The focus of the Shakespearean play Hamlet
When the majority of readers read a novel, they have some expectations that the themes of the book will be clear to them as they progress. In many online websites, like Sparknotes, Cliff Notes, and Shmoop, there are already many generally accepted themes. Now, when people were asked to identify the focus of the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”, their answers becomes the same and predictable. They will mention in the line of ghost, Prince Hamlet, and revenge.
However, this answer is very doubtful because of the sheer complexity of Hamlet and the genius of Shakespeare.
Perhaps the reason behind this seemingly easy conclusion is the readers readily trusting the narrative. Hamlet is in third person point of view, which means the account of the story is being told by a third person. When the readers trust this third person, there is a chance that the understand and interpretation of the literature can be overly simplified and obvious. When deciphering a play like Helmet, deeper analysis of the language is needed in order to reveal subtle interesting points about its themes.
Supplemented by the viewpoints of the critics who spent nearly their whole life in studying this masterpiece, after deep sophisticated analysis of language, the narrative’s credibility and justifications of the characters actions are lowered.
Andy Mousley, in Chapter 1 of his book Re-Humanising Shakespeare: Literary Humanism, Wisdom and Modernity, states how the languages that the characters use in Hamlet often lacks human thoughts and reasoning (Mousley, 2007). Instead, these human thoughts are replaced with references to nature (Mousley, 2007). Mousley uses Ophelia’s reaction after the death of Ophelia’s father, Polonius (Mousley, 2007). Her grievous state is described through what is happening in nature; her father’s death has withered the flowers (Mousley, 2007). Interestingly, the only character who credits one’s thoughts and actions to purely human origin is Hamlet (Mousley, 2007). This statement can be supported in many places of the play.
For example, when Rosencrantz is greeted by Hamlet in Act 2 Scene 2, he declared himself as “children of the earth” (2,2,1329). But, it is obvious that he is an offspring of his parent, or human beings. In act 3 scene 1, Queen Gertrude confronts Hamlet and asks if “O Gertrude, come away! The sun no sooner shall the mountains touch But we will ship him hence?” (3,4, 2655). Finally, notice how the gentleman claims, “Caps, hands, and tongues, applaud it to the clouds: ‘Laertes shall be king, Laertes king!’” (4,5,2971). Mousley talks about how aligning one’s thoughts and motives on nature and religion was a convention (Mousley, 2007). Hamlet defies this practice when he states “What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more” (4, 4, 2823). There, he compares a man with a beast, not with the nature. Just a few lines later, notice how he lower cases in god-like reason” (4,4,2827) while. Perhaps, lowercasing can be of valuing humanism (Mousley, 2007).
Overall, Mousley claims Hamlet is used to show that nature and other superstitions have no power and influence over the human qualities (Mousley, 2007). Therefore, any actions feel more justified if it is based on human logic, thoughts, and emotions, rather than based on the superstitions and formless things. According to Mousley and in the play, many characters rely and associate themselves with the invisible forces of nature and religion, while Hamlet stays true to his human feelings (Mousley, 2007). This can be a way of how the play is mocking the narrative, which is presenting with a story with characters who are basing their reasonings on empty, formless things (Mousley, 2007)
According to another critic Samuel Johnson in his edition of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet is portrayed as character who failed to act out his plan (Johnson, n.d). This is absolutely true because since in act 3 scene 3, Hamlet deliberately delays killing Claudius just because he was confessing. If he was truly thirsty for vengeance, he would not have cared about when, where, and what Claudius is doing. Hamlet’s uses of these words, “bloody” (2,2,1654), “bawdy”(2,2, 1655), “remorseless”(2,2,1655), and “lecherous” (2,2,1655), indicates he is very emotional and zealous. Yet, his thoughts are full of contradictions. Here, Hamlet wishes to be “cruel” (3,2,2271), but not willing to use “the dagger” (3,2,2272).
If he is truly a man willing to kill someone for revenge, he would have no fear on using weapon to accomplish his tasks. In addition, Johnson adds how no one, except the ghost, got justice, which means that the whole effort for vengeance has been futile (Johnson, n.d). For an action to be qualified as having any value, it must be beneficial to a physically living being. At the end of the play, Hamlet dies after achieving vengeance, which Johnson believes as not having “poetical justice” (Johnson, n.d). Therefore, Hamlet as a story can be summarized as a zero-sum game. Vengeance was planned by the ghost and achieved through sacrificing the living (Johnson, n.d). The ghost was the one that manipulated Hamlet into achieving its goal. The ghost was the one who planted the idea of revenge in Hamlet’s mind, but yet, it visits Hamlet later to remind him about “thy blunted purpose” (3, 4, 2509). Here, the ghost is shifting the fact the idea came, not from itself, but from Hamlet. This is a way of mocking the narrative, where the story about rightful vengeance has been started by a formless non-existent entity.
Hamlet is truly a sophisticated piece of literature. One can experience the true joy of Helmet if readers go deeper into why the author selected certain languages. In the surface level, Helmet is a mere story of vengeance. However, after examining the language through the help of the critics, one can realize the hidden satire of Hamlet. Therefore, it is important to look deeper and search for innovative languages as the literature and the writer’s intentions become sophisticated.
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