Suicide Analysis in Hamlet by William Shakespeare
A Suicidal Stigma
Throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the themes of death and suicide are prevalent, especially with the Prince of Denmark himself, Hamlet. While strongly considering the option of suicide, Hamlet believes that most human beings choose to live, despite the cruelty, pain, and injustice of the world, because of the social and religious stigma attached to ending one’s life and the fear of what happens after death. Morally, society condemned suicide as a disgrace due to the strict standards adhered to during the Elizabethan Era. Religiously, suicide was an impious act and considered an unforgivable sin, punishable by spending eternity in Hell. Aesthetically, the idea of taking one’s own life differed in opinion from that of Hamlet, who considered suicide a means of escaping the miseries of life, to that of the rest of society, who disapproved of it to the highest degree. These methods of analyzing suicide in Shakespeare’s Hamlet are what define the very theme, and consequently the play as a whole.
William Shakespeare wrote the tragic play Hamlet during the Elizabethan Era, a time of strict moral code, which directly influenced how the characters in the play react to suicide. In 17th century England, taking one’s own life was frowned upon greatly by society. A quote describing Elizabethan England tells all: “Such as kill themselves are buried in the field with a stake driven through their bodies” (Crime and Punishment). During this time period, it was not considered noble to commit suicide. This is mirrored in Hamlet’s speech of why people do not take their own lives, as evidenced by the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy: “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 …” (3.1.1750-1754, The Tragedy of Hamlet). Here, Hamlet considers the moral choice of suffering the hardships of life and the immoral choice of suicide. “This may be an easy way to end the pain but is far from noble” (Barbers). Barbers’ quote concerning Hamlet’s situation is insight to how Elizabethan society thought. If Hamlet were to commit suicide, the moral and societal implications from his act would be considered a heinous crime and moral transgression. Part of Hamlet’s apprehension to take his life is caused by the social stigma attached to suicide throughout the Elizabethan Era. Albeit this apprehension is felt by Hamlet, Shakespeare uses it as an opportunity to reflect upon the societal connotation of suicide.
Religion’s stern condemnation of suicide and the temptation of the sin are intertwined throughout Hamlet, affording another rationale for not taking one’s life. The setting and characters in the play are of the Christian faith, and the consequences set forth by religion are made clear during the play. “Hamlet is a Christian and to commit suicide would be against his religion” (Barbers). While this is true, Hamlet’s character can be seen as “psychologically complicated” with “themes rooted in deception and madness, contemplations of life and death, and of course, desire for revenge” (William Shakespeare’s). The author of this critical article’s perception of Hamlet shows the complex nature of Hamlet’s psyche. In the play, Hamlet laments that suicide is considered sin: “His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!” (1.2.336). When Ophelia’s funeral is commencing, religion’s censure of suicide is also apparent in the words of the priest. “Her death was doubtful; / And, but that great command o’ersways the order, / She should in ground unsanctified have lodg’d / Till the last trumpet.” (5.1.3559-3562, The Tragedy of Hamlet). The priest speaks of how Ophelia had committed suicide and that she does not deserve a Christian burial, yet because of Claudius’s royal hand, her funeral would still be proper. The priest completes the service reluctantly, exhibiting the religious dishonor that is brought about by suicide. The fear of spending eternity in Hell due to the sacrilegious act of suicide played a large role in the public apprehension of suicide.
For Hamlet, suicide presented a particular allure, a magnetism to which he was attracted and pulled. Aesthetically, taking one’s own life was a means of escape to Hamlet. “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt” is an example of Hamlet’s suicidal thinking, caused by his belief that the world is a corrupt place (1.2.333, The Tragedy of Hamlet). In addition, Hamlet explores the reasons why society does not commit suicide. “The undiscover’d country from whose bourn / No traveler returns, puzzles the will” does not portray Hamlet as very faithful to his religion because he is stating that after death, “no traveler returns” and that it is “undiscover’d country” (3.1.1772-1773, The Tragedy of Hamlet). To any Christian, it is understood that one goes to Heaven or Hell in the afterlife, and the return of one’s spirit occurs after death. In his soliloquy, Hamlet seems to lean towards the idea that all of society does not commit suicide because of the fear of the unknown of what comes after death. While suicide has an aesthetical appeal to Hamlet because it is a means of escape from the hardships he is enduring, he makes a generalization that society fears what is to come. Later in the play, Hamlet will eventually realize his faith and understand that he will ultimately die; he comes to comprehend the mortality of the human – that the dust of a king is no different than the dust of a plebian. The ensnaring lure that draws Hamlet into considering suicide may cause some readers to consider his sanity, but not everyone feels this way. “The character of Hamlet is itself a pure effusion of genius. 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 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” (Hazlitt). Hazlitt’s analysis of Hamlet empathizes with the Prince, claiming that he was acting on his feelings throughout the play. The reasoning that Hazlitt presents lends understanding to Hamlet’s consideration of suicide and his torn psyche. While Hamlet may have seen aesthetic pleasure in suicide, others considered it a cowardly way to avoid one’s troubles.
Hamlet’s consideration of suicide and overall fascination with life and death provide the tragedy with a sense of darkness that drives the play. In essence, the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of despair and shadows. Shakespeare uses the theme of suicide as an opportunity to present the societal connotation that comes with it. While Hamlet seems like a dark character whose sanity could be brought to question, his tortured psyche caused by his life brings understanding to his emotional conflict. Hamlet’s belief is that humans choose to live because of the social and religious stigma attached to suicide, along with the fear of the uncertainty of death. Playing a prominent role in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, suicide gives the play a gloomy tone and gives insight by allowing the reader to imagine why one would or would not end one’s own life.
