William Shakespeare’s Hamlet Julian Goldblatt AP English Extra Credit In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist exhibits a puzzling, duplicitous nature. Hamlet contradicts himself throughout the play, enduring both the virtues of acting a role and that of being true to one’s self. He further supports both of these conflicting endorements with his actions. This ambiguity is demonstrated by his alleged madness, only to become perfectly calm and rational an instant later. These inconsistencies are related with the internal dilemmas he faces.
He struggles with the issue of revenging his father’s death, vowing to kill Claudius and then backing out, several times. The reason for this teetering is directly related to his inability to form a solid opinion about role-playing. This difficulty is not present, however, at the start of the play. In the first act, Hamlet appears to be very straightforward in his actions and inner state. When questioned by Gertrude about his melancholy appearance, Hamlet says, Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not ‘seems.’ (1.2.76). This is to say, I am what I appear to be.
Later in act I, Hamlet makes a clear statement about his state when he commits himself to revenge. In this statement the play makes an easy to follow shift. This shift consists of Hamlet giving up the role of a student and mourning son. Hamlet says, I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past, That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain (1.5.99-103). Hamlet is declaring that he will be committed to nothing else but the revenge of his father’s death.
In the next act, however, Hamlet’s status and intentions suddenly, and with out demonstrated reason, become mired in confusion. When Hamlet appears again in act two, it seems he has lost the conviction that was present earlier. He has yet to take up the role assigned to him by the ghost. It is not until the very end of the act that he even mentions vengeance. If he had any of the conviction shown earlier he would have been contemplating his revenge.
So, instead of playing the part of the vengeful son, he stays in the middle, pretending to be mad. This is shown when he says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I know not-lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise (2.2.298-299). Later he tells them that he is just feigning madness when he says, I am but mad north-north-west, when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw (2.2.380-381). Admitting so blatantly that he is only feigning madness would imply that he is comfortable with it. It is puzzling that, at this point, Hamlet is comfortable with acting, but not with the role that he said he would play earlier. If he is to play a role, why not the one that his father assigned him? When the characters come in a short while later, his attitude changes.
Hamlet is prompted to vengeance, again, by the moving speech that is given by one of the characters. He makes a big buildup of what he should have done and how he will be revenged. After all of his swearing and support of the value of acting and words, he backs out of it again. He can’t decide whether or not to play the role. Words are a further condemned when he says, Must, like a whore, unpack my hart with Words (2.2.587).
So, he is now condemning role playing. Being caught in the middle, he decides that he needs more proof of the Kings guilt when he says, The play is the thing? Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King (2.2.606-607). Before the mousetrap is to be played, Hamlet runs into Ophelia and makes the telling statements. Upon the issue of Ophelia’s beauty, Hamlet says, That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty (3.1.109-110). He is saying that Ophelia can be honest and fair, but that, honesty being an inward trait, and fairness being an outward trait, but the two cannot be linked.
He goes on further to say that Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd that the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness (3.1.13-15). So not only can the inner and outer self not be linked, but acting, or the show of exterior, will transform one’s inner self to match. He says this just after denying that words and acting are important. Whenever Hamlet is in support of acting, he is also ready for vengeance. In the next scene, the conflicting action is similar, but less obvious. When Hamlet is advising a character on how his lines should be read he says, Suit the action to the word, the word to the action (3.2.17-18).
If Hamlet would follow his own advice he would not have a conflict. This shows that he is inconsistent within himself. Yet, when Hamlet speaks with Horatio he praises him for being objective, levelheaded, and for having a consistent character. Hamlet is praising Horation because he wants him to watch the King at the play. He is unsure of his uncle’s guilt and wants proof.
He wants it from someone whom he thinks is honest throughout. Hamlet says to Horatio, Observe mine uncle. If his occulted guilt do not itself unkernnel in one speech, it is a dammed ghost we have seen (3.2.77-80). Proof, however does not have anything to do with the role Hamlet is supposed to play. Hamlet once again puts off killing his uncle until later and says, When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, At gaming, swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation init, Then trip him that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be dammed and black (3.3.89-94).
He is waiting until Claudius fits the part of a villain. His action is paralyzed whenever something does not fit the part. He needs his revenge to be drastic, so that he may get into it and finally play it out. After Hamlet backs out of killing Claudius, Hamlet says to his mother, O shame, where is thy blush? (3.4.72). He is voicing his distaste for her, not only for marrying his uncle, but also for not being true to herself.
He believes that she should show some shame for her sins, but she does not. At this point, Hamlet is till not sure as how he is to proceed. He is caught in the middle of acting and objectivity. Hamlet finally decides to act the part his father had given him after he sees the soldiers going off to die in the war. He realizes that he should do what his role dictates, strictly because it is his role. He does not falter in his conviction after he returns and he fully embraces the act.
Upon confronting Laertes, he says, This is I, Hamlet the Dane (5.1.53-54). The Dane, meaning the King. He is claiming his right to the throne. In the rest of the play, Hamlet gets to the point. He barely has time to tell, to Horatio, his story of escape before he is challenged. He does not refuse the challenge because as nobility, which he is finally claiming to be, he cannot refuse and keep his honor.
Hamlet goes to the match and, because he has now accepted the role, he does not hesitate to kill the King when prompted to. It would seem that being a good actor is paramount to survival in this play. Polonius could not stick to the role of adviser, and was trying to convince the King that Hamlet was in love with his daughter. This leads him to spy on Hamlet, and because he could not do that right either, is killed. Ophelia could not handle the role of mourning for her father, goes mad and dies as a result.
The King could not cover up his guilt, so Hamlet has the proof he needs to spur him on. If Hamlet had acted as the ghost instructed him to do, Claudius would have been killed outright. Had Hamlet been truly comfortable with his role, Claudius would have Shakespeare Essays.