Hamlet is one of those works by Shakespeare that even those that don’t care much for literature have heard of. At the very least, everyone knows the iconic: “To be, or not to be, that is the question…” It is remarkable, intriguing, and ingenious. In this short piece, I will do my best to point out a few things about Hamlet from my point of view.
While stories involving revenge are usually taken for granted, in Hamlet we see that the young prince is struggling with his perceived duty. He is always uncertain of what he needs to do, which makes him hesitant to act and avenge his father by killing Claudius.
It is his sadness, paired with his disgust at his mother, who moved on beyond quickly and accepted Claudius as her new husband, that cripples Hamlet’s resolve, as the ghost of his father demands revenge, but not to act against his mother.
Hamlet doesn’t know whether he is motivated enough to enact vengeance, nor is he sure that the ghost is not just a trick and he delays his revenge until he can be certain Claudius did the deed.
Hamlet’s madness starts off as a façade. By pretending to be mad, he is giving himself enough time to think things through and decide whether he should act, without outside interference. However, with his previously mentioned struggle, he truly does dance with madness and starts acting erratically, feeling pressured to make a decision as quickly as possible. This, eventually, leads him to kill Ophelia’s father, Polonius, by mistake.
His internal conflict is far from resolved; it is simply that Hamlet no longer cares enough. He has no problem killing Laertes, Claudius, or even himself, though he does not get to choose that last one. His stress and madness don’t go away; they just come to a slow-down.
At one point in the play, Hamlet becomes a woman-hater. He openly attacks Ophelia, telling her that she should go to a convent, rather than marry and give birth to sinners. This comes from his feeling of betrayal towards his mother Gertrude, who married her late husband’s brother merely a month after he passed away. In Hamlet’s mind, by partnering up with someone, women become corrupted. He still can’t forgive his mother.
There are a few things to consider, though. First of all, there is no evidence within the play itself that suggests that Gertrude knew Claudius killed her husband. Secondly, she could have married Claudius simply to ensure there was political stability, or to maintain her status, which could be a tactic aimed at survivability instead of comfort. Thirdly, despite being egged on by several characters, Ophelia is never dishonest towards Hamlet.
Hamlet is not simply a story about revenge. It is a challenge towards what is expected of us and what we feel is the correct course of action. It is about loyalty and long-term consequences. It is also about the relationship between men and women and their roles in society. Finally, it is about facing life and death.