Hamlet is a moral avenger in a corrupt and unjust world. He is the only person who questions the moral atmosphere of Denmark but is driven to act irritationally because of the distress placed on him by the world. Hamlet struggles with his duty to his father, his disillusionment with himself, his revenge on Claudius, his mother’s sudden remarriage, the purpose of the ghost and the corrupt nature of Denmark. By not informing the audience of the intentions of the ghost, Shakespeare keeps them engaged by creating disillusionment through Hamlet’s struggle for the truth.
Furthermore, Shakespeare continues to engage audiences by presenting ideas of duty and corruption which are shown largely through the characterization of Hamlet. Hamlet struggles with his thoughts and feelings. The degree to which his alienation and melancholy signalled in his behaviour varies from production to production due to his father’s death. ‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew, or that the everlasting had not fixed his canon ’gainst self-slaughter. O God, God, how weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! (Act 1 Scene 2).
This quotation is Hamlet’s first soliloquy which signifies his first thoughts about suicide and how the world seems “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable”. It conveys that he sees the world as a neglected garden grown foul. It also uses extended metaphor to articulate his strong desire to rest in peace. In other words, Hamlet finds suicide a desirable alternative to life in a painful world but this option is closed to him because it is forbidden by religion. Hamlet exposes the range of his depression: weariness, despair, grief, anger, nausea, loathing and disgust, resignation.
The importance of this soliloquy lies in its establishing of Hamlet’s personality and revealing his mental condition. It presents Hamlet’s struggle for life and the disillusionment he feels towards the world. Through this, the audience therefore gain a closer relationship with Hamlet, and are absorbed by him because they are able to resonate with his circumstances, as he is faced with enduring truths of the human condition. Hamlet’s disillusionment with himself is largely driven by the disgust towards his mother’s sudden remarriage. In Act 1 Scene 2, Hamlet is dressed in black, signifying grief for his dead father.
His appearance contrasts strikingly with the costumes and attitudes of the courtiers celebrating the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude. In this soliloquy, Hamlet describes his intense disgust at his mother’s second marriage to his despised uncle so soon after his father’s death. ‘Hyperion to a Satyr…those shoes were old with which she following my poor father’s body’ (Act 1 Scene 2). He describes the haste of their marriage through irony, noting that the shoes his mother wore to his father’s funeral were not worn out before her marriage to Claudius.
The technique metaphor and juxtaposition are used to recall his dead father as infinitely superior to Claudius (his father was “so excellent a king”, a “Hyperion” which is the sun god; while Claudius is a bestial “satyr”, a lecherous creature, half-man, half-goat). He recalls how tenderly and protectively his father loved his mother, and how passionately she loved him. Hamlet condemns the marriage and struggle to accept that his mother betrayed his father but sorrowfully vows silence. Here, the audience is engaged through a deep understanding of Hamlet’s emotional feelings and the circumstances of betrayal in a relationship.
Hamlet’s struggle for the truth of the Ghost’s intentions engages audiences with many possible interpretations that follow. In Act 1 Scene 4, Hamlet’s meditation on human nature is interrupted by the appearance of the Ghost. He sees it as ‘a questionable shape’, and the question it poses for him will haunt him for much of the play: is it good or evil? Hamlet’s uncertainty whether the Ghost is an agent of God or the Devil is expressed in three vivid antitheses and three rhetorical questions: “Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damned, bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, by thy intents wicked or charitable…say, why is this?
Wherefore? What should we do? ” (Act 1 Scene 4). The Ghost claims he is the spirit of Hamlet’s father and orders him to revenge his murder. In Shakespeare’s time, revenge was forbidden by state and Church alike. The Church considered revenge as a sin for which the revenger’s soul was damned, condemning him to suffer everlasting torments after death. Therefore, the Ghost is seen by audiences as a devilish spirit sent to tempt Hamlet into an action that will result in his suffering for eternity. Here, audiences are engaged through Shakespeare’s dramatic treatment of Hamlet’s struggle for the truth and his disillusionment with the Ghost.
Hamlet is hungry for revenge, but unsure if he knows the truth. His thoughts, emotions, and desire for action struggle with each other. In the soliloquy of Act 4 Scene 4, triggered by Fortinbra’s ruthlessness, Hamlet begins to realise his excessive over-thinking. It dawns upon him that he had been thinking too much and acting too little. ‘Now, whether it be bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’event…I do not know why yet I live to say this thing’s to do, sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do’t’.
Due to his delays in action, Hamlet criticizes himself as a coward, with insults in the soliloquy ‘O what rogue and peasant slave am I!… why, what am I! ’ (Act 2 Scene 2). Hamlet is self-abusive in his expressions and shows deep depression through the comparison of himself to the lowest and most worthless thing he can think of. Hamlet himself is more prone to “apprehension” than to “action”, which is why he delays so long before seeking his revenge on Claudius.
Hamlet’s struggle to take action builds the climax throughout the play and keeps audiences engaged with the many questions and interpretations that follow from his indecisive and uncertainties to bring action upon his duty to his father. Hamlet is polarised due to his disillusionment with the corrupt state of Denmark. Denmark is frequently described as a physical body made ill by the moral corruption of Claudius and Gertrude, and many observers interpret the presence of the ghost as a supernatural omen indicating that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ (Act 1 Scene 4).
This personification indicates that King Claudius is what is “rotten” in Denmark. The line spoken by Marcellus help create the sense of corruption that will grow increasingly throughout the play. He expresses disgust at the physical corruption that follows death in the metaphor ‘Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,/ might stop a hole, to keep the wind away’ (Act 4 Scene 1). As Hamlet surveys the rather pathetic remains of Yorik, he realizes that even a praised man like Caesar has by now become a bit of clay that may be used to patch a lowly farmhouse wall.
Like the body of a king going through the guts of a beggar, as part of the naturalness of the cycle of death, he presents the idea that the body of man is part of the earth and goes back to earth. Hamlet becomes especially concerned with the meaning of existence in addition to that of those around him, and he finds it difficult to reason what may become of him after his worldly life. He questions whether man’s spirit is important and after all, does the legacy people leave behind really matter when they’re dead?
Consequently, Hamlet hesitates to take action upon his revenge on Claudius and struggles to find an answer to the questions he consistently asks himself. Here, audiences are presented a rather detached view of events that continues to engage them through the dramatic treatment of struggle and disillusionment of Hamlet. In conclusion, it is clear that Hamlet’s life contains many minor problems that make up the big problem. The Ghost of his father appearing to him is what began Hamlet’s morality and excessive thought. Thus, melancholia causes Hamlet a lot of grief and struggle to remain alive in this ambiguous world.
Hamlet questions his own nobility, and deciding that he must die to be noble is a contributing factor in Hamlet’s lack of haste in murdering Claudius. Further, the internal struggle between contemplation and action, as well as the struggle to accept human mortality itself represents the audiences’ own struggle to comprehend the nature of tragedy. His struggle with uncertainty and the conflict that emerges between fate and freewill have a universal relevance as they continue to be key existential concerns, which strike a chord with contemporary audiences.
Courtney from Study Moose
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