“HAMLET,” written in 1601 by William Shakespeare, portrays images of sickness, disease, and decay which all come together to create a world of corruption. The human nature in Denmark is slowly confined and replaced with hate and discouragement for the entire kingdom, as well as nature itself. Hamlet, son to the recently deceased King of Denmark, Hamlet senior, is a young man whose speech contains the ingredients of melancholy mixed with a significant amount of indignation. Anyone would seek revenge for their father’s death if they knew that he was murdered by an uncle, especially if that uncle was now the new king. In this play the center focus in on the mind of Hamlet, for it is he who creates these hideous images so that he can overcome what has happened while he was away at university. Finding out that his mother, Gertrude, has married with the new king not even “a little month”(I, ii. l.147) after the death of her previous husband, only adds to the images in his head that will eventually have to be revealed. No one else in the whole play shares the “vulgar words and displays a frivolous and sarcastic disgust for the world”(Clemen, The Imagery.229) as Hamlet does. In everyday experience people find that they also have their own level of disgust for the world—whether it is because of bad news, or plainly the people who we are surrounded by.

First of all, the play starts with a conversation between a few of the king’s guards on the outer ramparts of the palace in Denmark. The men are questioning each other if they have seen the ghost of King Hamlet while on watch that night. “I have seen nothing,”(I. i. l.11) remarks Bernardo. Horatio, a scholar, has been brought along on the escapade so that he can question “this apparition”(I. i. l.28) when it appears again. King Hamlet’s spirit comes to the gentlemen, but remains mute when talked to until finally, “it stalks away”(I. i. l.50). Horatio marks that he would not have believed them if he had not been there to see it for himself. Marcellus tells Horatio that he and some fellow guards have seen the king twice before. Horatio then makes the verdict that this could only mean that there is “some strange eruption to our state”(I. i. l.69). Usually if a person can still be seen after they are dead, it means that they have not confessed before dying and are therefore stalking the earth until what has happened is settled. This is an example of how sickness and decay have come forth to infect the minds of all that see King Hamlet’s ghost. Nothing good can come of this and the guards know it.

When Hamlet finds out that his mother has remarried with his uncle and realizes that Claudius is his new father, he does not know how to handle his frustrations towards them both. The first of Hamlet’s great soliloquies describes this emotional highway that he is on by hinting that Hamlet wishes to commit “self-slaughter”(I. ii. l.132). He wishes that his “too too-solid flesh would melt, /Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” (I, ii. ll.129-130), and he compares the world to an “unweeded garden”(I. ii. l.135). This is the first time that Hamlet unleashes his thoughts on the situation and creates a visualization of sickness, disease, and decay for his environment. Sickness would be the thought of suicide because he would have to be desperate for an escape such as that. The imagery of decay is mentioned when Hamlet wishes that his flesh would start melting— dripping to the ground with a stench that could basically gag a maggot. When picturing a beautiful garden corrupted by disastrous weeds or the disease that will destroy the good life, the real imagery about the way Hamlet feels is brought forth. Maybe this is said by Hamlet to let the onlookers know that he thinks that Claudius is the bad weed in the state of Denmark. Hamlet often “cloaks his real meaning under quibbles and puns, images and parables”(Clemen.230). The other characters think that Hamlet is crazy, but the audience knows more and can understand his true situations.

In Act 1, scene 4, the ghost appears again, only this time Hamlet is present. It beckons Hamlet to follow but Horatio and Marcellus say, “You shall not go, my lord” (l.79). Disobeying his friends, Hamlet follows the ghost—curious of why. Marcellus and Horatio go along to make sure that he is all right. Horatio asks Marcellus what he thinks will happen and he responds that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (l.90), which simply means that something weird or unearthly is now the prediction for the future for the kingdom. Imagine an object sitting out and rotting. Isn’t it mold or mildew that starts to form? Well, Marcellus knows that the ghost is the mold that is trying to form or create an impact on Hamlet in some way. Their only question to this is…why?

