Hamlet: Words Stronger Than Actions

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Hamlet states ‘I will speak daggers to’ Gertrude. To what extent do you agree that Hamlet’s words are stronger than his actions?

As the protagonist of a Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet has to avenge his father’s ‘cold’ murder. Evidently this is not a role he fully embraces in the opening acts of the play and this is arguably his “tragic flaw” - Aristotle; inability to take physical action as a result of deep thought. As a Renaissance man this is perhaps no surprise as such men were educated in philosophy, history and the arts. For this reason Hamlet would have been aware of the role of the revenge hero, as well as the destiny one must face - death. Moreover, he would have been educated in the art and power of words, a skill which Shakespeare explores extensively.

Hamlet uses his words to make Gertrude confess her wrongdoings. Shakespeare uses metaphorical language when she states Hamlet ‘will speak daggers’ to his mother. This implies he wants his words to emotionally hurt his mother like a dagger physically would. Without drawing blood, an act Shakespeare shows the audience Hamlet is uncomfortable with from his reluctance to carry out the promise he has made to his father to revenge Claudius due to his thinking, Shakespeare creates a “one part wisdom and ever three parts coward” out of him; he is willing to cause pain and heartbreak in a bid to ensure his mother regrets her actions. In this instance Gertrude does not confess her wrongdoings but does admit that Hamlet’s words are ‘like daggers to [her] ears’, suggesting that his words are indeed stronger than previous actions against her.

When the audience is first introduced to Claudius in Act 1 Scene 2, he welcomes his subjects with a speech. The power of the words and language, which can manipulate and make a whole country “rotten” just like distractive actions would do is introduced.He briefly mentions his brother’s death and that it is “befitted to bear our hearts in grief”, however he quickly moves on to talk about his marriage. Claudius dismisses the idea of his marriage being incestuous and immoral since his brother only just died by moving past the subject quickly. He uses oxymorons like “with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage”, as well as contradicting the idea of “befitted grief” at the start of the speech.

The audience is manipulated into missing the immoral side to his actions due to the oxymorons and he urges them into believing that nothing is wrong, he proves this when he tells them Fortinbras believes Denmark is “disjointed” when its not, even though it clearly is, as Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy to introduce the audience to the disorder in the play. Shakespeare makes it clear that Claudius is a proficient speaker, just like Hamlet. Not only he fools the whole country into becoming king and prevents suspicion that he murdered his brother, but he also influences Leartes to take revenge on Hamlet with the hope that he will kill him by asking rhetorical questions like “to show yourself in deed your father’s son more than in words?”, this would make Leartes feel obliged to take revenge on Hamlet and give Claudius the answer he is willing to hear - Leartes will kill Hamlet and therefore get rid of the danger Hamlet presents to Claudius, eliminating the chance of being discovered as a murderer. Shakespeare highlights that Claudius is scheming against Hamlet when he offers Leartes to choose “a sword unbated”, obviously wanting Hamlet to receive a deadly wound.

Not only do Hamlet’s words pursue Gertrude to ask him to “speak no more” because they are able to hurt her, but he is also able to talk himself out of achieving his aim as a revenge hero when he gets the opportunity to kill Claudius. Even though he gets the incentive he was looking for (Claudius’ reaction to the play Hamlet has set up for him) in order to prove that the ghost of his father is not trying to trick him into doing an evil deed, but actually telling the truth, he...
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