Perhaps one of the most perplexing problems a modern audience may have with Shakespeare's Hamlet is the obvious question: what takes him so long to act on the Ghost's request for revenge? The obvious but simple answer is that if he did not take his time, we would have 'Hamlet: The Short Story' instead of 'Hamlet: The Classic Play'. There are, however, valid reasons for Hamlet's slow behaviour. Among them are his public role in the monarchy of Denmark, his education, and the environment of Elsinore.
Hamlet is first and foremost the Prince of Denmark. There are no brothers or sisters, and he is the popular, well-liked son of an equally popular and well-liked King and Queen. Not unlike the royal families of today, the royals of Elsinore have two lives—a public one and a private one, both of which are very much interlinked. Their lives as a whole are really not their own, yet their privacy is apparently a sacrifice they are willing to make to render service to Denmark. Hamlet's father, King Hamlet, had done much to ensure that Denmark was well protected. His untimely death was marked by intense mourning at the court, as well it should have been for a man of his position.
However, Gertrude's marriage to Claudius before a month of mourning had passed could be interpreted as a breach of protocol. This is why in the opening scenes, Claudius goes to such lengths to calm and soothe the concerns of the court. When Hamlet returns to the court from school in Wittenburg, Germany, it is impossible that he can escape what awaits him.
The tenants of this castle include the King's minister, Polonius, and his family, Laertes and Ophelia, as well as a coterie of government officials (Cornelius and Voltemand), guards (Marcellus and Bernardo and their companies), and courtiers (Osric, for example). In this environment, to have even a small amount of privacy is almost impossible since there is always someone somewhere. Such a transgression as the apparently unprovoked murder of a royal minister would open all sorts of questions for Claudius that he may be able to answer.
Even Hamlet's private life is of public concern, especially when it comes to his selection of a wife. Laertes tells Ophelia in no uncertain terms that her relationship with Hamlet is fruitless:
Perhaps he loves you now,
And no soil nor cautel doth besmirch
The virtue of his will; but you must fear,
His greatness being weighed, his will is not his own.
For he himself is subject to his birth.
He may not, as unvalued persons do,
Carve for himself, for on his choice depends
The safety and health of this whole state,
And therefore must his choice be circumscribed
Unto the voice and yielding of that body
Whereof he is the head.
The selection of a future queen is an issue at the very core of a monarchy's survival. On the political side, it was common practice to cement peace treaties with a marriage between two ruling houses. A wife's main function as queen was to produce a male heir for the King. In a kingdom like Denmark, which had an elected monarchy, it was doubly important that a future king be suitably matched for the peace and stability of the country.
Gertrude has produced Hamlet; however, the possibility of a direct heir for Claudius is remote, if not impossible, as Hamlet says: 'at your age/ The heyday in the blood is tame' (3.4.1617). The pressure on Hamlet to continue the line and Claudius' desire to keep the Prince off the throne come into direct conflict. Ophelia, as the daughter of a minister, cannot bring either wealth or security to a marriage with Hamlet. Although Hamlet's profession of love at her funeral is moving and sincere, it is unlikely that they would have been allowed to marry...
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The tragedy of Hamlet is a medieval legend written by Shakespeare who describes the destiny of the main hero whose inner world is destroyed due to the injustice. This thought-provoking, philosophical play tells about the man who experiences the devastation due to ruined principals of humanistic ideas. Being the representative of Renaissance, the protagonist refers to high moral and honorable people for whom any manifestation of evil cannot be justified for any reason. Unfortunately, destiny casts serious problems which eventually lead to the inner tragedy of this noble character. This Hamlet essay example investigates the causes for internal tragedy, and analyzes changes in the character Hamlet throughout the plot.
In the tragedy Hamlet, William Shakespeare uses the plot of ancient legend and old English play. The adapted version reflects the tragedy of humanism in the contemporary world. The main character is an ideal representative of a humanist who faces the problems of real world where deceit prevails. A treacherous murder of prince’s father turns into the son’s duty to revenge. Hamlet does not want to put up with the thought of injustice. His obsession with the idea to wreak vengeance develops into the historically significant task for the whole country – fight for justice.