The ghost of the late king explains to Hamlet his “most unnatural murder” (I, v, l.25) and how Claudius is the one who poured the poison into his ear causing his death. Not suspecting a thing, Hamlet is appalled at the thought and seems skeptical because he does not know whether or not the ghost is an evil one or not. The ghost goes on to tell that Claudius seduced Gertrude while he was still in the flesh, therefore, suggesting an affair. Of course, this would make Hamlet even angrier. “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life / Now wears his crown”(I, v, ll.39-40). Hamlet Sr. almost seems like a disease or a sickness because his words are bringing Hamlet down and tearing him apart inside. People might even add decay to this as well for it is many ugly thoughts that begin to further rot Hamlet’s mind and soul.

When the Lord Chamberlain, Polonius, finds out that Hamlet has written his daughter, Ophelia, a love letter, he takes it and shows the king and queen. A plan is made for Claudius and Polonius to spy on a conversation between the two to see if they truly are in love. The king and queen exit, leaving Polonius alone with the approaching Hamlet. They greet each other and Hamlet first offends Polonius and then turns his insults to Ophelia. He tells Polonius not to let his daughter go out in the sun because the sun breeds “maggots in a dead dog”(II, ii, l.179). That means that Ophelia should stay away from Hamlet for as long as possible. He is like the dead dog because he likes sex and will gladly be the host of the maggots or Ophelia whenever he can. The image of maggots consuming a dead dog makes most people want to hurl. These sick thoughts of decay and disease get worse as Hamlet seeks revenge for his father’s death.

At the end of Act 2, scene 2, Hamlet is getting the facts straight on whether or not he should kill Claudius or not. By creating a play to be performed in front of the courtiers that shadows what the ghost has explained, Hamlet hopes to “catch the conscience of the king”(l.603). This will prove that Claudius is guilty and Hamlet can put an end to the disease that has killed his father. Claudius has corrupted Hamlet’s life by not knowing how to control his sickness and jealousy for his brother’s achievements. By killing King Hamlet, Claudius has brought forth an evil doing which he can not take back. Now, Hamlet has to set it right.

Hamlet and Ophelia meet in the castle and Ophelia returns her “rich gifts” (III, i. l.102) because now she knows that he does not love her anymore. Hamlet tells her that he has never loved her at all. Ophelia is shocked that he would say such a thing to her. He commands Ophelia to get herself to a nunnery so that she will remain a virgin— hidden away from people like him. Hamlet says that if she does marry, he will give “thee the plague for / thy dowry”(III, i. ll.135-136). It appears that Hamlet has completely lost his mind because he has just explained to the girl, who he has been with, that she is a nobody. Hamlet goes on to tell her that she shall not have sex in her marriage and that she should “marry a fool; / for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them”(III, i. lll.138-140). Who does he think he is telling her what to do after the way he has been treating her! Hamlet has been plagued with his own disease and has his mind set on getting back at Claudius. The problem is that he is taking it out on everyone else instead.

While the play “The Mouse-trap” is taking place, Hamlet is constantly looking at Claudius and Gertrude’s expressions. The actor on stage says “Thou mixture rank, … / With Hecate’s ban thrice blasted, thrice infected”(III, ii, ll.252-253) and pours poison in the player king’s ear. With this, Claudius commands that the play be ended and thus convincing Hamlet that he is guilty. “The play lets Claudius see clearly that Hamlet knows his guilt”(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.54). Gertrude has no clue about the murder because it is her that has remained relaxed throughout the play and is only alarmed now because Claudius is upset. By putting poison in someone’s ear, they start to slowly die and for the person who has poured it, it should be a terrible sight to see. For a person to do this, they would most likely be insane. The imagery of disease and decay of the human body has only been mentioned a few times so far, but as Shakespeare’s play continues, more and more occurrences take place.

At the end of Act 3, scene 2, Hamlet has been beckoned to his mother’s chambers to discuss why Claudius is so disturbed. When obeying her orders, he gives himself a pep talk before arriving at her closet. Hamlet says “Let me be cruel, not unnatural: / I will speak daggers to her, but use none”(III, ii, ll.386-387). To control his anger, Hamlet remembers that the ghost has told him to leave his mother alone. Even though he is rageing mad, he has to keep his cool around her. To let out his frustrations about her marrying Claudius so blindly, he will be sarcastic and down on her. The angrier that Hamlet gets, the more sick ideas pop into his head.

Claudius tries to pray for forgiveness, but can not because he is not sorry for what he has done. He will not give up the throne because that would mean that he would have to give up his ambition and queen also. Hamlet watches from afar while hearing the words “Forgive me my foul murder”(III, iii, l.53). Ready to kill, Hamlet eases off knowing that if he killed Claudius now, he would go straight to heaven. He has to wait for a better moment to murder the murderer.