The Destructive Force of Revenge in Hamlet
A Spanish proverb aptly declared, “No revenge is more honorable than the one not taken.” Hamlet, however, would beg to differ. Although Hamlet exacts revenge by finally killing his father’s murderer, revenge ultimately proves a destructive force in the play, as Hamlet’s indecision and inability to take action results in the deaths of the play’s foremost players. To illustrate, Hamlet’s ambivalence breaks Ophelia’s heart and compels her to take her life. Ophelia is not the only victim in the family, as Hamlet kills her father Polonius in error. Perhaps worst of all is Hamlet feels no reward or honor in his failure which leads him on the path to madness.
Though Ophelia’s father plays a significant role in her misery, no one is more guilty than Hamlet. Ophelia is devastated by Hamlet’s noncommittal behavior; however, Hamlet murdering her father Polonius pushes her to the brink, “Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, / Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay / To muddy death” (IV.vii.206-8). In this scene, Ophelia drowns in a brook, much like drowning in her sorrow. Her dress is “heavy” like her heart, and seemingly cares less to meet her “muddy death” because her life was already full of anguish. Hamlet does attempt to act virtuously when he pushes Ophelia away, declaring, “You should not have believed me, for virtue / cannot so (inoculate) our old stock but we shall / relish of it. I loved you not” (III.i.127-9). Hamlet attempts to protect Ophelia, but his actions demonstrate his inability to act. Rather than avenge his father’s death, he wavers, and in turn contributes to the death of an innocent woman.
Although falling on deaf ears, Polonius does warn Ophelia of Hamlet’s lack of intentions, asserting, “This is the very ecstasy of love, Whose violent property fordoes itself / And leads the will to desperate undertakings / As oft as any passion under heaven” (II.i.114-7). Here, Polonius acknowledges the intoxication of love, but warns that unrequited love does not lead to any good. Polonius sees through Hamlet’s madness, yet despite warnings, Ophelia is blind. Hamlet’s failure to follow through, whether with revenge or loving Ophelia, leads her to suicide.
The Death of Polonius
Another victim of Hamlet’s revenge plan is Polonius, who Hamlet kills accidentally. After Hamlet discovers that he kills Polonius instead of Claudius, he shows no remorse, asserting “I’ll lug the guts into the neighbor room…This counselor / is…most grave, / Who was in life a foolish prating knave, — / Come, sir to draw toward an end with you” (III.iv.235-9). Hamlet’s desire for revenge proves destructive because he not only kills the wrong person, but also could care less. In fact, Hamlet coincidentally eliminates another one that hampers his master plan; yet, shows that his plot for revenge is doomed from the beginning due to his obsession and inability to follow through in a timely manner. What is even more problematic is while waiting behind the tapestry and ready to kill Claudius, Hamlet believes that he is doing Claudius a favor by waiting to slay him since he thinks that he is praying: “Now might I do it now he is a-praying, / And now I’ll do ‘t / And so he goes to heaven, / And so am I ” (III.iii.77-80).
Hopelessness of the Revenge
Hamlet’s revenge is doomed once more because he cannot make a clear decision and stick with it. Furthermore, Hamlet’s thoughts and actions cannot be reconciled because his thoughts poison his actions, which is why they fail every time. Hence, Hamlet shows that he is unclear in his actions, as we wavers from empathy to indifference. Hamlet’s indifference shows that his goal of revenge has driven him to madness. Hamlet’s descent into insanity begins when he is visited by a ghost that claims to be his father’s spirit, urging “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.31). The ghost plants the seed in Hamlet’s mind for revenge, as the alleged ghost of his father describes his death as a crime against nature. The ghost’s words echo Hamlet’s pain and confusion, and manifests in Hamlet’s mind as a way for him to cope.
Hamlet’s treatment of the women in his life further demonstrates his madness because he is cruelest to Ophelia and his mother, despite them never hurting him in anyway. For example, he calls out his mother’s sexual activity with Claudius, cruelly declaring, “Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty!” (III.iv.105-6). Hamlet’s plot for revenge is replaced by cruelty when in the presence of the innocent women closest to him. Furthermore, the ghost in his mind cautions him not to hurt his mother in his pursuit for revenge; yet, Hamlet does so nevertheless. Thus, hallucinations coupled with Hamlet’s angst toward those closest to him reveal his downward spiral into insanity.
Hamlet’s quest for revenge proves destructive because unintended, innocent people like Ophelia and Polonius die unnecessarily, Hamlet loses his sanity, and all for nothing in the end. Although Hamlet does exact his revenge through an epic battle with his greatest enemy, he dies before he can celebrate his victory. In the end, Hamlet’s ultimate failure is losing himself to a selfish pursuit that can never end well. Murder and destruction are clearly evil forces; however, revenge is just as wicked and leaves far too much destruction in its path.
Hamlet and The Lion King and Hamlet Movies: a Comparison Essay
The Lion King and Hamlet
The film “The Lion King” is the latest in a series of annual media events from Disney. The film, created by Walt Disney, is based on half the stories in classical mythology. The film, which is an animated feature at Disney, has had its development evolutionary having taken years for its creation and refinement. The movie is an original story not based on any previously published account. The Lion King continues to win in Disney animation after The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, had its first edition published in 1603 with the second publication being in 1604 under the title “The Tragic History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.” There was a remarkable improvement in the command of language in the second edition of the play Hamlet. The play also indicated a larger philosophic intensity and an extraordinary approach into what is most concealed and unclear in men’s behavior and intentions. A comparison of the elements of the creative works is thus significant for the analysis of the film techniques. A discussion of the similarities in the themes of the works is also essential for a quick analysis of the two works.
An Analysis of the Film the Lion King
The film is an animation that one might naturally think is dedicated to children. It has been famous because of the animations that largely have an aesthetic appeal, vivid characters, interesting plots, and the right moral standards. The gaze of the film celebrates the repeated natural world of the forest living and seasons in Africa. In the movie, there are droughts and fires, and finally rain, representing life and rejuvenation. The imagery of classic American Western paintings and films is also depicted in the film. The epic landscapes, the evocative lighting are a representation of the dramatic styles of the classic painters who depicted the tremendous scope and beautiful lighting in the movie.
