William Shakespeare's Hamlet

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William Shakespeare's Hamlet

There are enough conceptions, and thus misconceptions, about the melancholy Dane to fill volumes. However, while none of them has proved entirely acceptable, some of them, such as the diagnoses that Hamlet simply “procrastinates” or “cannot make up his mind” prove utterly unsatisfactory under careful scrutiny of the play and, perhaps more importantly, Hamlet himself. Indeed, it appears as if there are certain points in the play in which Hamlet comes to reversals as he eventually counters each one of his own arguments and concludes each of his struggles, until, in his return from England, he is someone quite different from the self-loathing, melancholy, emotionally torn man in the “inky cloak” (I.ii.77) to the one who proclaims “This is I,/ Hamlet the Dane” (V.i.258).

One theme throughout Hamlet is a desire for suicide, a self-loathing that prompts him, time and time again, even after he receives a vocation from his dead father to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I.v.26), to consider taking his own life and, in so doing, allow him to escape from the world, a prison, “A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’th’ worst” (II.ii.246-248). From the first time the audience sees Hamlet, before his meeting with the ghost, it is clear that he has a strained relationship with God: “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/his canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” (I.ii.131-132): later on, in the same soliloquy, calling the world “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” (I.ii.133). Hamlet’s famed melancholy is at once apparent and understandable: his father is dead under questionable circumstances, his mother, the essence of “frailty” (I.ii.146), remarried i...

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... own demise in a revenge tragedy instills regard, yes, but significantly less than watching the slow decay of the intellectual from the self-loathing pensive student of the first act to the fatalistic almost thoughtless warrior in the fifth act is not only more dramatic, but significantly more thought-provoking, and Shakespeare even hints at this fact in Act III, Scene IV: “For ‘tis the sport to have engineer/hoist with his own petard” (III.iv.213-14), suggesting that to watch the most schooled of minds drown in an incomprehensible and perplexing anguish is so utterly ironic, like the engineer blowing himself up, that it succeeds in producing, in Aristotle’s mind, the desired effects of pathos and fear, perhaps better than in any other tragedy for here it is not just the good man committing the bad deed, but the wise man succumbing to the failure of his knowledge.

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