Hamlet arrives at Gertrude’s chambers and finally tells her what he thinks of Claudius and their marriage. He explains that he is not insane and that he knows how her previous husband has died. For the grace of her soul she must stop going on with Claudius and start confessing for her sins. Claudius will only “skin and film the ulcerous place…. while it / Infects unseen”(III, iv, ll.149-151). Gertrude must not sleep with Claudius anymore because he might infect her with the same disease that he has.

In the beginning of Act 4, the queen is telling Claudius about the most recent news. Polonius has been killed in her room by Hamlet. He was hiding behind the curtains, eavesdropping, and was stabbed when heard. The king asks where her son is now and the queen lies for Hamlet by saying that “he weeps for what is done”(IV, i. l.27). Claudius realizes that Hamlet thought that it was him who was there. “Hamlet, too, is caught in the web of crime”(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of.55).

Laertes, son of Polonius, comes to the castle to get information on his father’s murder and finds a hysterical Ophelia talking all sorts of nonsence. She pretends to give him different flowers that represent something, but when she comes to the violets, which resemble faithfulness, she says that they have all withered “when my father died” (IV, v. l.182). Imagery of decay is present because both her father and the flowers have died.

The end of Act 4 is when Laertes and the king are planning how they will defeat Hamlet. The king’s idea is that by dipping Laertes’ sword in poison, Hamlet will die when cut. “Hamlet, the son who has to revenge a dear father murdered, has himself murdered a father and will fall by the vengeance of the son”(George Rylands, Hamlet.12).

Ophelia has committed a sin—suicide. She had to be unhappy and her disease that has corrupted her life ever since her ex-lover had killed her father, has finally taken toll. Now, she too can be buried in the cold ground.

Hamlet knows that he must pay for his sin and is not afraid to die. The king, queen, lords, and attendants all gather to see Laertes and Hamlet have a sword fight. A cup full of poison is to be for Hamlet, but Gertrude drinks the drink and dies. King Claudius feels little remorse for his dead queen. Hamlet and Laertes both get injured and confess that both of their swords have poison on them and Laertes says that Claudius is to blame. Hamlet stabs Claudius and he dies. Laertes asks for forgiveness from Hamlet because he now knows that Hamlet has always been after Claudius and not his father. He then dies, forgiven. Horatio wants to kill himself because Hamlet is dying, but Hamlet prevents this by telling him that he is the only one left who can tell the story. Hamlet gives the kingdom to Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, because he knows that he is strong and capable of the responsibility. Hamlet’s last words are that the events that have led to his downfall must “rest in silence”(V, ii, l.351). Hamlet is now dead. All of the deceased on stage right now have each lived a life with their own level of guilt, and with this, they can all rest from their corrupted lives…..all except Claudius that is. “What Claudius has done to the king, he has also done to the kingdom”(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of.57). The sins that Claudius has committed in his life, will now send him to damnation in his after-life. The sickness and disease of Denmark has been cured.

In Shakespearean tragedies the hero must die and there is a series of deaths throughout the play to accompany this. Sickness, disease, and decay end up getting the better half of most of the characters in “HAMLET”. As described, the people in Denmark each have a dark side that most of the time stays hidden away, but can sometimes escape. Basically, that can also apply to all of the people on earth. Everyone has a good conscience and a bad conscience that tells what is right and wrong. There are people in the world that apparently can not tell this though. Much like the characters in the play, they have a disease or sickness that has corrupted their mind and bodies making them guilty of sinning in one way or another. “HAMLET” portrays a lesson learned by its audience. The moral of the story is that nothing good can come of going against the good conscience. By trying to do the right thing, everyone wins in the long run. Maybe that is the one thing that could have saved Hamlet, although this will never be known.

