Solution to Hamlet


The Hamlet Paradigm - Central Question of the Play

How does an individual react when he develops an obsession with
destroying the powerful force ruling his country, yet risks
experiencing psychological estrangement, occurring at multiple levels
within himself, if he attempts to destroy that force? This is the
central question that Shakespeare explores in his play Hamlet, which is
a character study of an individual harboring just such an obsession,
entailing just such a risk.


 That Hamlet is obsessed with destroying the powerful force
 ruling his country (Claudius) is plainly evident in the play.
 But while this obsession initiates Hamlet^s behavior, it is his
 additional realization, that he risks psychological
 estrangement occurring on multiple levels as a result of trying
 to carry out his obsession, that shapes his behavior into the
 form that the audience sees, one that seems bizarre and

The Nature of Hamlet^s Obsession

The reasons for Hamlet^s obsession with exacting revenge against
Claudius are fairly straightforward. The ghost of Hamlet Sr. informed
Hamlet that Claudius killed Hamlet Sr. and thus usurped him from his
throne. In doing so, he emasculated Hamlet by robbing him of his
central role model of masculinity, namely his father. He also
committed the moral and political sin of regicide, and the familial sin
of killing his brother and subsequently sleeping with his wife.
Claudius also deprived Hamlet of his rightful kingship, since Hamlet
was second in line after Hamlet Sr. In addition, Hamlet now knows that
his love of his mother is corrupted since she is affectionate towards
his emasculating enemy.

The Nature of Hamlet^s Risk of Psychological Estrangement

 In attempting to kill Claudius, Hamlet risks enduring
 estrangement occurring within his self at multiple
 psychological levels. There are primarily five such levels of

