Q) Comment on the character of Hamlet? (10 marks) Considered by many critics as the greatest tragedy of English canon, Hamlet is without question a milestone in Shakespeare’s dramatic development. It has inspired more speculation and comment than any other play by any dramatist, including Shakespeare himself. However, more than the plot, it is his characters, particularly the protagonist Hamlet that has been the subject of debate over centuries. The playwright achieved artistic maturity in this work through his brilliant depiction of the hero’s struggle with two opposing forces: moral integrity and the need to avenge his father’s murder.
Hamlet is arguably the greatest dramatic character ever created. From the moment we meet the crestfallen prince we are enraptured by his elegant intensity. Shrouded in his inky cloak, Hamlet is a man of radical contradictions — he is reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious. Throughout the play, we see the many different aspects of Hamlet’s personality by observing his actions and responses to certain situations. Hamlet takes on the role of a strong character, but through his internal weaknesses, we witness his destruction as well.
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Hamlet’s character dominates the play, lending the tragedy its greatest philosophical and metaphysical dimensions. He is a great moraliser; and what makes him worth attending to is, that he moralises on his own feelings and experience. He is not a commonplace pedant. If the greatest depth of passion distinguishes King Lear, Hamlet is the most remarkable for the ingenuity, originality, and unstudied development of character. The character of Hamlet stands quite by itself.
It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. According to William Hazlitt, “Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well be: but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility—the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation”. When Hamlet is first introduced in Act I, Scene II, the reader is shown the epths of his sorrow. The King asks Hamlet “How is it that the clouds still hang on you” and the Queen tells him to “Cast thy nighted color off. ” By these comments one can envision Hamlet as someone who appears and radiates out his sorrow over his father’s death. Hamlet lets the reader know that his sorrow runs much deeper than his clothes and sorrow filled eyes, saying about them that “These indeed seem, for they are actions that a man might play. But I have that within which passes show; These but the trappings and the suits of woe. In this statement Hamlet pours out that his sorrows courses through every part of him. One of the first images that are created to further Shakespeare’s investigation of humanity is created by Hamlet in his first soliloquy. This simple comparison brings to life the feeling that the treachery and corruption surrounding him is enveloping all that he is familiar with. No longer is he able to see the metaphorical flowers of joy and prosperity that were once so familiar and comforting to him as they are becoming increasingly obscured by the rampant weeds of vile corruption.
Hamlet furthers his emotional outpouring when he wishes that his “flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew. ” He clearly wishes not to deal with the corruption that has grown thick around him. He goes as far as to offer his life for such an escape. This is exactly where Hamlet’s character is portrayed as fighting between good and evil and it shows just how much Hamlet wanted to vanish from the earth, but this attitude is shown in a manner that enables the reader to visualize this state of mind and understand Hamlet’s suicidal thoughts as rational contemplations.
Hamlet is not a suicidal maniac. In the words of Ernest Johnson, “the dilemma of Hamlet the Prince and Man” is “to disentangle himself from the temptation to wreak justice for the wrong reasons and in evil passion, and to do what he must do at last for the pure sake of justice. … From that dilemma of wrong feelings and right actions, he ultimately emerges, solving the problem by attaining a proper state of mind. ” Hamlet endures as the object of universal identification because his central moral dilemma transcends the Elizabethan period, making him a man for all ages.
In his difficult struggle to somehow act within a corrupt world and yet maintain his moral integrity, Hamlet ultimately reflects the fate of all human beings. Shakespeare has brilliantly raised Hamlet above a stock figure of an avenger; as he answers the call of revenge, he also proves he is an intellectual aristocrat. As a scholar and a thinker, Hamlet often reveals the high quality of his mind, pondering many weighty matters. He is also a perceptive student of drama and obviously well read in the classics. Hamlet is a noble and sensitive hero, an ideal Renaissance gentleman with a fair “mould of form. His refinement of spirit is evident when he criticizes Claudius for his drunkenness. His sensitivity is seen in his horror over his mother’s too rapid remarriage to the new king. His humility is seen in his love for Ophelia; he cares little for the fact that she is socially beneath him. Hamlet is, however, a tragic hero and victim. Hamlet is a man of many discoveries. The tragic hero in Shakespeare’s Hamlet undergoes many changes throughout the play. His mindset is set deep and far away from the physical world that both helps him and hinders him in his plight for revenge against his uncle, Claudius, and his mother.