There is depth and realism to the background setting of the film. The artists’ keen instincts for color styling and ability to capture subtle gradations of light in a landscape made the film consistently interesting and believable. The wide portrayals of a variety of natural elements in the film also make the film look consistent and right to the integrity of the artistic vision. The musical moments in the movie is utilized to assist the characters break into song to advance the story. The emotions and the element of entertainment that would not have been achieved without the music are expressed (The Lion King).
An analysis of the film Hamlet
The play Hamlet is a dark play full of uncertainty and suspicion right from its beginning. The tale has its setting in the belated middle ages in and around the royal palace in Elsinore, Denmark. A lot of play acting is brought out in Hamlet, including a performance of the Murder of Gonzago. The allusion to the protestant reformation initiated around 1517 is another setting that the play is based. The whole play is based at Denmark royal court with the political kids being a better analogy. Besides, the royal court is not the only place Hamlet hangs out due to his strange behavior that is a liability to his parents.
The play Hamlet is written in a combination of verse and prose, with the noble typically speaking in unrhymed verses. Characters that are not of the high social class do not get to speak in verse. They just do the talking. Apart from the verse and prose in the play, symbolism and imagery is also utilized in the play. For instance, Hamlet constantly broods about death and humanity in the infamous graveyard. The graveyard definitely is a symbol of death. In the play, the imagery of the gardens is brought out to not necessarily be a place where one would like to hang out and watch the butterflies. They are more of overgrown plots that may not be so attractive. The symbolism of flowers is also brought5 out when Ophelia loses her mind in the play and issues everyone around her with flowers. She again talks directly about the symbolic meaning of the flowers (Nichols, Guilfoyle and Davidson).
The genre of the play is a tragedy that comes as a result of revenge. The element of secret murder appears in the play, and that is evident enough for the play to be regarded a revenge tragedy. The death is planned secretly in the state of Denmark. Also, the ghost of the murder victims visits a relative in the play, and it demands that the relative revenges by killing somebody for him to go to heaven. The boy Hamlet also intends to carry out revenge as ordered by the ghost (Shakespeare and Olivier).
A Comparison of the Two Works
The theme of the hierarchy is common in both the two works. There exists a hierarchy in the society with those in the top being those with power. The ruling classes have power, courage, intelligence, knowledge, and every quality that empower them to rule the society. The legitimacy of the ruling class cannot be changed. In Disney’s The Lion King, Simba is the main character. He is the young man of King Mufasa of the society. That makes Simba the prince of the community (The Lion King). The situation is similar in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, where Hamlet is the prince of Denmark. He is the son of the tragically murdered King Hamlet, making him a prince too.
The theme of revenge is also common in both the two works. The concept of retribution has been in existence since the crack of dawn of man. Naturally, any person would want revenge for somebody who has hurt them in the past. In the play Hamlet, the vengeance is wanted by Hamlet for the slaying of the king, who was his father. Hamlet is fanatical about the plan of fatality after his father’s put to death. In the entire play, the idea of death is tied to the themes of spirituality, truth, and uncertainty but death is the only workable solution for Hamlet. Since death is the cause and consequence of revenge, it is also tied to the theme of revenge and justice. Claudius’ murder of King Hamlet initiates Hamlet’s quest for revenge, and the death of Claudius is the quest for the revenge. The film The Lion King is an animated film that resembles Hamlet in many aspects, including revenge. In the movie, Simba initially runs away from responsibilities but returns to avenge his father’s death.
Disney’s The Lion King is a children’s version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There are many parallels between the two stories and even in the actual dialogue. Both stories are a narration of a young man who is torn apart by the early demise of his father. In both cases, an uncle takes the position of what belongs to the young prince. The young prince in both cases overcomes the uncertainties to take back what belongs to them for the benefit of their countries. In the stories, the biggest similarities are the presence of death images and symbolism.
The theme of guilt and redemption is evident in both the two stories. In Disney’s Lion King, Simba, a young lion cub and heir to his father’s throne is led to believe that he was the reason his father died. Samba was so traumatized that he went into exile, attempting to find peace of mind in the company of a warthog. It is very hard to escape the feeling of guilt and that made Simba learn the reality; hence he was motivated to carry out revenge. In the play Hamlet, Mufasa, king of lions is murdered by a brother who also takes over the leadership of the kingdom. Hamlet, the beloved son, is wracked by guilt and impotence till his father’s ghost gives him an idea of what took place and how he should do the revenge. The play Hamlet led to the expansion of the existing broad horizons of the animated Disney series, the Lion King being the most mature of the films.
In conclusion, the film The Lion King is not merely an entertainment work. It is full of the concept of authority and male supremacy in the society, legitimizing the place and civil liberties of the open power and of men. The popularity of women is persuaded as a secondary role in the society. The animation in the film has an aesthetic appeal mainly because the social psyche resembles the themes and ideologies projected in the movie. The play Hamlet is a modern tragedy story that shares the same themes as Disney’s The Lion King. The two works reflect one another, with the primary characters showing similarities in behavior. The similarities between the secondary characters in The Lion King and Hamlet are also still alike.
Characters Analysis in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Gertrude and Ophelia
Gertrude and Ophelia
In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the only two women in the play are Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and Hamlet’s love interest Ophelia. Gertrude and Ophelia share similarities in both Hamlet’s view of them and in Shakespeare’s description of them. Hamlet views both women by their morals and Shakespeare depicts both Gertrude and Ophelia as dependent on men.