1. Religious estrangement: Hamlet feels self-actualized from following
basic religious principles of living. This is shown by his lamentation
that the everlasting had fixed his cannon against self-slaughter, thus
preventing Hamlet from committing suicide at a time when he felt like
doing so. If Hamlet were to kill Claudius, he would be violating a
central religious principle against murdering another human being.
This would make him feel guilt at having violated religious coda, thus
representing estrangement at the level of his religious consciousness.
2. Moral estrangement: Hamlet is also principled in a moral, or more
generally a normative, sense. To kill a king would mean violating his
internal conviction against committing crimes that might harm the
hierarchical order of a state^s government. His generally principled
nature is shown by his refusal to gather together a mob to oust
Claudius, as Laertes attempts to do later in the play, even though he
knew that he had the ability to do so. The fact that he knew this is
shown by the fact that Claudius explicitly knew this of Hamlet. One
may safely assume that Hamlet^s understanding of how politics works is
virtually identical to that of Claudius and Hamlet Sr. The general
similarity in how these blood relatives think and feel emerges from
both of them professing their psychological reliance on Gertrude^s
support of them. 3. Estrangement from countrymen: It is true that
Hamlet has both the capacity to organize a mob of supporters to
overthrow Claudius and is loved by most of his countrymen (to the point
where, as Claudius admits, Claudius cannot openly think, feel or act in
a hostile manner towards Hamlet). However, Hamlet is unable to
organize such a mob for this purpose due to his principled nature,
which prohibits him from doing so. Without this option, the only way
for him to avenge his father^s death is by himself alone taking action
against Claudius. Essentially, then, he is one man up against a king
and his army of soldiers, spies and friends. Against such odds, he
faces the serious risk that palace intrigue could work against him. A
suspicious Claudius could, for example, have some of Hamlet^s
colleagues in the royal household go out and spy on him, or assassinate
him. Thus, in attempting to kill Claudius, Hamlet risks estrangement
in the form of his former colleagues of the royal!
 household turning against him. Claudius could also have some of
 Hamlet^s friends try to kill him. This represents Hamlet^s risk of
 feeling estrangement from having his former friends turn against him.
 Also, Hamlet^s friends and colleagues do not know why Claudius
 deserves execution; they have no knowledge of his crime, and Hamlet
 either lacks the proof or the nerve to inform them of the crime.
 Thus, in trying to kill Claudius, Hamlet faces an estranging sense of
 unease from engaging in an endeavor of which his friends and
 colleagues feel is gravely immoral and unacceptable. 4. Estrangement
from his Mother: This is probably the most important form of
estrangement that Hamlet risks feeling in attempting to kill Claudius.
There are several points to be said about this. In order to kill
Claudius, Hamlet must, of course, realize that Claudius killed his
father. In doing so, however, he must also realize the self-unsettling
fact that his mother unwittingly fell in love with such a vile man, a
man who not only is immoral but has successfully emasculated Hamlet by
killing his father. In killing Claudius he also risks estrangement
from her, since she might forever view Hamlet as the man who killed her
lover and a just king. After all, she might never believe in Claudius^
guilt, either from Hamlet not being able to convince her of his guilt,
or because a sense of psychological denial might prevent her from
realizing this fact about Claudius. And even if she does realize it,
she will feel hurt. Just as Claudius and Hamlet Sr. feel pained by
Gertrude^! s hurt, so would Hamlet, who as a blood relative to the
other men thinks and feels similarly to them. For this reason, Hamlet
feels inhibited from deliberately destroying the man his beloved mother
loves. There is also the prospect that a suspicious Claudius could
influence a naive Gertrude to hate Hamlet, or to approve of or to
support palace intrigue against the potential assassin. In this case,
Hamlet would feel the double sting of his mother, who once loved him,
becoming both his enemy and Claudius^ supporter. Another form of
motherly estrangement that Hamlet would feel from killing Claudius
would result from him contradicting his mother^s expectation of what
his personality is like. Gertrude believes that Hamlet is ^sweet.^
But by killing Claudius, Hamlet would be cruel. This would disturb her
self-actualizing conception of the nature of Hamlet^s personality, and
the realization that this disturbance has occurred would be to Hamlet a
source of psychological estrang! ement. 5. Estrangement from women in
general: Just as Hamlet^s countrymen and colleagues might turn against
him as a result of palace intrigue, so could his lover, Ophelia. In
addition, in realizing the fact of Claudius^ crime (which he must do in
order to avenge his father^s murder), he realizes some ^facts^ about
women that disturb him. Specifically, the ^facts^ that Hamlet realizes
are that women might, because of their emotional characteristics,
unwittingly commit serious, immoral mistakes and that women put on men
psychological pressures that can interfere with men^s ability to do
what is morally right. Gertrude^s marrying of Claudius the murderer,
as well as how her psychological impact on Hamlet^s mind hinders his
ability to kill Claudius, are manifestations of these facts. These
facts disturb him by making him feel weary and estranged of womens^
emotional weaknesses, which in turn make him feel weary of women in
general. That weariness of women threatens his sense of sel!
f-actualization, because it is much more difficult for him to carry on
a normal sex life if he feels estranged by women in general; a
heterosexual man who is unable to carry on a normal sex life with women
feels anti-self-actualized.

Taken together, these five illustrate the risk Hamlet faces that, in
attempting to kill Claudius, he will likely experience psychological
estrangement occurring on multiple levels. He would feel estrangement
of his bond of motherly love, his bond of womanly love, his bond of
friendship, his bondage to his religious and normative principles, and
his bond to his professional colleagues. So many different forms of
estrangement occurring simultaneously would completely destroy his
psychological sense of identity. The realization that he faces such
enormous pressures shapes his seemingly bizarre behavior in the play,
and makes him struggle against the awesome weight of his obligation to
destroy Claudius. All of this, of course, is in addition to his basic
fear of being executed if his attempts at killing Claudius go awry.

The Nature of Hamlet^s Thought Process

 After the ghost informs Hamlet of Claudius^ crime, Hamlet
 realizes that he is in a catch-22 situation psychologically.
 If he does not kill Claudius, he may forever be locked in the
 painfully stressful mental state in which his obsession puts
 him. But if he attempts or succeeds in killing Claudius, he
 risks experiencing psychological estrangement so intense that
 it could destroy his sense of identity. Whether he does or
 doesn^t kill Claudius, he faces enormous psychological pain.

