Archive for the Hamlet Category

Who’s There?

Posted in Hamlet with tags , , on March 21, 2009 by Saera

Hamlet  opens with the simple question, “Who’s there?” But, simple as the question may be, it echoes repeatedly through the play. Who is Hamlet really, who is Ophelia, who is Claudius, Polonius, and Gertrude? Beneath their words and their smiling or frowning exteriors, their external portrayals of themselves, who are they?

But the character for whom the answer to this question is most indefinite, is the Ghost. WHO IS IT? Its true identity is arguably central to understanding the identities of the other characters. If it is really the spirit of Hamlet’s father, Hamlet is better justified as a hero, and his revenge scheme is somewhat ratified. But if the Ghost is a demon, or even an incarnation of the devil, then Hamlet is not at all justified as attempting revenge, and he is in fact acting against himself and his father. The identity of the Ghost could also directly affect the identity of Gertrude, because for whatever reason, she is unable to see it.If it were an evil spirit, then perhaps her goodness would prevent her from seeing it. But if it were the true spirit of her dead husband, then maybe she could not see it because she was defiled and sinful. Or, maybe the Ghost simply chooses to not reveal itself to her at all, giving her no influence at all over whether or not she may see it.

However, the Ghost does reveal important information about itself, which does give us a clue as to its identity. First, it tells Hamlet that it is “doomed for a certain term to walk the night,/ And for the day confined to fast in fires.” This is not a likely portrayal of a heavenly being. Especially when the punishment defined by the Ghost seems much like the Catholic idea of Purgatory, and at the time Hamletwas written and performed, England was militantly Protestant. Catholics were seen as evil and dangerous, and subsequently, were  executed (Remember what Mary, Queen of Scots was?). So to identify the Ghost as Catholic, would be taking a step towards making it an unsympathetic character in the minds of the original audiences.

But not only is this perhaps a Catholic Ghost, it says that it (while claiming to be the spirit of Hamlet’s father) has a multitude of sins to be punished for, because it was “Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin.” So, if it really is the Ghost of the dead king, it is proving Hamlet’s glorifed perception of his father as being unfounded – that is, the king really was not as good as Hamlet imagined. But, if this is not the king’s Ghost, then it could be merely feeding Hamlet lies calculated to show Hamlet that his father was not perfect and sinned, therefore Hamlet himself could sin. If Hamlet’s role model has fallen, why should Hamlet not fall also?

One thing that becomes very evident about the Ghost is its encouragement of vice in Hamlet. If it was the Ghost of the king, which was having to pay penance for its sins, why would it encourage Hamlet to develop vices which would simply guarantee Hamlet a sure entrance into the same purgatory it was currently in? All that the Ghost encourages Hamlet to do, is selfish. Would a father really ask that of his son? He is constantly using the word “revenge” rather than “justice” and speaks of anger, malice, envy, distain. These are all quite the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.

There is also Hamlet’s repeated use of the word “hell” or its imagery or connotations both before and after his dialogue with the Ghost.  Hamlet’s own question to the Ghost, ” Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell?” seems to be answered as being blasts from hell.  Yet, in spite of this all, Hamlet does initially believe that it is truly his father’s Ghost. It is not until later that he doubts it and suspects that it could possibly be the devil incarnate.

So who is this Ghost? Perhaps it truly is the Dane, but it seems much more likely that it is not. Just look at what it did to poor Hamlet!


What Is Hamlet’s Tragic Flaw?

Posted in Hamlet with tags , , , on March 19, 2009 by Saera

What is Hamlet’s tragic flaw, or does he have one? I do not fully sympathize with Hamlet, in that I see him with few or no flaws but merely trapped by his circumstances. Nor do I view Hamlet as the play’s villain. Rather, I see him as a semi-sympathetic character for his human-like flaws of character, but, as such, he also possesses some serious flaws and is not altogether a sympathetic character for me.

These flaws are understandable, but not at all sympathetic. To me, Hamlet is a very dislikeable person. Many of his faults seem to spring from his single greatest imperfection which I perceive to be self-centeredness. Because of this self-centeredness, several qualities of Hamlet which would otherwise be commendable become corrupted.

Hamlet’s eagerness and ready ability to try his hand at any role offered him is essentially a good quality, but Hamlet’s selfishness creates a less-than desirable attitude. Hamlet does not assume roles because he wants to help people, or because he simply wants to do well for the inherent value of excellence, he wants to try roles and succeed in them for his own glory. This also has an influence on his perfectionism.

