Critical Essay For Hamlet

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Dave Beaston
A Critical Analysis of Shakespeare¹s Hamlet
19 September, 1996
Hamlet. Is he an insane madman or a revengeful, scheming, genius? There are many conflicting ideas and theories on this subject, and hopefully this paper may be of some assistance in clearing up the confusion. The paper is divided into three separate analytic sections beginning with the beginning of Hamlet¹s so called madness, and why it may have occurred. Next, is an analysis of why Hamlet delays revenging his father¹s death. To conclude the paper, Hamlet¹s incestuous acts towards his mother are discussed, in William Shakespeare¹s Hamlet.
In the first act Hamlet seems to be in a perfectly sane state of mind throughout all five scenes. It is in the second scene where the audience begins to see a change in his character. Ophelia meets with Polonius and recalls the meeting she had previously with Hamlet. She tells her father that Hamlet came to her disheveled and in a shaken state of mind, speaking of ³horrors.² (Act 2 Scene 2 line 94). Her father immediately believes that he is ³Mad for thy love?² (Act 2 Scene 2 line 95). Opelia answers a question posed by Polonius by which she replied that she had told Hamlet that she could not see or communicate with him any more. Her father makes reference to Hamlet¹s madness once again by proclaiming that what his daughter said, ³... hath made him (Hamlet) mad.² (Act 2 Scene 2 line 123).
The argument of whether Hamlet is insane because of his love for Ophelia is often debated, but a more confusing and complex situation is the struggle within Hamlet¹s mind. His personal struggle is revealed to the audience in scene one of the third act. In this scene Hamlet recites his famous ³To be or not to be-that is the question:² (Act 3 Scene 1 line 64) speech. Here the the audience truly realizes that Hamlet is torn two ways in his life. To be or not to be, essentially is Hamlet debating on whether he should toil the pains of living in such a harsh world and fight to avenge his father¹s murder or take his own life. Hamlet is confused as to whether he should avenge his father¹s death when he himself, as Sigmund Freud¹s ³Oedipus Rex Complex² suggests, wished to murder his father to gain all of his mother¹s attention. But, in the back of Hamlet¹s mind, which keeps him in constant turmoil, is his loyalty to his family and moreover his father.
Hamlet, in act four scene two, meets with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and he seems to be breaking down into insanity. Hamlet had just killed Polonius, and his two friends were questioning him as to where he placed the body of the dead man. The strange thing about this scene is that Hamlet seems to play with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and does not give them a straight answer. Hamlet has practically transformed into a different person and doesn¹t seem to be completely sane.
Next is another situation that cannot be totally explained. The situation being Hamlet¹s delays in avenging his father¹s death. The first that Hamlet learns of his father¹s death is in act one scene five, where he follows the ghost. Hamlet is told, by the ghost, that he (the ghost) is the soul of Hamlet¹s father, and that he was murdered by Claudius. This all took place at the beginning of the play and Hamlet waited until the end of the play to get revenge for his father¹s murder. Then again there are different perspectives as to whether Hamlet waited until the end to actually gain revenge. For within the play there are many insinuations that Hamlet tortured Claudius all the way up until he killed the king. Two instances are particularly evident. First, the play within a play confirms that Claudius was the murderer of Hamlet¹s father. Hamlet stages the Murder of Gonzago in which the actor who is playing the part of the king is murdered in the same manner that Claudius killed Hamlet¹s father. At the moment that the actor playing the part of the king is killed Claudius leaps from his seat and rushes out of the theater infuriated. This violent action by the king overjoys Hamlet for now he knows that it was Claudius who murdered his father. More than the fact that he knows that Claudius is the murderer, Hamlet is slowly and painfully gaining his revenge of his fathers death.
The other instance where Hamlet could have killed Claudius was in act three scene three. In this particular scene Hamlet comes upon Claudius while he is knelt in prayer. Hamlet draws his sword and intends to kill Claudius there in prayer but then decides to wait. Hamlet comes to the conclusion that he should wait until Claudius is commuting a sin so he will go to hell, as opposed to killing him in prayer where he would then go to heaven. This is another example as to why Hamlet procrastinates revenging his father¹s death. The obvious reason Hamlet waits is to bring more than just the pain of his sword to Claudius and torture him until the end.
Finally, Hamlet¹s sexual attraction towards his mother is to be discussed. In act three scene four, Hamlet enters his mothers bedroom at her wish and first kills Polonius, then proceeds to make love to his mother. This action is called the ³Oedipus Rex Complex², which was invented by Sigmund Freud on the basis of Oedipus the epic poem by Sophocles. This theory states that all young men wish to destroy their fathers so that their mother¹s attention will be guided on them solely. Also the fact that Hamlet thought that Polonius was Claudius adds to the evidence that Hamlet had the ³Oedipus Complex². Hamlet was obsessed with his mother but before the situation in the bedroom escalated his father, the ghost, appeared and reminded him of the plight which he was supposed to be accomplishing.
Hamlet¹s madness at times is justified and at other times is pure insanity. At first Hamlet seems to be going mad over the fact that he is not allowed to see Ophelia. Then it seems that the fact that he is overwhelmed with his father¹s death, and begins to fight with himself over the thought of suicide. He is then determined to gain revenge for his father and goes about torturing Claudius in a systematic and genius manner. Finally, Hamlet is caught up in his love for his mother which brings him back to the point of insanity. In conclusion Hamlet is torn between two worlds, that of the sane and well and that of the crazed and insane.