Hamlet, from Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, is the embodiment of the Dionysian man. Time and time again, Hamlet displays the traits of Frederick Nietzsche’s Dionysian individual: Hamlet’s inability to think rationally, his illusion between his emotional reality and true reality, his rejection of pleasurable human desires, his impotent personality prevents action, and his realization that if justice is brought to his uncle, that will not change what has already happened. Hamlet exemplifies these characteristics throughout the play, which ultimately bring about his own death.
Had Hamlet’s character embraced physical action rather Dionysian thought, the “something rotten” in the state of Denmark would not have led to his own self destruction. In the opening of the play, Hamlet is confronted by the ghost of his father and told to revenge his “foul and most unnatural murder”. Later on, however, Hamlet begins to doubt the ghost. He then thinks up the Murder of Gonzago to verify the truthfulness of the ghost and also to allow himself more time. After learning the truth, Hamlet still continues to procrastinate the killing of Claudius.
Although Hamlet is full of purpose, he lacks the ability to carry out his intentions, and thus allows his character flaw to eventually destroy him. Another characteristic that acts against Hamlet is his excessive melancholies. The perfection of Hamlet’s character has been called in question – perhaps by those who do not understand it. The character of Hamlet stands by itself. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can be.
He is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility – the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from his natural disposition by the strangeness of his situation. In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare the cast of main characters use the support given to them by the foils to enhance the play. A foil is a minor character who by simulations and differences reveals character, and who, as an element of plot, is there for the more important character to talk to.
Such an example is Laertes is a foil to Hamlet. A foil to Hamlet is Laertes. Laertes who likes Hamlet has returned to Elsinor because of King Hamlet’s death. Laertes is a young man whose good instincts have been somewhat unclear by the concern of his superficial which he has learned from his father, Polonius. Such is the case when Hamlet taunts him for his poor performance, at the fencing match. The taunting hurts Laertes pride and this shows how insecure he actually is.
Like his father Laertes apparently preaches a morality he does not practice and fully believes in a double standard of behavior for the sexes. Hamlet is a complex character with multiple character traits that lead him through his many confusing and often conflicting actions throughout the play. Shakespeare has developed a character whose conflicts of interest and personality traits combine to lead him through actions that eventually led to his ultimate downfall, along with many of his former friends and acquaintances
As “insanity” was undoubtedly a striking characteristic of the personality which drove Hamlet’s actions in the play, the causes of “insanity” must be analyzed in order to fully understand Hamlet’s character. In fact, Hamlet may have been feigning insanity, using madness as a mask to protect him from Claudius’s fury at him. Behind the mask, is hidden the secret of King Hamlet’s death, and Hamlet’s promise to the ghost to avenge his father’s death. By pretending to be insane, Hamlet escapes King Claudius being furious with him, while in fact Hamlet does know the truth about how his father died.
The third act of Hamlet opens with a remark by the king, Claudius, who instructs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, old school-friends of his nephew, to discover why the latter ‘puts on this confusion,/ Grating so harshly all his days of quiet/ With turbulent and dangerous lunacy? ‘ Whilst Polonius sees Hamlet’s conduct as the result of disappointed love, Ophelia can only see the symptoms of pure madness. Claudius himself is conscious of the fact that the conduct and words of his nephew are at one and the same time completely irrational and absolutely coherent.
Basing his judgement on the theories of ancient medicine, he attributes the ambiguities of the deranged speeches to the workings of a harmful temperament provoking a state of deep melancholia. ‘[W]hat he (Hamlet) spake’ he concludes, ‘though it lack’d form a little/ Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul/ O’er which his melancholy sits on brood,/ And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose/ Will be some danger’ Forced to play a role which brings him nothing but misfortune and alienation, Hamlet envies those who, unlike him, do not allow themselves to be tormented by ‘the scruples of conscience’.
For this reason he admires the equanimity of his friend Horatio, whom he includes amongst those fortunate people ‘Whose blood and judgement are so well comeddled/ That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger/ To sound what stop she please’. In other words, whilst Horatio ‘no revenue hast but [his] good spirits/ To feed and clothe [him]’, it is precisely his ability to be someone ‘that Fortune’s buffets and rewards/ Hast ta’en with equal thanks'(Act Three, Scene 2) that allows him to escape suffering. The stoic Horatio, who admits to being ‘more an antique Roman than a Dane'(Act 5,
Scene 2), does not succumb to destructive passions. He does not nourish ill-considered hopes and in this avoids frustrations and disappointments. It is because all these qualities are united in Horatio that Hamlet implores him, before his own death, not to give in to the temptation to commit suicide and to stay alive in order to tell the whole truth. O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, Things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story.
