Characters in Hamlet
Characters in Hamlet
Why does one live? What purpose does one serve? What is the meaning of life? These are all existential questions that both ancient and modern philosophers have yet to satisfactorily answer. The weight of one’s mortality and the differences of life and death are introduced right from the start of Shakespeare’s play _Hamlet_ having Hamlet, in the aftermath of his father’s death, attempt to explore these existential questions, seeking truth and understanding as he tries to grasp the anecdote about his father’s death.
Claudius on the other hand is deeply considering his actions while also enduring a very difficult apprehension of life after death. Claudius acts to generate Hamlet’s confusion and anger, and his ensuing search for truth and life’s meaning, but Claudius himself is not a stationary character. In private, he is a very different character. It is clear that Claudius is seen as a murderous villain, but a divided villain: a man who cannot refrain from nourishing his own desires. He is not a monster, only morally weak, intent on trading his humanity for power.
Polonius is a man filled with confidence in his knowledge, and while he is a blowhard, and he does spout sayings, his cliches constitute sound advice and his observations prove themselves prophetic. In _Hamlet_, life and death provides multiple influences and consequences for each of these characters, affecting both their well-beings and sense of meaning. Finik 2 Hamlet is a university student of Wittenberg who frequently contemplates on several perplexing philosophical questions, and possibly suicide.
When King Hamlet, his father, dies, he returns home to Denmark only to discover that there was evidence of foul play in his father’s death. “_The serpent that did sting thy father’s life/Now wears his crown_. ” (I. V. 39-40). The Ghost of King Hamlet tells Hamlet that his uncle Claudius is the murderer. Feeling decisive, Hamlet seeks to prove Claudius’ guilt before he takes any action. However, Hamlet is too quick to act at times: he constantly exaggerates his intellect while ignoring his emotions and what feels right. Although his father’s death set high emotions for Hamlet, it serves as only one of the troublesome events for Hamlet.
The fact that his mother, Gertrude, has ended her mourning and married another man (Claudius) so quickly, shows Hamlet the differences in some peoples thoughts, decisions, and possibly way of life. “_Frailty, thy name is women_! ” (I,II,146). In this quote, Hamlet is speaking in his first soliloquy. The “women” he specifically refers to is his mother. Hamlet feels that Gertrude is weak and not strong enough to mourn his father any longer. Hamlet even continues to say that not even an animal, or beast, who has no reasoning or skills, would have abandoned the mourning so quickly.
All in all, this shows how angry and distressed Hamlet is by his mother’s marriage. Although Hamlet appears to be the exemplar of an anti-existentialist from the outset of the play, Hamlet’s logic slowly begins to unravel, with layer after layer revealing more snippets of Hamlet’s emotion. As Hamlet speaks the line: _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,_ _Finik 3_ _Or to take arms against a sea of troubles_ (III,I,58-61) He is contemplating the thought of suicide and wishing that God had not made suicide a sin.
Hamlet’s anxiety and uncertainty causes him to doubt the power of reason alone to solve his issues. Hamlet begins to realize that reason is helpless in dealing with the depths of human life, which is one of the central assertions of existentialism. However, in considering both his emotions and reasoning, Hamlet avoids the temptation of suicide knowing that to escape life’s pain, would mean to eternally suffer in hell. By deciding to stay alive and counter Claudius’ fraud, Hamlet strongly demonstrates his inner existential qualities. As Claudius is introduced, he expresses himself as an intelligent and capable leader.
Claudius gives a speech intent on making his court and country satisfied with their new leader, addressing the people of his brother’s death, his recent marriage and the potential unease with Norway. Claudius is well aware that if any change would occur in the government, civil unrest would definitely unfold. His speech combines the people’s loss with a new beginning that they will have under his responsibility.
He also uses the death of King Hamlet to create a sense of national unification, “_the whole kingdom/To be contracted in one brow of woe_” (I.II. 3-4), but in private, Claudius conceals a very different personality. The Ghost refers to him as “_that incestuous, that adulterate beast_” (I. V. 42), and soon, his crime is what is known to be what is “_rotten in the state of Denmark_” (I. IV. 90). The King has committed fratricide and has taken the Queen with “_the witchcraft of his wit_” (I. V. 47). Claudius represents the worst of human dignity, showing greed, corruption and excess. However, Claudius is not entirely a sociopath. His actions occasionally weigh heavy on him: Finik 4 _O, ’tis true_.
_How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience! _ _The harlot’s cheek, beautified with plastering art,_ _Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it_ _Than is my deed to my most painted word:_ _O heavy burden_ (III. I. 49-53) Claudius tries to ask God for forgiveness in a soliloquy, but realizes that he still profits from his crimes and is not willing to give them up. “_But what form of prayer/Can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder/That cannot be, since I am still possess’d of those effects for which I did murder_” (III. IV. 52-54).
