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Hamlet Study Essay Example

The study of Shakespeares Hamlet has been one that is very extensive as well
as enormous. Books upon books have been written about this great play. About an
equal amount of books, however, have been written about one character; Hamlet. A
critic of Hamlet once said, “a man set out to read all the books about Hamlet
would have time to read nothing else, not even Hamlet.” What is the great
fascination with Hamlet and the characters contained within. The great intrigue
comes from the ambiguity of the play and its characters. “Hamlet is the
tragedy of reflection. The cause of the heros delay is irresolution; and the
cause of this is excess of the reflexive and speculative habit of the mind.” (Halliday.

217) The reason that there are so many critics is that there are just as many
theories and speculations. Even in the twentieth century on could create or”discover” a                                                                            new theory or criticism based on the play or its characters.

The character Hamlet, alone, has over two dozen critics from Quinn to Coleridge.

Some critics come up with sane interpretations of Hamlet while others use wild
and crazy themes. Some conclude that the problem with Hamlet, and a classic
thesis used by many students, is insanity versus sanity. The theories progress
from there. The theories range from manic-depressant to homosexual. Some are
even very creative; such as the thesis that Hamlet is actually a female raised
as a male. But no matter how many theories, speculations, or thesis there are,
many hold some ground. This thesis paper will not stress on any of the
statements I have listed above. However, I will take a stand with Coleridge and
speak about Hamlets genius and cognitive activity. Hamlets true dilemma is
not one of sanity -Vs- insanity; but one pressing his intellectual capacity.

Being a scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than actions. “Cause of

Hamlets destiny. . . in intellectual terms . . . is a tragedy . . . of
excessive thought.” (Mack. 43) Hamlets role was to make a transcendental
move from scholarly prince to man of action. Hopefully this report will help
open another, or even stress a classic, view as to Hamlets character and his
prolonged delay. When a student goes to write about Hamlets character they
often begin by hitting a wall. Not the usual writers block in which the mind
goes blank, but one of information loaded upon information. Where does a pupil
begin? In this vast mound of information, where do we start? The Beginning would
be a proper place. The background of Hamlet may help to bring some insight onto
his character analysis. “Hamlet is . . . a man who, at thirty, still lives
among students.” As the play opens, Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg

Germany, most likely attending Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg.

Hamlet was in-fact so found of this Wittenberg university, that he had requested
for his immediate return there. Hamlet probably felt a little out of place in a
political environment. For the hasty marriage of his uncle and his mother may
have been one only of convince. To add fuel to this enraged fire, Claudius so
boldly denies Hamlets return to his asylum. This could not have angered

Hamlet anymore. For where Hamlet saw that “the time is out of joint,” Hamlet
himself was “out of joint.” How? Hamlet saw Elsinore as a prison rather than
a sanction. Denmarks a prison. . . world. . . in which there are many
confines, wards, and dungeons . . . Denmarks oath worst . . . I could be
bounded in a nutshell and cut myself a kind of infinite space [thought].
(II.II.243-255) A man who is a mere “prince of philosophical speculators,”
as F.E. Halliday puts it, would not feel at home in an incestuous tomb of
politics. Hamlet is so out of place and suffering from his newly lost and
homesickness of Wittenberg, that he must spend all of his days in deep
contemplation. As a university student, Hamlet is used to nothing but thought
and contemplation. Hamlet is not accommodated with the environment of politics.

Hamlet suffers from a “superfluous activity of the mind.” (Coleridge. 35) He
knows of nothing else but thought and reason. Unbeknown to Hamlet, his next task
would soon bring him to be caught between being a man of though and a man of
action. As the play progresses hamlets thought and reason takes on a great
form. Most of Hamlets thoughts, like that of many scholars, are about that of
the world and those things contained within them. “Characteristic of

Shakespeares conception of Hamlets universalizing mind that he should make

Hamlet think first . . . entirely.” (Mack. 39) Hamlet has come to terms with
the fact that the world, even including his mother, is nothing but an un-weeded
garden filled with evil. Hamlets one true problem is with himself. He sees
his character as something most desirable; and the character of Horatio as even
more coveted. Hamlet does not understand the life of his uncle, mother, and
others within Denmark. For these people use no reason. What is a man if his
chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A best, no more.

Sure he that mad us with such large discourse, gave us not that capability and
godlike reason to rust in us unused. (IV.IV.33-39) . Hamlet believes that life
is useless if men do not use their great power of reason and intellect. In-fact
men become evil, “stale, and flat.” The next show of Hamlets intellect is
his question of everything. Whether it is the world as a whole or death itself;

Hamlet finds a need to question all. The play Hamlet is filled with soliloquies
in which Hamlet is questioning some action or feeling. This problem of

Hamlets comes from his over use of his brain. For, he has to contemplate
every action, prepare for the reaction, and also prepare for any consequences.

