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Neil Prosser-Scott
Jonathan Lucas

Essay Topic #2: Power is an overarching thematic topic within the play. Consider one type of power struggle
that exists in the play and explore how that struggle illuminates the true nature of a character.

Hamlet The Inquisitors Struggle

In William Shakespeare's famous play "Hamlet", Shakespeare uses various power struggles throughout,
in order to send a variety of messages to the audience. One of these power struggles Shakespeare illustrates is
the conflict between the eponymous tragic hero, and his uncle Claudius - a soulless consummate manipulator,
and unlawful King. In ensuing events in the play, Shakespeare illuminates the introspective nature of Hamlet
and the Machiavellian nature of Claudius, in order to help develop our understanding of both characters,
particularly Hamlet. This also contributes to a variety of key themes in the play, including the fundamental
spreading of metaphorical poison, the rationalization of revenge, and the restoration to the natural order.

At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare quickly shows us Hamlet's disgust towards his uncle Claudius
and directs the audience towards the idea of conflict between them. Shakespeare informs the audience of the
tension between them when Claudius calls out to Hamlet during the wedding ceremony by saying "But now,
my cousin Hamlet and my son." And Hamlet responds "A little more than kin, and less than kind" (1.2.64,
65) Hamlet's intelligent reaction not only shows how clever he is, but suggests his discontent towards the
marriage of his uncle and mother. Hamlet is telling the audience in short, that he does not trust Claudius, nor
does he accept him as being of the same blood or "kind". Claudius then says, "How is it that the clouds still

hang on you?" (Meaning why are you still sad/upset?), showing how insensitive and inconsiderate Claudius is.
Hamlet responds by saying "Not so, my Lord, I am too much in the sun."(1.2.66, 67) - Hamlet's reference of
the "sun" is one of many extremely clever forms of wordplay that he uses throughout the play, and with this
particular pun, he means to say that he is still too much of a son and is still grieving over the loss of his father
unlike his incestuous uncle, and mother. Clearly at this point in the play, audience can empathize with Hamlet,
in that he is feeling alienated, as he seems to be the only one opposed to Claudius' recent marriage to his mother
Gertrude, and the only one still grieving over the loss of his father King Hamlet.

Shakespeare depicts Claudius as a manipulative, Machiavellian King. He controls others, for his own
purpose, and unlike Hamlet, will go to great lengths in order to satisfy his desires. Claudius' "vile deeds" would
be viewed as unusual by Shakespeare's audience. He depicts Claudius' incestuous and deceitful acts as an
offense to nature and it is revealed through imageries and metaphors of poison, disease, and decay throughout
the play. In the first speech Hamlet makes, he claims Denmark is like - "an unweeded garden, that grows to
seed; things rank and gross in nature" - (1.2.135, 136). This imagery and metaphor show how Claudius' reign
continues to corrupt and poison all the "ears" within Denmark. Further illustrated with Shakespeare's descriptive
depiction of King Hamlet's assassination:
"With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour,
The leperous distilment" (1.5.6365)
The way Shakespeare illustrates King Hamlet's death also works as a metaphor for Claudius' poisoning of the
Denmark society. Here, Shakespeare explores the themes of power and corruption suggesting that an
illegitimate leader can poison the entirety of the society they rule over. The venomous poison and corruption
that Claudius causes to seep into Denmark causes Hamlet to hesitate when given the opportunity to kill
Claudius, and ultimately prevents him from taking action until after he is near death from Laertes poisoned

Hamlet's honest, clever, and passionate ways repeatedly cause him to delay his plight for revenge. The
power struggle with Claudius reveals that Hamlet's good nature ironically lead to his death. This is because of
the disruption of the Great Chain of Being. His compassion and thoughtfulness lead us to believe that he is not
revenge hero, but a tragic one, something he alludes to after his first meeting with his father's Ghost:
"The time is out of jointO cursd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!" (1.5.196, 197)
This shows us that even though Hamlet is conscious of how "rotten" the State of Denmark has become, he also
recognizes that he is unfit to be the one to solve the problem. In Hamlet's most famous speech, Shakespeare
illuminates the predicaments experienced by Hamlet in his ongoing battle with Claudius. When he asks To be,
or not to be" (3.1.56) he is referring to the pain that one endures throughout a human lifespan and contemplates
as to why so many of us choose to sustain and suffer pain and grief rather than ending it by committing suicide.
Unlike his other speeches, Hamlet is not directly referring to his own situation as he speaks in the third-person.
However, what he says, does, in ways, relate to the conflict between him and his uncle:
"Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?" (3.1.57-60)
The way Shakespeare uses imagery through metaphors is interesting, and it helps to illuminate the difficult and
painful nature of the predicament Hamlet is dealing with. The first metaphor depicts a human's life in
comparison to being in battle, always in the line of fire. This proposes that throughout one's lifetime, pain is
predictable and inescapable, as we are always under attack in one way or another. Shakespeare's second
metaphor compares impossibility in life to an attempt at battling with the sea. Which is clearly an impossible
deed. An attempt to do battle with the sea would more than likely lead to death. Thus, we can see how Hamlet
expresses worry that endeavoring to take action against Claudius will only lead to his own death, foreshadowing
his demise in the final scenes.

Hamlet is being delayed by unfortunate circumstances. The repeated questioning in his speeches which
represents Hamlet's introspective nature, and the motivation behind his impotent effort's at revenging his father's
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all." (3.1.83)
Shakespeare suggests that as humans, our ability to reason and rationalize is what prevents us from taking
impulsive and reckless action, before thinking it through first. Our ability to expect potential consequences of
our actions is another characteristic that sets man apart from beasts, and what stops humans/people from making
the wrong choices. Hamlet has been alienated by the disruption of the natural order so much so that he falls into
a state of uncertainty and is disadvantaged in his struggle with Claudius as a result of his honorable nature.
In the final scenes, the power struggle is brought to a tragic end. Although Hamlet does manage to satisfy his
desire to kill Claudius and restore the natural order, he does so at the cost of many lives. Even his mother
Gertrude, whom while not exactly innocent, was neither a villain, and dies unintentionally. Hamlet not only kills
Claudius with his own poisonous trickery, but forces his duplicitous uncle to drink the same poison wine that
which, killed his mother. This contributes to the symbolic nature and theme of poison in this play, as Claudius is
the one that metaphorically releases the poison that consumed Denmark, and then dies from the same poison. It
would've been even more enjoyable to know that Hamlet poured the poison into Claudius' ear but, the irony is
effective nevertheless. Soon after Hamlet dies, he is revered as a hero by the few remaining characters in the
play - Fortinbras states:
"Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage.
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have prov'd most royal." (5.2.389-391)
When Hamlet dies, it leaves the audience feeling a great sense of disappointment, as he is one of the only good
people within the play. Although his death contributes to the restoration of the natural order, and to the
conclusion of the theme of revenge, Hamlet still should have been King from the start, leading Denmark, just as
his father once did.

In the end, Shakespeare uses the poisonous and powerful struggle between Hamlet and Claudius, in
order to help the audience better understand the two main characters of "Hamlet". Hamlet is a frail, yet valiant
tragic hero. His flaws, though, are an effect of Claudius' disruption of the Great Chain of Being, which is key in
helping us understand the venomous and poisonous consequences of these actions.