History of literature knows many different characters from various epochs, genres and countries. Some of them are positive, some negative; some are remembered through the ages, some are easily forgotten. However, there are some characters who have become so famous that their names are known to everyone no matter in which country and in what time people live. These names have become nominal and symbolic and for many years they are easily recognized by the audience. Thus, Romeo and Juliet became the symbols of true, but tragic love; Don Quixote symbolizes too imaginative person, who is very far from the reality; Faust is seen as a determinate researcher, who cannot be stopped even by the devil. Nevertheless, probably the most outstanding character of all times is Hamlet from Shakespeares play, which bears the same name, who symbolizes the complexity and duality of character.
The character Hamlet from one of Shakespeares most honored pieces of literature, Hamlet, explored the questions Who am I and What is mankind, through the title characters efforts to seek truth and understanding after the revelation of his fathers murder. Hamlet is drawn towards difficult questions that cannot be answered with any certainly. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet acts out of pure intellect after seeing the ghost of his father and questioning if the ghost was really his father. Although Hamlet is seen as intelligent, his logic slowly begins to unravel scene by scene. The audience can tell that Hamlet is a melancholy man after the tragedy of his fathers death, his mother marrying his uncle, and the loss of his only loved one, Ophelia. He questions whether or not it was worthwhile to live. Hamlets mood is constantly changing throughout the play, and his complexity is revealed through his intelligence, melancholy, and unfeigned madness which escalates while trying to avenge his fathers death.
Hamlet is disturbed by his own nature of self-analysis. Hamlets desire may be to be a King of Denmark, but he definitely wins the role of King of overthinking. Hamlet thinks too much and feels too much, causing him to act on processed logic. This overthinking is the main cause of Hamlets inaction. By nature he is prone to think rather than to act (Snider 75). There is no denying that Hamlet displays extraordinary intelligence. He was accepted and educated at the prestigious University of Wittenberg. This intelligence allows him to manipulate those around him. He creates a plan that he will follow in order to discover the truth about his fathers death. Losing a family member is hard for most and everyone handles their loss differently. In Act I readers are introduced to King Hamlets ghost in a scene with Hamlet, Marcellus and Horatio. Hamlet tells his two friends:
How strange or odd soeer I bear myself to put an antic disposition on (Shakespeare 67).
By saying this he is telling Horatio and Marcellus not to alarmed as he is going to act insane. At this point the audience is confused and questions Hamlets true intentions. Moreover, the public may ask a question Who is actually Hamlet?. Due to complexity of his character, this question is not an easy one to answer. It is generally known that he was a Prince of Denmark, is was trying to avenge his murdered father, but no one could certainly say what kind of person he was. Hamlet is described as the most controversial and the greatest dramatic characters of all times. From the very beginning, it is clear that Hamlet is an outstanding person he is full of inner contradictions. This is how Shakespeare describes Hamlet (r Hamlet describes himself):
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief. (Shakespeare 86)
But even without this description it becomes clear that Hamlet seems to be the only person in the castle who feels true pain of loss. The following quotations only prove this
"Thou know'st tis common, all that lives must die
Passing through nature to eternity" (71)
"We pray you to throw to earth
This unprevailing woe, and think of us
As of a father" (106)
Hamlet sees that nobody among the people whom he considered family mourns his last father. His depression is only worsened by the fact that his mother got married to Claudius less than in a month after his fathers death. There is no doubt that Hamlet love his mother, but the way she behaves and the idea, that she betrayed his father infuriates Hamlet:
So excellent a king, that was to this
Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother,
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly; heaven and earth,
Must I remember?... (141-45)
This is one of the first manifestations of his dual nature and complexity of his character Hamlet still loves his mother, but he cannot respect her anymore and lets other feelings dwell in his heart contempt and hatred. These feelings contradict his sons love to his mother, but they are behind his control as the loss of his father evokes some new sides of his character. If not for the death of the King, Hamlet might have stayed an intelligent, educated, but ordinary man. This is how Ophelia characterizes Hamlet the glass of fashion and the mould of form. It means that he used to live the life of a typical rich young man, not caring much about truly serious issues. But tragedy changes him greatly and reveals the dramatic potential deeply hidden before.