Hamlet also contemplates his own death many times in the play, as he repeatedly considers whether or not suicide is a morally legitimate action to end the sufferings that he endures. Hamlet believes that his misery is enough to kill himself, but he fears that if he commits suicide, he will be sent to hell because the Christian religion prohibits suicide. In the “to be or not to be” soliloquy, Hamlet concludes that nobody would choose to endure the pains of life if they were not afraid of what would happen to them after death, and it is this precise fear that causes complex moral considerations to interfere the decision to take action.
In this soliloquy, Shakespeare strikes a chord with a fundamental human concern: the validity and worthiness of life. Would it not be easier for us to simply enter a never-ending sleep when we find ourselves facing the daunting problems of life than to “suffer / the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”? However, it is perhaps because we do not know what this endless sleep entails that humans usually opt against suicide. “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil / Must give us pause. “
Another characteristic of Hamlet in this play is his delay in killing Claudius. Though he had no reason not to kill Claudius, as he hated Polonius, he nevertheless procrastinates on this task. One reason why Hamlet may have delayed on killing his uncle was his fear of intimacy with his mother, as he knew that Claudius was the only thing separating him from his mother. So, he tries to find every excuse to avoid killing Claudius; first, he tries to find out if Claudius really did it. When he does verify that Claudius killed King Hamlet, he only tries to kill him twice: once, when he
He seems incapable of deliberate action, and is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius, and again, where he alters the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking with them to England, purporting his death. At other times, when he is most bound to act, he remains puzzled, undecided, and sceptical, dallies with his purposes, till the occasion is lost, and finds out some pretence to relapse into indolence and thoughtfulness again.
For this reason he refuses to kill the King when he is at his players, and by a refinement in malice, which is in truth only an excuse for his own want of resolution, defers his revenge to a more fatal opportunity, when he shall be engaged in some act “that has no relish of salvation in it. ” “He kneels and prays, And now I’ll do’t, and so he goes to heaven, And so am I reveng’d: that would be scann’d. He kill’d my father, and for that, I, his sole son, send him to heaven. Why this is reward, not revenge. Up sword and know thou a more horrid time,
When he is drunk, asleep, or in a rage. ” He is the prince of philosophical speculators; and because he cannot have his revenge perfect, according to the most refined idea his wish can form, he declines it altogether. So he scruples to trust the suggestions of the ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle’s guilt, and then rests satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon it. Yet he is sensible of his own weakness, taxes himself with it, and tries to reason himself out of it. How all occasions do inform against me, And spur my dull revenge! What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast; no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and god-like reason To rust in us unus’d. Now whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on th’ event,— A thought which quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom, And ever three parts coward;—I do not know Why yet I live to say, this thing’s to do;
Still he does nothing; and this very speculation on his own infirmity only affords him another occasion for indulging it. It is not from any want of attachment to his father or of abhorrence of his murder that Hamlet is thus dilatory, but it is more to his taste to indulge his imagination in reflecting upon the enormity of the crime and refining on his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into imme-diate practice. His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretext that flatters this propensity instantly diverts, him from his previous purposes.
If the heroes of the great classical tragedies are all confronted by choices, it is because they are all obliged to resolve them in one manner or another: once the decision is taken, everything else follows, accompanied by acts of majestic nobility or, at the other extreme, of abject decay and ruin. For Hamlet nothing is simple, everything raises questions. His dilemma is not about what decisions he should take but rather whether he will be able to make any decisions at all.
According to some interpretations, Hamlet makes no decisions and instead projects the image of an indecisive, inactive and passive individual, a romantic incapable of action who is in some ways snivelling and pathetic; he is nothing but a compulsive talker taking pleasure in his own words. Jean-Louis Barrault said of him that he is ‘the hero of unparalleled hesitation’. He astonishes us with soliloquies of unequalled beauty, his emotions are of stunning force, but he does not evolve beyond them. This is why T. S. Eliot regarded Hamlet as a failure and aid that it presented a character ‘dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible because it exceeds the events that occur’ Hamlet is the main character, and his soliloquies are the most plentiful and most important to the plot of the play. Much can be accomplished in the way of Hamlet’s character through his soliloquies. They are Hamlet’s principal way of communicating with the audience and demonstrating his character development. Hamlet’s first major soliloquy occurs just after Claudius has sent his messengers to Norway, and after Laertes is given leave to go to France.