Over the four hundred years between when Hamlet was written, and now, context and values have shaped the way it has been interpreted and received, as well as performed. Shakespeare originally wrote Hamlet in the Greek tradition of tragedy, where noble and famous men or heroes take a great fall. The play was hence known on the terms of the time, and the audience will only see what it expects to see. Hamlet reproduced the values of the 17th century, typifying the ideal man. This happened to be the quintessential renaissance prince, knowledgeable in literature, the arts and sciences, possessing skills of composition as well as social skills and the strength and courage of a soldier. The people of Shakespeare’s time ignored his madness, his procrastination, and his intellectuality. This might be a suitable analysis today when attention is paid to the plot and the structure of the play instead of to the intellectualising of the central character. Even today there are those who view Hamlet in this way, suggesting that questions of his madness and hesitation are overemphasised. They assert that Hamlet acted as soon as could be reasonably expected, once he established the king’s guilt and found the opportunity where the king was in a state of sin. They maintain that Hamlet pretended to be mad in order to avert suspicion, as well as allowing him to make callous comments to Claudius and others. By justifying his actions in this way Hamlet is painted as the archetypal ill-fated hero, a gallant victim for whom life holds nothing but frustration and disenchantment. All in a fleeting passage of time Hamlet experiences the murder of his father and the confession from a supernatural figure that the King’s own brother was his assassin, who then throws himself upon the widow, Hamlet’s mother. He suffers the betrayals by his mother Gertrude, his beloved Ophelia, his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, even Laertes. To Hamlet it would appear that it is not only the state of Denmark that is ‘rotten’, it is the entire world.

It was in the 18th century that Hamlet was construed as indecisive, portraying the new ideal of a sensitive hero, owing to novels and romanticism. Here they are concentrating on Hamlet’s introspectiveness and inclination towards contemplation, with the emphasis on his madness. Hamlet berates himself for hesitating to kill Claudius, for “thinking too precisely on the event”. He is implying that people who obsess a lot are the ones who do the least. The reality however is that Hamlet doesn’t have the opportunity to kill the king and then justify his action until the end, when chance provides the opportunity. Heroes of revenge plays from an earlier time perform soliloquies about having to delay, and they criticise themselves for it. But revenge plays call for the revenge to take time and planning, otherwise there would be no play.
When Hamlet is expressing regrets about his uncompleted vengeance, he compares himself unfavorably to Claudius, who has just recited a ridiculous, pretentious speech, and to Fortinbras, who is getting thousands of people killed unwarrantedly. It is no coincidence that both Claudius and Fortinbras are chasing foolish, vain objectives. Hamlet represents anything other than indecisive; he is just contemplative. For Hamlet, his dilemma is not about what decisions he should take but rather whether he will be able to make any decisions at all. It can be said that Hamlet makes no decisions, projecting the image of a romantic, indecisive and idle individual, incapable of action. He has been accused of being snivelling and pathetic, little more than a compulsive talker who is largely gratified by his own words.
He loves to think. He needs to think so as to justify his actions, and this intellectual capacity is the major difference between Claudius and himself. Hamlet is exceptionally aware of the relation between action and reaction and realises that he must proceed very cautiously. His focusing too much on an event drives him to the brink of madness.
It also has to be said that Hamlet, wordy as he is, is extremely active all the same. It is true however that other characters or events force the impetus for his actions upon him. He listens to the ghost even though his friends refuse to, he adopts an uncompromising attitude, or a near defiance with regard to Claudius, he venomously casts off Ophelia, he thwarts one plot after the other designed to expose his plans, he stages for the court a show which is nothing but a snare in which to “catch the conscience of the king”, he confronts his mother in a scene of extreme violence, and he combats Laertes. More violently, he then kills Polonius, his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the king, and is indirectly responsible for the death of Laertes. This is a reasonable effort for someone who, evidently, doesn’t know the meaning of the word action.

The 20th century brings with it the incidence of the Freudian tendency to analyse motivation with psychology. Hamlet is now considered as quite possibly stunted by an Oedipus complex, where his instinctive desires to take his father’s place beside his mother, repressed since infancy, are stirred into such unconscious and powerful activity by Gertrude’s remarriage that he is reduced to a belated adolescent, mad to some extent and ensnared in unfruitful existentialist ruminations.
In 1905, Freud was the first to try and unravel in psychoanalytical terms the riddle existing in Hamlet’s behaviour. According to the Oedipus complex, the personal crisis Hamlet undergoes rouses his repressed incestuous and parricidal desires. The disgust he feels at the remarriage of his mother, as well as the vicious behaviour during their squabble in Gertrude’s bedroom, are signs of the jealousy which he frequently, if unconsciously experiences. Hamlet describes Claudius as a ‘murderer and villain, a slave that is not twentieth part the tithe of your precedent lord’, and is horror-struck at the thought that his mother could feel desire for him.
Hamlet’s dealings towards his mother also somewhat follow the textbook definition of the Oedipus complex. Hamlet may not necessarily want to marry his mother, yet there is a specific amount of sexual energy shared between the two. The association of the idea of sexuality with his mother has been buried since infancy but at the remarriage of his mother, can no longer be obscured from his consciousness. Feelings, which once in his early years were pleasurable, can now only fill him with revulsion owing to his repressions. Freud considered the Oedipus complex in Hamlet to be so strong that he deliberated whether or not to call his idea an Oedipus complex or a "Hamlet" complex.