Hamlet views Gertrude and Ophelia as deceiving and being defined by their morals. Hamlet is disgusted with Gertrude’s quick marriage to Claudius which he views as morally wrong and describes as “most wicked speed, to post/with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” (I.2.156-157) and “an act/that blurs the grace and blush of modesty” (III.4.41-42). Hamlet also tells Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery” (III.3.121) so that she wouldn’t “be a breeder of sinners” (III.3.122). Hamlet also views Ophelia and Gertrude as deceiving. He doubts whether Gertrude had really loved his father due to her quick remarriage after his death and insufficient mourning. He says that when he was alive “she would hang on him/as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on” (1.2.143-144) but “yet, within a month” (1.2.145) she marries Claudius and that “a beast that wants discourse of reason/would have mourned longer” (I.2.150-151). He also tells Ophelia that he is aware of her deceit by telling her:
I have heard of your paintings too, well enough.
God has given you one face and you make
yourselves another (3.1.143-146).
Hamlet expresses a lot of concern regarding both Gertrude and Ophelia’s morality and views women in general as deceitful because of Gertrude’s quick marriage to Claudius after the death of his father.
Shakespeare’s description of Gertrude and Ophelia depicts them as dependent on men. Ophelia is easily manipulated and influenced by men. She is obedient and does what the men in her life, her brother Laertes and her father Polonius tells her to do, such as when she replies “I shall obey my lord” (I.3.135) when Polonius tells her to avoid Hamlet by saying:
From this time
Be somewhat scanter of your maiden presence.
Set your entreatments at a higher rate
Than a command to parley (I.3.119-122).
Ophelia was reliant on her father and she loses him when he dies. As a result she becomes mad and Claudius describes her as becoming “divided from herself and her fair judgment” (IV.4.85). Gertrude is also dependent on men as seen when she marries Claudius right after her first husband was murdered. After Hamlet’s angry confrontation with Gertrude, Gertrude agrees to take Hamlet’s advice that she won’t “let the bloat king tempt [her] again to bed” (III.4.182) and not to tell anyone what Hamlet has told her by saying:
Be thou assured, if words be made of breath
And breath of life, I have no life to breathe
What thou hast said to me. (III.4.197-199)
but right after, she goes back to Claudius and tells him that Hamlet is as “mad as the sea and wind when both contend” (IV.1.7). Through such actions, Shakespeare depicts Gertrude and Ophelia as dependent on men as Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide and Gertrude remarries right after they lose the men that they depended on in their lives.
In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, the two women in the play, Gertrude and Ophelia share similarities with each other in both Hamlet’s view of them and Shakespeare’s depiction of them. Hamlet sees both women as deceiving and being defined by their morals because of what he sees as Gertrude being unfaithful to his father by marrying Claudius. Shakespeare’s depiction of Gertrude and Ophelia presents them as dependent on men as Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide after she loses her father and Gertrude remarries after her first husband’s death.
Adversity – The Pathway to a Renewed Identity
Adversity often comes as a surprise to us, yet it is something we all will likely experience. During dealing with hardship, our personality develops and evolves to match the new circumstances. In Hamlet, Shakespeare examines the way in which adversity takes us through a range of emotions that result in our becoming more balanced individuals. In the play, we see how young Hamlet changes after his father’s death and meeting the Ghost. In particular, Shakespeare displays how Hamlet’s identity is shaped: during his mourning phase, as he relies on his closest allies, and when he faces Laertes at the end of the play.
Hamlet faces a torrent of emotions when his father dies. He feels despondent and as though his life is worth nothing. Thus, adversity shapes his identity – bringing out his deepest, darkest qualities. In the beginning of the play Hamlet wishes that his “too sullied flesh would melt”, and this is an indication of his desperation and dissatisfaction with life. Shakespeare shows that adversity first makes us become downhearted and hopeless before we eventually regain our balance. During this phase of Hamlet’s life, he essentially loses his identity and sense of purpose. Added to his father’s death, the “incestuous” re-marriage of his mother furthers troubles Hamlet. We may be able to relate to this initial phase of adversity, where there seems to be no solution to our problems. We may become bitter and despondent and face a range of emotions before we can calm down and reach a logical conclusion. Shakespeare highlights this crucial phase, demonstrating the powerful effect such emotions could have on a person.
Shakespeare also explores how, on the path to coping with our emotions, we look to our closest allies for comfort and support. Though his companions are few, Hamlet cherishes his friendship with Horatio, who is a protective friend to him. Horatio serves the role of a trusty confidant to Hamlet, since Hamlet relies on him to confirm his suspicions towards Claudius. Horatio aids Hamlet in taming his wild impulses, and confirming if his feelings are valid. Representing the good in a world of good and evil, Horatio stands beside Hamlet as he experiences mind-altering difficulties. It is noteworthy that Horatio does not try to impose himself on Hamlet, or manipulate him to change his actions. Rather, he uses his close friendship with Hamlet to listen to Hamlet’s secrets and support him. Shakespeare therefore shows that as we ourselves face adversity, we turn to our closest associates, who can help us balance our emotions and support us through our difficulty. Because of Horatio’s faithfulness, Hamlet “wears” Horatio in his “heart’s core” and views him as a source of encouragement.
Hamlet also demonstrates the way adversity can often lead us from sheer confusion to a point where we become more rational and logical. Through hardship can make us experience wild emotions at first, it often leaves us better able to sympathize even with our enemies and view issues. When Hamlet returns from his trip to England, he notices that Laertes is hostile toward him. Yet, when the two men fight at Ophelia’s burial, Hamlet withdraws first. Hamlet later says to Laertes: “Give me your pardon, sir…I have done you wrong.” After facing difficulties in his life, Hamlet can act maturely and even sympathize with Laertes. Though he strongly loved Ophelia too, Hamlet realizes that Laertes is in a similar position to him. After all, Laertes has also lost his father – Polonius. Hamlet thus endeavors to treat Laertes with greater respect, it seems he realizes that Laertes faces an exasperating situation. Through the play, Shakespeare explains that adversity can help us be more balanced and rational, even when we are suffering ourselves. Through adversity, Hamlet becomes more intelligent and cautious, restraining himself from killing Claudius as Claudius prays, to avoid sending him to heaven.