Hamlet is in the midst of conversation with Claudius and Gertrude regarding his melancholy mood after the death of his father. He talks of how “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” all of the things in the world seem to him, and how it is like “an unweeded garden”. Hamlet is not simply distressed, but unable to overcome the depression caused by his father’s untimely death. While he is in this kind of mood, he can see no joy or beauty in the world, only harsh repulsiveness. Hamlet’s tone then changes somewhat to a more aggressive one.
He mocks his mother, the “seeming virtuous queen”, with phrases like “frailty, thy name is woman”, and “such dexterity to incestuous The progression of Hamlet’s soliloquies throughout the play help the audience to understand his changing character and the reasons behind his actions. The third major, and perhaps most famous, soliloquy takes place right after Hamlet has devised his plan to discover the truth about Claudius in his so-called “mousetrap. This final soliloquy shows that Hamlet has realized his primary purpose, and completes the development of his character.
He says that “to die, to sleep” and that the “sleep of death” will come when “we have shuffled off this mortal coil”. This soliloquy is important to Hamlet’s character development because it as rational, even though he may not always be able to control his emotions. His rational mind is in conflict with his passionate heart, and, having no previous experiences to draw upon, he is unsure as to which is correct, action or inaction. He does not know whether it is he who is wrong or Claudius. The soliloquy is important because it establishes his sense of Hamlet’s isolation, and reflects his new-found suspicion for those e had once trusted. He blames himself for having all the passion and will to act according to what he sees as revenge, but not doing so. Finally, he finds “the cause, and will, and strength” to act, and is determined to let his “thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth”. After all, if it were not for Hamlet and his soliloquies, there would be no play at all. Here, Hamlet discusses “how all occasions do inform against” him, inciting his “dull revenge”. The last major soliloquy is after Hamlet has confronted Claudius and is ordered to go to England. Here, Hamlet asks himself “whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer”, or “to take arms against a sea of troubles”. Hamlet gives us seven soliloquies, all centred on the most important existential themes: the emptiness of existence, suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of the flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of human beings, and the difficulty of acting under the weight of a thought ‘which makes cowards of us all’.
He offers us also, in the last act, some remarks made in conversation with Horatio in the cemetery which it is suitable to place in the same context as the soliloquies because the themes of life and death in general and his attitude when confronted by his own death have been with him constantly.
In some influential post-structuralist commentary on Shakespeare’s representation of character, Hamlet is regarded as psychologically incoherent, and humanist critics are said to project onto the inscription of this character the notions of inwardness and an essential self which were fully developed only in the century following the composition of the play. Francis Barker argues that Hamlet is unable to define the truth of his subjectivity directly and fully because his interiority is merely “gestural,” so that at his center there is “nothing”.
In my view the realm of serious possibilities begins with the claim that Hamlet has great trouble in carrying out this revenge because he is too good for this world, he is too sensitive, too poetical, too finely attuned to a difficulties of life, too philosophically speculative or too finely poetical. This line of criticism has often been offered by people who feel themselves rather too finely gifted to fit the rough and tumble of the modern world (like Coleridge, for example). A particularly famous example of this line of interpretation comes from Goethe: Shakespeare meant . . . o represent the effects of great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. . . . A lovely, pure, noble and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away. All duties are too holy for him; the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him; not in themselves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts; yet still without recovering his peace of mind.
This view has a good deal to commend it. After all, Hamlet is much given to moody poetical reflections on the meaning of life, he is a student (and therefore by definition too good for this world), and he seems to spend a great deal of time alone wandering about Elsinore talking to himself or reading books. He has a tendency to want to explore large universal generalizations about life, love, politics, and the nature of human beings. From his first appearance on stage, it is quite clear that he doesn’t much like the political world of Elsinore; he is displaced from it.