New theatrical conventions and genres laid the perfect foundation for a complete transformation, a play by Tom Stoppard, to spring into actualization as Existentialism provides philosophical and dramatic context. Some branches of this philosophy saw life as meaningless and vacant, leading to the genre of the Theatre of the Absurd. The emphasis was now after a revived attitude toward religion and world order, on the importance of the individual, and the ordinary man rather than the tragic ‘hero’, the renaissance prince. This is when Tom Stoppard looked at the ordinary people in Shakespeare’s play, and looked at things through their eyes in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Another example of Noding your Homework.

A few observations on some patterns in the play:

1. Both Hamlet and Ophelia (male and female, respectively) are imposed upon by their only surviving parent (female and male, respectively) in the first scene that either shares with her or with him. Hamlet is prevented from returning to Wittenburg first by Claudius but this request is reiterated then again by Gertrude, to whom the prince makes his reply. Ophelia is twice made to promise that she will not see Hamlet again, first to her brother, Laertes, and then again to her father. Fittingly, both Hamlet and Ophelia - within the span of two back-to-back scenes - make nearly the same (possibly ironic) reply:

Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet.
I pray thee, stay with us. Go not to Wittenburg.

I shall in all my best obey you, madam

compare to:

{long-winded speech trimmed}
I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you slander any moment leisure
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to 't, I charge you. Come your ways.

I shall obey, my lord.

2. Hamlet sure likes to say "adieu" quite a bit. Perhaps it's because his father's closing words to him before vanishing into the air are:

Fare thee well at once!
The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.

which Hamlet then repeats in paraphrase:

So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word;
It is 'Adieu, adieu! remember me.'
I have sworn 't.

Or perhaps the sound of the word is just in the prince's subconscious. He does ask, in his first soliloquy - before he meets his father's ghost, for his "too, too-solid flesh" to "melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew," (I.ii.133-4) after all.

In any case, he certainly loves to repeat the sound. He uses it to close the letter that he addresses to Ophelia and that Polonius reads aloud to the King and Queen:

'Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
'O dear Ophelia, I am ill at these numbers;
I have not art to reckon my groans: but that
I love thee best, O most best, believe it. Adieu.
'Thine evermore most dear lady, whilst
this machine is to him, HAMLET.'

Finally, and most infamously, he uses it in his final, bitter dismissal of Gertrude:

Heaven make thee free of it. I follow thee.--
I am dead, Horatio. --Wretched queen, adieu.--

And if that cold-blooded farewell isn't enough to discourage Freudian suggestion of maternal incest, then I don't know what is.

3. Everybody in the royal family (plus a few) dies of poison:
  • Hamlet (poisoned with a lance)
  • Hamlet Sr. (poisoned in the ear by Claudius)
  • Gertrude (drinks from a poisoned cup)
  • Claudius (killed by the lance that poisons Hamlet, then forced to drink from Gertrude's cup)
  • Laertes (killed by his own poisoned sword)
Fitting for a play that deals so intensely with disease and corruption, no?

