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Make a critical study of any protagonist in any one or two texts studied this
semester, showing how characterization has a major role in the outcome of the play.

The play Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a realistic representation of the duality of


human nature: one which makes the readers pause and observe the motivations of a resolute
avenger who undergoes a metamorphosis of mental activity after his encounter with the ghost of
his father but due to his conscience, he later becomes a procrastinator with a puzzled will. As a
dramatist, William Shakespeare is famous for his character portrayals. If a character is too
perfect, it is impossible for us to relate to him. Therefore, the titular protagonist, Hamlet is
presented with all his foibles and blemishes which makes him a character who readers can easily
relate to. Harold Bloom (1990) claimed that Shakespeare created a “human character.” Hamlet’s
conflict about to kill or not to kill makes him relatable. The emotion (revenge) and reason
(conscience) of the protagonist continuously battle each other. The play Hamlet revolves around
the central character’s internal conflict which manifests itself in his words and actions.

The characterization of Hamlet contributes in the development of the conflict in the plot.
The play Hamlet is all about the protagonist’s hard journey in adopting the garb of an avenger
and his incapacity to adapt to it. Hamlet acts as a catalyst as he is the one who drives the plot
forward. The focal point of Hamlet is not the events that occur but the people who make the
events occur. (W.H. Hudson, 2000) The ghost of Old Hamlet is the hellish source of conflict in
the play and he symbolizes the corruptibility of the human’s soul. He urges Hamlet to act; to take
revenge. The sensitive and moral nature of Hamlet soon turns into a monstrous passion; a
passion not moderated by reason. Believing that the ghost’s words is a “plea for justice” (1990,
Harold Bloom), Hamlet decides to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius who
assassinated Old Hamlet: “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”(Hamlet, Act 1 Scene
5) In this process, Hamlet corrupts himself completely. As mentioned earlier in the play,
Denmark is a corrupted state. Ironically, while Hamlet talks about his state being corrupted, his
heart and mind experience the same corruption on a deeper level. (W.H. Hudson, 2000) Readers
can observe Hamlet’s sorrow converting into violence and a monstrous passion for vengeance.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” This quote by Mahatma Gandhi
highlights the recurring theme of vengeance in the play which leaves Hamlet blind because he is

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so much consumed by hatred. The characterization of Hamlet also contributes in the
development of the themes in the play. According to the Aristotelian characteristics of a tragic
hero, Hamartia refers to the tragic flaw which leads to the tragic downfall of the protagonist and
leads to a series of deaths. The hamartia of Hamlet is his madness caused by vengeance and his
inaction. Revenge leads to obsession and with obsession comes madness. Initially his madness in
the play was just a clever tactic, but by the end his madness seems real. When Hamlet decides to
take his revenge, he does it so hastily that he fails to achieve what he wants. Killing Polonius and
having no feeling of remorse already proves the height of insanity and indifference in his
character. Vengeance made self-control harder for Hamlet. The castle of Elsinore is littered by
dead bodies by the end of the play. Ophelia, Polonius, Gertrude, Claudius and the others are all
dead due to Hamlet’s act of revenge in the final scene. Hamlet, Fortinbras and Laertes are three
gentlemen who want to avenge the injustice done to their respective father. The play Hamlet can
be interpreted as a comment on how the men react to extreme grief and injustice.

Misogyny is a defining characteristic of the protagonist in the play. “Frailty thy name is
women” (Hamlet, Act 1Scene2) is a traditional bitter comment generalizing women as being
weak and meek which reveals Hamlet’s disdain towards women in his first soliloquy. Gertrude’s
hasty marriage is one of the main reason for Hamlet’s misogynistic nature: “She is married ‘O
most wicked speed!”(Hamlet, Act1, Scene2) He says “A little month, or ere those shoes were
old” (Hamlet Act1, Scene2), comparing Old Hamlet to “old shoes” in order show how fickle
women are and how they are easily lured by materialistic things. Old Hamlet is also a material
thing thrown away after being used. William Shakespeare uses the biblical allusion of the
Garden of Eden where Claudius represents the serpent and Gertrude represents Eve who
succumbs to temptation causing paradise to fall. In the same way, Gertrude’s transgression
damns the castle of Elsinore to fall in the play.

Hamlet hates himself to be born out of a women. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud
termed this emotional turmoil of Hamlet as “Oedipus complex” (Sigmund Freud, 1899) “which
means a child’s desire to have sexual relation with the parent of the opposing
sex.”(Wikipedia,2015:online) The loathe he holds for his mother later affects his relationship
with Ophelia. He tells her to go to a nunnery: “Get thee to a nunnery” (Hamlet Act 3, Scene1)
Soon after, Ophelia becomes mad and she subsequently dies. The protagonist ends up hating

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women in general and even his own “feminized side” (Harold Bloom, 1990), his sensitivity
which makes him procrastinate. The hatred of Hamlet becomes more powerful by its contact
with themes like revenge, madness and death. By the end of the play, one may feel that the line
“Frailty! Thy name is women” (Hamlet, Act 1 scene 2) should be inversed as “Cruelty! Thy
name is men.” (Jayati Thakar, 2015)

