Hamlet Research Paper
In the film, Star Wars, Luke Skywalker attempts to avenge his father?s spiritual death to the dark side. Luke denies his father?s existence and comes close to turning to the dark side. Ultimately, Luke rejects the lure of the dark side, and avenges his father when he kills the Emperor. The Emperor is the leader of the dark side who killed his father. Luke then goes on to lead the good forces in the universe. Likewise, in William Shakespeare?s Hamlet, Claudius murders King Hamlet, and Prince Hamlet, while acting kingly, struggles to act to avenge the murder. Hamlet proves to be a kingly man whose circumstances sometimes prohibit him from revenge. Thus, Hamlet is a natural leader.
Hamlet seems slow in his attempts to avenge his father. He displays, however, an unwavering predisposition to act.
Hamlet speaks plainly to Horatio in Court explaining that ?The funeral baked meats did furnish the marriage tables? (1.2.180) of Claudius and Gertrude. Hamlet could confront Gertrude or Claudius about their strange and hasty marriage, instead it seems that all he does is allow the marriage to happen, fails to act, and complains to Horatio. Hamlet discovers Claudius is the murderer, sees him praying alone and thinks that ?Now might [he] [kill Claudius]” (3.3.73). Hamlet seemingly could kill Claudius and fulfill his duty to avenge his father, but fails to kill him. Additionally, Fortinbras?s army later inspires Hamlet while they are marching off to battle, which prompts him to questions ?How stand I then/… and let all sleep? (4.4.56-59) when he has so much to fight for. Hamlet apparently realizes his total inability to avenge his father, and recognizes his own failure to act. Despite seeming inaction, Hamlet proves to be extremely diligent in avenging his father.
Hamlet explains to Bernardo, Marcellus and Horatio that he ?shall…put an antic disposition on? (1.4.71) after he sees the ghost; in order to learn more about the murder of his father. Hamlet?s scheme to act insane hides his true motives from anyone suspicious of him, which improves his chance of revenge. After the King sends him to England, Hamlet writes to Horatio that pirates attack his ship, (an attack which he planned), so ?[he] boarded them? (4.5.15). Hamlet could have easily sat back and awaited death in England, but he realizes that if he returns to Denmark than he still can exact revenge upon Claudius. Then, Hamlet ensures the King?s death in the melee after the duel, when he pours poison in Claudius?s mouth commanding ?Drink of this potion? (5.2.305). Hamlet achieves his goal and shows ?unscrupulous resolution,” (Swinburne, 90) he has the opportunity to avenge his father, and does so without hesitation.
Unequivocally, Hamlet is a man of action. Some may think, however, that Hamlet?s circumstances force him to act. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern leave Hamlet alone in the palace, he thinks about the ghost he has seen, and recognizes ?The spirit/may be a devil? (2.2.555-556), so he stages a play to catch the king. Hamlet understands that the ghost could have lied to him, so it seems that he stages the play only because he has seen the ghost and been confronted with the possible murder of his father. Later, during Hamlet?s play, a villain puts poison in a man?s ear, identical to the murder of King Hamlet, and seeing this ?[Claudius] rises? (3.2.242) in horror. Hamlet now knows Claudius is the perpetrator, which forces him to kill Claudius. Hamlet explains to Horatio at court that he discovered on his way to England that there were orders so that ?[Hamlet?s] head should be struck off? (5.2.25) once he reached port. It seems that this explains why Hamlet leaves the ship. He had to leave or he would have been killed. Though circumstance may seem to force Hamlet to act, his circumstances actually prohibit him from killing Claudius.
Although Hamlet?s circumstances prohibit him from avenge, and despite Hamlet?s decisive character, some may argue that he may lack the traits of a king. Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inquire why Hamlet is unhappy, and Hamlet answers that, ?Denmark?s a prison? (2.2.236). Therefore, he is unhappy. Clearly, it seems that anyone who would view their own kingdom as a prison would not be a good king or leader of the people, whom he believes, imprison him. Hamlet then is in Court where Polonius and Claudius eavesdrop on him, and hear as Hamlet questions his existence, wondering ?To be, or not to be? (3.1.156). A king must be a strong leader seemingly unlike Hamlet–a man ?without strength of nerves? (Bradley, 63), or he will wilt in the turmoil that confronts his nation. Hamlet later is at Ophelia?s grave with Horatio and notes ?the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier? (5.1.119-120), after the gravedigger is insolent towards Hamlet. It may appear that Hamlet has an arrogant disregard for the poor. A king must represent all of his subjects, not merely the rich and the aristocrats. Hamlet?s actions may portray him as a potentially bad king. He, however, actually would prove to do well given the throne.
Hamlet?s kingly character is evident in his proper, calculated, intelligent and fair actions to avenge his father.
