The great Aristotle once said, “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.” Demonstrating a link between internal thoughts and external action, characters in both William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman harness Aristotle’s philosophical ideology. In both plays, a main character becomes so overwhelmed by mental or psychological events that their actions become reflective of them. Although set in different time periods and involving entirely different circumstances, the fates of both Shakespeare’s Ophelia and Miller’s Willy Loman reach a climax in self-inflicted deaths brought on by the accumulation of traumatic internal events.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character Ophelia suffered through many traumatic experiences, often caused by her love interest, Hamlet. As Ophelia transitions from sane to insane, upon being rejected by Hamlet and told she is underserving of his love by her family, Ophelia’s fragile mental state becomes paramount in terms of determining her actions as she takes her own life. As Shakespeare developed the character Ophelia, her dependency on men, for both approval and instruction, becomes her fatal flaw. When Ophelia becomes smitten with Hamlet, her father Polonius and brother Laertes waste no time in deterring Ophelia’s devoted love for him. The challenge of being with Hamlet is hard enough alone, but the combination of forbidden and unrequited love has devastating effects on Ophelia’s mental state. Ophelia is told her social class is too low for her to be romantically involved with a prince and her father takes advantage of her and plays her like a pawn, in order to question Hamlet’s sa...
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... free and clear… we’re free.” (Miller, p.139)
Just like all humans, fictional characters have breaking points. When internal conflicts become overbearing, they usually result in external action. Whether the external action is suicide or a confrontation, the emotionally devastating impacts always leave the character feeling overwhelmed. In both Hamlet and Death of a Salesman, two characters found themselves victims of their own hands as they took their lives to find relief of their mental hardships. The frailty of the human mind is eminent in both situations, as the characters, still deluded, found relief as they decided, “to sleep, perchance to dream.” (Shakespeare, p.66)
Miller, Arthur, and Gerald Clifford Weales. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Shakespeare, William, and Harold Jenkins. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1982. Print