The characterization of Hamlet also contributes in the development of the style in the
play. William Shakespeare uses a new type of characterization in the play; self-portrayal through
one’s speech. There are seven important soliloquies spoken by Hamlet in the play. Soliloquy
refers to the literary device according to which a character speaks one’s thoughts aloud revealing
his inner complexities where the audience hear what he is saying but not the other characters.
(Cuddon, 1999: 838) The soliloquies are spoken in blank-verse. These soliloquies act as a plot
because they reflect the gradual metamorphosis of thought and moral crisis of Hamlet. If we
observe the syntax and diction of Hamlet’s soliloquies, we can notices a change in the
temperament. The final soliloquy has a softer and calming tone compared to the first one which
is fused with anger and frustration. The soliloquies act as an indicator of Hamlet’s state of mind.
Characterization through dialogues is one techniques used by Shakespeare to reveal more about
Hamlet and his motives.

The dilemma which Hamlet faced with is a common phenomenon in today’s world. The
conflict between the heart and the mind in Hamlet is relatable. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy
highlights Hamlet’s inner conflict upon the issues of life and death. He speaks eloquently about
his suicidal desire. But the fear of the afterlife makes him afraid to end his life. It is very
common for the human race to be afraid of death. By presenting this inner conflict, Shakespeare
was able to invent the relatable character of Hamlet. Michael Taylor contends that Hamlet is “is
a vivid portrayal of madness and the elements of the human psyche.”(The conflict in Hamlet,
1971). The critic William Golding (2002) compares Hamlet’s confusion to the dilemma of the
character of Arjuna of the Bhagawad Gita who is torn between his heart and his mind. And he
describes their inaction as a “paralysis”. But Arjuna had a mentor to guide him that is why he
fought against to restore injustice and survived. Whereas Hamlet killed and died as he had
nobody to guide him. His death is premature as he is not there to tell his story to the world and
rightfully rule over Elsinore at the end.

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The audience feel grateful at the end of the play when peace and order is restored.
Although Hamlet is a tragedy where the protagonist where dies, the play brought closure and
justice. The central conflict is personified by Hamlet in the play and the conflict ends by his
tragic death. Revenge is a sin and those who believe in divine retribution are blessed by the end.
Perfect justice can be brought only by God. Hamlet tries to bring justice but ends up being a
sinner himself. Without Hamlet, the play would have been just a mere story: a mere succession
of incidents. The exhibition of the motives, grotesque passions and the growth of the protagonist
is the foundation stone of this dramatic work.

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Bibliography
BLOOM, HAROLD (1990) “Major Literary Characters.” New Jersey: Chelsea House.

DAPHNE BOEY. (2012) “Character Analysis of Hamlet: Psychological Disorders.” Transmedial


Shakespeare: Studying Shakespeare beyond his text. Weblog [Online] 22th September. Available
from:https://transmedialshakespeare.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/character-analysis-of-hamlet-
psychological-disorders/ [Accessed on 01.12.2015]

DANA TARTAGLIA. (2013) “Hamlet’s Grief.” Summer Shakespeare at New Paltz. Weblog [Online]
14th June. Available from: https://npshakes.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/hamlets-grief/ [Accessed on
30.11.2015]

ELIOT, T. S. (1960). “Hamlet and His Problems.” In summers, J.H. & Leveson, J.C. (Eds.), Discussion
of Hamlet (pp.47-50).Boston: D. C. Heath and Company

HUDSON. W.D (2000) “An Introduction to The Study of English Literature.” 2nd Edition (Reset) India:
A.I.T.B.S Publishers and Distributors.

JULIA MARKUS AND PAUL JORDAN. (2003) “Hamlet.” 5th ed. Longman Literature Shakespeare.

JENNY HONG& SABINA HSU. (2012) “Indulgence in Hamlet’s Soliloquies.” Hamlet Indulgence
Wordpress. Weblog [Online] 16th October. Available from: https://hamletindulgence.wordpress.com/
[Accessed on 29.11.15]

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JAYATI THAKAR. (2015) “Feminist Approach and Gender Study with Counter Argument, "Frailty! Thy
name is Women" and "Cruelty! Thy name is Men". Slideshare. Weblog [Online] 24th October. Available
from: http://www.slideshare.net/JaytiThakar94/renaissance-literature-paper-1-2?qid=b81d132c-8bd5-
4341-b953-03501cfcac1f&v=qf1&b=&from_search=4 [Accessed on 28.11.15]

SPENCER THEODORE. “Shakespeare and the nature of man.” New York: The Macmillan Company,
1949.

THE SOLITAIRE THEATRE COMPANY (2013). “To what extent is hamlet an Aristotelian tragedy.”
Slideshare. Weblog [Online] 24th January. Available from: http://www.slideshare.net/clairelerpiniere/to-
what-extent-is-hamlet-an-aristotelian-tragedy-16165174?related=1 [Accessed on 28.11.15]

WIKIPEDIA. (2015). “Oedipus Complex”. [Online]. Available from:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_complex . [Accessed on 28.11.15]

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