4. Check this out! And this and this!
Hamlet, Twit of Denmark

Hamlet is a silly twit. He is a spoiled brat plunged in the depths of melancholia because his hyperion of a father died and his dear mother has married his satyr-like uncle, and his diseased mind constantly conjures up images of his mother and uncle sleeping together, making love on an enseamed bed. It is obvious that poor Hamlet, on top of being completely deranged (evidence? wandering about the palace speaking in riddles and muttering “To be, or not to be” all day), rejected by the similarly idiotic Ophelia, and not allowed to return to Wittenburg (what’s he doing at a university at the age of thirty anyway), the only place he could ever have a chance of getting a decent social life, is, alas, suffering from an Oedipus complex (who else harbours such obsessive disgust at their own mother’s sexual behaviour?). This, combined with the lack of intellectual stimulation in Denmark the prison, what with the top court circles consisting only of people like Polonius the old fool, Ophelia the idiot and Horatio the cretin who worships him in lover-like adoration, provokes Hamlet to set his mind to work, who devises a cunning plan so that Claudius will think he’s gone completely dotty and hopefully send him to a loony bin somewhere, where he can act as crazy as he likes and take no responsibility for it. (He is obviously jealous of Laertes, who’s not only more handsome and accomplished than he is, but can game, drink, fence, swear, quarrel and drab as he chooses.)

So he proceeds to offend Daddy Claudius and Mummy Gertrude as much as he can by putting on naughty plays, during which he cracks crude jokes (which he no doubt thought very witty) at Ophelia, and after that little bit of fun, decides to kill his lady’s dad just as the last bit of icing on the cake. Then he cunningly secures his mother’s affection once again so that she’ll cover for him, but not after he acts all self-righteous, telling her to confess herself to heaven and to assume a virtue if she has it not. He then got what he wanted (to leave Denmark, what else) by telling Claudius that Polonius, his most trusted adviser, is at supper not where he eats, but where he is eaten, which threw Claudius in a very bad mood and prompted him to send the spoiled brat off as soon as possible. Hamlet, nevertheless, got the last word by giving him a very ambiguous and confusing unisex farewell.

Being the rogue and peasant slave that he so rightly calls himself, Hamlet, who’s never had many friends anyway, found that only Horatio, with his exclamations of “my sweet Prince!”, is the only person who still stands by his side, for not only do Claudius and Laertes want to chop his head off, but even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have cleverly manoeuvred their alliances to the new king, a thing which spoiled little Hamlet cannot accept, and in the spirit of a true friend, (after he’s called them sponges and acted all haughty and royal,) has them sent to England and beheaded, or hung, drawn and quartered, or whatever similar fate that the bored and sadistic English felt like exposing them to. Meanwhile Hamlet himself, leaving faithful little Horatio pining after him at home in Denmark (oh such joy as you have never seen when he receives a mere letter from his beloved Lord Hamlet!) has a bit of a frolicking with the pirates he encountered, drinking lots of rum and no doubt dealing freely with the ladies on shore, while the distressed Ophelia goes and drowns herself in a river, thinking of all the money, the jewels, and of course the title of queen eventually, that she has forsaken by playing hard-to-get and rejecting Hamlet in the first place.

The action then gets going. Angry Laertes, who has signed himself over to the Devil and allied with Claudius to kill Hamlet who has stabbed his dad and drove his darling little sister insane, now plots to murder Hamlet by challenging him to a duel, but only after poisoning the tip of his own sword in deadly poison. Hamlet, being arrogant as usual, accepts the challenge thinking he’ll win when indeed he’s been on a pirate ship for ages, and more importantly when everybody else in the kingdom, including his best friend, think the opposite and are betting vast amounts of money on Laertes (and god knows the Danes are wise betters). In true revenge tragedy fashion, everybody dies, a thing which would no doubt annoy the audience, who would have been hugely satisfied with Hamlet’s death alone.

First Laertes stabs Hamlet, who immediately stabs him back with the poisoned sword (both are now poisoned — two down); this is followed by Gertrude drinking the poisoned wine that was meant for Hamlet, so of course Mummy dies. The furious Hamlet then decides the state of Denmark is truly rotten, a fact that can only be remedied by committing regicide and killing Daddy Claudius, which is what he does. He then proceeds to hop around refusing to die, exclaiming “I am dead” to Horatio quite a few times before that assertion ceased to be a lie. A head count would reveal that the confused Osric and distraught Horatio are the only ones left in this quarry of havoc. In Hamlet’s last minutes of his life, his sense of his own importance is even more elevated, as he pretends to muster his last breath (except he’s only being melodramatic) to give Fortinbras his dying voice (as if anybody would want to be king of Denmark, anyway), although no one actually told him he was going to succeed Claudius as King of Denmark. Likely to have been proved most royal? Ha! Dream on, Hamlet. Fortinbras was only being polite.

