The Relationship of Death and Man’s Irrationality in Hamlet
William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a famous tragedy that follows the title character Hamlet’s wavering path of revenge. Early in the play, Hamlet encounters his father’s ghost, who tells Hamlet that his brother Claudius murdered him. Throughout the play, Hamlet is torn between his obligation to avenge his father and his uncertainty about this formidable task. Hamlet also experiences this indecisiveness when he contemplates suicide during several points in the play. Though he expresses disgust over Claudius’s inferiority to his father and his hasty marriage with Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, Hamlet more strongly detests his own procrastination in avenging his father. In order to conceal his insecurities, Hamlet decides to assume an “antic disposition”, which caused much confusion among other characters and led to a cascade of chaos. Hamlet’s indecisiveness, contrary to Laertes’ adamant desire for revenge, and his philosophy on suicide relate death and its uncertain nature to man’s irrationality.
The theme of death is introduced almost immediately in Hamlet when several characters detect the ghost of King Hamlet. The spotting of the ghost and the subsequent dialogue between Hamlet and the ghost set in motion the deteriorating fate of Hamlet and many other characters who meet the same tragic end as the ghost. More importantly, the cause of death of every character in Hamlet can be traced back to some previous death. For example, Polonius’s death, which is due to Hamlet’s irrational action, causes Ophelia’s madness and ensuing suicide. Ophelia’s death prompts Laertes and Claudius to scheme against Hamlet. When their scheme went awry, all major characters except Horatio died at the end of the play.
Death can inspire either revenge or fear in man, and the former is the most direct manifestation of death’s epidemic nature. The two characters driven by...