Hamlet is a character with whom most of us could relate not only because of his imperfections but also because of his insecurities. He is imperfect, he has his insecurities, but what is most remarkable in him is his goodness of heart which makes it very difficult for him to think ill of other people – this is his strength as well as his weakness. In the end, his inherent goodness becomes the cause not only of his tragic end but that of his uncle-king and his mother, the queen, as well (Hamlet).
He is a good son who dearly loves both his father and his mother. However, because of his goodness of heart, he mourns his father’s death not because it is a big blow for him as a son who has just lost a good father, but more so because he believes that Denmark has lost a great king and his mother a very loving and protective husband. He is convinced of Denmark’s great loss because he knows that his late father, King Hamlet, was a much better king than his uncle, King Claudius, as shown by his soliloquy in Act 1, Scene II where he compares his late father to Hyperion (Greek god of truth and sun) and his uncle, King Claudius, to a satyr (a half-goat, half-human woodland deity). He also considers it a shame that barely two months after his father’s death Denmark has not only lost most of its riches but has also become a land of chaos. His exact words are:
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; (Hamlet).
His other reason for mourning his father’s death is his mother. He is fully aware how much his father loved his mother as shown by his words: “…so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly.” Because of this, he also knows the extent of his mother’s loss. He knows, because he has observed how his mother has become very dependent on his father since they were married, i.e.: “Heaven and earth! Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on.” So it is that being a son with a good heart, he mourns for his father because of the love that once existed between his late father and his mother and because his mother has lost a loving husband in whose protection she had trusted her life (Hamlet).
However, because of his inherent goodness, he also questions the morality of his mother’s recent action – that of marrying his father’s brother, who is also her mother’s brother-in-law and Hamlet’s paternal uncle – barely two months after his father’s death. Hamlet believes that his mother should have mourned his father much longer before marrying again. He sees her action as a weakness in her moral character, showing her frailty as a woman. In the same soliloquy, Hamlet laments:
within a month – let me not think on’t – Frailty, thy name is woman! – A little month, or ere those shoes were old With which she follow’d my poor father’s body, Like Niobe, all tears :-- why she, even she – O God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason, Would have mourn’d longer – married with my uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father (Hamlet).
In other words, although Hamlet loves his mother very much, he nevertheless expects her to mourn properly for his father. Besides, Hamlet considers his mother’s relationship with his uncle to be incestuous. These are the two reasons why he feels so sad and so depressed – why both his uncle Claudius and his mother have noticed that he is not himself. However, they merely attribute his behavior to the fact that he has been devastated by the death of his father (Hamlet).
Hamlet is a goodhearted man, no question about it. His inherent goodness is such that he does not want to think ill of others without enough evidence. So that when the ghost that looks like his father talks to him and informs him that King Claudius is his father’s murderer, he refuses to believe the ghost instantly. Although he is devastated when the ghost informs him that “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown,” he wants to be certain first before doing anything about it because, according to him, he is not sure if the ghost is indeed his father or the devil masquerading as his father’s ghost. So in the face of this uncertainty, what Hamlet does is to devise a way which would help him establish the guilt of his uncle. He writes a script which closely resembles what happened to his father as narrated to him by the ghost and let the players of a play recite it in front of King Claudius. His plan is to observe the King very closely as the play unfolds. His thoughts are shown in his soliloquy in act 2, scene II which follows:
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle: I’ll observe his looks; I’ll tent him to the quick: if he but blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape (Hamlet).
Clearly, even though he wants to suspect his uncle because of what the ghost tells him, the goodness of his heart restrains him. Instead, he gives his uncle the benefit of the doubt and waits for the play where he hopes that his uncle will reveal his guilt himself through his reaction to the play (Hamlet).
His inherent goodness once again rules over him after the play establishes the guilt of his uncle beyond any doubt. Although seething with anger and overflowing with the urge to avenge his father’s death, Hamlet again chooses to set his anger aside. He sees his uncle kneeling and praying in a room and initially entertains the idea of killing him right there and then so that he can take his revenge, but he perishes the thought, questioning the righteousness of the act. In his soliloquy in act 3, scene III, he says that
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May; And how his audit stands who knows save heaven? But in our circumstances and course of thought; ‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged, to take him in the purging of his soul, When he is fit and season’d for his passage? No!
So instead of killing his uncle, Hamlet decides that the pain of living with a guilty conscience is enough punishment for his uncle. He therefore leaves his uncle to deal with his guilt, believing that he has no right to take the life of his uncle, regardless of his crime (Hamlet).
Hamlet shows his inherent goodness up to the end of the play. He discovers that the real reason behind his uncle’s request for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to escort him to England is to have him executed there. His uncle planned this because he knows that Hamlet already knows the truth. He is afraid that Hamlet will reveal him as King Hamlet’s murderer, therefore the order for his execution. Hamlet eludes King Claudius’ plan to have him killed. He returns to Denmark alive while his escorts, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, were executed in England in his place. In spite of his knowledge that his uncle wants him dead, still he does not suspect that if he returns to Denmark alive, other plans to kill him might be hatched (Hamlet).
He recounts his experience to Horatio, describing how he escaped King Claudius’ plan to have him killed. Horatio feels disgust towards their king. He then tells Horatio that he is also very mad at his uncle the king and perhaps the time has come to do something about the evil acts of King Claudius. However, when King Claudius sends an emissary to inform him to defend the honor of Denmark in a wager against France, Hamlet gladly accepts the assignment. He is not aware, because in his goodness he neglects to suspect the king, that a plan to kill him (complete with a backup plan) has already been set in motion. The plan is for Laertes, his opponent in the duel, to use a poisoned rapier. The backup plan is that if Laertes fails to kill Hamlet, King Claudius will offer Hamlet a poisoned drink to finish him off. In the end, it is Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, who dies from the poisoned drink. The poisoned rapier kills both Laertes and Hamlet but not before Hamlet stabs the king dead with the same rapier (Hamlet).
Hamlet. Literature Network. 11 October 2008.
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