Hamlet shows the major role adversity plays in shaping our personality, taking us through a range of extreme emotions, before we eventually develop into more balanced individuals. Young Hamlet is very despondent when adversity strikes him. When his father dies he faces a range of emotions, from anger to sadness, even losing the will to live. However, Horatio plays a large role in supporting Hamlet, and helping to calm his feelings by being a loyal eyewitness. By the end of the play, Hamlet has developed into a cautious and more balanced individual who is even able to sympathize with Laertes. Through the play, Shakespeare shows that adversity can actually bring out the best in us as we develop a new identity. Though we often run from challenges, there is little we can do to completely prevent adversity from entering our lives. Moreover, these challenges we face can make us more resilient and confident individuals, who are better able to understand the world around them.
A Comparative Analysis of Claudius and Hamlet
To See or Not To See: The Hero-Villain Dichotomy in Hamlet
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play with few unambiguous revelations of motive or deed. However, after three acts of intimations, suspicions, and accusals, the freshly crowned King Claudius finally and conclusively reveals that he has killed his own brother. His “O my offence is rank” soliloquy would appear to confirm our assumption of Claudius as villain and Hamlet as victim that is supported throughout the earlier acts. And, in fact, it does. However, to say that is all that it does would be to overlook a profoundly pivotal moment of the play. On the surface, this scene seems to support the previously established hero-villain dichotomy. On a deeper level, it showcases for the first time the parallel indecisiveness of the two men. While it doesn’t quite reverse their previous characterizations, it does place Hamlet’s fatal flaw within Claudius to erode our understanding of their roles and alter culpability for the destruction of the kingdom. Precisely because Hamlet cannot recognize this fatal flaw of indecision within himself, he cannot see through the appearance of piety to recognize the flaw within Claudius, perpetuating a limbo of inaction.
The most conspicuous similarity between Claudius and Hamlet is their indecisiveness. The king cannot force himself to feel remorse, even though he wants to: “Like a man to double business bound,” he tells us, “I stand in pause where I shall first begin, / And both neglect” (III.iii.41-43). He is “bound” to be trapped in this moral dilemma, unable to escape despite his own volition, just as Hamlet is indecisive about whether or not to avenge his father. In fact, Hamlet’s indecision for vengeance reaches a crisis immediately after these lines. “Now I’ll don’t [kill Claudius]” (III.iii.74) he declares. He then analyzes his decision and lays out the consequence: “I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven” (III.iii.76-77). The dawning of this realization leads to a line devoid of four full iambs. Such a pregnant silence, more than words ever could, betrays his vacillation. He then asks whether he might kill the king now, answering with a simple yet emphatic “No!” (III.iii.87). This exclamation also takes up an entire line by itself. Taken together these silences make his response seem stuttered, unbalanced, and unfinished. Hamlet’s inability to verbalize his predicament parallels his loss of moral clarity.
While the nature of their indecision differs – Claudius’ irresolution occurs after his murder of the king, while Hamlet’s occurs before the fact – the reasoning behind it is the same. Both fear damnation and divine judgement, two factors that terrify them to the point of moral inertia. Claudius bemoans the fact that in heaven “the action lies / In his true nature” (III.iii.61-62), with no gilded hand to fool justice like there is on earth. Although Hamlet cannot hear Claudius, he responds almost as if he could, asking “who knows save heaven?” of Claudius’ judgement. Even Hamlet’s earlier speech discloses this terror of the unknown: “Who would bear the whips and scorns of time, … / But the dread of something after death” (III.i.72-80). In fact, both Claudius and Hamlet attribute their actions to outside forces to try to explain their indecision and loss of agency. Claudius gives his offences form: they have a “visage” (III.iii.47) and a “gilded hand” (III.iii.58). He makes them out to be living, breathing entities, so that he deflects blame, victimizes himself, and transfers agency onto his crimes. Hamlet also chooses to explain away his inaction in this manner. “Conscience does make cowards of us all” (III.i.85) he tells us, arguing that cowardice is not a personal fault but instead is intrinsic to the machinations of the mind and thus an inevitable state of being. This loss of agency also signals the rejection of responsibility and ability, preventing them from escaping this limbo of doing/not doing and seeing/not seeing. Hamlet foreshadows this two scenes earlier when he says that with awareness of death, “currents turn awry and lose the name of action”, not only suggesting that he will remain inactive but also that he will purposefully attempt to lose the name of action. This scene is the tipping point, the culminating moment after which there is no hope for “finding” action.
In the end, however, the responsibility for their actions lies with them. Hamlet knows that Claudius is guilty. Yet he operates under the false assumption that the appearance of Claudius’ repentance (the physical act) must therefore equate to a mental state of true repentance. Claudius’ pantomime of a prayer fools him. He can’t recognize that Claudius is only acting remorseful, not that he is actually remorseful. This is ironic in two parts. First, in the opening scenes of the play, Gertrude asks Hamlet why his father’s death affects him so much. “Why seems it so particular with thee?” (I.ii.74-75) she probes. He responds with “Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems’” (I.ii.76). Hamlet is far too confident in his ability to both project and detect truth. Of everyone in the play, he should be the most aware of duplicitous states, considering how he himself decides put on an “antic disposition” to trick others. Yet his own lack of resolution seems to blind him to the reality of Claudius’ guilt. Claudius even references physical changes that expose sinners in the physical world. He claims his heart is made of “strings of steel” and orders “bow, stubborn knees” (III.iii.70). He links wicked deeds with the corruption of one’s physical body, much like Wilde would write almost three hundred years later in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Even with these intimations that he has been marked by his murder, Hamlet accepts Claudius’ remorse at face value. His resolution to once again wait to kill Claudius suggests a profound lack of self-awareness, not just of the parallels of their dilemmas but also any awareness of his own situation in the first place. His inability to perceive his own flaw within Claudius means the further perpetuation of their conflict.