Claudius can also how some sensitivity. He is genuinely sorry for Polonius’ death, and he honestly loves Gertrude. Although he strongly intends on killing Hamlet, he refuses to do so himself on Gertrude’s behalf. Claudius may show sensitivity for many characters but, nobody comes before his own desires. A great example of this is how Claudius does not even intend to stop Gertrude from drinking the poison in the goblet during the duel between Hamlet and Laertes because it would have implicated Claudius in his plot to kill Hamlet. Therefore, putting his desires in front of all.
Whereas most other characters in _Hamlet_ are preoccupied with ideas of justice, revenge, and moral balance, Claudius is decided upon maintaining power. Polonius, a man brimming with confidence, seems like a feeble old man who cannot say anything without attempting a great speech. At other times, it feels as if though he is Finik 5 undermining the life of the court through a network of spies. When Polonius finds his son Laertes, before leaving for France, he urges him “_aboard, aboard_” (I. III. 55), but proceeds to prevent him from boarding by giving some advise.
This speech concludes with the message- “_to thine own self be true/thou canst not then be false_” (I. III. 79-80). Yet, sometime later, Polonius is ordering Reynaldo to spy on Laertes and deliberately trap him by deceit “_and there put on him what forgeries you please_,” (II. I. 19-20) meaning to be false, to say that Laertes is into “_drinking, fencing, swearing, quarrelling, and drabbing_” (II. I. 26-27). Contrary to what Polonius has told Laertes, he is telling Reynaldo to be false and that his “_bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth_” (II. I. 63).
In all, Polonius is concerned about his own reputation more than the feelings and well-being of others. He puts plenty of effort into earning what he thinks is right and uses long speeches to convince others. In the end however, he is killed by one of his own ingenious plans. Hamlet’s perpetual reflection does finally help him to overcome his great anxiety. When he returns from exile in Act V, Hamlet appears to be very different. He is calm and less afraid of death. He has come to realize that destiny is ultimately controlling all of our lives, and any sense or question of existentialism would change nothing.
Hamlet is ready to confront the circuitous truth that to avenge his father’s death he must commit the same act for which he seeks revenge. He now admits that he knows nothing of the world, “_since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be_. ” (V. II. 207-208). Hamlet has reached the climax of his philosophy; he has prepared himself for death. Claudius is the villain of the piece, as he admits to himself: “_O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven_” (III,III,40). His fratricide is the corruption invading the events around – that which is, in the words of Marcellus, “_rotten in the state of Denmark_.
” Claudius is socially capable, and his charm is natural. He can exhibit deep distress Finik 6 over his “_dear brother’s death_” but quickly turns mourning into celebration and moves on “_With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage_” to whatever lies ahead. He is a very decisive man and recognizes that he his “_offense is rank_” and “_smells to heaven_,” he also admits that he will not make amends with God because he refuses to give up what his crime has profited him. He is willing to take the consequences of his actions after death while enjoy a great lust of power in life. Despite the vast amount of experience, Polonius is naive.
Polonius’ inability to understand Hamlet reflects his ability to understand things. To prove his belief in Hamlet’s madness he invokes a little play-acting from Ophelia. He misdirects Ophelia into reading a book to confront Hamlet, while he and the King eavesdrop. Although this meeting reveals that Polonius has made a great mistake, he is not in the least discouraged but immediately sets up his next plot. It proves to be his last because he is killed. If he had not misjudged Hamlet he would not have been pursuing his ill-founded suspicions and been behind the arras and gotten himself killed.
In _Hamlet_, life and death provides multiple influences and consequences for each of these three characters, affecting both their well-beings and sense of meaning. In the end, Hamlet finally recognizes that life is governed by destiny itself, and that no alteration can be done with any amount of questions or actions. He awaits death at a moment’s notice. Claudius on the other hand, has accepted the fact that he will suffer after death in hell. He is not willing to capitulate his power and therefore decides to live his life the way he wants, knowing that he has committed crimes to others.
His meaning in life is to live life to the fullest and accept what may happen after death. Polonius acts like a fool, attempting to rival the other main characters by using eloquent words that do not represent what truly composes him, making him a hypocrite. While he depends upon his memory, he utters lengthy phrases, and gives useful counsel, but, as he ages, he cannot Finik 7 be kept busy and intent, Polonius is subject to the desolation of his capabilities. He loses the order of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts. The meaning of life for Polonius may seem unclear, or entangled.
He means well for his children but also takes thoughts too far and may seem to over think. He is ignorant in foresight and the idea of dotage engulfing upon wisdom will solve all of the phenomena for Polonius. In the end, Hamlet, Claudius, and Polonius have all expressed what their true meaning in life is. Whether it be to accept destiny’s fate, avoid suffering after death, or, to act foolishly and hypocritically, life and death has most definitely forged a path for all three of these characters. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. _Hamlet. _ Ed. Roma Gill. Glasgow: Bell and Bain Ltd. 2009.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 November 2016
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