Why He Feigns Insanity

Hamlet feigns insanity because it allows him to do several things that
he otherwise would be unable to do:
 With respect to Ophelia, Hamlet would like to express his
 intense, irrepressible anger towards her without arising
 suspicion in her or in others that he is in a hostile rational
 mental state. This would help prevent others in the royal
 household from speculating that Hamlet was rationally planning
 hostile actions such as killing Claudius. (The specific nature
 of this anger will be discussed later). With Gertrude, Hamlet
 would also like to express his anger towards her, as well as
 possibly kill her or make her go insane, without arising
 suspicion in others that he possesses a hostile rational mental
 state. In addition, he would like to confront Gertrude with
 the premises of Claudius^ crime, without her thinking that he
 actually believes in them, so that she might somehow think
 about them and realize that Claudius is guilty. Thus, she will
 no longer love Claudius (thus providing Hamlet with the
 psychological freedom he needs to kill him) and she will not
 believe that Hamlet believes that Claudius is guilty. If she
 believes this, she might purposely or inadvertently pass on
 this fact to others, leading to Hamlet^s demise. Also,
 however, Hamlet does not want to confront Gertrude with the
 crime in a rational way, thus forcing her to make a difficult
 choice between Hamlet and Claudius, with disastrous
 psychological results for Hamlet if she chooses against him.
 With respect to friends or colleagues, Hamlet would like to
 express his anger towards them without arising suspicion that
 he is in a hostile rational mental state. He also wants to be
 able to punish them or hurt them for supporting or potentially
 supporting Claudius, while going free on basis of insanity.
 Feigning insanity also allows him to express his anger towards
 Claudius, while expecting lenient treatment.

Why He Stages the Play

 Hamlet^s decision to stage a play in order to ^catch the
 conscience of the King^ results from his obsession with
 gathering information about whether or not Claudius^ committed
 the crime. Why is Hamlet ^obsessed^ with doing this, as
 opposed to merely being ^interested^ in gathering such
 information? The reason is that whatever Hamlet learns from
 such information, that is, whether it proves or disproves
 Claudius^ guilt, Hamlet will feel great psychological relief
 from the information. If he disproves to himself that Claudius
killed the king, then Hamlet will be instantly relieved of his
obsession to kill Claudius, along with the intense psychological stress
it induces within him. At worst, he will still feel the substantial
but much more manageable stress he felt, before he met the ghost, from
his response to his mother^s over-hasty marriage to Claudius. In
addition, proving that Claudius is guilty has great psychological
advantages for Hamlet. For one thing, such proof will prove to him
that his endeavor to kill Claudius is justified. Thus, he will not be
engaging in his risky, dangerous undertaking for no reason. Such proof
will also spare a principled Hamlet from the agonizing possibility of
engaging in a crime that violates many moral, political and religious
principles if it is not justified. Such proof will also justify
Hamlet^s inner maintenance of the painful sense of resentment he feels
towards Claudius, Gertrude and others within the royal household. It
will also provide Hamlet with the opportunity to use hard evidence to
prove to his friends and loved ones that Claudius is guilty. This
might make them support Hamlet in his endeavor, thus providing him with
the psychological support he needs to carry it out. Thus, disproving
the ghost^s message promises Hamlet instant relief from his pain, and
proving this message will nurture him by enabling him to justify his
obsession and to possibly use such proof as a means of acquiring peer
support of his endeavor. From Hamlet^s psychological standpoint, then,
obtaining further information about whether or not the ghost was true
to his word is a win-win undertaking.