Hamlet the play is about revenge. It is about a man sent by his father’s ghost to avenge his father’s death. Two characters in the play seem peripheral to it but in reality they are deep inside the heart of the play. These two characters are Laertes, son of the Prime Minister to Denmark, and Fortinbras, Prince of Norway. The role of these two characters is to highlight the basic themes Shakespeare has infused his play with. Hamlet is very lazy and slow in his mission. To highlight this point Shakespeare needed these two characters, who are a perfect contrast with Hamlet.

Hamlet, when the audience first see him, is severely depressed, and with good reason- his father had, not very long ago, died. If Hamlet is to be trusted during his passionate, ranting soliloquy beginning ‘O that this too too solid flesh’, we start the play just two months after the King’s death. (Hamlet changes his mind several times during this soliloquy to make it look worse to himself for the Queen, his mother, but the maximum time he says the King had lain dead was two months.) Another thing we missed was the remarriage of the Queen. This seemingly insensitive act burns a million fires inside of Hamlet. Claudius, the brother of Hamlet I, married Gertrude very soon after burying his brother. In Elizabethan English society there was a certain time for mourning, and a marriage or any sort of joyous occasion within this time would be shocking to the audience, and Hamlet, understandably, has hate for his uncle. We can see his hate in the first act, where he either ignores what his Uncle says to him, or if he does reply to his uncle, replies with cutting sarcastic remarks such as ’Not so, my lord; I am too much i' the sun’ (I.ii).

Hamlet refers to his father in his first soliloquy as an excellent King and generally a nice man- ‘So excellent a king; that was, to this/Hyperion to a satyr’. By these lines he means to say, that (Hamlet I) was to this (Claudius, the former king) as Hyperion, a god, was to a monster, a beast which came about as a result of Pan raping a goat. The present King is incompetent and no state leader- in stead of protecting his country from the inevitable attack from Norway (explained a little later), he is drinking and making merry. Hamlet believes other countries ‘clepe (them) drunkards’. He says this as noises, fanfare and shouting and laughing are heard from within the castle.

Hamlet is so depressed that he contemplates suicide. But two scenes after the soliloquy in which he almost kills himself, he is visited by his dear dead father, who gave him a mission of avenging him. Hamlet I tells him how he did not die of an adder’s venom, but from poison poured into his ear by his brother Claudius, who had the throne in his sight. But Hamlet is unsure and nervous. In Elizabethan England, judgement was for God alone and revenge was a terrible sin because it was raising oneself to the level of God, and this would be violating the Great Chain of Being. Blasphemy like this was a sin bad enough to be rewarded with an eternity in Hell.

Elizabethan England also had mixed feelings about ghosts. People either simply did not believe in ghosts, or saw them as restless spirits out of purgatory, like Hamlet I. Hamlet does not know whether the ghost is actually his father, or whether he is a demon who for some reason may be trying to get Hamlet to murder an innocent man. It is for this reason that Hamlet procrastinates- he really does not know what killed his father, and does not want eternal damnation because of an error in judgement on his part.

Fortinbras and Laertes have similar missions of revenge. Fortinbras is the son of Fortinbras I, former King of Norway. Prior to the death of Hamlet I, Fortinbras I and Hamlet I made a wager. They wagered their lands in a duel- the winner would take the loser’s lands. Hamlet won and so consequently owned lands from both Norway and Denmark. This left young Fortinbras bitter, hence the oncoming attack from Norway.

The play is set against a backdrop of an oncoming attack from Norway. Throughout the play at various points we hear of Fortinbras’ progress towards Denmark. The play begins with a setting of scene, and we are told of Fortinbras’ setting up of an army (‘why such daily cast of brazen cannon,/And foreign mart for implements of war’). Fortinbras’ situation is rather similar to Hamlet’s. Hamlet’s father was murdered, and Fortinbras’ father was also murdered, or, rather, killed in battle, a duel. The difference is, Fortinbras is very willing to avenge his father. He would deceive his uncle for some money for an army to come in to Denmark through a side door, Poland, to take back what he feels rightfully belongs to him, the lands which once belonged to his father. He is brash and willing to fight. For such a small prize he is willing to start a war. In contrast, we have Hamlet, who is the polar opposite of this, and is much too scared to kill Claudius- even for something as imperative as avenging his father, he is still too scared to confront the wrongdoer.

