The themes in Hamlet
Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a revenge tragedy that illustrates a tragic hero’s struggle with two opposing forces: moral integrity, and the need to avenge his father’s murder. Hamlet the prince of Denmark discovers from his father’s ghost that his father has been murdered with malicious premeditation and this atrocious act was committed by none other than his uncle Claudius. Inevitably Hamlet is instigated to seek revenge, however is incapable of such action due to the need for certainty and other emotional, psychological, and ethical factors; thus he remains indecisive.
Through Hamlet’s complex, divided, introspective character and with the help of such an intriguing plot Shakespeare exposes the themes of immorality, revenge, and death; which are evidently the most significant and recurring themes throughout the play. Immorality plays a significant role in the play. The plot commences with Claudius not only committing the immoral act of regicide but also repulsively seducing the queen into marriage; completely disrupting the natural order of Denmark.
Therefore Claudius has deprived the prior king “of life, of crown, of queen” Such corruption leads to Denmark being represented as a physical body which has been made ill as the people come to believe that “something is rotten in the state. ” (I, iv, 90) The appearance of the previous king’s ghost confirms a sense of foreboding about the future of the country since the new king has forced himself onto the throne through corrupt means. All this corruption affects Hamlets view of the world as well, where he comes to believe that the world is merely possessed by “things rank in gross in nature”.
( I, ii, 136) Even before Hamlet encounters his fathers ghost who reveals the truth about the murder, Hamlet is searing with indignation over how his mother with “most wicked speed, [did] post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” (I,ii,156 – 157) Thus Hamlet foreshadows that such dissolute deeds “cannot come to good” (I. ii. 158) However when the ghost does reveal the truth Hamlet is overwhelmed with disgust at the immorality and injustice of his own uncle’s and his mother’s foul deeds.
Inevitably the occurrences of such immoral acts have brought a burning need within Hamlet, a need to seek to revenge; which is another significant theme that recurs throughout the play. Indisputably, revenge is probably the most essential theme in the development of Hamlet. Revenge is a dreadful, decadent and a bloodthirsty emotion and is the driving force behind two of the main characters in the play- Hamlet and Laertes. However Shakespeare’s conduct of revenge within Hamlet differs completely to the quintessential style of revenge during his era.
Shakespeare’s illustration of revenge delves more into the physiological and moral aspect of seeking revenge; where he portrays that revenge is not an action that usually comes innately because even overpowering emotion cannot bring about immediate action. Therefore Hamlet contemplates heavily and plans the revenge, but fails to put his ideas into action until the last scene. The first sign of revenge is evidently seen in the beginning where Hamlet’s fathers’ ghost urges him to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ” (I. v.25).
However Hamlet was still not convinced by the ghost as he believes it “may be the devil”( II,ii) Therefore in order to catch Claudius’s conscience and prove the ghost’s message, Hamlet has a play enacted in the scenario of his father’s murder. This shows Hamlets need for certainty and deep contemplation. Even after The king’s outburst when he had the perfect opportunity to kill whilst he was praying, Hamlet failed to perform. Hamlet states “Now he is praying… a villain kills my father and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven”( III,iii).
It is evident that Hamlet is a man with “too much reason” (III.ii) and not enough action. One could argue that it is as if he develops excuses for not completing the deed, mainly because he is human and that the deed is immoral. Therefore he is incapable of performing such action immediately.
This proves that every action; even revenge is affected by rational considerations, involving the need for truth or certainty as well as moral, physiological and emotional factors. Nevertheless it seems as though Hamlet disbelieves the notion of performing a deed in a purposeful and controlled way; because when Hamlet does take action; killing Polonius, he prefers to do it irresponsibly, blindly and viciously.
It evidently shows his thirst for revenge as well as the obscurity and complexity of his character. Hamlet’s blind, irrational, and impulsive, manner of killing Polonius without being aware of his identitiy formulates the beginning of a vicious cycle of retribution; as Hamlet becomes a part of Denmark’s squalor and misery. This irrepressible and unjustifiable murder instigated Laertes’s(Polonius’s son) quest to avenge his fathers death. Later on in act 5 Hamlet and Laertes have the opportunity to avenge their father’s in a gruesome duel.
However this only leads to their downfall, revenges eventual outcome- death. Shakespeare utilizes the theme of death as a cleanser of corruption, as all the corrupt players are killed through unnatural means which ultimately restores the natural order of Denmark. As destined the characters receive the deaths they deserve. Thus the king dies in Hamlets hand as well as being poisoned like the queen, whereas Hamlet dies in a soldierly fashion being provided the respect a soldier deserves. Inevitably death is seen as the ultimate resolution for immoral injustice.
Death is not only seen as a cleanser of corruption but according to Hamlet death carries various meaning involving freedom, inevitability and the fact that death renders life meaningless. It is evident that Hamlets obsession with death works in three stages: death as a means of escape or freedom, his circle of life theory and the physical decay of death which proves the futility of life. From the very beginning Hamlets seems to find the world “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable. ” (I,ii,129-134) and would have ended his agony by committing suicide if “the everlasting had not fixed his canon `gainst self-slaughter.
“( I. ii. 129-134) Hamlet ponders over the means to handle his “outrageous fortune”(III,i, lines 58-70)and contemplates whether he should fight the “slings and arrows” “(III,i lines 58-70) that life has thrown upon him or he should end “the heart ache and a thousand natural shocks” (III, i,lines 58-70) by killing himself. However he is afraid of the after life and chooses the “nobler” (III. i, 58-70) path to face the suffering of life in order to avoid the gruesome aftermath of death.
According to Hamlet aftermath can also involve the grave where the person has to face worms and maggots feeding on him, evidently pointing out that death is a leveler which inevitably everyone is entitled for. Therefore he believes that life goes around in a circle because “a man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath feed of that worm. “(IV,iii, 30-32) Hamlet also believes that life is meaningless because after death all physical beauty is lost. So with Yorick’s skull in hand he reminisces upon all the moments he spent with Yorick and what has become of him now.
Likewise, regardless of how women emphasize on their beauty; as Hamlet states “to this favor she must come. “(V. i. 192-195) Evidently Shakespeare, through the voice of Hamlet proves that all the greed and lust for power eventually leads to nothing in the face of death. Shakespeare’s utilization of the significant intertwining themes of death, revenge and immorality, he is able to coherently elucidate how immoral injustice can never be restored and unless all the corrupt players are purged and a new king, in this case Fortinbras, is crowned.
In addition Shakespeare also exposes that ultimately revenge is not the solution for internal peace but rather when committed it brings forth chaos and disorder within the society; forcing death to be the only resolution to cleanse the corruption and bring back peace and harmony to the state. In the process of the play these universal themes are dealt not in the conventional sense but in a reality based fashion which any human being can easily relate to, and this is what makes Hamlet such a tour de force.
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