apologizes for the death of Polonius and admits his own

fault. However, he insists that Polonius and he both are punished because God

has made him the agent to punish Polonius with him and him with Polonius. He

takes the responsibility, and explains Gertrude that he is cruel only to be kind

to her and warns that worse things are yet to come.

Through out the passage, imageries are used to add poetic emotion to Hamlet?s

thought. One example is ?unction? in Hamlet?s speech ?Lay not that

flattering unction to your soul?It will but skin and film the ulcerous place

whiles rank corruption, mining all within, infects unseen.? (III, iv, 145)

This is a metaphor; flattering unction on soul designates an excuse for her past

faults. Unction is scab that only covers the superficial wounds; inside the body

the wounds would not heel but infect the flesh and cause more serious damage.

Here, making excuses would be same as putting unction on the ulcerous place on

skin. Making excuses would only cover the past faults; it does not correct them

but only bring more pain in the future. Hamlet is warning that if Gertrude tries

to make an excuse for her past faults, her inner soul would corrupt and suffer

more pain later. This metaphor not only conveys Hamlet?s thought but also adds

more emotion to the speech, arousing fear in the audience?s mind for many

ordinary people do tend to make excuses for their mistakes. There is a similar

metaphor in the passage just few lines below; ?And do not spread the compost

on the weeds to make them ranker.? (III, iv, 152) The compost designates more

faults that Gertrude may commit if she does not repent, and the weeds means the

past sins. What Hamlet means in this line is that Gertrude should not commit any

more sins because more sins would worsen the past faults. Composts are

fertilizers, which in the days of Shakespeare probably made of excrements. Here

is a brilliant poetic comparison; compost, which is made of excrements, equals

to Gertrude?s faults. The audience gets the feeling that her faults are as

dirty as excrements. Use of these dictions not only provide these emotional

effects on the audience but also reveals Hamlet?s thought ? his anger,

passion, and anxiety to lead Gertrude to the right direction.

In addition to Hamlet?s thought, this passage further reveals many aspects

of the character Hamlet, contributing significantly to the pity and fear aroused

by the whole play; his virtue produces the pity, his tragic flaw the fear.

Hamlet?s virtue revealed in this passage that makes him a noble character is

his moral stand, especially his honesty and hatred against Gertrude?s adultery

and lust. Passages like ?Mother, for love of grace, lay not that flattering

unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my madness speaks? (III, iv,

145) and ?Confess yourself to heaven, repent what?s past?? (III, iv,

150) show that Hamlet denounces Gertrude?s dull sense of honesty and urges her

to be honest with God, revealing that Hamlet puts importance on the virtue of

honesty and loathes dishonesty. He himself practices honesty, saying ?For this

same lord, I do repent?.I will bestow him and will answer well the death I

gave him.? (III, iv, 173) He could have blamed Polonius for spying on him, but

he takes the full responsibility and admits his fault; it is clear that he is

very fair and just, compared to Gertrude.

Another moral virtue in this passage is his hatred against the evil, or

Gertrude?s adultery and lust in this passage. He openly asks her to ?go not

to my uncle?s bed. Assume a virtue, if you have it no.? (III, iv, 160) For a

character like Hamlet, who values morality as one of the most important virtues,

Gertrude?s adultery must have been a great pain and inhumane act. These two

virtues, honesty and hatred against adultery and lust, make Hamlet the noble

character in this passage, and the audience feel pity for him because they

regret the downfall of such moral man.

However, a tragic hero should have a tragic flaw that makes him more like

ordinary people, for only then the audience feels the fear that the same thing

might happen to them. In this passage, the same lines that describe Hamlet?s

virtues also convey his tragic flaw; ?his excessive morality becomes

morbidity.? His innate tragic flaw is excessive disgust for Gertrude?s

adultery and obsessive pursuit of honesty. His excessive loathing is indicated

in other lines as well; ?rank sweat of an enseamed bed, stew?d in

corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty-? (III, iv, 93) ?a

murderer and a villain?and put it in his pocket.? (III, iv, 96) He is so

enraged and concentrated on Gertrude?s immorality that the ghost has to step

in to remind him of his ultimate goal of killing Claudius; ?Do not forget.

This visitation is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose?step between her and

her fighting soul!..Speak to her Hamlet.? (III, iv, 111) This shows that

Hamlet has gone off track because of his excessive disgust of Gertrude?s sin.

Surprisingly, in the middle of his tragic flaw lies Hamlet?s another

virtue. Hamlet says at the end of the confrontation ?I must be cruel only to

be kind.? (III, iv, 179) This is an evidence that Hamlet, although extremely

disappointed and enraged, still wants to help Gertrude. His manner might be too

cruel and violent, but his intention is to help her to escape from immorality.

