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 ause 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 e 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 oldly 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 thers 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 utrageous 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 ot 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 recedes 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, nce 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.
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 umbled 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 . . . ay 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 im . . . 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 ell; 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 ike 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 as 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 f 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.