Hamlets downfall stems from his inability to revenge Essay
Hamlets downfall stems from his inability to revenge
Hamlets downfall stems from his inability to revenge. How is this fore grounded in the early parts of the play, breaking from the traditional conventions of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy? It can be said that Hamlet’s procrastination and inability to act result in his eventual demise. Shakespeare forewarns the audience of Hamlet’s flaws throughout the play, in his soliloquies and also through the exploration of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy. During the Elizabethan period, it was commonplace to write within the genre of the revenge tragedy. This particular genre was extremely popular with the public due to the themes it embodied.
Namely restoring order through punishing vice and gaining personal retribution. Other features often included treason, incest and the appearance of a ghost. Hamlet’s belief in the occult and fear of damnation embodies the feelings of people at the time, “The spirit I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape… perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy… abuses me to damn me. ” Hamlet is unusual in that it is set in Denmark, a protestant country. When examining vice and human failings, Shakespeare and other writers often set their plays in catholic countries.
The reason for this being that the examination of vice in Hamlet would not appear to be critical of the English court and also his ethical dilemmas would strike more of a chord with his audience. One such issue that is thought about by many people is suicide. Hamlet’s early mention of this prepares the reader for his eventual downfall. At the beginning of the play Hamlet expresses his wishes to die “Oh that this too too solid flesh would thaw, and resolve itself into a dew. ” The use of ‘solid’ simply expresses his wish to just melt and disappear into nothingness.
Some texts however, replace solid with ‘sullied’, giving the quotation a slightly more interesting meaning, perhaps referring to the incest occurring between his mother and his uncle, a subject on which he must not make his opinions known. It also implies that he is also talking of the corruption in his own flesh. Some interpretations of the play suggest that Hamlet has a possible Oedipus complex (sexual obsession with his mother); this is further highlighted in his later comments about “incestuous sheets”, although this probably just refers to his mother’s relationship with his uncle.
Incest was a popular vice in the Jacobean genre, as it is regarded to be a mortal sin, specifically when involving a mother and her son. It is clear however that Hamlet does wish to kill himself, although he realises that God is against suicide as it is also a mortal sin, “That the everlasting had not fix’d his cannon ‘gainst self slaughter. ” His religious beliefs also conflict with his need to revenge as the church also teaches that revenge is wrong under all circumstances. This conflicts with the Elizabethan revenge tragedy, which usually address’ the dynamics rather than the moral side of revenge.
Hamlet’s role changes throughout the play; in the opening act, Hamlet plays the malcontent. He is still in mourning for the death of his father, almost a juxtaposition to the celebration around him due to his mother’s wedding. The burden of revenge and the corruption around him leads to his supposed madness, brought on by his inability to cope with the pressure, he comments earlier in the play that he is no ‘Hercules’. It is likely that Hamlet uses the disguise of madness to speak the truth, as it excuses him from the consequences of what he says.
An example of this is Hamlet talking to Polonius about his mistreatment of his daughter, “You are a fishmonger [pimp]”, as Polonius uses his daughter to get to Hamlet. Hamlet does not wish to be used in this way by the ghost, who may be an evil spirit, and so damn his soul, the main reason perhaps for his procrastination. Shakespeare uses soliloquies to share Hamlet’s innermost thoughts with the audience, who sympathise with his various predicaments. These speeches establish Hamlets is more of a scholar than a man of action like his father; he realises this and admits that he is no ‘Hercules’.
Without the encouragement of the ghost to revenge it is doubtful that Hamlet would have ever killed Claudius. He has sworn to suffer stoically, and hold his tongue. Even when he is sure that the ghost speaks truth, he will not kill the king while he prays for fear that Claudius will escape hell, “a villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven”. In this sense Hamlet is very much an opposite of Laertes, who wishes to revenge his father’s death.
Unlike Hamlet, he is not afraid of being damned for the act of revenge “I dare damnation”. Laertes is more of a traditional Jacobean revenger as he uses the stereotypical images and words of the hero “to cut his throat I’ th’ church”, and is an obvious opposite to Hamlet. It is ironic that Hamlet is incapable of acting on his filial obligation of his father’s “most foul and unnatural murder” when he would rid Denmark of corruption by doing so, but Laertes is prepared to revenge the murder of his corrupt father.
It is debatable whether it is Hamlet’s procrastination that leads to his eventual death, as at the beginning of the play he threatens Horatio with his sword “unhand me gentlemen, by heaven I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me! ” It could be suggested that Hamlet’s eventual death is due to his disobedience of the ghost’s orders, “taint not thy mind”, an almost impossible order as Hamlet is exposed to corruption firstly from his uncle, Claudius, the instigator of corruption, also through the accidental murder of Polonius, his doomed relationship with Ophelia and his immoral thoughts of his mother, Hamlet gradually becomes corrupted.
Calderwood comments, “Hamlet’s solution for the moment is to take refuge in the cleft between action and inaction. He does not act but instead… plays mad, which cuts his behaviour off from the world of pragmatic affairs in which action and inaction have no meaning. ” Hamlet, after Claudius’ death would have become king, but through revenging he becomes part of the problem “It is a massy wheel…. to whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things are mortis’d….. When it falls, each… petty consequence, attends the boist’rous ruin.
” Hamlet’s death provides a fresh start for Denmark. He may not have perhaps made a balanced king, especially due to his outbursts of madness, thus he would be unbeneficial to the kingdom. This is expressed in the play when Rosencrantz says: “The cease of majesty dies not alone, but like a gulf doth draw what’s near it with it. ” It is perhaps due to this reason that Hamlet must die, in order to fully restore order in Denmark. The breaking of the traditional revenge tragedy makes Hamlet so much more appealing to its readers, as it is not confined to the question of how to revenge.
It answers questions to which everyone is prone to debate (do we “take arms” against our problems or suffer stoically? ), hence its popularity. Shakespeare alerts us to Hamlet’s various failings through soliloquies with the audience in which we hear his innermost thoughts. Hamlet’s eventual death is due to a combination of emotional stress an inability to act, and his desire to always do the right thing, causing him to slip into a world where he doesn’t have to act, but also to wastes valuable time. Hamlet is tainted by the corrupt, a reason in the end for why he must die.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 26 July 2017
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