Hamlet's Motive

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Hamlet has long-been associated with the name of William Shakespeare as a masterful work of literary art. It is one of the most debated, celebrated and studied pieces of all time; a marvel of showmanship from one of the most famous authors to ever pick up the elegant pen of words. Those who have read the drama often marvel at the complexity of Hamlet himself, and debate his hesitancy of action throughout the tragedy—namely, the supposed murder of Claudius which he ‘must’ commit. While many scholars agree on Hamlet’s reasons for delay, critics have yet to narrow their thoughts on Hamlet’s overlying motive: why does behave the way he does? More importantly, what were Shakespeare’s motives in portraying Hamlet the way he ultimately does? Hamlet’s hesitation is not the most convoluted and interesting of the subjects; his rationale of purpose is what drives the entire work to be the complex enigma that it still is, to this day.

To begin with, many scholars have suggested that Hamlet’s motives directly correlate to Shakespeare’s own life and experiences. With such an intricate work of literature, it is easily assumed that “anything which will give us the key to the inner meaning of Hamlet will necessarily provide a clue to much of the deeper workings of Shakespeare’s mind” (Jones 25). While this may be true, one cannot necessarily assume that unlocking Hamlet’s motives and frame of mind will bring us closer to William Shakespeare, as a person and personality. Rather, it is safe to say that in exploring Hamlet’s intentions, one can find insight into the mentality of Shakespeare; the ideas which he molded into the character of Hamlet, in order to build the persona which he used to explore the subject of revenge. Like with many great works, a reader cannot always assume that the main character is modeled after the author who penned it. This is a biased way to look at literature, and often detracts from the piece as a whole. One should only take that the ideas portrayed in the work are those that stemmed from the writer’s mind, and therefore links the dramatist with the piece, as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

In the exploration of Hamlet as a character removed from William Shakespeare himself, critics have often made numerous interpretations, based on their own findings through the unchanging words of Hamlet. As Bradby states: “Hamlet is a central figure of surpassing interest and genius, which has gripped the imagination of the learned and the unlearned in all ages and which will continue to fascinate so as the mind of man is haunted by the mystery of life and death” (Bradby 60). Hamlet’s has an intricate intellect, which focuses on his obsession with his own life, the physical death of his father, and the spiritual death he sees in his mother. This amazing intelligence is what many critics see as the motive for Hamlet’s actions. His vast mind is adept at exploring all possibilities and limitations, and this leads to all the various aspects of action Hamlet explores throughout the tragedy.

Along with Hamlet’s genius, many scholars believe that the prince’s connotative connection to religion contributes to his ultimate motive of action. In Hamlet’s delay of deed, some say he is battling with an important prospect: how to sinlessly commit a great sin (Foss 128). It is often thought that in Hamlet’s soliloquies, we see the battle of conscience: Hamlet is unsure whether assassination is the best means of revenge, or whether he should simply denounce Claudius instead. Critics arguing against this theory, however, often state that Hamlet’s connection to religion is somewhat implied, and that it cannot merely be assumed that his willful following of a faith conviction is so strong as to overshadow his goals of revenge. Hamlet’s character has also been thought to use his superior intellect as his motive. “[Hamlet] is predetermined to scorn the world, and is consequently unwilling to involve himself in its affairs” (Wolff). His conscience...
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