Hamlet, the Melancholy One

3207 Words13 Pages
Hamlet, the Melancholy One Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet features the most famous protagonist in English literature – Hamlet. Inseparable from his character is the melancholy which permanently afflicted him. This essay concerns itself with this aspect of Hamlet. Harry Levin explains the choices open to the melancholy hero in the General Introduction to The Riverside Shakespeare: The explanation of Hamlet, “What a piece of work is a man!” (II.ii.303), carries an ironic reverberation. His melancholy gaze looks up and down: skyward toward “this brave o’erhanging firmament” and earthward toward the grave. Those two portraits which he shows to the Queen illustrate man’s potentialities for good and for evil. The scale ascends or descends with the spiritual and carnal aspects of his dual nature; he can aspire to be a godlike Hyperion or else can grovel like a brutal satyr. Hamlet’s existential dilemma echoes the self-interrogations of Montaigne, not merely through the language of John Florio’s translation but in its ambiguous balance between scepticism and faith.(8) Hamlet’s melancholy did not prevent his choosing the more noble of the options available. But let’s begin at the start: It is obvious that from the very outset of this tragedy there is a melancholic protagonist. And the depressing aspect of the initial imagery of the drama tend to underline and reinforce Hamlet’s melancholy. Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes some of this imagery of the opening scene: The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore. For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes t... ... middle of paper ... ...Greenhaven Press, 1996. Excerpted from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981. Rosenberg, Marvin. “Laertes: An Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1992. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995. http://www.chemicool.com/Shakespeare/hamlet/full.html West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957. Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Shakespeare.” Literature of the Western World. Ed. Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.
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