 

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Hamlet Resources

Please see the main Hamlet page for the complete play with explanatory notes and study questions for each scene.

 Introduction to Hamlet
 Hamlet: Problem Play and Revenge Tragedy
 The Hamlet and Ophelia Subplot
 The Norway Subplot in Hamlet
 Introduction to the Characters in Hamlet

 Hamlet Plot Summary
 The Purpose of The Murder of Gonzago
 The Dumb-Show: Why Hamlet Reveals his Knowledge to Claudius
 The Elder Hamlet: The Kingship of Hamlet's Father
 Hamlet's Relationship with the Ghost

 Philological Examination Questions on Hamlet
 Quotations from Hamlet (with commentary)
 Hamlet Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Analysis of I am sick at heart (1.1)
 Hamlet: Q & A

 Soliloquy Analysis: O this too too... (1.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!... (2.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be, or not to be... (3.1)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Tis now the very witching time of night... (3.2)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Now might I do it pat... (3.3)
 Soliloquy Analysis: How all occasions do inform against me... (4.4)

 Ophelia's Burial and Christian Rituals
 The Baker's Daughter: Ophelia's Nursery Rhymes
 Hamlet as National Hero
 Claudius and the Condition of Denmark

 In Secret Conference: The Meeting Between Claudius and Laertes
 O Jephthah - Toying with Polonius
 The Death of Polonius and its Impact on Hamlet's Character
 Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 Hamlet Essay Topics
 Hamlet's Silence
 An Excuse for Doing Nothing: Hamlet's Delay
 Foul Deeds Will Rise: Hamlet and Divine Justice
 Defending Claudius - The Charges Against the King
 Shakespeare's Fools: The Grave-Diggers in Hamlet

 Hamlet's Humor: The Wit of Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark
 All About Yorick
 Hamlet's Melancholy: The Transformation of the Prince
 Hamlet's Antic Disposition: Is Hamlet's Madness Real?

 The Significance of the Ghost in Armor
 The Significance of Ophelia's Flowers
 Ophelia and Laertes
 Mistrusted Love: Ophelia and Polonius

 Divine Providence in Hamlet
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Shakespeare's Sources for Hamlet

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers

In the Spotlight


Quote in Context

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
                                                           Hamlet (2.2), Hamlet

In addition to revealing Hamlet's plot to catch the king in his guilt, Hamlet's second soliloquy uncovers the very essence of Hamlet's true conflict. For he is undeniably committed to seeking revenge for his father, yet he cannot act on behalf of his father due to his revulsion toward extracting that cold and calculating revenge. Read on...

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Hamlet History

King Claudius. Our son shall win.
Queen Gertrude. He's fat, and scant of breath.
                                                     Hamlet (5.2)

Gertrude's startling description of her son is not quite what we modern readers have in mind when envisioning the brooding young Prince Hamlet. But how can we explain the Queen's frank words? There is evidence to believe that Shakespeare had to work around the rotund stature of his good friend Richard Burbage, the first actor to play Hamlet. "As he was a portly man of large physique, it was natural that the strenuous exertion bring out the fact that he was fat or out of training, as well as scant of breath....He was the first and the last fat Hamlet" (Blackmore, Riddles of Hamlet). An elegy written upon Burbage's death in 1619 convincingly ties "King Dick", as he was affectionately called by his fellow actors, to the line in question:
No more young Hamlet, though but scant of breath, Shall cry Revenge! for his dear father's death.
                                            (A Funeral Elegy)
It is natural to wonder why the death of Burbage was a national tragedy, while the passing of Shakespeare himself just three years earlier received such little attention. There seems, however, to be a simple answer. Read on...
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