Shakespeare: Hamlet Characterisation
“To what extent has your personal response to Hamlet been shaped by the enduring power of Shakespeare’s characterisation of Hamlet? ” In the tragic play Hamlet, the character Hamlet was undoubtedly one of William Shakespeare’s greatest characterisations. The overall effect Hamlet has on the audience due to his many human weaknesses is overwhelming. Hamlet’s character, heavily manipulated and influenced by his father’s murder by his uncle, displays qualities such as his; indecisiveness, uncertainties, apparent madness and revenge and vengeance for his father’s murder.
Hamlets indecisiveness could be seen as one of Hamlet’s greatest character flaws. From William Hazlitt’s point of view, Hamlet is not a character marked by strength will or even of passion but a character marked by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet seems to be lacking the necessary ability of deliberate action, and is only rushed into extreme measure on the spur of the moment when he has no time to think.
This can be seen in Act 4, Scene 4 when Hamlet purposely delays killing his uncle because he suddenly thinks to indulge his imagination in reflecting upon the outrageousness of the crime and purifying his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into practice immediately. “To be or not be: that is the question…” This soliloquy, probably the most famous speech in the English language, is spoken by hamlet in Act 3 scene 1. Hamlet poses the problem of whether to commit suicide as a logical question, to live or not to live.
In addition to its crucial thematic content, this speech is important for what it reveals about the quality of Hamlets mind. His deeply passionate nature is complemented by a relentlessly logical intellect, which works furiously to find a solution to misery. He has turned to religion and found it inadequate to help him either kill himself or avenge his father’s murder by killing Claudius. Here, he turns to a logical philosophical inquiry and finds it equally frustrating.
This saga of philosophy undertaken by Hamlet indicates that he is not a man of decisiveness in his life, rather a man who seeks help from his superior intellect and religion. T. S. Eliot argued that Hamlet was an artistic failure, due to his basic weakness in the play. It was his contention that a playwright owes his duty to the audience to write a dialogue appropriate to characters as they have been developed in the drama. Eliot made his point in the “Closet Scene”(Act 3, Scene 4), when Hamlet confronts his mother, Queen Gertrude, in her bedchamber.
His words demonstrate a bitter hostility and a vindictiveness for which the audience is totally unprepared. This outburst, which confuses and surprises the audience, is one example of Hamlets unpredictability. Many people have seen Hamlet as a play about indecisiveness, and thus about Hamlets failure to act appropriately. It might be more interesting to consider that the play shows us how many uncertainties our lives are built upon, how many unknown quantities are taken for granted when people act or when they evaluate another person’s actions.
Hamlets madness is scene at the heart of the play. It can be scene that it all started when he was informed by his father’s ghost of his murder by his uncle, which subsequently married his mother and became King of Denmark. However, Hamlets “antic disposition” has famously sparked a debate: Does Hamlet truly go ‘mad’ or is it a deceptive act? There is still the impossible answer, just like many of the other questions raised by the play. In Act 1, Scene 2, Hamlet can be seen as distressed. “O, that this too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Here, his desire for his “flesh” to “melt” and dissolve into “dew” registers his anguish over his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage to his uncle. Clearly Hamlets thoughts are suicidal and register some mental and emotionally instability. Hamlet gears up to be a traditional bloody revenge play – and then it stops. The majority of the play deals with Hamlets successful vengeance on his father’s murder, but with Hamlets inner struggle to take action. The play concludes with a bloodbath that’s typical of revenge tragedy, but Hamlets infamously delay sets it apart from anything that comes before it.
Hamlet is also notable for the way it weaves together three revenge plots, all of which involve sons seeking vengeance for their fathers’ murders. Ultimately, the play calls into question the validity and usefulness of revenge. A common feature in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies is the death of the hero. Yet, despite the death of the individual, Shakespeare’s tragedies are also concerned with re-establishing a sense of political order. Hamlets dying words and his ‘prophesy’ that Fortinbras will win the next “election” anticipate the Norwegian Prince’s arrival in Denmark and likely succession to the throne.
This can be seen in Act 5, Scene 2 “…But I do prophesy the election lights, On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice…”. Therefore, we can see that due to the powerful and overwhelming supposed character flaws and attributes to Hamlets character, they can be seen to have a direct impact on how one views the play. His hesitation and indecisiveness in his actions, such as the revenge killing of the King, can directly influence the direction of the play and thus the shape of the plot. Thus, the tragic play Hamlet can be seen as shaped by one of Shakespeare’s greatest characterisations.