Hamlet - Comment on Humanity


The Elizabethan play The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark 
is one of William Shakespeare's most popular works. One of the 
possible reasons for this play's popularity is the way Shakespeare 
uses the character Hamlet to exemplify the complex workings of the 
human mind. The approach taken by Shakespeare in Hamlet has generated 
countless different interpretations of meaning, but it is through 
Hamlet's struggle to confront his internal dilemma, deciding when to 
revenge his fathers death, that the reader becomes aware of one of the 
more common interpretations in Hamlet; the idea that Shakespeare is 
attempting to comment on the influence that one's state of mind can 
have on the decisions they make in life. 
 As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the encounters that 
Hamlet must face to demonstrate the effect that one's perspective can 
have on the way the mind works. In his book Some Shakespeare Themes & 
An Approach to Hamlet, L.C. Knight takes notice of Shakespeare's use 
of these encounters to journey into the workings of the human mind 
when he writes:

 What we have in Hamlet.is the exploration and implicit 
 criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness.In 
 Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the 
 complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion, 
 and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a 
 judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human 
 life. (192) 

 Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet's internal dilemma in 
Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet when the ghost of Hamlet's father appears and 
calls upon Hamlet to "revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" 
(1.5.24). It is from this point forward that Hamlet must struggle 
with the dilemma of whether or not to kill Claudius, his uncle, and if 
so when to actually do it. As the play progresses, Hamlet does not 
seek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, and it is the 
reasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that becomes paramount 
to the reader's understanding of the effect that Hamlet's mental 
perspective has on his situation.
 In order to fully understand how Hamlet's perspective plays an 
important role in this play, the reader must attempt to answer the 
fundamental question: Why does Hamlet procrastinate in taking revenge 
on Claudius? Although the answer to this question is at best somewhat 
complicated, Mark W. Scott attempts to offer some possible 
explanations for Hamlet's delay in his book, Shakespeare for Students:
Critics who find the cause of Hamlet's delay in his internal 
meditations typically view the prince as a man of great moral 
integrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against his 
deepest principles. On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make 
sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, which 
Shakespeare presents as soliloquies. Another perspective of Hamlet's 
internal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchanted 
with life since his father's death that he has neither the desire nor 
the will to exact revenge. (74)

Mr. Scott points out morality and disenchantment, both of which belong 
solely to an individuals own conscious, as two potential causes of 
Hamlet's procrastination, and therefore he offers support to the 
idea that Shakespeare is placing important emphasis on the role of 
individual perspective in this play. The importance that Mr. Scott's 
comment places on Hamlet's use of personal meditations to "make sense 
of his moral dilemma" (74), also helps to support L.C. Knight's 
contention that Shakespeare is attempting to use these dilemmas to 
illustrate the inner workings of the human mind. 
 In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives the reader an opportunity to 
evaluate the way the title character handles a very complicated 
dilemma and the problems that are generated because of it. These 
problems that face Hamlet are perhaps best viewed as overstatements of 
the very types of problems that all people must face as they live 
their lives each day. The magnitude of these "everyday" problems are 
almost always a matter of individual perspective. Each person will 
perceive a given situation based on his own state of mind. The one, 
perhaps universal, dilemma that faces all of mankind is the
 problem of identity. As Victor L. Cahn writes, "Hamlet's primary 
dilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place and 
these circumstances, How is he to respond? What is his 
responsibility?" (69). This dilemma defined by Mr. Cahn fits in well 
with the comments of both L.C. Knight and Mark Scott, because it too 
requires some serious introspection on the part of Hamlet to resolve, 
and also supports the idea that Shakespeare is using Hamlet's dilemma 
to illustrate the effect that perspective, or state of mind, can have 
on a given situation.
 Hamlet's delay in seeking revenge for his father's death 
plays an important role in allowing Shakespeare's look into the human 
mind to manifest itself. If Hamlet had killed Claudius at first 
opportunity, there would have been little chance for Shakespeare to 
develop the internal dilemma which all three critics, L.C. Knight, 
Mark Scott, and Victor Cahn, mention in support of the widely held 
view that, in Hamlet, Shakespeare is attempting to make a comment 
about the complexity of the human mind, and the power that a person's 
mental perspective can have on the events of his life. 

Works Cited

Cahn, Victor L. Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the 
Complete Tragedies, Histories, and Romances. New York: Greenwood 
Press, 1991. 

Knight, L. C. Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet. San 
Francisco: Stanford University Press, 1966. 

Scott, Mark W., ed. Shakespeare For Students. Detroit: Gale Research 
Inc., 1992. 

Shakespeare, William. "Hamlet." Literature: An Introduction to 
Reading and Writing Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. 
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995. 1129-1230. 

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