The Hamlet Paradigm

Powerful Essays
The Hamlet Paradigm

Central Question of the Play

How does an individual react when he develops an obsession with destroying the powerful force ruling his country, yet risks experiencing psychological estrangement, occurring at multiple levels within himself, if he attempts to destroy that force? This is the central question that Shakespeare explores in his play Hamlet, which is a character study of an individual harboring just such an obsession, entailing just such a risk.


That Hamlet is obsessed with destroying the powerful force ruling his country (Claudius) is plainly evident in the play. But while this obsession initiates Hamlet’s behavior, it is his additional realization, that he risks psychological estrangement occurring on multiple levels as a result of trying to carry out his obsession, that shapes his behavior into the form that the audience sees, one that seems bizarre and incomprehensible.

The Nature of Hamlet’s Obsession

The reasons for Hamlet’s obsession with exacting revenge against Claudius are fairly straightforward. The ghost of Hamlet Sr. informed Hamlet that Claudius killed Hamlet Sr. and thus usurped him from his throne. In doing so, he emasculated Hamlet by robbing him of his central role model of masculinity, namely his father. He also committed the moral and political sin of regicide, and the familial sin of killing his brother and subsequently sleeping with his wife. Claudius also deprived Hamlet of his rightful kingship, since Hamlet was second in line after Hamlet Sr. In addition, Hamlet now knows that his love of his mother is corrupted since she is affectionate towards his emasculating enemy.

The Nature of Hamlet’s Risk of Psychological Estrangement

In attempting to kill Claudius, Hamlet risks enduring estrangement occurring within his self at multiple psychological levels. There are primarily five such levels of estrangement:

1. Religious estrangement: Hamlet feels self-actualized from following basic religious principles of living. This is shown by his lamentation that the everlasting had fixed his cannon against self-slaughter, thus preventing Hamlet from committing suicide at a time when he felt like doing so. If Hamlet were to kill Claudius, he would be violating a central religious principle against murdering another human being. This would make him feel guilt at having violat...

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...esire to extract revenge against Claudius, is also actively looking for ways to relieve himself of the psychological pain that harboring his obsession causes him, even if seeking psychological refuge in such ways might mean giving up on the endeavor altogether.

11) That Hamlet’s awareness, of the high risk of personal estrangement that he faces from his endeavor to extract revenge, is for him a source of great stress.

12) That the ignorance of his people of Claudius’ crime and their discomfort at knowing it may cause them to commit the morally double-standard act of rejecting Hamlet and supporting Claudius.

13) That despite his fear of rejection by his countrymen, Hamlet still has the capacity to take out on them the anger he feels against them for potentially or actually committing this double-standard act.

Virtually every scene or element in the play relates to these themes. In other words, the purpose of Hamlet is simply to delineate and comment upon an individual’s psychological response to feeling the rare type of obsession that Hamlet feels in the play.. The above themes are phenomena associated with that response, or with Shakespeare’s model of that response.
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