Why Hamlet Berates Ophelia

 Hamlet (see estrangement #5 above) sees in his mother a
 manifestation of the premise that an unthinking woman, guided
 by her emotions, might through her actions inflict great stress
 upon men. At the same time, such a woman might unknowingly
 make it very difficult for such men to deal with that stress.
 The enormity of the stress that Gertrude puts upon Hamlet makes
 Hamlet develop a substantial resentment towards her. Since to
 Hamlet, Gertrude embodies the weaknesses of women in general,
 Hamlet^s resentment towards Gertrude is also projected against
 women in general. Ordinarily, Hamlet would not greatly resent
 women, but since in this case they have cornered him into an
 extremely stressful situation, he becomes exasperated. In his
 state of stress, the petty resentments he might have previously
 harbored towards woman for their ^mercurial^ emotional nature
 turns into a full-fledged resentment or hatred. This explains
why Hamlet berates Ophelia to the point of driving her insane and
towards her untimely death. Ophelia serves as a punching bag,
representing women in general, which Hamlet attacks as an outlet for
his general resentment of women. He also attacks her as an outlet in
general for the tremendous stress his obsession causes within him. She
is a convenient target because, being a woman who loves him, she does
not fight back against Hamlet (in addition, Hamlet^s insanity also
prevents her from doing so). In addition, the straining of his love
bond towards Ophelia, although a form of estrangement, helps to
pre-empt the even greater psychological pain that he would endure if
she were to turn against him from knowledge of his obsession. After
all, if the love between them were weakened, the impact of that kind of
love rejection followed by her support of Claudius would be lessened.
And, of course, this behavior is an excellent means of creating the
impression of ins! anity. Also, however, such rejection, by
eliminating love from his consciousness, may harden his personality to
the point where he is better able to hate Claudius and to exact revenge
against him.

Why He Treats Gertrude the Way He Does

 Hamlet wants to achieve two goals with respect to Gertrude.
 One is to express his anger against her, which he harbors for
 essentially the same reasons that he had it for Ophelia. Two
 is to somehow induce her to stop loving Claudius. This latter
 development would eliminate the possibility that Hamlet might
 feel estrangement from motherly love in attempting to kill or
 from succeeding in killing Claudius. After all, in killing
 Claudius, Hamlet would not be killing the man his beloved
 mother loves. Gertrude would also not condemn Hamlet for
 killing or attempting to kill Claudius if she did not love
 Claudius. Thus, Hamlet would have the psychological freedom he
 would need to kill Claudius and thus relieve him of his
 obsession Hamlet meets goal one by treating Gertrude angrily,
as his feigned insanity permits him to do. However, goal two is
decidedly more difficult. One means of achieving it would be for
Hamlet to kill his mother or make her go insane, which he has the
license to do thanks to his feigned insanity. Thus, she would stop
loving Claudius. However, he cannot do so because he harbors a basic
psychological inhibition against destroying his own mother. Also, he
needs his mother^s love much more than he needs Ophelia^s love. While
Ophelia^s love is self-actualizing since it is a lover^s love,
Gertrude^s love is much more self-actualizing and essential for him
since it is that of his mother. (The evidence for this arbitrary
reliance on his mother^s love comes from his father and Claudius both
professing of their powerful need for Gertrude^s love and approval.
Hamlet, being their blood relative, will likely feel the same). To
destroy his mother would be to attack his own identity. Thus, since
Hamlet cannot induce his mother to stop loving Claudius by killing her
or driving her insane, as he did with Ophelia, he must somehow bring
about this stoppage while leaving her alive and sane. He attempts to
do this by confronting his mother with the premises of Claudius^ crime,
in the hopes that she will somehow think about them, realize that
Claudius is guilty, and thus stop loving Cladius, all without thinking
that Hamlet believes these premises on the inside. Ordinarily, Hamlet
would not do this because in confronting her with these premises he
would be obliging her to choose between he and Claudius, a decision
that would be psychologically disastrous for Hamlet if she chose
against him. However, since Hamlet confronts her with these premises
in a state of feigned insanity, she has no reason to believe that the
rational Hamlet believes them on the inside. Thus, she will not be
obliged to make that difficult choice because the circumstances that
would cause!
 that obligation, namely her realization that the rational Hamlet
 believes in them and that she knows that he knows that she knows he
 believes in them, don^t exist, thanks to Hamlet^s feigned insanity.
Ultimately, even this attempt fails. Gertrude fails to respond to
these premises with recognition of them and a subsequent conclusion
that she no longer loves Claudius. What happens next?

Why He Procrastinates

 Hamlet procrastinates in the play, such as during the
 protracted Players^ scene or during the clown^s graveyard
 scene, for the essential reason that his psychological feelings
 confuse his ability to confront his destiny. He finds it very
 difficult to decide whether to kill Claudius or let him be, due
 to his catch-22 psychological situation.