This is why the scene paradoxically is not the one that presents Claudius in the most villainous light, even though it names Claudius as the murderer. In the first two acts, Hamlet’s characterization is driven by his presentation as the most authentic and perceptive character. However, immediately after Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius because he would go to heaven, Claudius delivers the damning last lines of the scene: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. / Words without thoughts never to heaven go” (III.iii.97-98). We’re forced to ask, if Hamlet is so perceptive that he claims to know not even the word “seems”, why does he fail to grasp that Claudius is only presenting a facade much in the same way he is? If Hamlet is so authentic, why doesn’t he truly know himself? If Hamlet’s defining characteristic is not his authenticity but instead his doubt, why should we accept him as the arbiter of justice and Claudius as the ruination of the court?
Ultimately, by presenting the duality of Claudius’ emotional state, the scene throws into relief Hamlet’s own inability to act. Illuminating the similarities between the “villain” and the “hero,” the prayer speech equates the two characters’ moral positions, forcing readers and viewers to revaluate the role of each. Thus the scene represents the damning moment of the play: because Hamlet cannot recognize his struggles in others, neither he nor Claudius will be able to escape the cycle that will lead to the devastation of their kingdom.
Violent Acts in the Tragedy “Hamlet”
When death hits a family its always one person in the family wanting revenge. Prince Hamlet is that family member that wants revenge for a death in his family. In the play Hamlet there are several deaths. The King death had the most impact on Hamlet because that was his father. A vicious, violent way to make oneself feel better about an offense against them. Throughout the tragedy of Hamlet revenge is a recurring theme, amongst all the characters. Whether this revenge is in physical form, or mental form, it is equally hurtful. Mahatma Ghandi said, An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Ghandi is literally saying that if one person commits a revengeful act, it will create a continuing reaction of bitterness and violence throughout everyone. This quote is highly significant throughout the duration of Hamlet, as it portrays almost precisely, both the plotline of the story, as well as the conclusion. From the murder of King Hamlet to the murder of Prince Hamlet the tragedy is filled with violent acts of revenge.
The theme of vengeance is apparent within the tragedy before the tragedy even begins. King Fortinbras is defeated by King Hamlet, leaving Prince Fortinbras orphaned. This naturally brings about bitterness between Prince Fortinbras and King Hamlet. Prince Fortinbras is angry, within reason. His father was just killed, his lands stolen, and now he is the person to whom all of the duty is left. These feelings lead Fortinbras to a state of angered reactions. He prepares an army to march into Poland and Denmark to recover the lands that his father had lost. He acts, leaving the rest of his life behind, and marching over to get retaliation against the man who killed his father. He sets his mind on what he must do, and sets off, away from his home, in a strong, purposeful manner. When Fortinbras prepares to march through Denmark, his address to King Claudius is direct, purposeful, and unemotional. Captain, from me greet the Danish king. Tell him that by his license Fortinbras craves the conveyance of a promised march over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous. If that his Majesty would aught with us, we shall express our duty in his eye; And let him know so. (Act 4, Scene 4, Lines1-7)
The tone of this quote is very concise, clear and to the point. Fortinbras is clearly not going to take no for an answer from anyone or anything. Fortinbras has learned the ways of manipulation and has learned how to get what he wants. He will work as hard as he can to avenge his father and take back the lands that were taken prior to his death. This is only the first of many occurrences of vengeance, one that is seemingly insignificant, but that is underlying throughout the progression of the play. The murder of King Hamlet by Claudius is the initial act of revenge that causes many of the others to occur. Serpents are typically known as wicked and scheming creatures, in the same way that Claudius plot against his brother is evil and manipulative. Through the murder of King Hamlet, Claudius wishes to achieve goals he himself has always hoped for, and instead of hard work to achieve these goals, he simply kills his brother and steals his wife, a clearly serpentine action. Through the word вЂњstingвЂќ the ghost is trying to point out to Hamlet that King Hamlet was poisoned, murdered, and that this murderer had stolen the crown from him, and now sat upon his throne feasting upon joy and happiness that he in no way deserves. Such an action from a man Hamlet had once revered, has spurred such anger and spite within the Prince that he much act. He begins to plot his revenge, the ways in which he will get back at Claudius.
Hamlet vengefulness is quite extreme throughout the tragedy, which is reasonable. Hamlet has lost a father, and seemingly an uncle and a mother. When Hamlet says, A little more than kin, but less than kind, (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 67) he is referring to not only his uncle, but to his mother as well. Claudius, though he is both Hamlet uncle, as well as his stepfather, is no friend to Hamlet; he executed his father, and treated Hamlet like nothing more significant than dust. Hamlet acknowledges that Claudius is an enemy, simply because of the hastiness of his mother marriage, which makes him suspicious from the time he arrives back from Wittenberg, where he was attending school. Hamlet is a genius character and is intelligent enough to realize that his uncle is a devious man, and that he is no longer a man that Hamlet could confide in or even get along with. Hamlet mother, Gertrude, is a clueless woman, she is unaware of Claudius murder, and she is unaware of the real reason behind Hamlet anger. Hamlet, like any son, had always looked up to his mother, admired her, and respected her, however this respect and admiration is gone when he returns from school to find her married, only days after his father death.
Hamlet realizes that he can no longer trust his mother, and that she is no more related to him than Claudius now that they are married. Hamlet makes the choice to requite his father death by striking out on Claudius and Gertrude. Hamlet chooses to kill Claudius, following the statement, an eye for an eye. If Claudius can take a life, then he can also lose a life. A life for a life. Though it takes Hamlet almost the entire play to take Claudius life, eventually injuring him with the poisoned sword, Hamlet success is sweet, he has avenged his father, though now there are two men dead instead of one, and the chain has begun. Hamlet feels that he must also point out to his mother all the misdeeds she has performed against his dead father. He feels that it was horrible for his mother to have married so quickly after the funeral, and when his mother calls him into her bedroom, he prepares to hurt her, to cut her as deeply as he can, though only using words as his weapon. (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 430-431).