Furthermore, after Hamlet decides to act mad, he seeks out Ophelia with ?his stockings fouled/…as…/loosed out of hell? (2.2.77-82), which Ophelia describes to the King, Queen and her father. Hamlet goes into incredible detail to carry out each stage of his elaborate plans so that he can avenge his father. Later in ?The Mouse-Trap? an actor ?pours poison in the sleeper?s ears? (stage direction before 3.2.120), simulating King Hamlet?s murder as the court watches on. In yet another stage of the revenge plan, Hamlet perfectly executes the litmus test proving Claudius?s guilt or innocence. Soon after, Hamlet is alone with his mother, when a figure begins to come out from behind an arras, so Hamlet promptly ?kills [the man]? (stage direction before 3.4.24) whom happens to be Polonius. Hamlet?s action here is an ideal example of how Hamlet ?answers instantaneously when good and evil are presented to (him)? (Bradley, 7, 15); Hamlet thinks that he sees the evil Claudius and kills him with no hesitation.
Hamlet shows the character of a resolute man. When Hamlet first sees the ghost he commands Horatio and Marcellus to ?Hold of [their] hands? (1.5.80) as he tries to follow the apparition. Hamlet?s use of physical force to discover more about his father?s death illustrates his determination and decisiveness. Then, Guildenstein speaks to the king after he has spoken to Hamlet, and describes Hamlet?s current state as ?crafty madness? (3.1.8). Clearly Hamlet?s plan is effective, the suspicious courtiers realize that Hamlet involves himself in something, but they cannot decipher what it is, allowing Hamlet to pursue his revenge freely. Finally, Hamlet discovers that the king has poisoned him and his mother, and so he takes the poisoned food and ?wounds the king? (Stage direction before 5.2.301). Hamlet sees his chance to kill Claudius and does so swiftly.
Hamlet?s circumstances stifle his otherwise resolute character.
Hamlet agrees to remain in Denmark to appease his mother, and then contemplates man?s nature, and wishing that God had not made laws ??gainst self slaughter? (2.2.132). King Hamlet?s death causes Hamlet to naturally sink in and out of depression, by no fault of his own, which sometimes delays his action. After Hamlet sees Claudius praying alone he decides not to kill him, rather he will wait for when Claudius is ?drunk, asleep, or in his rage? (3.3.89). Hamlet knows that if he kills Claudius now, he will not have avenged his father properly, Claudius will not face the purgatory King Hamlet faces. Critic Stanley Copperman explains in ?Shakespeare?s Anti-Hero: Hamlet and the Underground Man? that Hamlet has few options to exact revenge. For example, ?a public charge would be dangerous? (53). Hamlet has the will to act, but the critic wisely points out that Hamlet?s circumstances force him to exact revenge in a secretive, roundabout way, so we should not mistake this for inaction.
Hamlet?s action is avenging his father prohibited solely by his circumstances suggests that he would be an excellent king.
In addition, after Laertes wounds Hamlet, in his dying breath he tells Horatio that Fortinbras has ?[his] dying voice? (5.2.335); endorsement for the throne. Hamlet, even in death, thinks of something higher than himself, the true mark of a king. Fortinbras then arrives at court, sees Hamlet dead and remarks that Hamlet would ?have proved most royal? (5.2.348) had he survived. Even the enemy invader of Hamlet?s nation views him as a kingly man. Clearly, Hamlet has the reputation of a great man. Critic Elmer Stoll observes in he essay ?Hamlet?s Fault,” that Hamlet receives ?praise from his friends, fear and hatred from his enemies? (183). Hamlet clearly acts as a king should. He evokes respect either from love or hate.
Decisive and resolute actions characterize the kingly Hamlet. His circumstances are the only thing that prohibits him from action. Hamlet proves that he is natural leader, a man who is determined, knows his limits, the has the stature, and traits of a king.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Hamlet: An Authoritative Text, Intellectual Backgrounds, Extracts from the Sources, Essays in Criticism. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. 2nd Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992. 1-106.
Cooperman, Stanley. ?Shakespeare?s Anti-Hero: Hamlet and the Underground Man.? 37-63. Shakespeare Studies. Ed. J. Leeds Barroll Vol. 1, 1965.
Bradley, A.C. ?Shakespeare?s Tragic Period– Hamlet.? 13-21. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet. Ed. David Bevington. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1968.
Bradley, A.C. ?Hamlet.? 89-128. Major Literary Characters: Hamlet Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Major Literary Characters: Hamlet. (1880): 166-169. Ext. A Study of Shakespeare. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.
Stoll, Elmer Edgar. ?Hamlet?s Fault.? Ed. Cyrus Hoy. 181-184. Rpt. Hamlet: An Authoritative Text, Intellectual backgrounds, Extracts from the Sources, Essays in Criticism. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.