Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Difference of Hamlet

For some reason, Hamlet stands out to me more than any other of Shakespeare's plays.  Rather than a story of deception or misunderstanding, it is a story of revenge and soul-searching. In many of Shakespeare's plays, the characters are impulsive - Romeo drinks poison the second he sees Juliet has "passed away."  Othello believes what he hears about his wife's infidelity, and kills Desdemona without stepping back from his anger long enough to think about his actions.  Richard kills everyone in his path without dreaming of the consequences.  But Hamlet is different.  He thinks about everything.  He calculates, he ponders, and he tries to figure out what is right. (not to say that he doesn't have his moments where he strays from this path, however)  This difference is one of the reasons why Hamlet as a play stands out to me so much.  It's ironic, too, since he is deemed mad by almost everyone, though in Shakespeare, the ones speaking nonsense usually have some hidden meaning behind their words.

In Act I, scene ii, Hamlet is troubled by the very fact that he cannot be impulsive:
"O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!"
(1.2, 129-158)
He cannot commit suicide and take himself away from the pain he is in in a world that is "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable" because doing so is an act against his religion.  He has to continue on and bear the situation he is in - that his mother married his father's alleged killer not too long after his father died: "...a beast that wants discourse of reason, would have mourn’d longer...She married:— O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!" (1.2, 149-156) He is the first tragic character we've encountered that I actually like.

7 comments:

Vanessa Pavelock said...

I really enjoyed how you explored Hamlet as a likable character. In the other plays we've read I also found it hard to feel bad for certain characters due to their impulsive, silly actions. For example, Othello is a character who allows his jealousy to get the best of him. He does not try to be understanding of Desdemona's side. Instead, he believes rumors without proper investigation of their validity. While Hamlet similarly lets his desire of revenge get to him, he does not jump the gun as Othello does. He is far too morally complex to do so. Hamlet is also a character who has a rational reason to act against the villain of the play. We support Hamlet because we think Claudius deserves to be brought down.

Samantha Grove said...

As I read your post I was really interested in the comparison you made between the main characters in Shakespeare's other plays and Hamlet. While I was reading the first Act it caught me off guard that Hamlet was so moral and questioning of himself. I really wonder whether he will remain this way. I mean, at first Othello seemed like a confident and trusting husband but he turned into a "green eyed monster" towards the end of the play... I know there's a twist... now what is it?

Christine Richin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Richin said...


As we mentioned in our class discussion, there is a very clear representation of corruption in the Denmark court. It is also interesting to note that Hamlet is probably the only character who lives by a structured set of morals. It seems as if those who are actually in charge (Claudius, Gertrude, etc.) are the absent-minded ones. Neither of these two royal figures seems to have any real sense of how selfish their actions are. Gertrude did not lend a thought to the potential turmoil her son could feel (and did feel) by marrying his uncle in light of her desire to maintain a highly-ranked status. Claudius justified his right to fatherhood and kingdom by attempting to weaken Hamlet with his idea of wisdom. In advising Hamlet in front of the rest of the court, he builds himself publicly into the position he claims to be his. Claudius’ words are shallow at best when the truth behind his rise to the throne is revealed to Hamlet at the end of Act I. Upon learning that Claudius is the murderer of King Hamlet as well as getting to know the extent of Gertrude’s fluidity in the tragic situation we see how single-minded the leaders of Denmark really are. They are so attracted to holding the power of being able to enforce laws against this sort of behavior that they either do not recognize the evils they have committed themselves, or they simply feel exempt from it.
I feel like although Hamlet’s character is different from the run-of-the-mill impulse-driven heroes in Shakespearean plays he does not escape the image embodied by all of them. They are all characters that have been affected by some corrupt aspect dictated by the court. In Hamlet’s particular case however, his persistent sensitivity towards his father’s death seems to allow him recognition of the corruption that has transpired since. It is possible that the examples (representative of haste, jealousy, and impatience) set by Claudius and Gertrude are the reasons that keep Hamlet’s impulses under restraint. Even before his encounter with the ghost Hamlet is disturbed by the swift replacement of his father by both his uncle and his mother. When he addresses the events that have taken place in his first soliloquy, he ends with the insight: “It is not nor it cannot come to good.” His feeling of despair is not solely attributed to the loss of his father but what is to become of what he left behind in careless hands. Hamlet’s fear of the complete destruction of his father’s throne is only heightened by his interaction with his ghost and in turn seems to prevent Hamlet from adopting this sense of carelessness. Unlike his “parental figures” Hamlet refrains from jumping the gun before analyzing the situation.

ssomer said...

You do a good job of exploring Hamlet's unique character. After reading your post, I realized that you are right. I can't think of any other character that doesn't act completely on impulse. This definitely makes Hamlet more relatable and likeable. Then again, we are only in the first act so it is possible that he will stray from these characteristics.

Clifford Venho said...

Dear Kaitlyn,

You do a nice job of placing Hamlet as a character in the context of other major characters we’ve encountered so far. He is indeed one of Shakespeare’s most dynamic, and it’s for good reason that he’s one of the most celebrated characters in all English and world literature. As you point out, it’s his dilemma that strikes a chord with us, the predicament of the self-aware individual, which seems to be a key to this turning point in the development of European culture in the early modern period. Hamlet no longer feels himself united with his blood relations, no longer locates his identity in a family lineage. His father is dead (his ghost even haunts him) and his uncle is no friend. He becomes aware of himself as an individual, trapped in this too too solid flesh and his impulse is to melt again, to melt into a dew, to dissolve this painful self-awareness and the moral responsibility that comes with it. In that way he grapples with moral and existential questions and stands out as one of the first true individuals in English drama.

Stacy Carter said...

I have been exploring characters in my blog posts for this class, and my last two blogs were about the deceptive characters, Iago and Richard. Without a character who stands out as clever and manipulative in this story, it was nice to explore the likable character Hamlet, the way you did here. I enjoyed the deceptive characters, but I am also enjoying the chance to finally read a play that has me rooting for the protagonist throughout it. I want him to succeed, and his likability sets him apart for me.