Is it the King? - Sample Essay
Hamlet’s philosophical nature, in the sense that he questions life without any real reason to and consequently commits mistaken crimes, is another tragic element of the play. Killing Polonius, as he assumes it is Claudius (“Is it the King? “), is such an action; considering he has spent so long debating whether to kill his stepfather or not. A contemporary audience would certainly have found this incredibly ironic, considering the constant questioning of things like life, such as “To die, to sleep…
who would bear the whips and scorns of time? ” which are followed by impulsive and ill-judged actions. Worse still, Hamlet is so focussed upon the question of avenging Claudius that he shows no remorse for his actions, merely using it to question his mother over his father’s death – “A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king and marry with his brother. ” Charlton explains that Hamlet has created “his ideal world” and then mistakes it “for a true intellectual projection of the real one.
” This is clearly why his actions do not match up with his thoughts and is seemingly unaware of the hurt he is causing, for he knows the “universe better than the little world of which he is bodily a part. ” Hamlet’s theoretical questioning, although harmless when it doesn’t affect his actions in reality, causes him to commit the “wrong action for the actual world in which Hamlet must live. ” Furthermore, Hamlet’s constant and determined attempts to ensure both his mother’s and stepfather’s guilt, by staging a play of the murder and this questioning of Gertrude, can be seen as stalling, and would certainly have irritated the audience.
In fact, the ghost of the dead king voices these thoughts in this scene, by reappearing and reminding Hamlet of his “blunted purpose”. Even when Hamlet is presented with the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius he falters, giving the reason that “I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven” because Claudius at this moment is praying. Christianity was extremely important in Elizabethan times (although the play was written at the end of her reign) and for the audience to remain sympathetic with Hamlet he ought not to send a villain to heaven.
However, it might also be seen as an excuse, as Charlton comments that “the habit of thinking unfits him for the practical needs of doing” and he is therefore “incapable of ready and effective action. ” When he does ‘do’ rather than ‘think’, he fails in his objective, like the murder of Polonius is a mistake and when he finally kills Claudius – “Venom, to thy work” – it seems a bit of an anti climax, for he simply does it, and promptly dies himself.
Thus his delay is caused by needing to think, which stops him from fulfilling his aims successfully, rather than not fulfilling them at all. On the other hand, it seems the real tragedy of Hamlet is that of the situation imposed upon him; for his father’s murder and his mother’s rapid remarriage to his uncle have unsettled him. He is thus left with a divided mind, and it is philosophical thinking that allows him to escape the dilemma he faces. Jan Kott is very much of this view, commenting that “he has been trapped into finding himself in a compulsory situation.
” Anyone who found themselves in such a situation as his would surely be at least traumatised, and for Hamlet it goes so far as to become almost psychotic, believing life to be not worth living because of the “pangs of dispriz’d love” which he hasn’t even experienced! It is the nature of his surroundings that cause any such psychosis, for his notion that all of the people he is surrounded by are untrustworthy and fake causes him to see the worst in anything.
He thus sees the worst in love, family, friendship and politics and fundamentally, life. Furthermore, it seems Hamlet’s theoretical abstractedness in fact allows him to be his true self in a court where no-one else is. Thus an audience’s immediate impressions of him would be that he is witty, intelligent, and by far the most heroic of the ‘political powers’ in the play. By playing on words like “seems” at the beginning of the play he is already telling the audience how he values honesty rather than the false characters that surround him.
However, it is evident from his first soliloquy the abstract thinker that he really is, for it appears he is only able to be truly himself when alone. It is alone that he thinks most philosophically, delivering famous speeches such as “To be or not to be, that is the question. ” Therefore, his philosophy in fact helps him to survive in the corrupt court he lives in. The court Shakespeare is criticising through Hamlet would in fact be the English court of the time – not individuals, but the court in general.
It is for this reason that the play is set in Denmark rather than England. According to Jan Kott, “He is committed only in what he does, not in what he thinks. ” In agreement with this, philosophical thinking is clearly for Hamlet what the theatre might be for a contemporary audience; that is, enjoyment, and an escape from real life. Overall, it is quite clear that Hamlet is a character who certainly thinks abstractedly without recognising the events occurring around him, yet it seems that this is only so because Hamlet is consumed by the world that he lives in.
It is rightly assumed by Jan Kott that “he has been trapped into finding himself in a compulsory situation; a situation he does not want but which has been thrust upon him. ” The situation he finds himself in, perhaps because of his father seeking revenge, because of his murderous uncle, his incestuous mother and the very “rotten” country he lives in, accelerates his previous disposition to analyse and question every detail of life.
We can only assume that the Hamlet before the beginning of the play was an abstract thinker, and the traumatic events that immediately precede the commencement of the play and those within it merely unbalance him characteristically. This imbalance might also be hereditary, for his mother is very unbalanced in an emotional sense, having a “divided heart” where Hamlet has a divided mind. Gertrude is divided between her husband and her son, whereas Hamlet finds himself choosing between his loyalty to his father and his morals.
His character thus helps to absorb him in the corrupt power struggle in which no one can “to thine own self be true”. However, the division itself and its consequences are “thrust upon him” and thus Hamlets philosophical thinking, though leading to his ignorance of the events occurring in front of his very eyes, has been put to its extremities (i. e. applying it to everything) through the actions of Claudius, Gertrude and his father. Shakespeare therefore is pointing out how a corrupt court can cause the downfall of worthy individuals, and of course he is alluding to the English court in this.