Hamlet character analysis

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The play ‘Hamlet’ is one of the greatest creations of William Shakespeare. Hamlet dominates the play and is possibly the most discussed and controversial character in the world of plays. An analysis of the person or the inner self of Hamlet, an analysis of his relations with different characters in the play, namely, Gertrude, his mother, Claudius, his new stepfather, Ophelia, his love and his school friends, would help give an insight to the contradictions in the character ‘Hamlet’ that Shakespeare has attempted to portray. ‘Hamlet’ represents the humanity in general who are forever plagued with contradictions in life. He is reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious, heartless and sensitive. Hamlet has negative traits such as indecisiveness, hastiness, hate and brutality, yet he has a lot of virtues.

That Hamlet was an extremely sensitive person is evident from his reactions at the murder of his father. His mind was disturbed and he was determined to take revenge especially when he was convinced of the identity of the murderer. He was horrified at his mother having incestuous relations and ultimately marriage to his uncle Claudius very soon after his father, King Hamlet was murdered. The very act which outraged him gave him no feeling of remorse or regrets when he murdered Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He was heartless yet sensitive. Attachments, emotions, and sensitivity can drive any human being insane, as was the case with Hamlet.

The inner turmoil drove Prince Hamlet to the point of insanity, which perhaps was the cause of the suicide of Ophelia. The turmoil brings out the mental level at which Hamlet was even during the teenage.  This insanity coerced him to stab Polonius through the curtain while believing that it was Claudius who he was actually stabbing. This brings out the reckless trait in him yet he was overtly cautious when he took a long time to kill Claudius. He is extremely philosophical and contemplative.  He is distressed with questions about the afterlife, about the wisdom of suicide, about what happens to bodies after they die.  This is yet another contradiction, which leaves the human beings in a state of dilemma.

Based on the letters and the gifts that Hamlet gave to Ophelia it is obvious that he did love her and had tender affection towards her. He hates her one moment and longs to have intimacy the next. The following words express his longing:

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

Lying down at Ophelia’s feet.

Ophelia: No, my lord.

Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?

Ophelia: Ay, my lord.

Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?

Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.

Hamlet: That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs. (III.ii.111-20)

Hamlet uses Ophelia as an outlet to express his hostility and frustration towards his mother. He is ferocious towards her not out of insanity but due to his outrage at the murder of his father.

Hamlet was a weak character, which caused him to procrastinate.  The dilemma within him resulted in the delay of murdering his father’s murderer. He felt inadequate and incapable of taking quick decisions even when the situation demanded. He criticized himself for this weakness although he felt that he was being forced to take a decision against his conscious.  Human beings do understand and accept their weaknesses but it is not always easy to overcome them.

While Hamlet does give an impression of a thoughtful and introspective person, there were moments when he acts rashly, when he swiftly stabs Polonius through the curtain without verifying who was standing there. This also brings out the brutal character that he was.

Situations like the suicide of Ophelia left him lonely at heart. His loneliness deepens, as he is unable to arrive at a decision.  Loneliness is also known to drive a person insane. Hamlet was disgusted, disappointed, disenchanted and disillusioned with life when he says that the world is “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable. . .an unweeded garden.” He constantly ponders over “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

Hamlet was a virtuous and a humble person and cared little for the fact that Ophelia came from a very simple background. His virtuous and princely qualities leave a lasting impression on the mind.

Hamlet remains:

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,

The expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion, and the mould of form

The observ’d of all observers (III.i.153-56)

Did you like this sample?
  1. Kirschbaum, Leo. Character and characterization in Shakespears. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962. Print.
  2. Shakespeare, William. Shakesspear’s Hamlet. Vancouver: The Copp Clark Publishing Co. Ltd, 1960. Print.
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