Character Deterioration in Literature: Hamlet and August: Osage County
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Henry Ward Beecher once stated Selfishness at the expense of others' happiness is demonism. This theory addresses that a part of the human condition is becoming
corrupted by self-absorption. Authors such as William Shakespeare and Tracy Letts chose to explore this theory through literary characters that exploit others in order to benefit themselves, because of self-absorption. The characters in Hamlet and August: Osage County contribute to their own mental, physical, and social deterioration.
One of the most prevalent instigators of a psychological break is a character’s desire for relief of emotional pain. In Hamlet, Ophelia experiences the great loss of her beloved father. After speaking with Ophelia, Claudius concludes, O, this is the poison of deep grief. It springs All from her father’s death. 4.5.80-81 Later on, she becomes
submerged in a brook and, she chanted snatches of old lauds, As one incapable of her own distress (IV.vii.202-203) Ophelia is so overwhelmed with the sadness generated by her father’s death, that she becomes mad. This insanity is an inner creation built in order to live in a world revolving around her. Ophelia then enables herself to decide to commit suicide without considering the consequences. In contrast with the conditions under which Ophelia takes her own life, Beverly in August: Osage County, experiences different circumstances, yet comes to the same dismal conclusion. Beverly makes mistakes, both consequential and inconsequential throughout his life. He expresses that he has a significant affinity with Berryman’s quote The world is gradually becoming a place where I do not care to be anymore Prologue 11. Beverly had once participated in incestuous acts and he, “tore himself up over it, for t...
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...te to continue the relationship. In essence, love can cause an individual to abandon previously held social values.
The characters in Hamlet and August: Osage County reveal that self-absorption contributes to one’s mental, physical, and social deterioration. Instigators of self-deterioration can be the desire for emotional relief, yearning for possessions, the need for revenge, the pursuit of power, or the desire to be loved. Selfishness is like a disease; it does not differ within individuals and it leads to their own demise. Similar conclusions to self-absorbed acts occur in two extremely different plays.
1. August: Osage County. Letts, Tracy. Theatre Communications Group, New York: 2008.
2. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Washington Square Press, 1992.