It is contradictory that his obsession of morality, which is the tragic flaw

that causes his death, can be another virtue. Yet because of this, the audience

feels even stronger fear. When a virtue can be a flaw and a flaw can be a

virtue, the confusion produces more fear. And in reality there are many people

who are too moral to do anything and after all miss the point of their life,

like Hamlet. Those ?moral? people are so concerned with living ?morally?

that they cannot do anything in the real life. This fact arouses fear among the

audience who may be one of those morality-obsessed people. Both Hamlet?s

virtue and tragic flaw are well revealed in this passage, and it is obvious that

this is one of the most essential passages of the play in producing the feeling

of pity and fear.

The passage has more significant impact on the production of pity and fear

when it is evaluated in the larger structure of the whole play. In the larger

context, this passage serves two important purposes; it confirms and clarifies

the descriptions about Hamlet?s character and thoughts made in prior passages,

and answers the question ?Why does Hamlet delay?? Hamlet?s honesty is

already revealed in his speech ?I know not ?seems.??.? (I, ii, 76) and

even his enemy Claudius admits this; ?He, [Hamlet] being remiss, most

generous, and free from all contriving, will not peruse the fills?.? His

hatred against the evil and pursuit of perfect morality have also been

introduced several times before; against drunkenness ?Ay, marry, is?t, but

to my mind?the pith and marrow of our attribute.? (I, iv, 14) and against

the wicked Rosencrantz and Guildensten ?Why, look you now, how unworthy a

thing you make of me!?.you cannot play upon me,? (III, ii, 349) ?These

tedious old fools!,? (II, ii, 217) and several others. This passage makes the

final assertion that convinces the audience of Hamlet?s honesty and morality,

concreting the notion that Hamlet is indeed a tragic hero.

Yet the greater significance of this passage is that marks the beginning of

his regrettable downfall, answering the question that has been raised by the

audience throughout the entire play; ?Why does Hamlet delay his revenge?? In

fact, the answer has been foreshadowed several times before this passage, but

those passages were preludes for this one. In the play-within-the-play, ?In

second husband let me be accurst! None wed the second but who killed the first?

(III, ii, 171) and ?A second time I kill my husband dead when second husband

kisses me in bed? (III, ii, 176-177) suggested the Hamlet?s

play-within-the-play is aimed more to Gertrude than to Claudius. Hamlet?s

saying ??[T?is brief, my lord.] As Woman?s love,? (III, ii, 145) ?Mother,

you have my father much offended,? (III, iv, 11) and ?Look here upon this

picture, and on this?and reason panders will.? (III, iv, 54) indicate that

Gertrude?s adultery and betrayal of love has hurt Hamlet?s conscience

deeply. With these lines, the audience can easily suspect that Hamlet delays his

revenge because he has to take care of Gertrude first. This passage confirms

this suspicion; ??go not to my uncle?s bed.? (III, iv, 160-161) Hamlet

simply asks her to stay away from Claudius for her own salvation. The revenge

against Claudius must be delayed to punish and save Gertrude?s soul, whom

Hamlet still loves and wants to help in spite of overwhelming disappointment and


Now the audience knows a good and just reason of delay, and sympathizes him

even more because Hamlet?s good intention to help Gertrude, which rooted from

his virtue of morality, sets the beginning of his tragic discovery and downfall.

Hamlet has been the righteous person before, but now having killed Polonius, he

has made himself a ?scourge,? or a sinful person, just like Claudius, and in

fact he admits this; ?For this lord, I do repent; but heaven hath pleased it

so, to punish me with this, and this with me, that I must be their scourge and

minister.? (III, iv, 173) He finds that his fate is sealed here and his

downfall begins because the murder of Polonius gives a good reason to open fire

against Hamlet. Even now, Hamlet?s another virtue shine once again; although

he became a scourge by killing Polonius, he still wants to be a minister, or an

innocent person, by repenting in the future. In this passage, the audience

observes the turning point of the play, and they feel the greatest sympathy and

fear because his virtues turned out to be the trap that marks his downfall and

starts the tragic discovery, despite his desperate desire to hold on to his


There are many other important passages that contain beautiful poetic

dictions and convey Hamlet?s thoughts and character masterfully. However, this

passage makes very significant contributions to the pity and fear produced by

the whole play. Containing poetic dictions and devices such as imageries, it

conveys Hamlet?s thoughts thoroughly with particular emotional impact on the

audience?s mind. Then it reveals Hamlet?s virtues and tragic flaw to promote

the audience?s understand of Hamlet and provide the necessary information to

feel pity and fear. Finally it provides the audience a chance to observe the

critical turning point of the play, where Hamlet?s tragic discovery and

downfall sets off it?s way toward his death, despite his many virtues and

desperate attempt to hold on to them. The understanding of Hamlet?s thoughts

and virtues arouse pity for Hamlet, and the knowledge of his tragic flaw and the

reason of delay bring about the fear, which together make Hamlet one of the

greatest tragedies in the history of English literature.

Work Cited

Epes, W. Perry "Against Deep meaning: An Introductory Critical Approach

to the Drama" Episcopal High School English Department (1999)