April 13, 2013
Hamlet Character Analysis
Generally, the way we understand characters in a work of literature depends on the way that we perceive them. Frequently, Hamlet is seen as a very complex character who never really tells how much he truly knows. Many readers may come away from the story with a sense that they don't really know everything about Hamlet as a character, nor that they know all that he does. Hamlet spends nearly the entirety of the play attempting to avenge his father's death, yet he contradicts himself often and misdirects his innermost feelings. He finds himself angry, depressed, brooding, yet also enthusiastic and happy. He can be suicidal because he detests his fate, yet he also accepts the fact that he has to take life head on. Hamlet is dedicated, yet frequently contradicts himself, misdirects his feelings for others, acts rashly and foolishly based on emotion, and also does not act at all in other situations. Readers are left to decipher Hamlet on their own, without much guidance from Shakespeare, and many scholars can agree that Hamlet may be one of the most complex characters in playwrite history. Hamlet is kind and caring, while also acting as a troubled youth who causes many deaths and a lot of trouble. Hamlet's contradictory actions ultimately lead to him putting a strain on the relationships he has with other characters in the story. While Hamlet claims to love Ophelia, he also exhibits a vast amount of cruelty towards her. He treats her mostly as though she did something awful to him, when quite the contrary is true. Hamlet also treats his mother with hostility and a sort of heartlessness. Hamlet questions her innocence and even claims that she is a bad mother at one point in the play, but also feels affection and love towards her, which he neglects to show in the play. And although Hamlet is frequently in an emotionless depression, he also spends much of his time in a state of manic emotion. He lashes out at his mother and Ophelia, and actually stabs and kills Polonius by accident while in a fit of rage. Hamlet spends much of his time thinking and reflecting, yet this time he doesn't think at all and ends up accidentally murdering an innocent character who, though convinced Hamlet was mad, committed no foul towards Hamlet. Hamlet does not seem to be able to make up his mind throughout the play, and frequently goes from one extreme to another in his thinking and actions. Hamlet often times finds himself impulsive and driven by his emotions; one of the best examples of this being when he stabs Polonius through a curtain in his mother's bedroom without even the consideration of checking who it may be. Once the ghost of his father appears and tells Hamlet his secret, Hamlet says that he will “wipe away all trivial fond records,/All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past/…And thy commandment all alone shall live/Within the book and volume of my brain,/Unmix’d with baser matter” (I.v.836-842), and though he is unhappy to accept such responsibility, Hamlet also knows that he was “born to set [the circumstances of his father’s death] right” (I.v.944). Once Hamlet has committed himself to avenging his father's death, he seems to change in a way that causes other characters to become confused and to struggle to relate to him in the ways that they once did. Hamlet develops a sort of obsessive pessimism, which becomes a large part of his character as the play goes on. In a conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet swears that the world is a “foul and pestilent/congregation of vapors” (II.ii.1337) and that Denmark is a sort of tormenting prison to him. This pessimism also affects his relationship with his mother. Hamlet begins to regard her in such a sarcastic and demeaning way that she finally asks “What have I done, that thou darest/wag thy tongue/In noise so rude against me?” (III.iv.2429-2430). Many Hamlet's interactions with other...
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