to thine own self be true: The Conflict between Son and Self in Hamlet

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"to thine own self be true": The Conflict between Son and Self in Hamlet A name is a very important aspect of a person. It helps to define who that person is and what is important to that person. In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the use of the same names for fathers and sons creates a dilemma that is not easily overcome. Laertes does not have the same name as his father, but he is controlled by his father all the same. Not only does this rule apply to characters in the play, but also to the play itself. Shakespeare's Hamlet was preceded by Thomas Kyd's play Ur-Hamlet and Shakespeare had to work hard to differentiate his play from the original. Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, shares his name with his father, Hamlet, the former King of Denmark. This sharing of names blurs the identity of the Prince with the King. Since the King precedes the Prince, he is able to develop his own distinct identity. He is "a goodly king" (1.2.186), a noble, brave, and self-assured man. Thus it falls on Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, to define himself beyond the confines of his father's name. Abraham Fraunce suggests the definition of someone consists of two parts, "the generall and the difference… A man is a sensible creature endued with reason, where sensible creature is the generall, and endued with reason is the difference" (Qtd. in Calderwood 10). Hamlet is genetically related to his father as are all sons to their fathers. However, Hamlet is even more closely related due to their common name. Hamlet also inherits the act of filial obligation when the ghost returns and demands revenge for his murder. When he swears to avenge his father's death, he is promising to "relinquish his personal identity and to unite with his father not merely in name but in actional fact" (Calderwood 10). Hamlet "adopts his father's cause- to make his father's enemy his own enemy, to assume his father's motives, goals, and pains- is to adopt his father's identity" (Calderwood 10). Prior to the ghost's appearance Hamlet is beginning to define himself as an individual person instead of as the son of his father. He has been away at school forging his own path in life. When his father's ghost demands him to exact revenge on Claudius, Hamlet struggles trying to decide if he will take the role of "son" and blend with his father or to become the "self" and breakaway from his father.

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