Hamlet is a perfectionist whos questions help to make sure everything runs
smoothly. “Hamlets skepticism, is purely an intellectual matter.” (Mack.

64) Hamlet begins his questioning with the death of elder Hamlet. First, Hamlet
wonders if the ghost of his father is but a figment of his imagination. Or even
a servant of the devil. If this is so, then Claudius would not be at fault for
his brothers death. After he finds out that both the ghost is really his
father and Claudius is truly guilty, Hamlet next dilemma is how to kill Claudius
and seek revenge. What would be the best way to get his revenge? While Claudius
is praying? Hamlet sees a great opportunity to take his life. But wait! If

Hamlet were to seek revenge now, Claudius would go straight to heaven. Hamlet
here spends an eloquent soliloquy pondering this sudden hasty murder. Now might

I do it pat, now a is a-praying and now Ill sot. . . and so am I revenged.

That would be scanned: a villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son,
do this same villain send to heaven. (III.III.73-78) Next show of Hamlets
over used, over questioning brain is his contemplation of his own death. As I
have stated before, Hamlet felt very much imprisoned in Elsinore. No doubt he
was intellectually imprisoned, not allowed to use his brain to the fullest. Not
being allowed to return to his great Wittenberg university, Hamlet questions
whether life is more beneficial than death. To be, or not to be, that is the
question: whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing end
them. To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-acke
and the thousand natural shocks. . . (III.I.56-65) Using his genius brain,

Hamlet also weighs the pros and cons of suicide. Preparing for the worst actions
to follow his suicide; eternal damnation, or eternal sleep; Hamlet votes against
his death. These two situations help to show the great problem facing Hamlet;
his mind. Any normal man would not hesitate in the movement towards revenge.

They would also not question the attributes behind it. But Hamlet is a thinker
not a doer. It poses a problem for a man of such profound thought to take such a
hasty and unreasoned action such as revenge. The questioning attitude of Hamlet
adds to his procrastination. Many believed that Hamlet was merely a man who went
mad due to his fathers unlawful death and his mothers hasty marriage.

These critics look to soliloquies and Hamlets seemingly mad conversations as
proof of his insanity. But if one were to observe and analyze these passages,
they would see that truth and sanity behind them. But the sanity is only a small
part. For these passages hold great and profound thought. There are many
situations in which Hamlets thoughts are profound. These are not the
ponderies of a man gone mad, but of a brain contained within a prison. Of a man
whose intellect is holding him back. The first occasion in which Hamlets
words, perceived mad, proved to be profound, was with his encounter with

Polonius. Polonius, trying to keenly pry from Hamlet his ailment, strikes up a
seemingly innocent conversation with Hamlet. To test his madness, Polonius asks

Hamlet if he knows Polonius. when Hamlet replies wittingly, Polonius is assured
that it was the talk of a mad man. “Do you know me, my Lord? . . . excellent
well. You are a fishmonger . . .”(II.II. 173-4) For in the ordinary sense”it is . . . Polonius . .                                                                              . breed . . .” A fishmonger being a honest
tradesman would prove mad for Hamlet to say to Polonius. But in the sense
related above, it makes perfect sense. Besides making perfect sense, it could be
thought to be the speech of the great Socrates or Aristotle. This shows

Hamlets great depth of knowledge, uses of words, and creativity in punning.

Fit to be a witty philosopher, this young man proves not to be a good
politician. Not digressing, Hamlets ingeniousness continues. Hamlet then
precedes with further banter: “For yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am – if
like a crab you could go backward.”(II.II. 202-3) Though his words seem
absurd, Hamlet has hit the mark. For Polonius would indeed need to crawl
backwards in order to reach hamlets age. All Polonius can retort is, “. ..
this be madness.” (II.II.205) The next great display of hamlets
ingeniousness is when all within the castle are looking for the late Polonius
body. Already thinking Hamlet is mad they begin to clutch harder to that theory
when questioning Hamlet. Upon being asked where Polonius body is, Hamlet,
once again, gives a philosophical and intellectual comment. To the non-universitat
student, these statements prove to be the evocations of a mad man. But to a
great philosopher like Hamlet, Socrates, or even Plato they hold more truth than
they are thought to hold. Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain
convocation of politic worms are een at him. . . . A man may fish with the
worm that hath eat of a kind, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm. (IV.III.