Hamlet, though he still loves his mother deep within his heart, knows that what she has done is wrong, and that she must be informed, and properly punished for what she has done. Another way in which Hamlet gets revenge upon both Gertrude and Claudius is by going. It appears Hamlet is far too intelligent to have gone crazy. He is a brilliant actor, and it appears Hamlet was really acting crazy, to get back at the King and Queen for having gotten married so hastily. By going crazy Hamlet instills fear within his mother that he has cracked under the pressure of the hasty marriage, perhaps making Gertrude have second thoughts about such a quick choice of a husband. Gertrude and Claudius certainly get their repayment in the conclusion, Gertrude foolishness, and Hamlet eventual strong will to kill Claudius, show through, and both Gertrude and Claudius end up dead. Hamlet slowly takes an eye for an eye, leaving more and more blind people in his wake.
The mysteries surrounding Ophelia are profound; however, the theory of revenge pulls it together quite easily. When Ophelia goes crazy, she has clearly hit her limit, she has no clue what is going on, the love of her life has told her to leave and go to a brothel, and this same man then killed her father. She is distraught, confused, upset, and most likely angry. When Ophelia is out by the river creating garlands of flowers, she is consciously being dangerous, pushing her limits, reaching out on limbs that cannot support her. Her spontaneous death seems almost suicidal, purposeful, yet careless. Gertrude describes her death, how she came to be in the water, her dresses holding her up, and yet, Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds, as one incapable of her own distress. But long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death. (Act 4, Scene 7, Lines202-208)
The way that Ophelia is simply laying in the water is relaxed, as though she is waiting for something, perhaps her death. Gertrude states that she is one incapable of her own distressвЂќ, or she is simply too crazy to realize that she is drowning. However, is this true? Perhaps she is simply calm before the storm, waiting for her muddy death to come, to remove her from the world that she no longer wished to live in. If Ophelia had indeed killed herself, by drowning in the river, it is likely that this was to get revenge on Hamlet. Ophelia knew that Hamlet had loved her, at least once upon a time, and she knew that if she died he would feel horrible, the same way she must have felt after he so brutally denied her only days before. Hamlet was the cause of this violent, self-imposed, act of revenge, though unintentionally, and this action led to more and more acts of retribution, expanding the world of the blind, a case of an eye for an eye that has led to multiple deaths in Denmark.
Finally, after the death of both his sister, Ophelia, and his father, Polonius, Laertes comes into play, with his sword in hand and an adamant mind. Ophelia death is the point where it seems Laertes can handle no more. He has reached his breaking point. Laertes wants to avenge the death of his father, which he deems unnecessary, and extremely questionable, as well as the death of his sister, which appears to have been Hamlet fault as well. Laertes is the only man left of his family, the only person who has yet to die in a cruel, unnatural way. Laertes feels, as any brother would, that he has been abandoned, left alone, and that the only way to make himself feel better, is to kill the man that murdered his family. Laertes gives into the king pressure to battle Hamlet, and after much scuffle, Laertes is successful in the killing of Hamlet, avenging his family, though hurting himself as well. When he tried to get revenge, he only hurt himself as well, things would have been better off left alone, and Laertes catches onto this as he is dying, saying, Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. Mine and my father death come not upon thee, nor thine on mine.вЂќ (Act 5, Scene 2, Lines 361-363)
Laertes is the only man within the play to catch on that a continuing cycle of revenge will help no one and nothing that eventually it must stop. And with the death of Laertes and Hamlet, the world goes blind. All that was left of the three families has been buried in the ground. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, Ghandi said, to show how revenge will not end once it has begun. Throughout Hamlet this theme is addressed, extremely clearly, and the conclusion, the death of so many characters, many due to revenge, shows how a world filled with extensive revenge cannot exist as a world at all. Hamlet is a deep philosophical story, however, the theme of revenge lies just below the surface, if you look at all of the deaths, you may see that there was a high degree of hatred, bitterness, and anger throughout Denmark.
Issue Of Revenge in Hamlet By Shakespeare
According to Oxford Living Dictionaries, revenge is the action of hurting or harming someone in return for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. In other words, it is to repay and take vengeance. People need to calm down after being offended to give themselves time to create a plan or even just think about what is going to come out of their mouth in order to not hurt someone else. Forgiveness is a big key when it comes to revenge. You don’t necessarily have to take vengeance to be happy, you can quite simply forgive and let it go and you will feel free right after doing it.
In Hamlet by Shakespeare, we find major characters and also minor ones. Hamlet is one of the major characters in the play, he is the Prince of Denmark and also considered as the protagonist of the play. He is Queen Gertrude’s son and the king’s, Claudius, nephew. We can totally see the hate that hamlet shows toward Claudius since he killed his father in order to marry his mother. Hamlet is very hesitant and indecisive and always contradicting others, but he is sometimes very aggressive and takes impulsive decisions without thinking. Now, our second major antagonist character is Claudius. He is always using his power to attend his goals. In act four, Claudius shows some unworthy and disrespectful traits such as greed and corruption. He manipulates people by his selfishness and evil desires. For example, later on in the play, using his own way of language, he gets Laertes to finally agree on killing Hamlet.
