“The central dilemma in Hamlet is the character and life’s journey of a man whose mind is in paralysis.
To what extent is this an adequate summary of Hamlet?”
Hamlet certainly is a play with complex themes and issues. As we read through the rich script we uncover many dilemmas and issues that have great bearing on the direction of the play, and the consequences of the character’s actions.
One such character is, of course, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. It is around this man that the play revolves, and his thoughts and actions are closely followed and developed as the play progresses. It has been said that the central dilemma of the play is that Hamlet’s mind is in paralysis, meaning simply that he is incapable of action, his mind incapable of derivative thought.
While this is extremely important for the play, the reason that this occurs can clearly be seen as a more important part of the play. All the other themes contribute to the task of making Hamlet appear paralysed in thought and action. He is not however a man without motive for his apparent indecision, and eventual action.
However what does appear to be the central theme in Hamlet is the revenge tragedy dilemma. This central issue is the seed that has spawned the generation of the other themes of the play. Hamlet’s father has been murdered in cold blood by the scheming and adulterous Claudius by pouring poison into King Hamlet’s ear while he slept, in order to succeed him to the throne. A ghost in the form of Hamlet’s father appears to Hamlet, revealing to him that the King of Denmark is corrupt and a murderer, and that he must revenge his death. However the ghost was very specific in saying that he must revenge his death without implicating his mother, or corrupting himself.
“Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven”
-Act I Scene 5.
The circumstances surrounding the death of his father, and his discovery of the fact through meeting with the ghost, are the reasons for his apparent paralysis of the mind. Hamlet has many issues to face here, the first being the question of ethics – revenge and honour versus moral purity. In his soliloquy in Act 2 Scene 2, he questions himself, and asks himself why he fails to act, and asks how a player can fight with such conviction a cause that is not his own, when he, with a cause so worthy of action, does nothing.
“… what would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?”
-Act II Scene 2
Throughout the play, there is a constant comparison drawn between Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras, both of whom have similar scores to settle, as their fathers have been slain also. These comparisons frequently made between the characters highlights Hamlet’s apparent inaction. When Laertes’ father is killed, he is furious, and is willing to commit the highest form of treason (killing a king) without even gaining the proof that Claudius is indeed the murderer. Fortinbras is ready to invade Denmark, in the name of family honour. The comparisons show the different attitude to the issue of revenge. Hamlet is made to seem the weaker man of the three, he himself questions his own courage his soliloquy in act two. However is can be said that Hamlet is the only one of the three who would wait for the right time to strike, rather than acting purely on impulse.
The next main reason for Hamlet’s inaction is his uncertainty of the ghost’s true motives. He does not know for certain whether it is really the ghost of his father, or a spirit of another kind.
“ … the spirit I have seen
May be a de’il, and the de’il hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape”
Act II Scene 2
As a result of being unsure of the ghost’s true motives, he is unsure of...