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Emily Gilroy
Professor John Kulikowski
ENG-2040-126752 Intro to Drama
7 October 2015
Must I Remember?
An Essay on the Tone of Mourning and Acts of Revenge in Hamlet
Hamlet, believed to have been written by William Shakespeare, is
among the most well-known tragedies in the realm of drama. It encompasses
many of the ideal concepts of a tragedy, including the absent character.
According to Paul Rosefeldt the absent character is the [] character who
does not appear in the play, but who is the focus of attention for the other
characters and is central to the plays plot (Rosefelt, pg. 1). Rosefeldt
believes that the absent character also has a strong link to the concept of
mourning and the concept of the violence that accompanies the idea of the
conflictual nature of war (Rosefelt, pg. 1). In Shakespeares Hamlet the
absent character, the late King Hamlet, is a prime example supporting
Rosefeldts thoughts on the absent character linking to mourning and war;
the King is the main source of the tone of mourning present throughout Acts I
and II, but also the reason behind Prince Hamlets acts of revenge in Acts III,
IV, and V.
In Act I of Hamlet, the audience is first introduced to the current
situation of the royal family of Denmark. Naturally, the loss of King Hamlet

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took almost everyone in the kingdom by surprise. His untimely demise
caused a great deal of sadness for many, but especially for the young Prince
Hamlet. It is stated that the King has been [but] two months dead, nay, not
so much, not two (Hamlet, I.ii, line 138), meaning it has not even been two
months since the previous king has died. Hamlet is still in deep mourning for
his father, while everyone else, still saddened by the loss, has already
started to try and move on. The deep sorrow that Hamlet feels can be seen
when he answers his mothers question as to why he is taking his fathers
death so hard.
HAMLET: [] Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play.
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
(Hamlet, I.ii, lines 81-86)
This quote, essentially, tells both the Queen and the audience that the
outward displays of Hamlets grief, like his black mourning clothes and sad
looks, are nothing compared to what he is feeling inside his heart. Those are
only small portions of the deep sadness he is feeling over his fathers death.
In Act II Scene ii, when Hamlet is speaking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
he refers to Denmark as his prison and tells them that he is aware of why
they were sent. [] I have of latebut wherefore I know notlost all my
mirth, forgone all custom of exercises (Hamlet, II.ii, lines 288-289). Whether

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he realizes it or not, his deep sadness and mourning have

drowned all joy

and pleasure in his life. The absent character, King Hamlet, left a very deep
mark when he left this world. That mark was the catalyst to the tone of
mourning that was present in Acts I and II. However, it was not just sadness
and grief the King left behind, but also the need for revenge to be taken on
the one who took his life.
The thought of revenge was put into Hamlets head by none other than
his dead father. The late king was the one who told Hamlet to kill his uncle
and make him suffer the same fate as he did. It is in Act III that Hamlet truly
begins to set out on the path that was laid out before him. He begins to plot
out how he will go about killing his Uncle Claudius.
HAMLET: [] When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in th' incestuous pleasure of his bed,
At game a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in t
Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,
And that his soul may be as damned and black
As hell, whereto it goes.
(Hamlet, III.iii, lines 89-95)
In this particular quote Hamlet has just passed on the opportunity to execute
his revenge mission given to him by his father. He passes up this opportunity
because he knows that if he were to kill Claudius while he was praying for

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forgiveness then it would be a waste and would not please his father. If
Hamlet killed his uncle while he was praying then he would go straight to
heaven instead of hell, where Claudius would rightly suffer for his crimes
right alongside his father. In Act IV, Hamlet strays a bit from his path of the
revenge he should have been seeking and although he is not there to direct
Hamlet, his father still holds influence over his decisions.
HAMLET: [] How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep []
Oh, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
(Hamlet, IV.iv, lines 56-59 and 65-66)
After speaking with Fortinbras Captain, Hamlet sets himself back on the path
of revenge with a stronger will than ever. Hamlet dedicates himself solely to
following his fathers orders so much so that he vows to cast off any thought
not pertaining to the violence of his revenge out of his mind. In Act V Hamlet
knows that he must complete the mission assigned to him by his father soon.
After discovering that Claudius had him poisoned and had, unintentionally,
killed his mother and also poisoned Laertes, Hamlet finally is able to take the
revenge he thirsted for. Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damnd Dane,/
Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?/ Follow my mother (Hamlet, V.ii,
lines 315-317). Hamlet finally kills his uncle, and in almost the same matter

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in which his father was killed no less, and he knows that his father can rest
peacefully now that the one who wronged him is also dead. Had it not been
for the ghost of his father influencing him, Hamlet would have never
murdered his uncle, leaving his father unavenged.
The grip King Hamlet had on his son was so incredibly tight that his
death not only affected Hamlets emotional state, but also eventually lead to
being the force behind his later violent actions. Paul Rosefeldt believes that
an absent character holds close ties to the idea of mourning and conflicting
violent acts of war. Hamlets absent character, King Hamlet, most definitely
fits the bill for Rosefeldts thoughts on absent characters. The late King was
the main source of the tone of mourning that was present in the play and
was also the source of Hamlets acts of violent revenge. If only the King had
just stayed absent, as absent characters should, and left Hamlet to mourn in
his own time and way, then maybe those who lost their lives on the path to
his revenge would have still been alive.

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Works Cited
Rosefelt, Paul. From strange interlude to strange snow: a study of the absent
character in drama. Journal of evolutionary Psychology (2002); 117+.
Literature Resource Center. Print.
Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." The Seagull Reader Plays. By Joseph Kelly.
3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015. 53-181. Print.