One of the important minor characters is Laertes. During Act four, he hears about his father’s death so he immediately returns to Denmark to see what’s going on there. His anger is explaining how he wanted to punish Claudius and become King himself, but as we know everything about Claudius now, he is convinced that it was Hamlet who caused his father’s death when it’s not. Another minor character is Fortinbras. He is considered as a minor one because he doesn’t react nor speak to anything. Throughout the play, we can see how he impacts Hamlet’s view on his plan to take revenge. In act four, the action is taking place, we see Hamlet’s reflect on his own actions against Fortinbras’ actions. Even though Fortinbras’ actions gave him the idea to take immediate revenge, he still thinks about his actions and mostly the consequences.
To conclude, being selfish and evil just like Claudius doesn’t buy happiness but pain and suffering. In the following quote foolishly clever Claudius tries to kill the rightful king it shows how the rightful people are the innocent ones and that no matter what happens to them, they are going to inherit a better afterlife and a much happier life as well. Here is one of my favorite genius quotes Weak people revenge, Strong people forgive, intelligent people ignore. Revenge is not the solution, always think and overthink your thoughts and actions.
The Theme Of Madness in “Hamlet” By W.Shakespeare
I truly believe that madness should be very concerned in our society nowadays because people around us need help. Mad people are always found isolated and therefore, they have no one to talk to. People these days should be more concerned about their lonely and depressed friends because suicide in Canada is a major concern. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009 there were 3,890 suicides in Canada, a rate of 11.5 per 100,000 people.
In Hamlet by Shakespeare, we see that there were a lot of false madness signs and all this ties up to one specific person which is Ophelia. In my opinion, Ophelia’s death was suiciciadale because first of all, she loses her dad, then she loses her mind and that drove her insane and in the end she killed herself by drowning herself. All this began to appear when she started showing her madness throughout the play.
I believe that madness comes from two different ways: losing someone that you really loved and that you were very close with or being rejected and excluded from society. At one point, Ophelia states the following “I shall obey my lord.” By this quote, it might not necessarily show her madness, but I can tell you right now that this is a hint to Ophelia’s madness in the play. She was giving up herself obeying authority without asking any questions. Ophelia was always there for her father and no only that but she was always obeying him and letting him know that his thoughts and words were always filling her mind and she also gave him a lot of intentions.
After her father’s loss, all of these thoughts were taken away from her mind so she has nothing left and that means that she doesn’t know anything else in life. “I hope all will be well. We must be patient, but I cannot choose but weep, to think they should lay him i’ th’ cold ground. My brother shall know of it, and so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach! Good night, ladies. Good night, sweet ladies. Good night, good night.” Ophelia was going all crazy after seeing everything in her life changing. She then keeps foreshadowing her contemplation of suicide convincing herself that everything might work out in the end after all.
All the readers can now tell how she would never be able to look in à positive way in changing her life and that she would never outlook this situation because she has been into such a deep depression and anxiety. Next thing we know is her trying to get away of all these insane problems she has been going through and she quits the world by killing herself.
In conclusion, the theme of madness in hamlet came from loss and isolation as we can see in Ophelia’s case. In Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Shakespeare says the following “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
Analysis Of Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw
Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to avenge his father’s death because he hasn’t been able to conquer himself in his internal conflict. This recalls the cliché “One’s greatest enemy is no other than oneself”. I think procrastination is the inaction that leads to Hamlet’s downfall and behind the inaction, there were three main flaws: being idealistic, fatalistic and over analytical.
Idealism stops Hamlet from avenging the murder of his father, when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius (his uncle, the murderer of his father ) when he is praying. It is in 3.3.89-91: “Am I then… horrid hent”. Here, Hamlet wants an ideal revenge, that his opponent will suffer damnation in hell.
Since Claudius is praying, Hamlet can’t bear to kill him because of his belief that Claudius’s soul will be purified and sent to heaven, hence he decides to kill Claudius at a more appropriate moment, like his father (King Hamlet) was killed. The time Claudius was praying was the only time in the whole play, where he is left unguarded, which means Hamlet has let go of the best chance to kill Claudius just for the sake of waiting for the perfect moment. Therefore, Hamlet’s idealism causes him to procrastinate.
Besides from his idealism, Hamlet’s fatalism also leads him to his tragic flaw. Hamlet shows signs of being fatalistic by making the claim in 1.4.29: “cannot choose his own origin”. According to Hamlet, a person is not to be stated guilty of having a vicious nature or a natural flaw that he is born with, because it isn’t in the hands of the person to choose where he came from.
Furthermore, Hamlet comments that most people would rather bear those ills we have rather than fly to others that we not know of: 3.1.89-90. Since he would rather choose to suffer from the torment of fate that he believes in, he cares not to change. As a result he commits nothing. Moreover, before his duel with Laertes, Horatio asked Hamlet if he wanted to stop the duel, making him aware that the King might have set up a scheme for him. Nevertheless, Hamlet replies: 5.2.210-11: “There’s a special providence in the fall of sparrow”. Since Hamlet believes in predestination, he walks into Claudius’s trap even if he knows it, because he believes that if he is destined to die then he will die, and there is no way he can figure a way out of it.
This is how fatalism becomes deadly for Hamlet
Above all the reasons, the most important tragic flaw Hamlet possesses is being over analytical. He refers to it as: “craven scruple Of thinking too precisely” in 4.4.42-43. Further in the same speech in 4.4.44-46, he says “which quartered has but one part wisdom and three parts coward”. In this, he is simply criticizing his own hesitation. It is intelligent to analyze the situation and be cautious, however too much of it makes him see of himself as a coward. Due to this tragic flaw, Hamlet has been unable to make important decisions. By considering so many different alternatives and point of views, Hamlet is always kind of finding himself an excuse to procrastinate.
None other than dissatisfaction over took him. As a result, he is passively taken up in the sequence of events as the play unfolds, which lead him to death. In conclusion, as heroic and refined as Hamlet is, he still suffers a downfall which leads to the tragic flaw. By the end, when he finally decides to take action, it’s too late. In short, Hamlet’s flaws illustrate the vulnerability of mankind especially those men with a romantic or philosophical bent, as he himself was.