The desire for excelling at something is not in and of itself wrong, but when that desire to excel replaces one’s desire to achieve, it becomes harmful. It also often leads to selfishness because often personal glory or recognition becomes the consuming goal of the person. Hamlet seems to exhibit this by showing little concern for others but being very preoccupied with succeeding in several areas (the main one being of course, to revenge his father’s murder and become king) of things that, if successfully accomplished, would benefit him. Even if his desire to excel was simply for the inherent satisfaction that comes from succeeding, it is still selfish to place priority for one’s own desires over what is best for  a community of other people.

Hamlet also shows extremely rash judgment. He quickly agrees to do things, again this eagerness to assume various roles, when they seem to be to his best advantage to do so.

When he first talks with the Ghost, he immediately wants to know who killed his father, assuming that the Ghost is that of his dead father. He judges the credibility of the ghost and that his own killing of Claudius is the best course of action much too quickly it seems. He later hesitates, but not necessarily because of whether it is right or wrong, but because he wants to do it perfectly – at just the right time, in just the right way, in order that he might be the complete acknowledged victor.  He  also considers whether or not the Ghost is truly his father’s spirit, and how he can come out on top of the situation.

He also rashly judges Ophelia as being rude and cruelly makes fun of and betrays her. He uses the one example of his mother as basis for expressing his view of all women: “Frailty, thy name is woman.” This then is used to judge Ophelia with; he never considers that her family may be influencing her decisions.

However, Hamlet is not a villain. As humans, do not all of us often act impetuously, and out of sometimes unconscious selfish motives? And do we not also often judge erroneously, especially when circumstances pressure us to do so?

Therefore, I view Hamlet as certainly sympathetic. BUT, I cannot reconcile his incredible, repeated acts of self-centeredness, so he is not a hero, nor a completely sympathetic character in my mind.

To Hamlet, or not to Hamlet, that is the question…

Posted in Hamlet with tags , , , on March 15, 2009 by Saera

6a00d83451c17f69e200e553d3f6278833-300wiSo I really dislike Hamlet.  To borrow my cousin’s words and use them in a way she would never intend, he is a “sad, strange little wagon, and he has my pity.” Not really, about the pity part. I think he is in a perpetual pity party of his own, and I think that the entire play is messed up.

But that’s just my humble opinion.

Hamlet the play is not much better. I do however, think that there are several themes that are brought up in the play that are worthwhile to think about. For example, what is insanity, and simultaneously, what then is sanity? What constitutes murder? Or to what degree is Queen Gertrude unfaithful to her former husband, and what exactly does she do to indicate unfaithfulness,  and consequently, what is unfaithfulness?

Hamlet himself seems to constantly be torn between two or more sides, personalities (is he an example of Multiple Personality Disorder?), ways of thinking, and moral codes.  Is he correct in not killing Claudius, or incorrect? And what are his true motivations? Does he really love Ophelia, or did he really love his father? Can he love anyone besides himself?

Then there is the oft quoted Polonius, the advisor who rarely stops to listen to any others’ advice, let alone take his own! Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, the Ghost, Bernardo, Horatio, and the infamous Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make up the rest of the notable characters in the play.

There are some good quotes in this play in addition to the many themes or issues it raises.

“Set the word to the action, and the action to the word…”

“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.”

“This above all – to thine own self be true,/ And it must follow, as the night does the day,/ Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“Frailty, thy name is woman.”

“The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

“To be, or not to be; that is the question.”

“The lady protests too much, methinks.”

“Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

” For to define true madness,/ What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?”

I think that Hamletcontains much to be studied out, but that overall, it is worthwhile. Although I really do not enjoy the play’s plots, and I think that very few of its characters are sympathetic, and it is one of my least favorite of Shakespeare works, I certainly appreciate it. I especially enjoy discussing the various themes in class. Just recently, we were talking about what exactly Hamlet’s tragic flaw is. Is it his eagerness to adopt any role life offers him, or is it his indecisiveness, or his selfishness, or is he simply mad?  Personally, I believe that his tragic flaw is perfectionism, which is caused by selfishness and pride. He wants to do everything perfectly so that he can get the glory: he will not kill Claudius because the time wasn’t right for Hamlet to look good for killing him; he will not marry Ophelia because she is basically a nobody, so he wouldn’t get anything in the way of recognition, fame, or money, from marrying her; and he cannot decide what is right or wrong, because he is judging by his own skewered standards, which consist mainly of himself! That is enough to cause anyone to go ‘mad’ and in fact, most of the characters in this play are ‘mad’ in the sense that they are out of touch with reality, the reality that is absolute and outside of themselves.

All in all, Hamlet  is OK. But only just OK. What it has caused me to think on though, is very much worth the reading. After all, the play’s the thing wherein to catch the conscience of the king!