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The Subject of Choice in Shakespeare's Hamlet

The Subject of Choice in Shakespeare's Hamlet

It is said that life is nothing more than an endless stream of choices. Every day before work or school, we must all make choices—what to eat, what to wear, whether or not to bother with that homework assignment—some of which are trivial, while others have the direst consequences. In Shakespeare’s classic play Hamlet, the inner thoughts that accompany each decision, as well as the quest for what is actually truth and what is lie, is brought to light in Act 2.2. Hamlet is caught in a great struggle over what to do with his uncle, his evil, murderous uncle. By all rights he should die...yet the easy choice—outright murder—is not always the correct or prudent one. Overall, through diction and poetic devices, Shakespeare manages to convey a feeling of bitterness, an angry yet doubtful tone that shows the turmoil of the inner mind of a complex character.

This angry tone is brought about to a great extent by the choice of diction. Hamlet’s soliloquy is full of angry words; he refers to people of the wretched lower classes—whores, drabs, and kitchen maids—as he curses his own cowardice. Strings of adjectives describing all sorts of horrible sins are attached to the king as well as his own name. The king is a treacherous, kindless, “bloody, bawdy villain!”

As Hamlet’s anger both at the king and himself radiates from the speech, so does his inner confusion. There are two choices open to him—revenge or cowardice as he sees it. Shakespeare uses words and ideas to remind the reader of this fact throughout. Hamlet refers to “heaven and hell,” showing that Hamlet knows that only one course of action is just, yet he is in doubt. In the passage, the devil is mentioned several times, both ...

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...ke every human being, Hamlet is caught up in a choice—a grave and far more serious choice than what to eat for lunch—but a choice nonetheless. Through diction and form, Shakespeare manages to bring the tortured spirit, the angry yet doubtful mind, the horribly bitter soul of a man trapped in a choice that he shouldn’t have to make, to life. He shows how we wrestle with the best and worst in every choice and the uncertainty inherent in all important decisions. It is this theme that makes Hamlet real. It is this...humanity that drives in the point. Life is full of options, some bad, some good, most a mix of both. All we can do, like Hamlet, is do the best we can in each situation and wrestle with the doubt when it comes.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Philip Edwards. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1985.

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