There is no doubt, that Hamlet grieves in reality and does not play a role. All his image dark clothes, red eyes, coming depression signify very difficult emotional state:
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (Shakespeare 86)
While the fact that his mother got married in such a short period of time of her first husbands death shocks and depressed Hamlet, the idea of his uncle murdering his father puts the title character unknown to him before. He is blinded and does not know what to do and how to behave. He cannot decide whether he has to avenge or not. Thus, even more surprising and controversial Hamlet appears in the play afterwards. While everybody thinks that Hamlet became insane, he finds himself saner than he has ever been before. He has made up his mind and pretending to be mad in order to carry out his plan of revenge. Moreover, this is the moment when all his intelligence is woken up to and is used by the Prince for achieving his goals.
As there are no clear proves of Hamlets pretense, many scholars did not believe his insanity and have argued whether he put on a mask or his mind was infected indeed. Doctor Johnson claimed that Of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does nothing which he might not have done with the reputation of sanity (Davis). Therefore, he proves Princes mental health, while Coleridge observed his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions. Thus, scholars have not come to the common conclusion about Hamlets state of mind, but all have noticed the duality of his nature Hamlet is brave and careless of death, but he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of resolve. (Davis).
This is what a literature scholar Firking says about Hamlet Hamlet has a strong mind, but its strength is shown at the outset in the docility and thoroughness of its assent to the propositions of its teachers. His mind as yet is unenfranchised, unawakened, unoriginal, adverse to criticism living happily enough in a formal and specious court which had no trouble in hiding its sins from an eye incurious or incredulous of evil. (Firkins)
Tenney L. Davis is sure that Hamlet knows perfectly well what is going on with him, moreover he takes the position of an observer, not a participant and lets his anger and hatred act instead of common sense. The scholar suggests that He is in the position of the professional philosopher who criticizes his thoughts while he is thinking them-and confesses it when he reasons in his great soliloquy (631). O. W. Firkins agrees with the idea that Hamlets mind was ill. At the same time, he argues that The peculiarity of Hamlet's case lies in the fact that the supreme intellectual crisis, and the supreme moral and emotional crisis, of his life, being products of the same cause, have occurred at the same moment. (Firkins) Hamlet, being a thinker and philosopher, cannot cope with all the problems he had to face, therefore this great emotional stress may have led him to some kinds of mental disorder. Firkins compares Hamlet to a man who is both scientist and husband, but more scientist than husband. One day this man finds out that his wife has an unstudied form of cancer. The feelings and experience this man may have are close to the ones of Hamlet, who is also standing on crossroads, not knowing which way to go.
Therefore, despite many researches and disputes, Hamlet has not been unraveled yet. Some scholars see him as a young man who has really lost his mind, while others state that he is just pretending. However, all the thoughts and actions of Hamlet are truly controversial starting from his attitude towards his mother to the death of Ophelia and his own death. Anyway, Hamlet is one of the most complicated characters ever and only Shakespeare knew what kind of person the Prince of Denmark was supposed to be. No matter was his madness feigned or not, his intelligence cannot be underestimated. Being an intelligent and melancholic person, Hamlet could not be an ordinary personality. His complexity explains many of his actions as he had so much to do and to say to the world, though destiny put him under the conditions he was unable to reveal his true potential. Complexity of Hamlet has made him one of the most well-known and studied character in the history of literature as well as the most popular literary characters as complicated personalities are much more interesting to observe.
Davis, Tenney L. "The Sanity of Hamlet." The Journal of Philosophy 18.23 (1921): 629. Web.
Firkins, O. W. "What Happened to Hamlet? A New Phase of an Old View." Http://www.jstor.org/. Web. 17 May 2016.
Shakespeare, William, and Harold Jenkins. Hamlet. London: Methuen, 1982. Print.
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