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Lights, Camera, Action!

A single action can impact a person profoundly, and he or she overturns his or her current

path of life subsequently. In Hamlet, a tragedy by William Shakespeare, Hamlet, the protagonist

and Prince of Denmark, must question appearance, the meaning and purpose of life, and family

loyalties as a result of a ghost’s act of beckoning; Hamlet’s actions alongside their repercussions

that follow the supernatural encounter propel the tragedy’s conflicts which are critical in

understanding the themes ofHamletas well as the human condition.

Even before the tragedy’s beginning, Hamlet faces deep misery and has little purpose.

His father, the King of Denmark, has suddenly passed, and Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, has

hastily married Claudius, Hamlet’s paternal uncle and Denmark’s new monarch. However, a

ghost beckons Hamlet in the work’s first act, and it reveals that Claudius usurped the throne

through his murder of Hamlet’s father. The ghost commands Hamlet to kill Claudius for

retribution. Hamlet enthusiastically agrees, and its “commandment all alone shall

live/Within…[Hamlet’s] brain” (1.5.109-110). The paramount actions that Hamlet undertakes in

order for the retribution include feigning madness and setting an elaborate ploy to catch

Claudius’ guilt.

Hamlet decides to “put an antic disposition on” as his first action (1.5.191-192). He

believes that feigned madness will help him find out if Claudius verily killed his father. The

strange behavior of Hamlet fools Claudius and others throughout the tragedy, and it gives

Hamlet cover while he plots revenge. After some time, Hamlet employs a theatrical reenactment

of his father’s death to affirm Claudius’ guilt. “The play’s the thing/Wherein [Hamlet will] catch

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the conscience of the King” (2.2.633-634). When Claudius becomes unhinged by the murder

scene, Hamlet proves him as the killer. Claudius finally understands that he must get rid of

Hamlet, and he arranges a trip to England for him. This repercussion indirectly leads to the death

of Polonius, Claudius’ henchman. Gertrude seeks out Hamlet for a farewell, and Polonius

eavesdrops on the conversation. Hamlet realizes that somebody is hiding behind an arras, and he

blindly stabs through it; Polonius, a “wretched, rash, intruding fool,” dies violently by Hamlet’s

sword (3.4.38). Polonius’ death is the final straw for Claudius, and he quickly decides to have

Hamlet quietly executed, not simply exiled, in England. Hamlet has gone too far, and Claudius

feels he is at utmost physical risk because “[death] had been so with [him], had [he] been [behind

the arras]” (4.1.14).

Deception is a common element of Elizabethan drama, and Hamletis no exception.

Hamlet must assess appearance versus reality constantly after the ghost beckons him. The reason

why Hamlet must elaborately prove Claudius’ guilt in his father’s death is because he does not

trust the ghost. While it appears to be a genuinely credible figure, the “spirit that [Hamlet has]

seen/May be a devil” inciting him to commit vile regicide (2.2.628). When the reenactment of

the ghost’s account of Hamlet’s father’s death visibly stuns Claudius, Hamlet can “take the

ghost’s word for/A thousand pound” (3.2.312-313). Claudius’ reaction to the play’s murder

scene confirms the trustworthiness of the ghost as well Claudius’ guilt. Additionally, the sudden

and prolonged presence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s old friends, presents another

deceptive nuisance for Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern claim they come to Norway “to

visit [Hamlet], [their] lord, no other occasion” (2.2.292). In reality, they come on the order of

Claudius and Gertrude to “gather/So much [information] as from occasion” on Hamlet

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(2.2.15-16). Hamlet knows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are spies, but he keeps these “friends”

unaware of this. In the third act, however, Hamlet wittingly lets them know through a musical

metaphor; he states that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “cannot play upon [him] like a pipe”

(3.2.402).

As a result of the ghost’s beckoning, Hamlet struggles with family loyalty. Hamlet still

praises and loves his late father, “A combination and a form indeed/Where every god did seem to

set his seal/To give the world an assurance of a man” (3.4.70-73) and “So excellent a king”

(1.2.143). He wishes to avenge his father’s death, and he “[has] sworn’t” to the ghost (1.5.19).

