Hamlet is believed to have been written around 1600
Hamlet is believed to have been written around 1600. It is loosely based on a story in Frani?? ois de Bellforest’s ‘Histories Tragiques’ (1576) and is in many ways typical of conventional Revenge Tragedy of the time, however, whilst it follows the basic plot of defending the family honour, it is much more elaborate and complicated. In critical view A, Ernest Jones presents the argument that Hamlet’s main reason for delaying in killing Claudius is that in doing so then he would be ‘even more guilty’ than committing the original sin.
His argument is based on the fact that if Hamlet killed Claudius then there would be no gain, there would be two people dead and Hamlet would be guilty of a mortal sin. I agree with the idea that Hamlet’s conscience stops him from killing Claudius, and through considering the consequences of his actions, he subconsciously delays them. Hamlet would be committing a sin to revenge a sin, and as Nigel Alexander said, ‘how does one deal with such a man (i.
e. Claudius) without becoming like him? ‘
Ernest Jones also explores influences on Hamlet before the time span in which the play is written by suggesting that in his childhood he has subconsciously developed an ‘Oedipus Complex’ and resented his father for denying him his mothers’ full attention. The idea that in Hamlet, Shakespeare has developed a character with and Oedipus Complex is flawed, as, although Shakespeare would be familiar with the story of Oedipus, the idea of an Oedipus Complex is a Freudian philosophy and an idea with which Shakespeare would not have been familiar.
The Oedipus Complex is more of a 20th century idea, and Jones’s view is representative of critical views on literature at the time he was writing. I also disagree with this idea as Hamlet exists only as a character in the time span of the play and the idea that he was neglected as a child has very little evidence to support it, it is essentially conjecture. Jones’s style also suggests a lack of confidence and conviction in his argument, he is indefinite and his argument is very narrow, this is shown by the way he starts off by saying ‘So far as I can see’.
Although his style suggests doubt, I agree that Hamlet is very uneasy about his mothers’ relationship with Claudius. This judgement is based on the many sexual references which show that he resents Claudius as a father figure and respects his mother, this could be interpreted as sexual love for his mother. For example he describes Claudius’s sexual relationship with his mother as ‘Stewed in corruption’ (Act 3 Scene 4) and this is seen in Franco Zefferelli’s 1990 film version where Hamlet (Mel Gibson) kisses Gertrude (Glenn Close) before Hamlet sees his father.
This interpretation shows Hamlet passionate about his mother however, it gives little evidence of Hamlet’s loathing of his father. In view B, Harold Jenkins concentrates more on the idea that Hamlet is a ‘ruthless revenger’ than the suggestion of Hamlet having an ‘Oedipus Complex’. He explores Hamlet’s role as a conventional literary avenger, as a traditional tragic hero who’s task is to implement revenge, and the idea that he is both reluctant and ruthless.
He suggests that Hamlet’s reluctance to kill Claudius is attributable to his principals as a Christian which suggest that he should forgive and the moral implications of committing murder. He also explores the idea that human nature is both good and evil, and as the ‘reluctant revenger’, Hamlet can ‘symbolise the good’s abhorrence of it. ‘ Jenkins suggests that Hamlet can be looked at as a character of both good and evil, however, the good tends to dominate and stops him from committing the sin of murder. This idea would explain Hamlet’s reluctance to kill Claudius, and Hamlet’s soliloquies give evidence for it.
Hamlet reveals in his soliloquies his true feelings and intentions, for example, in his soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 2 he shows his intentions in saying ‘I will speak daggers but use none’, this clearly demonstrates Hamlets intention to follow the ghost’s instructions regarding Gertrude to ‘leave her to heaven’ and let God be the judge of her sins. These soliloquies help to explain Hamlet’s delay and offer the audience an insight into Hamlet’s character. In his soliloquy in Act 2 Scene 2 Hamlet reveals that he is not prepared to act until he has proof in his mind that Claudius is guilty, he says ‘the plays the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king'(Act 2 Scene 2 611-612), he reveals his plans and explains his initial delay.
In his soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1 Hamlet reveals that he is contemplating killing himself and is clearly not in the correct mental state to pursue his revenge, he is evidently emotionally weak as he is contemplating suicide and lacks purpose at this time, whereas in his soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 2 he shows a contrasting frame of mind due to his purpose, he now feels he has to take revenge on his father’s behalf as he has the proof he desired.