Laertes is the son of Polonius, the Prime Minister of Denmark, and brother of Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover. Naturally there is rivalry between Hamlet and Laertes, as he is the older brother of Ophelia. For a long time both had fought over her. This is the main reason Laertes always seems to dislike Hamlet- because he does not believe Hamlet truly loves Ophelia, he only lusts after her and he thinks it is only a passing infatuation which could leave the very young and very naive Ophelia hurt. As well as not believing Hamlet truly loves Ophelia, he realises Hamlet will not be able to marry her, because he will be expected to marry another princess, some member of somebody’s royal family, or high nobility, somebody who could be a good future Queen to Denmark. Ophelia is a commoner. She may be the daughter of the Prime Minister, but she is still a commoner, and Laertes knows Hamlet will never marry her because he has no choice as to who he shall marry. It is for his mother to choose, or maybe the people. By keeping Hamlet as far from his baby sister as possible, by giving Hamlet hate and animosity, he is protecting his sister.

Like Hamlet, Laertes’s father also was murdered, and like Hamlet, he is also fighting for the affection of a significant woman in his family against the man who murdered his father (Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is now even more strongly attached to Claudius, Hamlet I’s murderer, than she was to Hamlet I, and thus has even less of an attachment to Hamlet, so Claudius and Hamlet are fighting for the affections of Gertrude; Laertes’ father Polonius was killed by Hamlet, and Hamlet and Laertes are fighting for Ophelia, Laertes’ sister). Hamlet murdered Polonius because he thought Polonius was Claudius. It was a spontaneous act, spur-of-the-moment, an unthinking act. Polonius was hiding behind a curtain as the spy he thinks he is, and Hamlet stabbed through the curtain not knowing who he was stabbing at.

The death of her father causes Ophelia to lose her mind and to later drown herself. In almost the exact same situation, the way Laertes acts is very different from Hamlet. He, too, is ready to kill Hamlet. There is a whole scene where we see Laertes and Claudius plotting Hamlet’s death. Laertes is very ready to avenge two deaths in his family. He loved his sister so much he was ready to leap into the grave with her, to be buried with her. He has his dagger tipped with poison. He will duel Hamlet. Hamlet can’t bring himself to try to kill his uncle. The one time he had gathered enough courage to kill him, Claudius is kneeling at prayer and appears to be confessing (only he’s not confessing, not really, because the point of a confession is to confess your sins to God in the hope of forgiveness of those sins, and then completely end with those sins, but since Claudius’ whole life is one big sin, to end his sins would be ending his life). So Hamlet decides to kill him at a more suitable time, where Claudius is sinning and not praying, so he can die and die yet never die in Hell. Conversely, Laertes actually says, if necessary he will ‘cut his throat i’ the church’, so unyielding he was, such disregard for the sanctuary of a church he had. Laertes had been away for a while in France, in University. In Act I scene iii we see him leave for France. He only returns from his studies when he is informed of the death of his father. When he returns he is ready to kill his father’s murderer and bring his own flavour of justice to the Universe. This is in total contrast to Hamlet, who is afraid of doing that which he feels is God’s right only, to punish the sinners.

To conclude, Laertes’ and Fortinbras’ sole purpose in the play is to show the audience just how cowardly and asinine Hamlet’s procrastinating is. They have no difficulty in the act of revenge. Indeed, Laertes actually was ready to kill Hamlet wherever he would be, even if he took refuge in a church he would disregard the rules of a church being a sanctuary and kill him there. Laertes and Fortinbras are two devices used by Shakespeare to highlight to the world how easy revenge can be for some people, and how cowardly Hamlet is to delay his mission so much. Of course, it would be a strange world if everybody was the same. Laertes and Fortinbras are examples of one kind of soul- vengeful, and Hamlet is an example of another kind of soul- the kind that delays his mission until the final second of his own life.

Ham"let (?), n. [OWE. hamelet, OF. hamelet, dim. of hamel, F. hameau, LL. hamellum, a dim. of German origin; cf. G. heim home. &root;220. See Home.]

A small village; a little cluster of houses in the country.

The country wasted, and the hamlets burned. Dryden.

Syn. -- Village; neighborhood. See Village.


© Webster 1913.

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