Again and again he talks about how he dislikes the dishonesty of the world, the hypocrisy of politics and sexuality and so on. So there is a case to be made that Hamlet is just too sensitive and idealistic for the corrupt double dealing of the court and that his delay stems from his distaste at descending to their level. An interpretation which belongs with these explanations links Hamlet’s inability to act with his sense that the world is simply too brutal, meaningless, and chaotic to justify any active intervention in human affairs.
Hamlet, as it were, has seen into the true nature of things and has no redeeming illusion, no faith in anything, on the basis of which he can act. A well-known expression of this approach is the following comment from Friedrich Nietzsche (in The Birth of Tragedy, Section 7, Johnston translation): In this sense the Dionysian man has similarities to Hamlet: both have had a real glimpse into the essence of things. They have understood, and it disgusts them to act, for their action can change nothing in the eternal nature of things.
They perceive as ridiculous or humiliating the fact that they are expected to set right again a world which is out of joint. The knowledge kills action, for action requires a state of being in which we are covered with the veil of illusion—that is what Hamlet has to teach us, not that really venal wisdom about John-a-Dreams, who cannot move himself to act because of too much reflection, because of an excess of possibilities, so to speak. It’s not a case of reflection. No! the true knowledge, the glimpse into the cruel truth overcomes every driving motive to act, both in Hamlet as well as in the Dionysian man. Now no consolation has any effect any more. His longing goes out over a world, even beyond the gods themselves, toward death. Existence is denied, together with its blazing reflection in the gods or in an immortal afterlife. In the consciousness of once having glimpsed the truth, the man now sees everywhere only the horror or absurdity of being; now he understands the symbolism in the fate of Ophelia; now he recognizes the wisdom of the forest god Silenus.
It disgusts him. Against this group of interpretations, of course, is the very clear evidence that Hamlet is quite capable of swift decisive action should the need arise. He kills Polonius without a qualm and proceeds to lecture his mother very roughly over the dead body. He can dispatch Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, without a scruple. He is very gifted at dissembling, at playing the Machiavelli-like figure. And he has no hesitation in taking Laertes on in a duel.
In addition, there is a violent streak in Hamlet (especially where women are concerned). So on the basis of the evidence there is a good deal to suggest that the vision of Hamlet as a soul too good for this world might be problematic. All of these suggestions (and I’m cutting a long story short) drive one to a tempting conclusion put forward most famously by Ernest Jones, the famous disciple of Freud. Jones argues that Hamlet has no doubts about the ghost, is perfectly capable of acting decisively, and yet delays and delays and agonizes over the delay.
Why? If he has motive, opportunity, the ability to act decisively, and a strong desire to carry out the action, then why doesn’t he? Jones’s conclusion is that there’s something about this particular task which makes it impossible for Hamlet to carry out. It’s not that he is by nature irresolute, too poetical or philosophical, or suffers from medical problems or a weakness of will. It is, by contrast, that this particular assignment is impossible for him. That leads Jones to posit the very famous and very persuasive suggestion that
Hamlet cannot kill Claudius because of his relationship with his mother. He has (now wait for it) a classical Oedipus Complex: he is incapable of killing the man who sleeps with his mother because that would mean that he would have to admit to himself his own feelings about her, something which overwhelms him and disgusts him. Jones’s argument in the book Hamlet and Oedipus (especially in the first half) is a very skillful piece of criticism, always in very close contact with the text, and it is justly hailed as the great masterpiece of Freudian criticism.
Just to point out one salient fact: Jones indicates, quite correctly, that Hamlet can kill Claudius only after he knows that his mother is dead and that he is going to die. Hence, his deep sexual confusion is resolved; only then can he act. Up to that point, he constantly finds ways to evade facing up to the task he cannot perform, because to do so would be to confront feelings within himself that he cannot acknowledge (by killing Claudius he would make his mother available and be attacking the ideal nobility of his real father).
I’m not going to put forward a defense of the Jones’s thesis, except to suggest that the initial logic of his argument seems quite persuasive: Hamlet does have a very particular inability to carry out this action and that this inability is not a constitutional incapacity for action but stems from some very particular feelings within Hamlet, feelings which he himself has trouble figuring out and which he often thinks about in explicitly sexual terms (whether we follow Jones in identifying these feelings with an Oedipus Complex is another matter), terms which insist upon a pattern of disgust with female sexuality and with himself.