19 -28) This is one of the most profound statements that Hamlet has mad thus
far. For it is humbling to think that those who are royal now, may soon be
humbled by the fact that they will simply return to the dirt. To not digress
from out earlier statement, we have to acknowledge how and when Hamlet has mad
his transition from a “prince of philosophical speculators” to a price of
actions. The road and journey to action was a hard and treacherous one for

Hamlet. Many acts went by where Hamlet had to sit and contemplate every action,
reaction, and consequences. This proved Hamlet to a very poor prince, heir to
the throne, but a very wise intellect. Many attempts and ponderies did Hamlet
have towards his revenging actions. His first attempt toward revenge was while

Claudius was praying. this plan failed as Hamlet had to sit, once more, and
contemplate Claudius ascend into heaven, thus proving not the be a true and
victorious revenge. This left Hamlet in a mournful sate. For he knew that he was
a thinker and not a man of action. In act I, scene V , Hamlet promises “that,

I with wings as swift as meditation . . . may sweep to my revenge.” But

Hamlets swift meditation slowed the process of his revenge. When met with the
players great display of emotions of Hecuba (Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is moved
to think about his feeling, his duty, and his lack of action. Whats Hecuba to
him . . . that he should weep for her . . . yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled
rascal, peak . . . unpregnant of my cause and can say nothing . . . who does me
this. (II.II.552-570) Hamlet mourns over his inability for swift and hasty
action. He knows that he is damned to his prison of though. Hamlet has no
control over what he does, or better yet, what he does not do. Hamlets first
act towards “action” is with the death of Polonius. In a heated argument
with his mother, Hamlet believes to hear the outcry of Claudius. Believing he
has caught the newly kind in an enraged state; thus sending him straight to
hell; Hamlet finds it the best time to take what is due him. But the life of

Claudius was not taken. For it proved to be Polonius. From here Hamlet began his
decision into action. Hamlet still begins to question why he, unlike others,
have a problem moving himself to action. When he hears about Fortinbras
plan to take over the polish and he begins to scold himself, for Hamlet believes
that he, at least, has just cause to avenge his fathers death. How stand I then,
that have a father killd . . . and let all sleep . . . the imminent death of
twenty thousand men . . for a fantasy and trick of fame . . go to their graves
like beds, fight for a plot. (IV.V.55-63) The true test of Hamlets
transcendence into kingship is his arrangement over the death of Rossencrantz
and Guildenstern. Hamlet, like a true politician, uses his great mind to save
his life, and pay back what was given to him. “That on the view and knowing of
these contents, without debatement further more or less, he should those bearers
put to sudden death, not shriving-time allowd . . .” (V.II 44-47) When he
tells this well designed plan to Horatio, Horatio retorts “why, what a kind is
this!” And Horatio is correct. For this was Hamlets second attempt, which
was followed through, over the death of another person. Hamlet was on the right
track for kingship. But the true show of his transcendence was his not
repenting. Hamlet justified his actions. He believed that I was right to kill
his friends. ” My excellent good friends” (II.II. 224) because of their
deceitful plan. Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not
near my conscience, their defeat does by their own insinuation grow. “Tis
dangerous when the baser nature comes between the pass and fell incensed point
of mighty opposites.( V.II. 57-62) Hamlets thought , “Be bloody or be
nothing worth.” In retrospect one may see that Hamlets problem was one that
was easy to diagnosis. It is humorous when one find critics that spend years
upon year trying to figure the ailment to this fictional character. However,

There can be no set diagnosis for Hamlet. Hamlets character is very much
complex and intricate. For a critic or scholar to single his character down to
one thesis or report would be impossible. Despite this seemingly true statement,
this paper should have given the reader some insight onto one of the many
ailments that troubled Hamlet. I believe that in order for Hamlet, and the rest
of Denmark to avoid the troublesome butchery at the end of the play, it would
have been advisable for them to send Hamlet back to Wittenberg. It is not good
to keep one out of joint, for that person will try to find some way to get back
into joint. All and all, Hamlet has fulfilled the role that he set out to
fulfill. By the end of the play, Hamlet made a rough and rocky transcendence
from price of scholars to a prince of action. By they end of the play, Hamlet
had no need to think, for action was his newfound friend. Even Fortinbras, in
the last scene, saw that Hamlet had the makings of a very, very admirable king.


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Inc. Englewood Cliffs. N.J.1973 Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. Roundable

Press, Inc. New York. N.Y. 1990 Coleridge, Samuel T. Shakespearean Criticism.

Vol I. J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. London, England. 1960 Halliday, F. E.

Shakespeare & Criticism. Berald Duckworth & Co, Ltd. London, W.C.

Holland, Norman N. Psychoanalysis & Shakespeare. Octagon Books. New York.

N.Y. 1976 Jenkins, Harold. Hamlet. Methuen & Co. Ltd. UK. 1982 Quinn,

Edward. The Major Shakespearean Tragedies. The Free Press. New York. N.Y

“Tragedies of William Shakespeare and Sonnets: Commentary.” Http://futures.wharton.upenn.edu/tariq58/hamlet/cheat/criticism%20on%20hamlet.htm.

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