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The Many Faces of Hamlet

The Many Faces of Hamlet

Of all the characters in the play, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the character of Hamlet is without a doubt the most complex. His emotions are never stable, his feelings are constantly changing, and his behavior is confusing and inconsistent. Hamlet is described as “a half a dozen characters rolled into one” (Shaw 344) and with as many adjectives in one sentence as “cruel, angry, tender, depressed, clownish, manic, and filled with loathing for women, humanity, life, and himself” (Epstein 329). When put into perspective, however, perhaps this harsh description of Hamlet is justified. With all he has had to deal with (apparitions, deaths, deceit, and interference in his personal life,) it would be very odd if Hamlet’s personality and beliefs did not fit the description above.

Hamlet is also thought to possess a melancholic temperament. According to the Elizabethans, a melancholic temperament was marked by its instability. The melancholic person, in this case Hamlet, is prone to sudden bouts of nervousness along with other sporatic mental changes. Also, Hamlet is subject to an erratic type of demeaner characterized by extreme and spontaneous mood fluxuation (Bradley 100). It has been said that melancholy accounts for Hamlet’s inaction since the immediate cause of that is feelings of apathetic discouragement. The body is simply inert, and thus not prone to act (Bradley106).

Hamlet, due to such melancholy, can also be deemed fickle in that he goes from one emotion to the next. He goes from mad to lucid such as when he exhibits calmness and content behavior when in his dear friend Horatio’s presence to downright cruel and crude when he is in his once beloved Ophelia’s presence. One minute …

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…Leonora, and Laura Rozakis. Monarch Notes: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1997.

Clemen, W.H. Quote. Literary Companion to British Authors: William Shakespeare. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996. 113.

Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Freud, Sigmund. Quote. Ed. Norrie Epstein. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Penguin, 1993. 349.

Gibson, Mel. Quote. Ed. Norrie Epstein. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Penguin, 1993. 336.

Harbage, Alfred. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Penguin, 1957.

Literary Companion to British Authors: William Shakespeare. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1996

Mehl, Dieter. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge, 1986.

Shaw, George Bernard. Quote. Ed. Norrie Epstein. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Penguin, 1993. 344.

Hamlet – is there Spirituality?

To what extent is spirituality woven into the fabric of Shakespeare’s tragic drama Hamlet? This essay proposes to answer that question.

David Bevington, in the Introduction of Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet, finds a very obvious spiritual dimension to the drama:

According to popular Elizabethan belief, both Catholic and Protestant, spirits from the dead could indeed “assume a pleasing shape,” in order to abuse a person in Hamlet’s vulnerable frame of mind and so lead him to damnation.[. . .] Hamlet must face the ghost once again to explain why he “lets go by Th’ important acting of your dread command”; yet his purpose in confronting Gertrude with her weakness is the laudable one of returning her to at least an outward custom of virtue.[. . .] Hamlet has always believed that heavenly justice will prevail among men: “Foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes” (6).

The spiritual aspect of the play is made apparent in the second scene when Hamlet wears black to the courtly celebration in the room of state in the castle of Elsinore. His motves for this are spiritual in nature. The first soliloquy, or “act of talking to oneself, whether silently or aloud” (Abrams 289), occurs when the hero is left alone after the royal social gathering. He is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). His first soliloquy emphasizes two religious/moral themes: the corruption of the world at large, and the frailty of women – an obvious reference to his mother’s hasty and incestuous marriage:

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d

His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

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.

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