A character’s downfall is the result of a combination of weakness and circumstance. Analyse the extent to which this statement is true with reference to Hamlet.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a character’s personal weakness and unsatisfactory circumstances result in the character’s downfall. A character’s weakness goes unnoticed until put in circumstances that emphasize their weakness. The result of the highlighted weakness by the challenging situation is the character’s downfall. This is demonstrated in Hamlet, Laertes and Claudius. Each of the characters is in circumstances where they need to overcome their weakness but when unable to, they become disgraced.
Firstly, Hamlet is a man of thought and conscience. He seeks facts before he can act. His cautious nature could also be seen as procrastination or that he is an over thinker. In his soliloquy, he realizes that he is over analysing a situation and with his analysing he forgets to act. “And enterprises of great pitch and moment/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action.”(3.1.86-88). He notes that when a moment arrives to take action and a person spends too much time with their thoughts the strength of the action loses importance. And although Hamlet does note the importance of action he does not act when a chance comes before him because he takes too much time to think about his actions. Claudius is kneeled over in a vulnerable stance in which he looks like he is praying. This was Hamlet’s chance to kill him but instead he thinks “But in our circumstance and course of thought,/ ‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then reveng’d./ To take him in the purging of his soul, / When he is fit and season’d for his passage?”(3.3.83-86) The combination of Claudius’ position and Hamlet’s extreme reflection has caused him to miss a vital chance. He also fails to act because he contemplates whether or not the ghost is a devil in disguise. Hamlet says “The spirit that I have seen/May be the devil, and the devil hath power/To assume a pleasing shape.”(2.2.600-603) and this difficult situation proves “how all occasions do inform against [him], and spur [his] dull revenge.”(4.4.32-33) The consequences of the circumstances working with his weakness of procrastination and over thinking has not favoured him. “But let it be, Horatio, I am dead;/ Thou livest; report me and my cause aright/To the unsatisfied.”(5.2.328-330) He cannot go on himself to clear his name and tell everyone what has happened because he did not act and prevent his own downfall.
Next, Laertes is the exact opposite of Hamlet, he is passionate and rash. Laertes has quite a close relationship with his father and sister. He has been away from Denmark during important events throughout the play but when he hears of his father’s death he comes storming back and unleashes a passionate speech about revenge for his father. “How came he dead? I'll not be juggled with:
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation. To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I'll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.” (4.5.128-134)
He is passionate enough to dare damnation and hold things that are widely larger them himself accountable for his father’s death. And to make the situation worse the next closest person to him is also lost. “And so have I a noble father lost; /a sister driven in desperate terms.”(4.7.25-26). His passionate quality turns his actions impulsive with the influence of Claudius. Claudius’ deceitful manipulation encourages him to take action with the influence of what will be best for Claudius. He pushes Laertes with his comments. “Hamlet comes back: what would you undertake,/ To show yourself in deed your father’s son/More than in words”(7.7.124-126) He tries to get inside Laertes to make him feel like he cannot take the situation lightly and that he must show loyalty to his father by getting revenge. The murder of his father, his sister gone mad and the influence of Claudius turns his passionate nature into rash and impulsive behaviour. In the end, he was “as a woodcock to [his] own springe, [he is] justly killed with [his] own treachery.” (5.2.296-297) He allowed the circumstances to cloud his judgement and therefore led to his downfall.
Lastly, Claudius is a man of large ambitions and very little conscience. As a result, it is no surprise that he provides circumstances for both Laertes and Hamlet to fall to their downfall. His weakness accompanies third party situations to create his own downfall as well. Even though Claudius understands that his actions was wrong when he tries to repent by praying, he still cannot make himself feel remorseful for killing his Hamlet Sr. “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below/ Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” (3.4.96-97).Hamlet discovers that his father’s death was not an accident rather a murder. The ghost informs Hamlet of what really happened. “Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole/ With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,/ And in the porches of my ears did pour/ The leperous distilment.” (1.5.61-64). Claudius feels as though Hamlet is gone mad and is coming after him. His ambition got him to become King and he isn’t ready to let anything get in the way of that. He plots to get rid of Hamlet even though he isn’t even aware it is because Hamlet knows that he murdered Hamlet Sr. He comes up with plan after plan to ensure his safety. Laertes, a pawn in his plan, finally announces the truth right before his death and blames Claudius for the plot to kill Hamlet. “The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,/ Unbated and envenom’d: the foul practice/Hath turn’d itself on me; lo, here I lie, /Never to rise again; thy mother’s poison’d/ I can no more: the king, the king’s to blame” (5.2.306-310) With this statement, Hamlet rushes over to Claudius and stabs him and poisons him to death. If Claudius had not let his ambitions get the better of him he could have made his wrongs right and avoided being killed. Laertes points out that “he is justly serv’d; it is a poison temper’d by himself.” (5.2.317-321). His downfall was a result of his failure to rise above his desire for his great ambitions that was noticed by Hamlet through the Ghost and Laertes. It is recognizable that none of the qualities that have led to a character’s downfall is terrible. However, the failure of overcoming these weaknesses due the influence of pressing situations can be fatal. In the case of Hamlet, overcoming his procrastination could have prevented Claudius from being able to put his plan into motion. Laertes’ passion was transformed by the pressure from Claudius and the intense emotions created by the loss of his family. Claudius’ ambitions and lack of conscience made him founded out by other people. These three characters demonstrate how weaknesses emphasized by poor circumstances lead to a person’s downfall.