Such strong loyalty for his murdered father, however, is questionable due to the slow progression

of Hamlet’s actions in regards to killing Claudius; he consistently delays his new purpose.

Hamlet “misses every opportunity to achieve what apparently he desires, [and] requires nearly

three months to accomplish a simple and well-justified killing” (Detmold 1). For example,

Hamlet could have skipped the verification process of the ghost’s claims and killed Claudius

earlier in the plot if he was zealous to avenge his father. Additionally, the feigned madness that

was supposed to throw Claudius off and help Hamlet assess his revenge takes “Two months

[and]

has

succeeded only in arousing the King’s suspicions” (Detmold 6). Even when Claudius’

guilt is confirmed beyond doubt after the play scheme, Hamlet hesitates to kill him. He shifts

from “now I’ll do’t” (3.3.78) to “Up sword, know thou a more horrid hent” (3.3.92) at the

critically decisive moment. It is interesting to note that Hamlet is aware that he is procrastinating

his oath to the ghost and undermining his supposed paternal loyalty. During a surprise visit from

the ghost, Hamlet is able to guess why it appears: “Do you not come your tardy son to

chide,/That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by/Th’ important acting of your dread

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command?” (3.4.122-124). Hamlet also has loyalty issues with his mother, Gertrude. He is

already unhappy with her since she has married Claudius “Within a month/Ere yet the salt of

most unrighteous tears/Had left the flushing in her galled eyes” (1.2.158-160); however, he shall

still “in all [his] best obey [her]” (1.2.120), and “His love for her is everywhere apparent beneath

his bitterness” (Detmold 3). Information that the ghost shares to Hamlet during their encounter,

though, provides a final shock that destroys Hamlet’s love for Gertrude and loyalty. The ghost

implies that Gertrude has committed adultery with Claudius, “that incestuous, that adulterate

beast” (1.5.49).

The revelations from the ghost cause Hamlet to deeply question his purpose and meaning

in life. Prior to the meeting the ghost, Hamlet wished that his “too, too sullied flesh would melt”

because of all the misfortunes he has experienced (1.2.133). Hamlet longs for death which, “once

the supreme good has been destroyed, is entirely normal and usual in the tragic hero”

(Detmold 4). The supreme good that had represented his life’s purpose was moral beauty. When

Gertrude marries Claudius, Hamlet sees the relationship as incestuous, and “The blow has been

too much for Hamlet, sensitive as he is to moral beauty” (Detmold 3). The ghost relates that it

also believes the relationship is incestuous, but it tells Hamlet to not “let thy soul

contrive/Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven” (1.5.92-93). Thus, Hamlet can move on

with a new purpose in life given by the ghost: retribution for his father’s murder. Although

Hamlet now has a new purpose in life, he still has a hard time finding meaning. He does not

understand “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous

fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.65-67). “To suffer” implies to live and “to

take arms” means to die; however, Hamlet realizes that the afterlife is so uncertain that life is

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certainly better than death. Therefore, life is meaningful because it is certain to be sorrowful as

well as happy while the afterlife is too impossible to predict any state of emotion except dread.

Hamlet’s experience with the ghost causes him to view the world with a different sight,

and he fundamentally alters his mindset on certain issues, including appearances versus reality,

family loyalty, and life. In the end, Hamlet does achieve the semi-passively/semi-actively

pursued vengeance the ghost tasked him with; however, the ends do not justify the means. The

deaths of Gertrude, Ophelia, and Hamlet himself were unwarranted and possible to avoid. The

importance of “act” and its derivative “action” cannot be stressed enough. One small deed done,

or not done, may affect the entire outcome and endgame. If Hamlet had not listened to the ghost

or had not gone about avenging his father in the way that he did, perhaps lives could have been

saved. The ghost’s act of beckoning Hamlet forward serves as an impetus which propels the

entirety of the tragedy because of Hamlet’s actions and repercussions to these actions; themes

evident in Hamletare revenge, depression, and deception. Most importantly, however, Hamlet

portrays the uniqueness of what it means to be human: to be sentient. Awareness of ourselves,

others, and the deepest, hidden emotions lead to a greater understanding of the human condition.

The themes in Hamlet depend on this crucial facet of the human condition. Revenge, depression,

and deception cannot occur without feelings and emotions.