An Analysis of Major Characters

Hamlet—Hamlet is a revealer, a mirror. He reflects what those around him are. He begins the play wrapped in a cloak, reflecting both the environment of Elsinore enshrouded by fog and the royal seat, which hides a treacherous secret. Hamlet seems to sense this, which is why his mood is introverted and downcast, and which is why he cloaks himself from the others (and at the same time readily and wittily exposes his thoughts). With the arrival of the players, he is upbeat and excited. The players make a profession out of reflecting reality in dramatic form, and with them Hamlet is in good company: These are men whose custom is to draw on truth, and if their performances do not have in them the ring of truth, they fail. This explains why Hamlet goes to such lengths, prior to their performance for the king, to impress on their minds the importance of acting truly and naturally. With the foolish spies Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet reflects their own ridiculousness and unreasoning; he becomes the joker, the sardonic “madman.” With Ophelia, he reflects love—until she, out of obedience to her father, rejects his advances: Then he reflects her illogical attitude (borrowed from Polonius) and announces that there will be no more marriages. With Laertes, Hamlet reflects youthful bravado and masculinity; he asserts that no one dare grieve more for the dead Ophelia than he. With Horatio, his friend, Hamlet reflects his best self, a man who will not allow Horatio to take his own life and follow him into death, but who will insist that Horatio dissolve his vow of secrecy and tell Hamlet’s story.

Thus, Hamlet’s will to the end is to reflect reality and move toward truth. This is his ultimate and most noble goal in life. The tragedy is that he fails to reflect the reality of transcendence all the way through the drama, losing sight of it in the course of overwhelming doubt. That he is pulled in two opposing directions is plain enough: He partly represents the old medieval world of absolute truth, yet he also...

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Essays About Hamlet