Hamlet Exam Study Guide Essay
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What should Hamlet do? Explain the moral theories of each philosopher: Plato, Aristotle and Augustine. For each, determine the right thing for Hamlet to do. Then, assess the prince’s actions from the perspective of each recommendation.
Plato’s moral theory consisted of the concept of the soul and the concept of virtue as function. To Plato, the soul has three parts; reason, spirit, and appetite. The reason we do things is to reach a goal or value, our spirit drives us to accomplish our goal, and our desire for things is our appetite.
The three virtues that must be fulfilled to reach the fourth, general virtue are temperance, courage, and wisdom, which correlate with the three parts of the soul. In order to achieve inner harmony, every part of the soul must be fulfilling its proper function. In Plato’s theory, Hamlet needs to look at the big picture of achieving inner harmony. In order to reach the goal of achieving inner harmony, Hamlet has to figure out another way of easing his anger other than the vengeance of his uncle.
The virtues of temperance, courage, and wisdom need to be incorporated into Hamlet’s actions, and he would be able to reach his inner harmony.
By keeping his reason in control of his will and appetites, he can use the dialectic to fulfill the knowledge on how to deal with the situation. Hamlet’s big picture of inner harmony was the death of his uncle. He wasn’t concerned about the consequences he would have to face in result, such as not achieving his goal. He was more concerned about feeding his appetite of revenge, and not re-evaluating his virtuous life. Although he held out on murdering his uncle a couple of times, he was still in rage and trying to please his father’s ghost, whatever the consequences were. He loved his mother, and wanted to save her, but he was more concerned with killing his uncle. Hamlet was not able to achieve inner harmony, since he did not have a proper functioning soul.
Aristotle’s moral theory involves the idea of living your life to the fullest happiness that can be reached. In order to achieve this final, we need to live a virtuous life according to the Golden mean, which is finding the middle grounds of the virtues we live by. Aristotle explains that we should continuously act in accordance with virtues, which are acquired from our upbringing and experiences. Because Aristotle believed in teleology, he said that by aiming our actions toward an end (happiness), our souls need to work in the way of excellence. Like Plato, Aristotle also gears toward reaching a goal. In order for Hamlet to achieve the goal of happiness, he needs to follow the golden mean to live the ideal life. Hamlet and Aristotle had the same question; what does it mean to be? Hamlet’s famous statement “to be or not to be” meant he did not know exactly how to put his feelings into action. Is it better to live with the knowing of the murder of his father, or is it better to die in the act of revenge.
Aristotle would have Hamlet evaluate how he can fulfill the function of being a good person. To do this, Hamlet needs to act on the rational part of his soul and make the right choice in dealing with his knowledge of his father’s murder. Hamlet needs to live by the virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. If Hamlet makes rational decisions based on these virtues, he will understand that he needs to be able to communicate to Claudius and let him know that he will not get away with what he has done. As the Prince, he needs to take action as a ruler and set a good example for the people of Denmark and other kingdoms.
Then again, Aristotle gave a pass of negative behavior to the involuntary acts that are done as a result of external compulsion. So, as he may say that everyone has the potential to be good, they may still slip up due to impulses such as revenge against the uncle who killed Hamlet’s father and re-wed his mother. In the act of aiming toward an end, Hamlet may choose whether or not to follow the instrumental road or the intrinsic road. Since Hamlet had a couple of chances to kill the King, he kept holding out until he thought he would have a perfect opportunity. In the beginning, he was following a virtuous life, and toward the end, when he claimed to have “bloody” thoughts, he was gearing more toward the impulsive irrational part of his soul. He eventually followed this road, but his soul was dying anyways.
In order to have faith, we need to understand the reason for spirituality. To know universal truth, we have to go beyond human reason to discover God. Since the soul cannot find peace among bodily pleasures or sensations, we need to understand what will bring happiness to our lives and how we can succeed as humans. Since God created us, we will find happiness only in him. We have free will to choose the City of God or the City of the World. In choosing the City of God, we are putting our faith in God to guide us to make the right choices in finding happiness, not materialistic things or other people. By devoting our ultimate love to God and having faith that God can provide us with happiness, we can fulfill our destiny.
For Augustine, Hamlet needs to start praying. He needs to open his heart and have faith in God to take care of the situation. Since we are Gods people, only God can bring justice. The king may have done something horrible, but he has to answer to God in the end. Hamlet needs to stay on the right track and pray that God can save him from his horrible thoughts of having revenge on the king. God is the only one who can bring happiness to our lives and help us to succeed as humans. Hamlet needs to choose the City of God, and make the right choices to not worry about punishing other people. This is the only way that he will achieve the goal of happiness.
Unfortunately, Hamlet did not look to God for the answer. He may have said some prayers, and asked for guidance, but he certainly did not follow what he knew he was supposed to do. Instead, he listened to the ghost of his father and aimed towards revenge. Hamlet may have thought he achieved what he was out to do, but in the end, his mother was poisoned to death, his lover, Ophelia, died along with her brother, Laertes, as well as his other two friends he had killed in England, the king died, and so did Hamlet himself. If he would have put his trust in God to deal with the murder of his father, he could have saved himself along with everyone else he cared so deeply for. God always has a plan.