Hamlet’s Contradicting Traits

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 6 October 2016

Hamlet’s Contradicting Traits

William Shakespeare created many complex characters in his play Hamlet. One of these complex characters being the protagonist, Prince Hamlet. Hamlet has many contradictory traits, two of them being that Hamlet sometimes thinks rationally, and that being overcome by the command left by the ghost of his belligerent father, King Hamlet, he tends to make irrational decisions. When Hamlet is first introduced to the ghost’s commands in scene one, act 5, they begin to consume him with thoughts of vengeance, to murder Claudius, his father’s murderer.

Throughout the play, Hamlet acts in such a way to provide evidence supporting both traits. Conflicted by these two opposing traits, Prince Hamlet has a war of two spirits in his mind, deciding which side is right. During the length of the play, Hamlet frequently argues with himself. Many of his soliloquies are debates between Hamlet and the warring side of his mind that believes he should listen to the vengeful plan of his father’s ghost. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is a rational scholar from Wittenberg.

When he returns from Wittenberg, his mother, Queen Gertrude confronts him concerning his melancholy. He replies “Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not ‘seems’” (1. 2. 76) He is very straightforward with her and speaks in a sensible and rational manner. This conversation happened before Hamlet encountered the ghost; therefor the militant and vengeful spirit has not yet influenced him.

When Hamlet is preparing to rig the play to gage a reaction from Claudius to prove he is guilty of murdering his father, he is thinking rationally. I’ll have these players/Play something like the murder of my father/Before mine uncle: I’ll observe his looks; /I’ll tent him to the quick: if he but blench, /I know my course. ” (2. 2. 601-605) it takes and intelligent, sensible, and rational person to develop such a precise and functioning plan, therefor proving Hamlet is able to think rationally. Once Hamlet has met and been influenced to his father’s ghost, he becomes consumed with the thought of avenging his father. Hamlet is not a violent person; therefor the thought of murdering Claudius causes a lot of internal conflict for Hamlet.

As Hamlet and Laertes fight in Ophelia’s grave, Hamlet says to Laertes “For, though I am not splenitive and rash, /Yet have I something in me dangerous, /Which let thy wiseness fear” (5. 1. 265-267). This quote proves that Hamlet is aware that though he is not generally a violent person, he now possesses something dangerous in him due to his dead father’s command. Later, Hamlet claims to Laertes that he is mad. “Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness. /… Who does it, then? His madness: if’t be so, /Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong’d; /His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy” (5. . 224-233) according to Hamlet it was not him who killed Polonius it was his madness. Again, Hamlet is aware that avenging his father has driven him to be something he is not, and to do irrational things such as murdering Polonius. Hamlet had stabbed Polonius through a curtain simply because there was a slight chance it would have been Claudius hiding. Before checking, he quickly stabbed Polonius, this is completely irrational and risky on Hamlet’s part. This dramatic turn of events caused negative repercussions towards Hamlet.

By killing Polonius, Hamlet pushed Laertes to decide to avenge his own father and in the end, he murders Hamlet. The overwhelming urge to avenge his father caused Hamlet to act without thinking, putting Hamlet in a dangerous situation. Due to Hamlet’s strongly contradicting traits, he frequently argues with himself, usually in his soliloquies. Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be” is a literal debate between scholarly, rational Hamlet and Prince Hamlet as the soldier-son, seeking revenge for his pugnacious father.

In this soliloquy, Hamlet questions his motives and morals. 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? ” (3. 1. 56-60) he is debating with himself on whether or not it is worth it to avenge his father. This way of making a decision is a rational and logical thought process in which Hamlet is evaluating all of his options and their repercussions. However, had Hamlet not had irrational thoughts to begin with, he would not have to go through with this process.

Eventually Hamlet`s irrational urge to avenge his father consumes him. Most of his rationality has vanished and all of his thoughts concern revenge, or are not fully thought through. In his “My thoughts be bloody…” soliloquy, the irrational part of Hamlet`s divided soul is convincing him that if he does not avenge his father essentially he has no purpose “What is a man,/If his chief good and market of his time /Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more” (4. 4. 36-38) Hamlet says if he has no purpose, he is nothing. At the end of the soliloquy Hamlet decides “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (4. 4. 68) this is him saying that if his thoughts are not concerning violent actions towards Claudius, they are worthless. These thoughts are completely irrational, and the benefits and downfalls of this decision have not been taken into consideration. Later when Hamlet is asked whether he would prefer to battle Laertes now, or give himself some time to prepare, he quickly responds that he will fight him now, leading to Hamlet’s death. Again, Hamlet has irrationally made a decision without considering each side of the argument.

The command left by the ghost of his father has completely overcome his mind leaving him not thinking logically or rationally as he was at the beginning of the play. Hamlet is an irrational rationalist. Before the ghost confronts him, Hamlet is a rational scholar from Wittenberg, however afterwards, the ghost’s vengeful thoughts consumes him, giving Hamlet an irrational and violent mindset. During the play, these two combative traits are warring in his mind, and expressed through soliloquies. Many of Hamlet’s soliloquies are debates between these two opposing traits.

Eventually, the vengeful thoughts consume Hamlet and he becomes highly irrational. He does not plan or think anything through as he did at the beginning of the play. Hamlet’s irrationality is potentially the cause of his madness, and death. Had Hamlet not been so irrational whilst making decisions and allowing the vengeful thoughts left by his father to consume him, Claudius would not be seeking to murder him. Though Hamlet is genuinely a rationalist, his need to avenge his father’s death consumes him, causing him to make irrational and illogical decisions.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 6 October 2016

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