The story about Hamlet is a typical tragedy of a person who finds out how cruel people are. Before the death of father, prince’s life is quite ordinary, he lives in a mansion with a happy caring family, he falls in love with Ophelia, and nothing worries him. He has loyal friends, he writes poems, adores theatre and studies different kinds of science. He has a prospective future of becoming a king of the whole country. When the father dies, Hamlet’s life is ruined, and all the plans are destroyed. He can’t keep calm after such a tragic moment in his life while his mother is going to marry with another man. To make matters worse, the future husband is actually the murderer of prince’s father who commits the crime to get the throne. The main hero is mad, and all these events trigger lots of critical changes in his worldview.
It is no wonder that due to such volatile conditions the main hero is on the verge of devastation. During a short period of time, he loses everything which has previously built the basis of his life. Although he isn’t naive, he has a very remote idea about misery and trouble. That is why, all those problems which Hamlet sees, make him look at the surrounding world in a different way. When he starts looking at everything from another angle, his consciousness awakes essential questions which touch his soul with extreme sharpness. What is death, do people have to believe in friendship and love, what is the cost of human’s life? Is it real to find happiness among people who are cruel and disloyal? These questions torture prince’s mind, and he finally makes up the most significant question which he cannot answer – to be or not to be. He wants to know the answer but he is now afraid of the truth.
During this fight, the protagonist objurgates himself in being slow and passive. Sometimes Shakespeare alludes that the main hero is just a thinker, observer, who is not ready to take serious decisions. But the unfolded plot proves this idea to be wrong. The image of Hamlet reflects the unity of strong man’s feelings which were the characteristics of people who belong to the age of Renaissance. He suffers because of father’s death and mother’s attitude towards new marriage. He can’t understand how feelings can disappear within such a short period of time. This personal emotional crisis triggers Hamlet’s cruelty and aggressive attitude to his beloved woman. Hamlet and Ophelia experience misunderstanding and conflicts which come from the depressive and half-insane devastated prince.
If analyzing the personality of Hamlet from the psychological aspect, it is worth mentioning that he stands out from the public thanks to his nobility, courteousness, and respect to people of different social status. It is noticeable from his polite behavior and from the fact that his best friend is a simple student who tells Hamlet about everything. The desire to take revenge develops in the hero’s character many philosophical thoughts. He reevaluates the sense of life and the role of humans. He admits his miserable influence being the only one person who wants to change the society. The man is powerless in comparison to the world evil. He wants to combat injustice understanding that he is left alone in this competition.
The main hero cannot believe that high feelings are not appreciated anymore, friendship, true love, loyalty, devotion are losing its significance. It seems to him that the whole world is tumbled down. His world has disappeared and is broken because Hamlet doesn’t want to admit the negative sides of the society, although they are present in the community all the time. In this case, the core of the problem is hidden in the man’s very high expectations. Some critics say that Hamlet’s character is fragile, but it is not the issue. By analyzing the protagonist more thoroughly, it becomes clear that the prince tries to fight with insurmountable global problems alone. He doesn’t know the norms, values of other people, he is mad at the society who doesn’t lead the same moral life path which is chosen by him. The surrounding world turns out to be cruel, immoral, mendacious. Now when he takes off his pink glasses, he understands that even his mother is sinful, and this thought destroys his noble personality.
It is vital to understand that the tragedy Hamlet experiences is not in his deeds or behavior, it is in his inner changes. It can be called the tragedy of spiritual decline. The fight for inner principles, betrayal, reconsideration of values, and the necessity to live with the changes, make man’s life unbearable. He cannot change anything and bring his father back to life, but his inner thoughts are becoming more and more intermingling and pressing. In the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet is not concerned about unhappy love, or unrealized goals, he is thinking about the ruined picture of world for the individual who aspires to develop only highly esthetic and moral values.
Many centuries have passed after publication of the play Hamlet, but its protagonist has become an immortal character. It is no more a name of the book, Hamlet has become a personification of the highest moral virtues and symbolizes a person who is in the perpetual search for justice. Hamlet is one the most recognizable heroes in the literature, and the Shakespearean tragedy attracts readers all over the world who want to immerse in the art of writing and theatre.
- Shakespeare, William, and Roma Gill. Hamlet. Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Smith, John Harrington, et al. “Hamlet, Antonio’s Revenge and the Ur-Hamlet.” Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 4, 1958, p. 493.
- Team, Novelguide. “Hamlet’s Character Traits.” Novelguide, www.novelguide.com/reportessay/literature/shakespeare/hamlets-character-traits.