The Play^s Ending in Light of the Preceding Discussion

 The penultimate decision that Hamlet makes with regard to
 Claudius is to not kill Claudius, but to let Claudius be and
 let fate and divine forces take over his awesome
 responsibility. He makes this decision mainly as a means of
 quickly escaping the intense psychological stress under which
 he finds himself and, instead, entering the much more
 psychologically peaceful state of earthly denial. Although
 this reason may seem arbitrary, Shakespeare clearly emphasizes
 the importance of such a motivation to escape pain, per se, in
 Hamlet^s decision-making. He does so by emphasizing the
 Player^s scene, which, although it does not efficiently advance
 the plot, emphasizes that Hamlet is obsessed with gathering
 information about Claudius, and therefore that Hamlet is
 obsessed with disproving Claudius^ guilt. The concrete
 advantage of disproving such guilt is that it quickly resolves
 Hamlet^s pain, thus showing that the sheer motivation to escape
 the pain of his obsession is prominent! in Hamlet^s
 decision-making calculus. Escaping in denial also seems to be
 Hamlet^s best option at this point since, having previously confronted
 Gertrude with the premises of Claudius^ crime, she apparently failed
 to respond to these premises with recognition of them and contempt for
 Ultimately, of course, Hamlet decides to kill Claudius. He
 does so for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, his
 mother, in drinking Claudius^ drink and thus poisoning herself,
 becomes conscious of Claudius^ treachery. She communicates her
 knowledge of this to Hamlet (^The Drink, the drink, I am
 poisoined^) and thus her implied withdrawal of all support of
 Claudius. This eliminates the threat of motherly estrangement,
 virtually paving the way for Hamlet to kill Claudius. Also,
 however, Laertes informs Hamlet of his knowledge of Claudius^
 treachery in the very end, as well as his distaste for
 Claudius, thus removing the threat of friend estrangement.
 Previously, as well, Hamlet had shown Horatio the proof of
 Claudius^ treachery, thus further mollifying this type of
 estrangement threat. In addition, Claudius^ treachery is
 itself immoral, thus justifying Hamlet to kill him on
 principle. Also, the convenience and suddenness by which
 Hamlet came upon his opportunity to k! ill Claudius (Claudius
prepared the poison, weapons, setting, etc.) allowed Hamlet to kill
Claudius on impulse, thus sparing him of potential indecisiveness that
protracted consideration might cause him. Finally, since Hamlet was
mortally wounded, he had nothing to lose.

