Corruption and Mortality in Hamlet

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Corruption and Mortality in Hamlet

Hamlet is arguably one of the most complex characters in literature, and most certainly within Shakespeare's realm. He can be both weak and admirable, and he defies the explanation of many readers I am sure. Death is a constant presence in HAMLET, right from the beginning of the play the themes of death and mortality set in with the death of King Hamlet. From then on, young Hamlet cannot stop questioning the meaning of life and more importantly, its' eventual end. In Hamlet's mind, it is not the idea of dying that frightens him; it's the uncertainty of what comes after death. This uncertainty overcomes him with obsession over death, suicide and mortality as a whole. Throughout the play, many key characters make references to death, which in a way corrupt them as it goes on. By the end of the play, all of these corrupted characters are eliminated, almost as if so everything can be right in Denmark again.

It seems Hamlet is always questioning death; the uncertainty of it is unsettling to him. He wonders what happens when one dies, if one is murdered do they go to heaven, and of course the famous question he poses in act 3; To be, or not to be, that is the question. In this soliloquy, Hamlet is musing about death, but what kind of death and whose he might be referring to is not 100% clear. The speech holds many confusing and unanswered queries; he could be contemplating suicide, or he could be thinking of the risks that killing Claudius may behold. "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, And thus the native hue of resolution, Is sicklied o'er with the pale case of thought" (III.i.91-93)

In this excerpt from the speech Hamlet is describing that his conscience won't let him kill, but does he mean himself? Or could he mean Claudius? I think it's safe to say that BOTH are plausible answers. Hamlet feels suppressed by his conscience not to murder Claudius, even though it is for revenge. However he also is "sicklied o'er" with thoughts about killing himself, which he also knows is wrong. In either case, his conscience is indeed making a coward of him. "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer, The slings and arrows of fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them. (III.i.64-66) This selection from the speech is more obviously directed at thoughts of suicide. Hamlet is calling into question the meaning of life; is it better to suffer a bad fortune, or to take arms against yourself (and commit suicide).

Aside from the famed "To be or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet makes another statement in reference to suicide in act 1 that is worth studying. "O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter" …Hamlet believes that, although physically capable of suicide, most all human being choose life despite the injustices of the world. He goes further to say how "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable" the uses of the world are. His choice of words here is very revealing of Hamlet's suicidal thoughts, any one who uses such words to describe the world surely does not sound as though they want to live in it. Ophelia too, brings up an important theme in the meaning of life towards the end of the play when she says "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be" (IV.v.43-44) "What we are" and "what we may be" are both issues that Hamlet struggles with as well, and it's especially visible in the "O that this too dulled flesh would melt" soliloquy. What Ophelia brings to surface here are questions of whether God helps to direct us where to go or not, and whether there is even a meaning to life or it is simply a prison we are all kept in. Though brief, this statement is beautiful and applicable to thoughts of mortality and suicide at the same time. Where Hamlet uses words such as “stale” and “unprofitable” to describe the...
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