Hamlet's Self-Discovery

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The Search for Personal Identity in Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet unsuccessfully engages on a search for his personal identity, which in turn contributes to the theme of ambiguity.

Hamlet struggles to unearth an identity separate from that of his deceased father. King Hamlet’s request to his son to avenge his murder forces Hamlet to try and assume his father’s identity: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love – / O God! / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.57). King Hamlet manipulated Hamlet by charging him to prove his love for him, making the request especially hard to deny. Hamlet was being called to divert from his idle and overly pensive behavior, to become a man of action, and to make his father’s enemies his own; instead of forging his own path, Hamlet now had to intertwine his own identity with that of his father. After realizing what he has agreed to, Hamlet spends most of the play struggling with the decision to either fulfill his father’s wishes or take his own path: “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge” (1.5.57-59).

Hamlet’s search for his own identity eventually proved to be in vain, and he succumbs to his father’s wishes. Each time Hamlet encounters someone who is thoroughly impassioned about whatever it was they are doing, Hamlet denounces his own behavior and declares that he will spur himself to action like them: “How all occasions do inform against me, /And spur my dull revenge! / … Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;' / Sith I have cause and will and strength and means / To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me: / …O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (4.4.203). Fortinbras’ willingness to send thousands of men to their death for an insignificant portion of land made Hamlet condemn his inability to act swiftly even though he has the ability and the motive. This, along with...
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