He now knows that the ghost was good and so can pursue his duty to his father and he is clearly concentrating on revenge, he says ‘Now could I drink hot blood, And do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on’ (Act 3 Scene 2 388-390). In this mental state he is ruthless and is prepared and able to execute his revenge, however, up to this point, his purpose was unclear and his mental state was unstable. This more ruthless side of Hamlet is shown when he kills Polonius, not knowing who it is.
Jenkins also suggests that he is reluctant to kill Claudius because in doing so, he would be committing a crime ‘which he would punish’ and would be acting against his principals as a Christian, which suggest he should be forgiving and not vengeful towards Claudius and this idea is a crucial dilemma of an avenger in a predominantly Christian era. Jenkins states that Hamlet believes that it is his duty to kill Claudius to defend his family honour, however, the Christian in him wants him to forgive.
I agree with the idea of Hamlet as both ruthless and reluctant because Hamlet shows that he can be ruthless when he kills Polonius without even knowing who he is killing: ‘How now! A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead'(Act 3 Scene 4 24-25). He also shows his ruthless side when he initially vows to follow the ghost’s instruction to kill Claudius and says ‘It is ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me’.
I have sworn’t’ (Act 1 Scene 5 111-112),he does not stop to consider the consequences and in this case, he is somewhat ruthless, ‘Hamlet’s problems develop from the fact that he does not immediately obey the ghosts command, by killing the king and his uncle’ (Nigel Alexander. ) He shows a ruthless side on other occasions for instance, his ‘disposal’ of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two people who used to be his friends and he is ruthless towards Ophelia when he dismisses her to concentrate fully on his revenge.
I believe that his actions are more cautious than reluctant, he feels that he needs to find clear proof that Claudius is guilty so that he doesn’t kill an innocent man and commit a mortal sin for no reason and he decides to use a play in order to assess Claudius’ guilt, he says ‘… -the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King’ (Act 2 Scene 2 611-612). His caution is also demonstrated when he has the chance to kill Claudius whilst he is praying but fears that as he is praying, God may have forgiven him and if he dies then he will go to heaven.
However, this situation is ironic as Claudius’ prayers for forgiveness are in vain, as the audience are aware, he would go to hell because he is not willing to give up what he has gained from his sins, and Hamlet would have been able to successfully execute his revenge. Hamlet says ‘A villain kills my father, and for that, I his sole son do this same villain send to heaven. ‘ (Act 3 Scene 4 76-78) Hamlet says that it would be an mockery and an injustice for Claudius to go to heaven and would prefer to kill him ‘when he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, or in th’ incestuous pleasure of his bed’ (Act 3 Scene 3 90-91), so that he goes to hell and Hamlet will have revenged his father’s murder.
There are further ideas as to why Hamlet delays his revenge which are not explored in these two extracts an example being Hamlet’s philosophical character. Hamlet is a thinker and clearly considers the consequences of action before he acts, as he says in his speech in Act 3 Scene 2 ‘… Give me that man That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him In my heart’s core’ (Act 3 Scene 2 74-76), he expresses his admiration and respect for Horatio as a man of thought and a good judge of character, and says that this is how he would like to be.
He does not want to be ‘passion’s slave’ and act before thinking, unlike his parallels, Laertes and Fortinbras, whose revenge is single minded and determined. Fortinbras does not delay in defending his family name by going to war, no matter how small the gain, his family honour in crucial whereas Laertes challenges Hamlet to a fight in order to exact his revenge.
He feels it necessary to kill Hamlet by dishonourable means: by using a poisoned sword. This is a part of Hamlet’s character which is much more complex than that of the conventional tragic heroes: the character is more ambitious, intricate and realistic, and although many see the character of Hamlet as a failure, his more complex nature accounts to a certain extent for his delay in committing revenge, he is a natural thinker and not a ‘doer’.
In conclusion, Hamlet’s profound character is a significant contributing factor in his delay in executing the act of revenge; he is a philosopher of a melancholic disposition. Hamlet states that he does not wish to be ‘passion’s slave’, acting solely on impulse, alternatively he seeks confirmation that his actions will not result in an undesirable outcome, he ensures this by seeking the necessary evidence of Claudius’ guilt before acting.
Heinemann Advanced Shakespeare: Hamlet edited by Elizabeth Seely and Ken Elliot www. coursework. info www. planetpapers. com www. theatlantic. com www. infoplease. com www. essaybank. co. uk www. greenspun. com Hamlet Arden Edition, introduced by Harold Jenkins Hamlet and Oedipus by Ernest Jones Hamlet (film version) directed by Kenneth Brannagh Hamlet (film version) directed by Franco Zefferelli Hamlet (play version) with at the West Yorkshire Playhouse 2002 Words:1810.
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