Antiheroism In Hamlet


Antiheroism has always been an interesting aspect of a
character that authors have chosen to illustrate. In
literature, there have been countless antiheroic
characters, from Randle McMurphy in " One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest" and Allie Fox in " The Mosquito Coast", to
others as famous as " Robin Hood". By literary definition,
an antihero is the "hero" of the play or novel, but he/she
has negative attributes which separate him or her from the
classic hero figure such as Superman. Such negative aspects
may include a violent nature, use of coarse language, or
self serving interests which may inadvertently depict the
protagonist as a hero since the result of serving those
interests may be for the betterment of society or an
environment. In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, the
protagonist, Hamlet, is depicted as an antihero. One main
factor which gives Hamlet such a label is that he draws
sympathy, as well as admiration, from the reader since
Hamlet feels the pain of losing his father along with the
burden and obstacles in avenging his murder.
Act four places a special emphasis on Hamlet's
intelligence. In scene two, Hamlet is very insolent and
rude towards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with such phrases
"That I can keep your counsel and not, mine own. Beside, to
be demanded of a sponge, what replication should be made by
the son of a king?" (IV, ii, 12-14)
 The reference to the sponge reflects the fact that
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are easily ordered by the king
and do not have minds of their own. Hamlet does not like
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern since they are servants of the
Claudius, Hamlet's mortal enemy. The reader does not like
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern either which causes the reader
to side with Hamlet.
Another incident of Hamlet's high intelligence is shown
when he tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
"I am glad of it: a knavish sleeps in a foolish ear." (IV,
This statement leaves Rosencrantz and Guildenstern more or
less confused. Hamlet is clearly more clever than the two
of them combined and is able to toy with them. Hamlet has
an excellent command of the language and because of it, can
use words to the point that those around him will not
understand and may label him as crazy.
Hamlet shows another example of his cleverness, this time
towards Claudius, when he says,
"I see a cherub that sees them. But, come; for England!
Farewell, dear mother." (IV, iii, 49-50) 
The cherub, or the angel, gives Hamlet a sense of
superiority over Claudius. Having an angel at one's side
would be a definite sign of power, which is exactly what
Hamlet tries to maintain over Claudius in their constant
power struggle. Just when Claudius thinks he controls
Hamlet, it is really Hamlet who has the upper hand over
There are very strong philosophical references made by
Hamlet in this act regarding life and death. Hamlet tells
"Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots:
your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service,
two dishes, but to one table: that's the end." (IV, iii,
This statement is a reference to the food chain, and in
turn, a reflection on the meaning of life. It illustrates
the equality of men in that whether one is born to be a
king or a beggar, when one dies, we are all equal. Worms
and maggots do not treat anybody differently once one is
dead and buried.
The final scene draws the greatest sympathy towards Hamlet
even though he is not even in the scene. The forces of
Claudius and Laertes have combined against Hamlet. Claudius
"To an exploit now ripe in my device, Under the which he
shall not choose but fall, And for his death no wind of
blame shall breathe; But even his mother shall unchange the
practice, And call it accident." (IV, vii, 65-69) 
Claudius is willing to undertake any measures necessary to
eliminate Hamlet, to the point that it does not matter
whether or not it hurts Gertrude in any way. This scene
depicts Hamlet as the victim, much like two bullies picking
on a smaller child in school, since the king, with the aid
of Laertes, is out to kill Hamlet, this time with a
passion. Much like a political revolutionary, Hamlet has
the system against him and is facing death because of his
loyalty and honor towards his father.
The fact that Hamlet's life is not indeed in jeopardy
attributes to his "hero" status. In addition, his only
fault is the desire to avenge his father's murder, an act
considered completely honorable by the reader. However,
Hamlet's negative attributes include his rudeness towards
others, including the fair Ophelia, and a violent nature as
shown when he kills Polonius, albeit accidentally, and
shows no remorse, causing a reclassification from the
classic hero, to the more appropriate label of antihero. 


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