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William Shakespeares Most Famous Tragedies Hamlet English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1340 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies written around 1600, ‘Hamlet’ recalls the prince of Denmark who seeks revenge on his uncle, who murdered his father (the king) and married his mother, the Queen. I believe that the fatal flaw that led to hamlet’s downfall is his irresolution-his inability to act even though he feels he is justified.

Why was he unable to kill Claudius, even after his father commanded him to? Many people have their own explanations for Hamlet’s action, or rather in-action, in the play Hamlet, but I propose that Hamlet’s inability to act boils down to his Oedipus complex. In Greek mythology there is a myth of a man named Oedipus who killed his father and married his mother. The psychologist Sigmund Freud developed the notion that some people can develop a sort of disease in which they want to do the same. Hamlet suffered from this complex, and this might just be the reason that Hamlet was incapable of action. The action that Hamlet was incapable of was of course killing Claudius. Previously, English scholars have debated that Hamlet was incapable of his action because of his cowardice, and thus Hamlet invented different excuses as reasons why he could not kill Claudius, but maybe that has less to do with it then you might think.

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However, I also agree with Goethe that hamlet merely had responsibilities thrusted upon him despite his nature. In hamlet’s soliloquy in act 1 scene 2 where he is mourning his father’s death: Hamlet is so grieved by his father’s death that he too wishes to die. He feels as if he is a defiled person stating that “O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into dew” (I.ii.133-134). He seems to hope that if he was to die, then he would become cleansed and pure as the dew cleanses the earth at the dawn of day. He wants to break out of the captivity of his flesh as a “spiritual release” of sorts. Shakespeare juxtaposes this notion with the term “Everlasting” (I.ii.135) making his body posses a state of permanence something that is everlasting compared to breaking down into the dew that he wishes to become. Hamlet also realizes that committing suicide would be considered a sin in the eyes of the “Everlasting” God (I.ii.135) who with his “canon ‘gainst (self slaughter!)” (I.ii.136) would prevent him from reaching heaven.

Saddened not only by his father’s death, Hamlet is also outraged about the quick marriage between Gertrude and Claudius. Hamlet retracts Gertrude’s initial grief at the loss of her husband saying that she cried “unrighteous tears” (I.ii.159) and he is tormented by images of his mother’s affection towards his father, believing that her display of love was pretence to satisfy her own lust and greed. He feels that she acted too hastily and states “O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer!” (I.ii.154-155). He is obviously against the marriage and believes that “She married. O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets!” (I.ii161-162). The overall tone of this soliloquy is a very personal and emotional one since it is really the first time that Hamlet has revealed his inner thoughts so openly. It accomplishes its objective of revealing the deep thoughts of Hamlet and his inner struggle with amazing proficiency, and helps the reader to understand the basis for his actions throughout the rest of the play.

In act 1 scene 5 Hamlet and the audience are introduced to the ghost of Old King Hamlet which introduces the deepening conflict for Hamlet as a revenge tragedy. The emotional Hamlet, by his father’s wish, is to exact revenge on his uncle Claudius a task which he was ready to complete rather quickly: ‘haste me to know’t that I,… may sweep to my revenge.’ (l.V.ii 28-31)However, Hamlet hesitates to fulfil his responsibility to his father not because of Hamlet’s inability to kill Claudius, but rather due to Hamlet’s lack of conviction to go against God: murder a king- regicide. Throughout the middle ages and beyond, monarchs were seen as being God’s deputies on Earth and having the divine right to rule; this suggests that he is pure and of a moral nature but also the burden that he can never cast away. Kenneth Muir 1963 said, “Hamlet, although corrupted by the evil with which he is asked to deal, does at last resign himself to becoming the agent of a Christian providence.”

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Hamlet’s continuing flaw of irresolution is clearly shown when the players arrive and he arranges for a personal viewing of The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet becomes besieged by guilt and self-contempt after seeing one of the players’ express profound emotions for a fiction. Hamlet compares himself: he has a lot feel passionate/dramatic about yet he fails to show it. ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’, comes directly after he has seen the performance of a speech by the First Player. Hamlet compares himself to the actor, and finds himself wanting. The First Player has produced such an effective performance, with ‘Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect’ (II.2) with only a pretended cause for emotion, a ‘dream of passion’, whereas Hamlet berates himself for having a greater ‘cue for passion’ and not acting.”Acting” is a double-edged word, though. Hamlet notably compares himself to an actor, and considers himself a ‘dull and muddy-mettled rascal’ who like a ‘John – a-dreams’, can take no action. F Richmond 1981 said, “Hamlet is a man of painful sensitivity, tortured by crassness of the world he sees and by the crudities of the action demanded of him.” This is linked to the idea that Hamlet that he’s subject to the crown and also links to Goethe idea of ‘ a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast way.’

In Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy (3.1 64-98) Hamlet seems to be governed by reason and not frenzied emotion. Unable to do little but wait for completion of his plan to “catch the conscience of the king”, Hamlet sparks an internal philosophical debate on the advantages and disadvantages of existence, and whether it is one’s right to end his or her own life. Some scholars limit Hamlet’s discussion to a deliberation of whether he should take his own life then Hamlet asks the question for all dejected souls — is it nobler to live miserably or to end one’s sorrows with a single stroke? He knows that the answer would be undoubtedly “yes” if death were like a dreamless sleep. The “rub” or obstacle Hamlet faces is the fear of “what dreams may come” (74), i.e. the “dread of something after death” (86). Hamlet is well aware that suicide is condemned by the church as a mortal sin. Mary Salter 1988 says ” Hamlet’s nature is philosophical , reflective, prone to questioning and therefore, aware of the larger moral implications of any act.” This is linked to the idea that ‘ impossibilities have been required of him ; not in themselves impossible, but such for him.’

Even though hamlet does kill Claudius in the end due to his fatal flaw of irresolution essentially destroyed him, as his failure in previous situations led to death. According to Aristotle concept of catharsis a tragic hero is someone of noble birth; tragedy Hamlet went through three of the four stages of catharsis: harmartia- his inability to act i.e. kill Claudius, peripity- when his father dies and his mother remarries, anagnorsis- when he realises that Claudius killed his father. The tragedy of Hamlet shows the inability to act however noble the intentions are.


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