When faced with misfortune and adversity, individuals often attempt keeps their lives balanced and in focus by retrieving any lost honour and certainty. Honour, defined as the honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions, can be understood in different respects, depending on the perception of the specific individual. Certainty, however, is simply known as the structural inevitability in one’s life; the absolute freedom from doubt or reservation and to have confidence in the indisputable truth of factors that involve themselves in everyday life. Despite possibly knowing the methods to one’s salvation, actually being able to achieve such a feat is a different situation altogether.
Thus, humans have a natural propensity to desire security. Societies often look for strong leaders with honour, who provide this much needed sense of certainty; in its absence, society can decay, much like the sense of decay in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Throughout the play, Hamlet attempts to restore honour and certainty through various methods; however, due to his indecisiveness and doubt, he struggles to act with conviction, thus illustrating the flaw in his strategies, and the inevitable self-subscribed decay of his morality.
To restore honour and certainty, individuals are inclined to experience a struggle concerning what’s best for the situation. Often, when in position of a decision, individuals will reveal a lack of certainty through indecisive action and pondering. Throughout the play, Hamlet’s indecision consumes and hinders him from making a committed decision, highlighting his tragic flaw-that he is a philosopher, not a warrior. Despite the emotional appearance of the ghost to Hamlet, and his promise to avenge his father’s murder, he is paralyzed by his philosophical nature. Instead of decisive action to restore his father’s honour, Hamlet instead contrives an elaborate plan to “catch the conscience of the King” through the Mousetrap play. Hamlet’s procrastination and his many attempts to put off the inevitable, reveals that he is not a warrior, rather he is thoughtful, ultimately uncertain of life. His philosophical nature is further revealed in the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy where he concludes that the uncertainty of the afterlife hinders his acceptance of death.
The fear of the unknown inhibits Hamlet from restoring his father’s honour. It is a recurrence of Hamlet’s uncertainty of the afterlife that prevents action. Hamlet’s philosophical nature is his tragic flaw and as a result, he struggles to act with conviction to restore his honour. Rather than confronting his uncle directly, he decides to stop and question whether his action would encourage dishonour and deceit (note the transition of this throughout the play). He is reluctant to believe this apparition and questions its true identity and motive, thinking that it may be a hoax, or a trick. This rationalization illustrates the uncertainty in his life, and thus reprieves Hamlet from action, and from the ability to confirm restoration of certainty and honour. Hamlet thereby invites doubt into his mind, and begins his own self-defeating quest for certainty. He tries to provide rationale for the universe and its chaos with his need for certainty and truth; however, as he dwells on the ambiguities of human nature, and of the apparition, time passes by and Hamlet begins to recognize the condition of his stalemate.
His indecisive action and overthinking pushes himself into isolation as a means to further piece together his thoughts, therefore increasing the lack of action being made in the pursuit of honour, and an obvious miscalculation of achieving certainty. As a result, his hamartia is revealed, ultimately signifying his failure in restoring honour and certainty. Philosophy is marvelous for thinkers, not for a man attempting to attain honour and certainty. Thus, Hamlet turned to another strategy in an attempt to restore honour and certainty; through deception and manipulation. Hamlet, upon realizing his inactive consequence of indecision, becomes disgusted, and hatches a plan of deception. Deceiving the court with an “antic disposition,” Hamlet disguises his purpose in proving the king’s crime; however, his feigned madness becomes as much as an act for himself as for others, and it is clear that doubt is being heavily concealed.
Furthermore, the fact that he must turn to dishonourable actions as a means to restore honour increases his self-contempt and despair as to whether honour actually exists. Becoming so enthralled in his feigned madness, his act becomes more and more real, until he becomes so developed in his madness that he lashes out at innocent people around him, including the beloved Ophelia. Thus, Hamlets quest to restore honour is undermined once again by his own hand; his public deception became a deception of his own mind, leading to a tragic failure. As a reference to a previously mentioned plan, Hamlets manipulation is achieved through the Mousetrap play, of which he uses as an attempt achieve absolute proof and justification for his revenge.
When Claudius reacts to the scene paralleling his murder of his brother, Hamlet has no further excuse to delay justice; however, upon finding Claudius praying, Hamlet chooses not to kill him. He denies his opportunity for revenge, leading to a realization that he has only been deceiving himself. Hamlets actions illustrate not only his procrastination, deceit, manipulation and uncertainty, but ultimately his true character- signifying the true decay of his nature. As a result, it is clear that deception and manipulation fail Hamlet in attaining honour and certainty.
Manipulation, deceit, and philosophy all fail Hamlet as a means to achieve honour and certainty. Therefore, the only course of action left open to him is force; however, Hamlet has become immoral and rash, having been consumed with self-hatred and disgust, causing his use of force to be distempered and illogical- characteristics that are far from the moral, fair prince he had once been. This is once again, a clear sign of his character decay. Upon failing his previous schemes, Hamlet proceeds to Gertrude’s chamber, and there mistakenly kills Polonius. After recognizing his own mistake, Hamlet shows no remorse for Polonius’s death; showing the extent of his decay beyond the moral man he once was.
He is now a murderer, a man who has used deceit and foul play through meager attempts of embracing honour for his father’s death and certainty for himself, though it is clear his actions correspond to the demise of those around him as a result. After being exiled to England, Hamlet sees Fortinbras, Prince of Norway. He sees a man who is his equal in all regards but honour, causing Hamlet to ponder critically the clear contrast between himself and Fortinbras. His realization of the stark opposite nature of the man before him spurs an epiphany; Hamlet realizes that he must be willing to risk everything, where honour is at stake.
Becoming so consumed in his self-loathing of this realization Hamlet chooses now to act without mercy or delay, returning to Elsinore to take revenge on the King. Although, in the end, he fulfills his quest for revenge, Hamlet fails to achieve honour and certainty in his life; this failure is most evident moments before his imminent death, in which it is clear that his resignation to fate signifies the completion of his decayed being. Due to his decaying nature and identity, Hamlet lost hope and appreciation for himself, and, as a result, failed to attain honour and certainty.
In Act I, Marcellus astutely states that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. The root cause of this decay is the dishonour related to the King’s murder, and the ensuing conflict as a result of uncertainty, struggle to restore honour and the eventual change in Hamlet’s conviction; however, the greatest tragedy of decay is evident in the character of Hamlet through his various attempts at attaining honour and certainty.
Throughout the play, Hamlet uses various strategies of philosophy, deception and force to achieve his goal, and though his revenge was achieved in the end of the play, there is an obvious lack of certainty in Hamlets life, resulting in a decay of his morality, and ultimately a complete removal of honour. Through doubt, Hamlet ruins his chance for certainty; he deceives and manipulates those around him, thus ruining his opportunity for honour. Furthermore, he succumbs to despair and self-loathing, ultimately completing the decay and failure that was set in motion from the very beginning.
Courtney from Study Moose
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