Brief comments on Other Plot Developments

1. The probable dramatic purpose of showing Hamlet in the doldrums
prior to knowing of his father^s murder is to lend credibility to the
idea that Hamlet^s obsession causes him intense psychological stress.
After all, one might imagine that if Hamlet could get this depressed
before hearing of his father^s murder, he would likely become extremely
high-strung once he learns of his murder. 2. In theory, Hamlet could
have killed Claudius while feigning insanity. Thus, he would escape
estrangement, because his people would blame his action on his
insanity, not on malicious intent. He does not do this, however,
because he is subconsciously inhibited from deliberately killing the
man whom his beloved mother loves. When he lunges at Polonius behind
the curtain, thinking that the person behind the curtain might have
been Claudius, he does not know exactly who is behind the curtain and
thus, had he killed Claudius, he could not have done so deliberately.
3. Although Hamlet feigns insanity in order to throw off suspicion of
his true, hostile intentions to kill Claudius, there is one person who
sees through them, namely Claudius. One might believe, that since
Hamlet thinks like Claudius, that Hamlet would not believe that
feigning insanity will throw off suspicion, since he knows that
Claudius will eventually harbor that suspicion. This is true, but one
must keep in mind the term ^eventually.^ Hamlet knew that Claudius
would not harbor this suspicion until later (as opposed to immediately
if Hamlet had not feigned his insanity). Thus, it was part of Hamlet^s
calculation that feigning insanity would not permanently remove
suspicion of his ulterior motives, but simply buy him time to prepare
his murder of Claudius and to vent his anger at those whom he
resented. In addition, Claudius^ eventual development of this
suspicion and his eventual assassination attempt at Hamlet are both
dramatic devices meant to conclude the play in!
 a manner that re-enforces the themes associated with Hamlet^s response
 to his obsession. After all, they lead to the final assassination
 scene that re-enforces these themes. 4. An important theme in the
play is the inability of many of Hamlet^s people in the royal household
to understand or psychologically accept the information that proves
Claudius^ crime. This inability strengthens the risk of psychological
estrangement that Hamlet might feel in attempting to kill Claudius or
succeeding in doing so. There are various manifestations of this
theme. Gertrude^s lack of recognition when Hamlet confronts her with
the premises of Claudius^ crime is one. Polonius^ inability to
understand why Hamlet seems insane is another, which reflects his
general naivete in understanding things. The main dramatic purpose of
the play^s opening scene is arguably to illustrate this theme. In it,
Shakespeare portrays Hamlet^s friends are naively friendly and loyal
(and thus psychologically too nave to accept the information proving
Claudius^ guilt, except for Horatio in particular). They are also
unable to grab the ghost physically, and cannot induce the ghost to!
 tell them of his message, as if only Hamlet has the ability to deal
 responsibly and effectively with the ghost^s information.
 Results of this theme include Hamlet treacherously
 changing the names on the letter calling for his
 execution to actually call for Rosencranz and
 Guildensterns^ execution. It is Hamlet^s revenge for
 the resentment he feels against them for spying on
 Hamlet and supporting Claudius. This morally double
 standard behavior results from his colleagues^
 misunderstanding Hamlet^s motivation and
 justification for his behavior. Hamlet^s killing of
 Polonius is also a manifestation of this result. If
 Polonius hadn^t misjudged Hamlet, he would not have
 been in his risky position behind the curtain at that
 time in the first place. Thus, the misunderstanding
 of information by his fellows in the royal household
 inadvertently cause them to engage in estranging
 behavior vis--vis Hamlet, inducing Hamlet to respond
 violently and resentfully towards them.

Central Themes of the Play

>From the above we derive the central themes of the play. Among them

1) The intense psychological pain that Hamlet^s obsession, per se,
causes him. 2) The ignorance and obliviousness of his countrymen to
Claudius^ guilt. 3) His tendency to feign insanity in order to conceal
his obsession and to be able to express the intense feelings brought
about within him by the obsession and the lack of support he faces from
his countrymen in carrying it out. 4) His obsession with gathering
information to prove or disprove Claudius^ guilt. 5) That the
ignorance of his countrymen to Claudius^ guilt is an important obstacle
Hamlet faces in trying to destroy Claudius. 6) The loneliness that
Hamlet feels from having an enormous responsibility but being largely
alone in knowing about it and shouldering it. 7) That if Hamlet does
discover proof of Claudius^ guilt, he must be careful to whom and under
what circumstance he communicates it. Otherwise, he may be informed
upon and subsequently destroyed. 8) Sheer procrastination is one way
for Hamlet to deal with the stress of his catch-22 psychological
situation. 9) His tendency to violently profane Ophelia and Gertrude^s
love for him. 10) That Hamlet, despite his desire to extract revenge
against Claudius, is also actively looking for ways to relieve himself
of the psychological pain that harboring his obsession causes him, even
if seeking psychological refuge in such ways might mean giving up on
the endeavor altogether. 11) That Hamlet^s awareness, of the high risk
of personal estrangement that he faces from his endeavor to extract
revenge, is for him a source of great stress. 12) That the ignorance
of his people of Claudius^ crime and their discomfort at knowing it may
cause them to commit the morally double-standard act of rejecting
Hamlet and supporting Claudius. 13) That despite his fear of rejection
by his countrymen, Hamlet still has the capacity to take out on them
the anger he feels against them for potentially or actually committing
this double-standard act.

Virtually every scene or element in the play relates to these themes.
In other words, the purpose of Hamlet is simply to delineate and
comment upon an individual^s psychological response to feeling the rare
type of obsession that Hamlet feels in the play. The above themes are
phenomena associated with that response, or with Shakespeare^s model of
that response.

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