What do you think is the dominant quality of Hamlet’s character? Discuss with suitable examples., William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is one of the most studied, debated, and performed plays in the canon of English literature. At the center of this literary masterpiece is the eponymous character, Prince Hamlet of Denmark. Over time, Hamlet has been dissected and analyzed from various angles, but one particular aspect that stands out is his indecisiveness.
The Dominant Quality of Hamlet’s character
William Shakespeare, often referred to as the Bard of Avon, is a colossus in the pantheon of English literature. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, this prodigious playwright, poet, and actor went on to pen some of the most celebrated works the world has ever seen. But beyond his texts and the rich tapestry of characters he conjured, Shakespeare’s life and legacy are subjects of equal fascination.
Shakespeare’s early life was modest. The third of eight children, he was born to John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. This provincial upbringing, however, belies the universality of his later works. By the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children. It’s after this period that Shakespeare’s life enters a phase colloquially referred to as the “lost years” — a time from which little is known about him until he resurfaces in the London theatre scene.
In the bustling metropolis of London, Shakespeare’s career began in earnest. By the early 1590s, he was not only acting but also writing plays. He initially penned comedies like “The Comedy of Errors” and “The Taming of the Shrew”, but quickly showcased his versatility with histories and tragedies such as “Richard II” and “Romeo and Juliet”. His works were performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a leading theatre company of the time, which later became the King’s Men.
Shakespeare was a man ahead of his time. His plays are renowned not just for their poetic brilliance but for their intricate characterizations and keen insight into the human condition. Characters like Hamlet, Othello, Lady Macbeth, and King Lear transcend their settings and the era in which they were written, embodying universal traits and dilemmas. Shakespeare’s genius lay in his ability to delve deep into the psyche of these characters, presenting their complexities with unparalleled nuance. What do you think is the dominant quality of Hamlet’s character.
The Nature of Hamlet’s Indecisiveness:
Hamlet’s primary conflict lies in his inability to act. This inability, or rather reluctance, to make swift decisions, especially concerning the matter of avenging his father’s death, defines much of the play’s narrative. He spends much of the play grappling with this internal conflict, resulting in a series of soliloquies that express his torment and uncertainty. His famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be,” is not just a reflection on the nature of existence but also a meditation on the agony of decision-making.
Hamlet’s Intellectual Disposition:
One can argue that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is rooted in his intellectual disposition. He is a thinker, a scholar, and a philosopher, caught in a situation demanding swift action. The murder of his father and his mother’s hasty remarriage trouble him deeply, and he seeks logical explanations and proofs. His insistence on staging “The Mousetrap” play is a testament to this. He wants to gauge Claudius’s guilt before making his move, showcasing a methodical approach rather than impulsive action.
Additionally, Hamlet is profoundly ethical. The act of revenge is a morally complex one, and Hamlet’s hesitancy also stems from his understanding of the ethical implications. He is acutely aware of the morality of murder, and despite the ghost’s insistence, he struggles with the notion of killing Claudius without absolute certainty of his guilt. This sense of righteousness is especially evident when he finds Claudius praying and decides not to kill him, fearing he’d send him to heaven.
Hamlet’s emotional state also contributes significantly to his indecisiveness. The sudden death of his father, his mother’s swift remarriage to his uncle, Ophelia’s rejections, and the betrayal by his friends leave him emotionally distraught. This turmoil is evident in his interactions with Ophelia, where he vacillates between expressions of love and outbursts of rage.
The Influence of External Forces:
While Hamlet’s internal conflicts play a dominant role in his indecision, external factors also have a significant impact. The presence of Claudius, a manipulative and powerful figure, restricts Hamlet’s ability to act without attracting suspicion. The politics of the court, the spying by Polonius, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern, and the looming threat of Fortinbras’s army all contribute to an environment of distrust and caution, further exacerbating Hamlet’s hesitancy.
The Tragic Consequences of Indecision:
Hamlet’s inability to act decisively culminates in tragic consequences. His delay allows for the deaths of several characters, including Polonius, Ophelia, and Laertes. Furthermore, his indecisiveness inadvertently leads to the poisoning of his mother. The final act, filled with unintended casualties, is a direct result of Hamlet’s prolonged inaction.
The Complexity of Hamlet’s Psyche:
Hamlet is not just a tragic hero; he is a multifaceted character, reflecting the gamut of human emotions and dilemmas. His indecisiveness is not a mere inability to act but a deeply rooted conflict that derives from his personal, ethical, and philosophical convictions. The very nature of Hamlet’s introspection, often portrayed through his soliloquies, showcases a man burdened by profound existential contemplation.
The supernatural revelation from his father’s ghost puts Hamlet in an unparalleled quandary. While the ghost’s words ignite the flames of revenge, Hamlet is also aware of the unreliability of apparitions. Could this specter be a genuine emissary from the afterlife, or a demonic force aiming to lead him astray? His indecision stems not from cowardice but from an intellectual wariness of the unknown.
The Weight of the Crown:
The political setting of the play further amplifies Hamlet’s indecision. As a prince, his choices have ramifications not only for himself but for the entire state of Denmark. The stability of the kingdom hangs in the balance, with threats both internal and from neighboring Norway. Hamlet’s potential actions are not just personal revenge; they could instigate political turmoil.
Ophelia and Hamlet’s Emotional Landscape:
Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia also casts a light on his indecisiveness. His oscillation between love, resentment, and indifference towards her showcases a man grappling with personal turmoil while also being consumed by broader revenge motifs. His feelings for Ophelia, tangled with his resentment towards his mother’s marital choices, further complicate his emotional landscape, making decisions even more torturous.
The Existential Struggle:
Arguably, the core of Hamlet’s indecision lies in his existential struggles. He constantly grapples with the meanings of life, death, fate, and the afterlife. His philosophical inquiries, such as “What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed?”, underline a profound dissection of human existence and purpose, rendering decisions not just as actions but as reflections of one’s existential stance.
What do you think is the dominant quality of Hamlet’s character? Discuss with suitable examples , While Hamlet possesses many qualities, from his intelligence to his passion, it is his indecisiveness that stands as the most dominant. This trait is not merely a character flaw but is deeply intertwined with his intellectual and moral compass. Through Hamlet’s character, Shakespeare explores the complexity of human nature, the battle between thought and action, and the tragic consequences that can arise from inaction. In essence, the tragedy of Hamlet is a tragedy of indecision. What do you think is the dominant quality of Hamlet’s character? Discuss with suitable examples.