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The Problem of Moral Agency in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The Problem of Moral Agency in Hamlet

In order to be a moral agent, a person has to have a good sense of self, they have to know exactly who they are and how they must act according to the decisions they make. In Hamlet, the moral task at hand is revenge for the murder of Hamlet the elder. The murdered King’s son, also of the same name, must be the one to avenge the murder. Before Prince Hamlet finds out the true story behind his father’s death, he has his mother’s “incestuous” remarriage to his uncle Claudius (who is now the King of Denmark) on his mind. Long after Hamlet learns the truth, he still does nothing. Hamlet is unable to act even though he has decided to seek revenge. One reason he does not act is because he cannot get past the fact that his mother is not, in his mind, adequately mourning old Hamlet’s death. The second reason the Prince has problems with moral agency is because he does not really decide why he is planning to seek revenge on Claudius. His task is twofold, he wants to avenge the murder of his father and he wants his mother to reveal her guilt about her hasty and incestuous marriage. Finally, Hamlet does not truly know who he is, and what he is to do until the very last act of Hamlet. This essay aims to explore why Prince Hamlet has trouble becoming a moral agent.

When we first encounter Hamlet, his concerns are about his mother’s remarriage to his uncle Claudius so soon after his father has died. The Prince is angry because Gertrude is not adequately mourning old Hamlet’s death, and due to the insistence of Claudius that Hamlet consider him his father and king:

O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason

Would have mourn’d longer– married with my uncle,

My fathe…

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…. When Hamlet is doomed to die, he goes through with his revenge, but not for his father, nor for his mother– The Prince finally kills the King when he finds out that it he, Claudius, who is responsible for the poisonous foil. This final reason to kill Claudius is most important of all.

Works Cited

Calderwood, James L.. To Be and Not To Be: Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. –New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

Shakespeare, William. All’s Well That Ends Well. –In: The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. –Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974; pp.504-541.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. –In: The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. –Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974; pp. 1141-1186.

Tirrell, Lynne. “Storytelling and Moral Agency.” –In: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. –V.48, Spring 1990; pp.115-126.

The Physiological Breakdown of Hamlet

The Physiological Breakdown of Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, the main character, Hamlet is overcome by a physiological breakdown. Hamlet was a sensitive man who was destroyed by a corrupt environment. Hamlet’s dead father, the deeds of his uncle and mother, and the frequency of death caused the destruction of Hamlet.

First of all, the loss of any close family member is very traumatic. Hamlet is not immune to such effects. In the first of Hamlet’s soliloquies, Hamlet cries “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” (III. ii. 134-137). It is obvious that this is a window to Hamlet’s tortured soul. This is only the beginning of the end for Hamlet. In Act I. Scene iv. Hamlet confronts the spirit of his dead father. This is also disturbing to Hamlet. John S. Wilks writes in J. Leeds Barroll’s Shakespeare Studies how meeting the ghost of his father “…throws his conscience into doubt and error, must naturally begin with the malign source of that confusion, the Ghost” (119). Hamlet is also incensed when he learns the reason for his father’s torture. Old Hamlet was murdered by his brother when he was sleeping. This leaves Old Hamlet walking in limbo for his afterlife. After learning this, Hamlet decrees “O all you host of heaven! O Earth! What else? And shall I couple hell?” (I. v. 92-93). Also knowing that his father was miserable in the afterlife weighed heavily on Hamlet’s mind (Knight 20). Clearly, the death of his father and speaking to the ghost of his father started the corruption of Hamlet.

The deeds of his uncle and his mot…

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…rruption of Hamlet can be attributed to the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the actions of his mother and uncle and the many deaths that occur in this play. Hamlet is a sensitive man who could not take all trauma of all the events that happened in his life. His corruption was the only way for him to escape the tribulations he faced.

Works Cited

Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire. London: Oxford University Press, 1930.

Mack, Maynard, et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Sixth ed. Vol 2. New York: Norton, 1992.

Skura, Meredith Anne. “Hamlet and Psychoanalysis” Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Ed.

Robert B. Heilman. Englewood Cliffs: MLA, 1984. 84-93.

Wliks, John S. “The discourse of Reason: Justice and the Erroneous Conscience in

Hamlet. Shakespeare Studies. Vol XVIII. Ed. J. Leeds Barroll. New York: MLA, 1986. 117-144.

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