Hamlet Study The study of Shakespeares Hamlet has been one that is very extensive as well as enormous. Books upon books have been written about this great play. About an equal amount of books, however, have been written about one character; Hamlet. A critic of Hamlet once said, “a man set out to read all the books about Hamlet would have time to read nothing else, not even Hamlet.” What is the great fascination with Hamlet and the characters contained within. The great intrigue comes from the ambiguity of the play and its characters.
“Hamlet is the tragedy of reflection. The cause of the heros delay is irresolution; and the cause of this is excess of the reflexive and speculative habit of the mind.” (Halliday. 217) The reason that there are so many critics is that there are just as many theories and speculations. Even in the twentieth century on could create or”discover” a new theory or criticism based on the play or its characters. The character Hamlet, alone, has over two dozen critics from Quinn to Coleridge. Some critics come up with sane interpretations of Hamlet while others use wild and crazy themes. Some conclude that the problem with Hamlet, and a classic thesis used by many students, is insanity versus sanity.
The theories progress from there. The theories range from manic-depressant to homosexual. Some are even very creative; such as the thesis that Hamlet is actually a female raised as a male. But no matter how many theories, speculations, or thesis there are, many hold some ground. This thesis paper will not stress on any of the statements I have listed above.
However, I will take a stand with Coleridge and speak about Hamlets genius and cognitive activity. Hamlets true dilemma is not one of sanity -Vs- insanity; but one pressing his intellectual capacity. Being a scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than actions. “Cause of Hamlets destiny. .
. in intellectual terms . . . is a tragedy . .
. of excessive thought.” (Mack. 43) Hamlets role was to make a transcendental move from scholarly prince to man of action. Hopefully this report will help open another, or even stress a classic, view as to Hamlets character and his prolonged delay. When a student goes to write about Hamlets character they often begin by hitting a wall. Not the usual writers block in which the mind goes blank, but one of information loaded upon information.
Where does a pupil begin? In this vast mound of information, where do we start? The Beginning would be a proper place. The background of Hamlet may help to bring some insight onto his character analysis. “Hamlet is . . . a man who, at thirty, still lives among students.” As the play opens, Hamlet has just returned from Wittenberg Germany, most likely attending Martin-Luther-Universitat Halle-Wittenberg.
Hamlet was in-fact so found of this Wittenberg university, that he had requested for his immediate return there. Hamlet probably felt a little out of place in a political environment. For the hasty marriage of his uncle and his mother may have been one only of convince. To add fuel to this enraged fire, Claudius so boldly denies Hamlets return to his asylum. This could not have angered Hamlet anymore. For where Hamlet saw that “the time is out of joint,” Hamlet himself was “out of joint.” How? Hamlet saw Elsinore as a prison rather than a sanction. Denmarks a prison.
. . world. . .
in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons . . . Denmarks oath worst . . .
I could be bounded in a nutshell and cut myself a kind of infinite space [thought]. (II.II.243-255) A man who is a mere “prince of philosophical speculators,” as F.E. Halliday puts it, would not feel at home in an incestuous tomb of politics. Hamlet is so out of place and suffering from his newly lost and homesickness of Wittenberg, that he must spend all of his days in deep contemplation. As a university student, Hamlet is used to nothing but thought and contemplation. Hamlet is not accommodated with the environment of politics.
Hamlet suffers from a “superfluous activity of the mind.” (Coleridge. 35) He knows of nothing else but thought and reason. Unbeknown to Hamlet, his next task would soon bring him to be caught between being a man of though and a man of action. As the play progresses hamlets thought and reason takes on a great form. Most of Hamlets thoughts, like that of many scholars, are about that of the world and those things contained within them. “Characteristic of Shakespeares conception of Hamlets universalizing mind that he should make Hamlet think first . .
. entirely.” (Mack. 39) Hamlet has come to terms with the fact that the world, even including his mother, is nothing but an un-weeded garden filled with evil. Hamlets one true problem is with himself. He sees his character as something most desirable; and the character of Horatio as even more coveted. Hamlet does not understand the life of his uncle, mother, and others within Denmark. For these people use no reason.
What is a man if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A best, no more. Sure he that mad us with such large discourse, gave us not that capability and godlike reason to rust in us unused. (IV.IV.33-39) . Hamlet believes that life is useless if men do not use their great power of reason and intellect. In-fact men become evil, “stale, and flat.” The next show of Hamlets intellect is his question of everything.
Whether it is the world as a whole or death itself; Hamlet finds a need to question all. The play Hamlet is filled with soliloquies in which Hamlet is questioning some action or feeling. This problem of Hamlets comes from his over use of his brain. For, he has to contemplate every action, prepare for the reaction, and also prepare for any consequences. Hamlet is a perfectionist whos questions help to make sure everything runs smoothly. “Hamlets skepticism, is purely an intellectual matter.” (Mack.
64) Hamlet begins his questioning with the death of elder Hamlet. First, Hamlet wonders if the ghost of his father is but a figment of his imagination. Or even a servant of the devil. If this is so, then Claudius would not be at fault for his brothers death. After he finds out that both the ghost is really his father and Claudius is truly guilty, Hamlet next dilemma is how to kill Claudius and seek revenge.
What would be the best way to get his revenge? While Claudius is praying? Hamlet sees a great opportunity to take his life. But wait! If Hamlet were to seek revenge now, Claudius would go straight to heaven. Hamlet here spends an eloquent soliloquy pondering this sudden hasty murder. Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying and now Ill sot. . .
and so am I revenged. That would be scanned: a villain kills my father, and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven. (III.III.73-78) Next show of Hamlets over used, over questioning brain is his contemplation of his own death. As I have stated before, Hamlet felt very much imprisoned in Elsinore. No doubt he was intellectually imprisoned, not allowed to use his brain to the fullest.
Not being allowed to return to his great Wittenberg university, Hamlet questions whether life is more beneficial than death. To be, or not to be, that is the question: whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of trouble and by opposing end them. To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-acke and the thousand natural shocks. . . (III.I.56-65) Using his genius brain, Hamlet also weighs the pros and cons of suicide.
Preparing for the worst actions to follow his suicide; eternal damnation, or eternal sleep; Hamlet votes against his death. These two situations help to show the great problem facing Hamlet; his mind. Any normal man would not hesitate in the movement towards revenge. They would also not question the attributes behind it. But Hamlet is a thinker not a doer.
It poses a problem for a man of such profound thought to take such a hasty and unreasoned action such as revenge. The questioning attitude of Hamlet adds to his procrastination. Many believed that Hamlet was merely a man who went mad due to his fathers unlawful death and his mothers hasty marriage. These critics look to soliloquies and Hamlets seemingly mad conversati …