The critical applications of the famous theory of the Oedipus complex to the tragedy of Hamlet are innumerable. It was Freud himself who, in an essay published in 1905, was the first to try and resolve in psychoanalytical terms the enigma offered by Hamlet’s behaviour. According to Freud, the personal crisis undergone by Hamlet awakens his repressed incestuous and parricidal desires. The disgust which the remarriage of his mother arouses in him, as well as the violent behaviour during their confrontation in the queen’s bedroom, are signs of the jealousy which he constantly experiences, even if unconsciously.
Hamlet is absolutely horrified by the thought that his mother could feel desire for Claudius, whom he describes as a ‘murderer and villain,/ A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe/ Of your precedent lord’. Such an act That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love And sets a blister there, makes marriage vows As false as dicers’ oaths—O, such a deed As from the body of contraction plucks The very soul, and sweet religion makes A rhapsody of words.
Heaven’s face does glow O’er this solidity and compound mass With tristful visage, as against the doom Is thought-sick at the act. (Act Three, Scene Four) A little after, the ghost of Hamlet’s father suddenly appears in order to assuage the anger of his son and implore him to take pity on his mother’s great distress: ‘This visitation/ Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose. / But look, amazement on thy mother sits. / O step between her and her fighting soul. / Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works. / Speak to her, Hamlet’.
The bedroom scene is one example amongst many of Hamlet’s aversion to sexuality, which he more often than not associates with vulgarity and sickness. Despite his violent reactions, he is nonetheless fundamentally incapable of acting, Freud tells us, because he cannot bring himself to avenge himself on the man who has killed his father and taken his place at the side of his mother. Given that Claudius does no more than reproduce the repressed fantasies of childhood, the hatred Hamlet feels for him is progressively replaced by a feeling of guilt which constantly reminds him that he is no better than the man he is supposed to punish.
Contrary to Freud the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan thinks that the real psychological dimension of the play lies not in Hamlet’s behaviour but in his language. In his famous essay, entitled ‘Desire and the interpretation of desire in Hamlet’, he holds that the most striking characteristic of Hamlet’s language is its ambiguity. Everything he says is transmitted, in various degrees, through metaphor, simile and, above all, wordplay. His utterances, in other words, have a hidden and latent meaning which often surpasses the apparent meaning.
They have, therefore, enormous affinities with the language of the unconscious which proceeds equally by various forms of distortion and alterations in meaning, notably through slips of the tongue, dreams, double entendres, and wordplay. Hamlet is himself aware of the ambiguous nature of his own speeches as well as of the feelings which drive them. Concerned by the dialectic between reality and appearance, and surface and depth, he is conscious that whatever happens to him is deeper and stranger than that which is displayed by the superficial symptoms of mourning:
The three critical excerpts in this section explore the character of Hamlet. George Detmold addresses the question of why Hamlet delays taking revenge on Claudius by assessing his status as a tragic hero. From his definition of a tragic hero, Detmold especially focuses on Hamlet’s unorthodox demonstration of will-power in the play, arguing that the protagonist’s preoccupation with moral integrity is what ultimately delays him from killing Claudius.
In the second well-known excerpt, Ernest Jones applies Sigmund Freud’s techniques of psychoanalysis to Hamlet’s character, asserting that the prince is afflicted with an Oedipus Complex. Finally, in the last excerpt Edgar Johnson details his own interpretation of the protagonist as a hero whose complex “dilemma is to disentangle himself from the temptation to wreak justice for the wrong reasons and in an evil passion, and to do what he must do at last for the pure sake of justice, for the welfare of the State, to weed the unweeded garden of Denmark and set right the time that is out of joint. With Hamlet Shakespeare has bequeathed us a supreme gift. It is a testament in which the creative genius of its author shines out, demonstrating his knowledge of the human spirit, his mastery of plot, and the unbelievable wealth of his language. Shakespeare’s focus on this conflict was a revolutionary departure from contemporary revenge tragedies, which tended to graphically dramatize violent acts on stage, in that it emphasized the hero’s dilemma rather than the depiction of bloody deeds.
The dramatist’s genius is also evident in his transformation of the play’s literary sources—especially the contemporaneous Ur-Hamlet—into an exceptional tragedy. The Ur-Hamlet, or “original Hamlet,” is a lost play that scholars believe was written mere decades before Shakespeare’s Hamlet, providing much of the dramatic context for the later tragedy.