Hamlet, as the melancholy character has a lot to blame his sadness on. He is constantly occupied by the thoughts of revenge and death but these forces are counterbalanced by his need to be doubly sure of his uncle’s guilt. This drives him to behave irrationally, prompting suggestion of madness and act impulsively which leads to the death of Polonius. He is manipulated by several things throughout the play and is constantly feeling the burden of being driven in one direction or the other by forces which were alien to him only a couple of days back when he was a scholar and the apparent heir to the throne.
The ghost of his father leaves him with a task to be completed along with the grief of mourning a father and watching his mother become the wife of the murderer, with what he considers indecent haste. Hamlet is motivated and driven by the uttering of his father’s ghost, his own filial obligation, and the brashness of the murderer in marrying his own mother to usurp his throne. He is driven to sometimes behave and sometimes pretend to be mad to ensure that his thoughts are not revealed to his uncle Claudius. He is driven to misogyny by his apparent loss of belief in women after his mother’s behavior.
He is driven to collect the evidence to his father’s death at the hands of his uncle because his thoughtful temperament and erudition do not allow him to find arguments ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to form a basis for vengeful actions. All these instances when he is driven in directions much against his own volition lead him to believe that he is being manipulated at all levels by situations and people. He is also, perhaps, suspicious of the fact that his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are used to spy on him and manipulate him into certain actions or words.
He implores his friend Guildenstern to play the pipe to divert the attention from his own discomfiture. But when he refuses to play claiming that he does not have any knowledge of playing a pipe, he accuses Guildenstern of being incapable of playing the pipe but manipulating him (Hamlet) like a pipe by blowing thoughts into his mind and subtly handling his emotions in a way as to hit the notes desired by people around him. Hamlet is preoccupied with two things throughout the play. They are the basis for action and inaction and his dismay at being manipulated by several things and persons.
Arguably, if Hamlet were not the prey to his own inaction, so many of the lives lost in the play would have been saved. Even the final revenge he exacts is not his own doing but the foul play of Claudius that goes awry. He readily gives up all other purpose in his life and begins the journey of revenge (which he eventually discovers that he is singularly incapable of) when his father’s ghost reveals the secret of his death. “Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory 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, Unmix’d with baser matter: yes, by heaven! ” (1. 5. 103-110) Even one of the most famous soliloquies from hamlet are of the effect that Hamlet is being troubled by the cruel hand dealt to him by fate. “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? —To die,—to sleep,— No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to,—’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die,—to sleep;—“(3. 1. 58-66) Even his attempts to contemplate suicide are his thoughts that are bound and led by influences foreign to himself. There is also evidence of such distraught thinking on the part of Hamlet in other instances.
When he enquires his friends why they have come to meet him, whether they had come of their own volition r they had been summoned, he describes the state of mankind as an inanimate thing that is given too much value. “What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither,”(2. 2. 291-297)
Hamlet feels manipulated by his varied feelings and motivations. He sometimes feels he is just an instrument of revenge. In some instances he feels he is the sum of all contrasting wisdom which prevents him from taking any decisive action. All these contradictions and the preponderance of thoughts about self and the motivations behind actions and the multilayered questioning of wisdom in taking or delaying a particular action – make Hamlet the most complicated and accomplished characterization of Shakespearean tragedies and offers different meanings upon different readings.
Courtney from Study Moose
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