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Hamlet and Passion

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” said

Winston Churchill. The true challenge of failure is not the failure or loss itself, it is finding the

strength, the enthusiasm, the passion to continue. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet struggles to

find the will to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of Denmark’s new King, his uncle

Claudius. Hamlet is in love with his mother, Gertrude, Claudius’ new wife, so much that he

cannot act without her approval. The death of his father and the actions of his mother plunges

Hamlet into paralyzing depression. As a gifted intellectual, Hamlet pursues the perfect revenge

and finds himself deliberating the consequences of every move he makes toward killing

Claudius. Hamlet lacks the passion to act until he does because he is constantly deliberating,

depressed, and requires his mother’s approval.

Most men love their mothers. But few love their mother as much and in the same way as

Hamlet does. He is more disgusted with his mother’s marriage to Claudius than with the murder

of his father. “(Let me not think on ‘t; frailty, thy name is woman!)” (1.2.150) Hamlet exclaims

after the wedding. “For look you how cheerfully my mother looks, / and my father died within ‘s

two hours.” (3.2.134-135) Again Hamlet expresses his disappointment. Yet, it is not until Hamlet

confronts Gertrude in her chambers the great magnitude of his anger and love.

Nay, but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty,
A murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!
Hamlet particularly focuses on the sexual relationship between Gertrude and Claudius, and even

leaves a final request for Gertrude: do not sleep with Claudius. This suggests a possible Oedipus

complex in Hamlet. He must leave Gertrude with her approval and affection. In fact, the act with

which brings the rage powerful enough for Hamlet to finally butcher Claudius is Claudius’

accidental murder of Gertrude. The loss of her affection enrages and the inability for her to

disapprove enables action.

Loss is often paralyzing; regret, sadness, and grief are paralyzing. This paralyzed is state

is called mourning and Hamlet is trapped in it. At the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, Hamlet

remains in his black attire and alludes to the severity of his sadness. Hamlet believed his father

was a great man and loves his mother; therefore he cannot bear his emotional response to his

father’s death and mother’s incestuous marriage.

But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:

So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly.
and yet, within a month
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules
O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart,…

The news from the ghost of his murder only deepens Hamlet’s depression further, as evident

from his episode in Ophelia’s bedroom. Ophelia describes his knees shaking and a blank look on
his face. He later admits to his fear of the afterlife and the consequences of the revenge he seeks;

clearly another factor in his depression. It is not until he confronts Gertrude in her chambers and

excliams his disappointment that he is able to move on from his depression.

With intellect, comes the burden of thought. Thinking, planning, and reasoning takes

time. Hamlet is unfortunately hindered by this burden. He wants the perfect revenge and even

carefully considers the consequences of executing his revenge. Realizing the horrid act which a

perfect revenge would entail, Hamlet’s thoughts turn to the philosophical implications:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

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? To die: to sleep;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And lose the name of action.

Hamlet considers whether it is worth facing the risk of the unknown that comes after death in the

pursuit of writing the wrongs in his life, these are the thoughts which delay his action and are a

testament to the man’s intellect. Next, he takes the step to confirm Claudius’ guilt by springing

the play, Murder of Gonzago, on Claudius. After Claudius confirms his guilt by his reaction to

the play, he retreats to reflect on his guilt, praying. Hamlet approaches from the shadows with
the intention of killing Claudius, but finds himself reasoning his way into inaction. To kill

Claudius know would be to kill him with dignity, pleading to God for forgiveness. A Laertes, or

Fortinbras would not have even considered such a thing as evident by their rage and quick action

devoid of deliberation. On his way to exile in England, Hamlet witnesses the power a man of

action, Fortinbras, yields as he watches the Norse army march.

Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,

Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't.
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Hamlet recognizes that his thoughts have held him back from action. He vows from this point

forward to no longer question his lust for revenge.

Throughout Shakespeare’s work, Hamlet is seeking the approval and affection of his

mother, toiling through depression and deliberation. This results in his lack of the passion

required to kill Claudius. However, there is another possible contributing factor. At Ophelia’s

funeral Hamlet discovers the skull of the jester who raised him, Yorick. Though Hamlet clearly

believes his father was a great man, it is possible he did not love him as much as he would have

had Hamlet Sr. been the one to raise him. One cannot help but be sympathetic to the unfortunate

fortune of Hamlet, especially when his inaction leads to death.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet New York, Simon and Schuster, 1992.