Hamlet’s Character

by Kellie Balfe (Circle 3)

Hamlet has been one of my favorite plays we have read this semester filled with symbolism, emotion and deceit. What really caught my interest is Hamlet’s inability to avenge his father. He realizes that he will in turn die for doing so yet he has no will to live otherwise. Hamlet as a character is fascinated with difficult questions that are in his mind require meaningful proof, however when shown proof that his father was killed by his uncle, Hamlet obsesses with trying to get his uncle to prove his guilt before acting. For example, Hamlet tries to spy on his uncle during the play the visiting actors are preforming, which closely relates to the real situation. By seeing proof that his uncle is guilty, with his running out of the room and causing a scene, Hamlet still wants to be sure he is guilty.

Hamlet’s actions are somewhat pre-meditated and taken upon with swiftness, and in some situations completely erratic balancing on the boarder of madness i.e, when he stabs Polonius behind the curtain without checking who was there. His behavior repulses and causes concern for those he is around, disrupting the order of their everyday lives and selling himself out.

Hamlet is also very melancholy within the play. He provokes the emotions of the audience allowing us to sympathize with him. His mother married her late husband’s murderer who happens to be Hamlet Sr.’s brother, this very taboo. She also did not consider her only child’s well being in the process of making very large life decisions.

The afterlife and the mystery of where one’s soul goes after they die is a rather strong theme in the play. After Hamlet meets the ghost of his father he becomes obsessed with the afterlife, pondering the where abouts of souls in cemeteries. Hamlet questions suicide multiple times and contemplates whether or not it is morally legitimate to take one’s life to escape the pain in their world. He then concludes that religiously he will go to hell for committing suicide, and that may be worse than what he is currently enduring, (III.i). This I believe may interfere with Hamlet’s ability to act and avenge his father. He as a character needs ethical and emotional proof and motivation in order to act, as well as the other character’s in this play. Most of the character’s plans to take action are manipulated and misguided and ultimately end in demise, i.e Laertes’ vengeance was quickly changed by Claudius and ended in his own death.

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6 thoughts on “Hamlet’s Character

  1. Andrea Stowell

    I was interested in your thoughts about the theme of afterlife in this play as I wrote my blog about Hamlet’s lines “To be or not to be”. But going back to your remarks on Hamlet’s character throughout the play, I completely agree that he is borderline crazy. Like you mention there are many reasons for him being the way he is. Any loss of parent is life changing and having your mother marry the person whom killed your father is sickening on its own. I have said this before and I will say it again, I cannot fully blame Hamlet for the things he says and does.

  2. Ryan

    I question whether or not Hamlet truly wanted to die. If the urge was so strong (assuming that he was too afraid to take his own life due to the unknown purgatory) then an easy fix would have been to kill his uncle, thus accomplishing two things on his to-do-list: avenge his father and die. Yet, as you point out, his disposition often leans towards melancholy inactivity. I don’t know whether or not Hamlet wanted to do anything–he wants to foster a relationship with Ophelia yet scorns her, he wants to kill his uncle yet murders Polonius instead, he wants to kill himself yet fears the after-life. He wants to do so many things but just doesn’t. Perhaps he has commitment issues or, if not, maybe he is uncomfortable with the act of turning his self-destructive attitudes outward due to his inability to know what the outcomes will be.

  3. Shannon Plackis

    I think you bring up an interesting point: Hamlet’s obsession with making sure Claudius is guilty. This is something Hamlet attributes to his own weakness, though I would argue this could be attributed to his own humanity (albeit, maybe that doesn’t rule out weakness). If one is a good person, I would hope that they would want to be absolutely sure before they killed someone for a crime. It’s a basic instinct, if not to protect someone else’s life, to protect one’s own conscious. This is why when Hamlet is so erratic when killing Polonius. He has the momentum and he cannot lose it, if he does he knows he won’t have it in him to kill.

  4. Katie Gantley

    Hamlet’s inability to avenge his fathers death was largely the result of his life ponderings: life after death, the consequence of suicide, the consequence of murder, the morality of his mother, and so forth. Furthermore, as you say, Hamlet is most definitely obsessed with finding out whether Claudius really did kill Hamlet I. Personally, I too would have a difficult time killing someone based off of the report and request of a ghost. You bring up many important points within your post. It seems as though Hamlet cannot enact revenge simply because he may still be in shock. As you stated, his father has just died, his mother has just married his fathers possible killer/brother, and it seems as though no one has thought of him in regard to any of this. Hamlet could simply be shocked and all of this overthinking (as some might call it) could be the way his brain is attempting to absorb all of these new and sudden life changes.

  5. Alexa Bashford

    Hamlet is also definitely one of my favorite plays we have read this semester, and I share many of your reasons why that is so. Hamlet’s inability to avenge his father is fascinating when compared to Laertes, who is all gung ho for avenging Polonius. Hamlet initially thought his father had simply died, then later found out that he was murdered. I feel like this has some significance in his hesitance throughout the tragedy to kill Claudius. I like that you touch upon Gertrude not considering Hamlet in her decision to remarry, as it was something I wrote about in my own post for Hamlet. Lastly, I admire your discussion of the afterlife in Hamlet. Hamlet’s religious beliefs definitely have influence over him in multiple scenes throughout the play.

  6. Janet

    Your analysis also brings up the question of accountability–to what extent, if any should children be responsible for their fathers’ actions? On one hand, the importance of the family name is at stake, and on the other, the entire family could perish if the expected honorable vengeance has the same drastically grim consequences as it does for Hamlet–both earthly (the family line is disrupted, Hamlet is either imprisoned or killed) and spiritual (Hamlet is expected to kill his father for honor, yet murder is a sin and will send him to Hell). It becomes apparent throughout Hamlet that this dichotomy is kind of a double-edged sword, which I think comes across nicely in your post.

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