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The Function of Hamlet Essay

In the tragedy of William Shakespeare entitled “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” the main function of the title character may initially seem to be either concealment or exposure. The goal of Hamlet to conceal was obvious; he feigned madness to hide his plan against King Claudius. His intention to expose was evident as well; he wanted the reveal the guilt of King Claudius for murdering his father. However, concealment or exposure was not the main function of Hamlet. In Shakespeare’s play, the main function of Hamlet was revenge.

The main function of Hamlet in the play was to avenge his father’s murder. His activities done for the purpose of concealment and exposure were simply part of his plan for revenge. Hamlet’s main function in the play is derived from his role as a son. Among all the roles the title character played in the tragedy, it was his role as a son which had driven the plot. As a son, he looked up to his father who was well-respected in Denmark. Hamlet described his father as “so excellent a king” (1. 2. 143). He was also aware that his beloved father had genuinely loved his mother, Queen Gertrude.

Hamlet described the king as “so loving to my mother That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face to roughly” (1. 2. 144-146). Due to the loving relationship between his parents, Hamlet was secure in the stability of his family (Rosenberg, 1992). When the play started, the stability of Hamlet’s family had been diminished. Hamlet found himself without a father, since the king recently passed away (Shakespeare, 1992). Shortly after the king’s demise, Queen Gertrude married the king’s brother Claudius. Hamlet was deeply betrayed by their immediate union.

Hamlet felt that the queen, whom the king loved so much, wasted no time in marrying his dead husband’s kin. He remarked, “O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! ” (1. 2. 161-162). As a son, Hamlet was deeply disturbed by the events and felt isolated from the family unit. It was Hamlet’s encounter with the spirit of his father which revealed the title character’s main function in the play. From the start, Hamlet had despised King Claudius. He was visibly enraged when his uncle discouraged him from mourning his biological father’s death (Shakespeare, 1992).

When the Ghost visited Hamlet, the prince learned his father was murdered and King Claudius was the killer. Prior to the meeting, Hamlet was unaware that his father was poisoned. The Ghost gave Hamlet a mission: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1. 5. 31). Because Hamlet adored his father, it would seem natural for him to go after his father’s murderer and kill him. This mission indicated the main function of Hamlet throughout the play. His function was mainly to avenge his father’s death.

It was the revenge of Hamlet which shaped the course of events and influenced the lives of other characters in the process. While concealment or exposure was not the main function of the title character, both were certainly instrumental in Hamlet’s revenge. Hamlet would not have succeeded in his plot against King Claudius if he did not both conceal and expose. For instance, Hamlet knew that the only way he would be able to carry out his plan against his uncle was through concealment. He hid his intention of killing his uncle from other characters by feigning madness.

It must be noted that the character of Hamlet was not genuinely insane. When the play began, Hamlet was miserable due to his father’s death but he was perfectly normal. It was only after his encounter with the Ghost that he began acting mad (Hawkes, 2005). The madness was merely an act to divert the attention of other characters through his bizarre behaviour. Hamlet said, “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw” (2. 2. 402-403). This statement is proof of the true nature of Hamlet’s mental condition.

There are times when he appeared mad, simply because he was acting like a madman. There are also times when he revealed his rational self. As a madman, he could verbally attack King Claudius without worry; he would not fight back because he thought his words were meaningless and were simply the result of his insanity (Hawkes, 2005). His seemingly irrelevant statements would be attributed to his unstable mental state and would not be considered as truthful. Indeed, the act of madness was his means to conceal his plan for revenge. Hamlet also used exposure to avenge his father’s death.

Before he could punish King Claudius, Hamlet had to prove that his uncle was indeed guilty of the crime. He sought to expose the guilt of Claudius through a performance of The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet said, “The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” (2. 2. 633-634). Hamlet planned to have a performance of a play which resembled the actual murder of his father, and let King Claudius watch the performance. He knew that the monarch’s guilt will be exposed if he reacts negatively towards the play. True enough, King Claudius stood up before the performance was finished and asked for the lights.

Hence, Hamlet could proceed with his plan of revenge because he had already exposed King Claudius’ guilt. He would not have been able to continue with his plot of revenge if he did not successfully expose the murderer’s guilt. In Shakespeare’s most notable tragedy, the main function of Hamlet was to avenge his father’s murder. In fact, the progression of the play revolved around his plan for revenge. Hamlet’s function was revealed through the appearance of the Ghost and he carried out this function as a loving son to his late father. Hamlet’s main function in the play was not to conceal or expose.

These were not functions of the character in themselves, but both were part of Hamlet’s main function. Concealment and exposure were tools used by Hamlet to carry out his revenge. Hence, Hamlet’s function in the play was mainly to avenge his father’s death. References Hawkes, T. (2005). Shakespeare and the Reason: A Study of the Tragedies and the Problem Plays. New York: Routledge. Rosenberg, M. (1992). The Masks of Hamlet. Delaware: University of Delaware Press. Shakespeare, W. (1992). The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square Press.


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