The Role of Doubts and Questioning in the Construction of Hamlet’s Character
The Many Doubts of Hamlet
C.S. Lewis once said that “the world of Hamlet is a world where one has lost one’s way.” This statement has many truths to it for the play opens at midnight, which represents a world where man is essentially lost and filled with doubts. According to Lewis, doubt, along with dread and loneliness, are the feelings the world of Hamlet makes us ponder. These feelings are best expressed by none other than Hamlet, who is an emotional human being who feels guilt, remorse and a sense of responsibility to take revenge of his father’s murder by Claudius. Much of the information we know about Hamlet come from his soliloquies.
A soliloquy is a device often used in drama whereby a character reveals his or her thoughts and feelings to the audience, though not to the other characters in the play. It often creates dramatic irony for the audience is given insight into a character’s thoughts and intentions, all of which is withheld from the others. Hamlet’s soliloquies stand out in particular as fundamental pillars of the play itself. Nearing the end of the first act, Hamlet encounters the alleged ghost of his newly deceased father. It is in Hamlet’s second soliloquy where it is revealed to the audience that he has a number of doubts, one regarding the identity of this spirit. Adhering to his Christian faith, he must determine whether the ghost was sent by the devil or the spirit of his father who came back from purgatory. “…The spirit that I have seen / May be a devil…” (2. 2. 529-530). The manner in which the ghost tells Hamlet to avenge his death is questionable; he makes it seem as though it is an easy task to carry out. Without comforting him and understanding the difficulty of such a task, the ghost could mistakenly appear to be an evil spirit.
This soliloquy also indicates that Hamlet doubts whether taking revenge on his uncle is the proper course of action. Hamlet is well aware that murder is considered a sin in Christianity, which is a key factor in delaying Claudius’ execution. He thus stages a play in hopes that guilt will coax the king into confessing his dreadful deed. The play is a success and Claudius reveals his guilt, though Hamlet still has doubts about his mother. Gertrude marries so quickly after the death of her husband that Hamlet jokes that “The funeral-baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” (1. 2. 180-181). It could easily be thought that Gertrude knew about Claudius’ plan or even had a part in it. His fearful doubts cause him to be sarcastic toward his mother and to develop a poor outlook on women, exclaiming “Frailty, thy name is woman!” (1. 2. 146) during his first soliloquy.
Needless to say, Hamlet’s doubt does more than question the ghost’s motive and the innocence of Claudius and his mother. His unwillingness to act upon the tasks before him indicates that he does not understand what he is fighting for. Hamlet’s father knew why he was fighting Fortinbras senior; to acquire Fortinbras’ land. Claudius knew why he murdered Hamlet’s father; to become the new king of Denmark and win the heart of Gertrude. However, Hamlet does not know why he should kill Claudius and what good will come out of this act. He sees the bigger picture in all that is happening, which reflects his intelligence and morality. Hamlet’s doubts keep us thinking and wondering throughout the play. It is these doubts that assist in setting Hamlet apart from other Shakespearean heroes and make the story a classic for more than three centuries.
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