The Puzzle that Remains Unsolved
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a literary work that is believed to be one of the most famous tragedies in the history of world literature. William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy in the end of the sixteenth century. Despite the play is more than four hundred years old, it still inspires and puzzles those who enjoy reading and reflecting on the texts. The appearance of such a story was caused by Shakespeare’s interest in Norse legends that often touched upon the theme of revenge and restoring justice (Kelly 53).
Due to its complexity and rich language, the Tragedy of Hamlet, that is full of inventive comparisons and other literary devices, remains interesting for many book reviewers. Throughout the play, Hamlet is depicted as the most eloquent character. Being the protagonist of the tragedy, he is shown as a young man with a many-sided personality. The reason why the Tragedy of Hamlet is still of interest to many reviewers is likely to be rooted in the fact that it was a breakthrough in the field of literature. To be more precise, such long and detailed stories with well-developed character systems were not so common for the literature of the sixteenth century. In the tragedy, William Shakespeare proposes a riddle to the readers. Despite all the efforts made to crack a mystery, we still have not found the solution of this riddle.
Who is Hamlet?
Prince Hamlet is a character whose concerns and attitudes are used to organize the plot of the tragedy. In the beginning of the play, the reader is told about Hamlet who is the Prince of Denmark and a son of the previous King of Denmark. Prince Hamlet experiences a real grief resulting from the death of his father. Throughout the play, he hoards revenge and it results in his direct and indirect involvement in the numerous deaths of other characters. As for the outstanding traits of Hamlet’s personality, the reader may notice Hamlet’s lack of arrogance that seems quite unusual for the person of such a noble lineage (Kinney 18). His personality can be characterized by vulnerability; due to that feature, he always takes everything to heart. Having realized that Prince Hamlet treats nobody indifferently, the reader finds a key to a puzzle of this character; Hamlet’s tragicalness is rooted in the fact that he is distressed for the society and its future.
To some extent, he can be called an odd one out of the noblemen as there is not a scintilla of haughtiness in his attitude to the people of other social layers. Communicating to the people of his class, Hamlet puts on the airs of a man who shares the values of the high society. Nevertheless, when he engages with people of lower orders, he can be true to himself. In fact, he seems to be fed up to the back teeth with the falseness and backstabbing of the noblemen. Prince Hamlet falls a long way short of the characters whose aspirations are limited with gaining power and material values (Greenblatt 12). Instead, he is wrapped up in his thoughts on the heart of things. In opposition to his strong emotional sensibility, his razor-sharp mind allows him to look at things from the outside; using it, he concludes that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Kelly 97).
Being a real judge of character, Hamlet is good at revealing the true intentions of other people and it makes him a formidable enemy for his ill-wishers. There is nothing that he leaves out of account as his keen understanding of the dark side of human nature makes him have all eyes about one. The way that Prince Hamlet sees life is significantly influenced by his emotional openness and sincerity; his main problem resides in the fact that he can be happy only if he is surrounded with people who hold back nothing about themselves. Unfortunately, he rarely meets such people. Feeling so outraged about the insincerity and deceitfulness that are the key features of the high society that he belongs to, Hamlet acts as a real exposer. Apart from other distinctive features of his character, he possesses an ability to ape other people’s manners. Prince Hamlet does it very artistically and punningly. Communicating to him, people from high society are looking in the glass that reflects and even exaggerates their malice. Those who spin intrigues feel unable to hide for Hamlet’s poignancy and insightfulness as he always seems to stay ahead of the curve.
The Story of Hamlet’s Life
The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is quite a long literary work consisting of five parts. The first part starts with the introduction of Hamlet, his recently murdered father King Hamlet, and his uncle King Claudius who represents the primary antihero of the tragedy. After his brother’s death, Claudius marries Gertrude who is Prince Hamlet’s mother, and ascends to the throne. One night, two look-out sentries of the royal castle and Hamlet’s friend Horatio bump into a ghost having a strong resemblance to King Hamlet. Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost and he decides to see it himself. The next night ghost of King Hamlet appears again. King Hamlet tells his son the truth about his death, he tells that he has been murdered by his brother. Then, he asks Hamlet to take vengeance on Claudius for his death. Hamlet says that he will do that and the ghost disappears.
Then, Hamlet asks sentries and Horatio to keep all that they have heard to themselves. At the same time, he is not dead sure if the ghost is real. Sometime after that, all members of high society start having a suspicion that there is something wrong with Hamlet. Polonius, who is an advisor to the king, invites two students to examine Hamlet’s behavior and make a conclusion about his mental condition. Hamlet pretends to be mad to keep his plan of revenge a secret. With help of the group of actors, he makes certain that Claudius killed his father. Hamlet asks actors to stage a play that contains a few poems written by him. Observing the reaction of King Claudius, Prince Hamlet fully realizes that the ghost has told him the truth.
Polonius sends his daughter Ophelia to Hamlet but he keeps staging madness as he knows that everybody is fishing for information. King Claudius experiences the pangs of conscience. Overwhelmed by this feeling, he starts praying for atonement. Then, Hamlet kills Polonius who hangs out his ear during the conversation between him and his mother. A son of Polonius returns to Denmark dead set on killing Hamlet in order to take revenge. Claudius proposes him to challenge Hamlet to a duel with swords and to poison his own sword. Ophelia dies and it makes Laertes go mad. After the defeat of Laertes, Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine by mistake and dies. Hamlet kills Claudius with the poisoned sword and dies, too. In the last minutes of his life, he talks Horatio out of following him.
The Significance of the Play
Despite it was written more than four hundred years ago, the tragedy still possesses certain applicability (Roberts 5). It happens because in this literary work William Shakespeare touches upon enduring value of family relations, the nature of betrayal and longing for justice (Erne 192). What is more, it describes all the travails of searching for the truth. In the very beginning, the protagonist is involved in quite a difficult situation that drives him out of his senses. Having managed to overcome his uncertainty, Prince Hamlet becomes more powerful and more honest to himself. To some extent, he is regarded as a national hero whose courage and commitment to his own values have helped to redress an injustice. It is quite safe to assume that Shakespeare depicted the hero that the country was in need of; being pacific and setting a value upon each human life, Hamlet was an expression of new humanist ideals of that time. In his own vision, setting the war is a total unreason; he has such a love for humankind that he becomes able to take revenge on the murderer of his father only after a long period of reflections.
Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton University Press, 2013.
Kelly, Joseph. The Seagull Reader: Plays (Third Edition). W. W. Norton, 2014.
Kinney, Arthur. Hamlet: Critical Essays. Vol. 23. Routledge, 2013.
Roberts, Kathryn. “Aural Sensibility and Interpreting Shakespeare: Developing Modern Approaches to Compositional Dramaturgy in Hamlet and Macbeth.” Sydney Undergraduate Journal of Musicology, vol.2, no.1, 2013, pp. 3-20.