Research Paper: Hamlet Research it Is Doubtful That William

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Hamlet Research

It is doubtful that William Shakespeare had any idea when he began writing his play, Hamlet, (Shakespeare) of the far reaching and varied effect that his words and characters would have. Perhaps no play in history has been analyzed more thoroughly and had more impact on popular culture and philosophical thought. (Collier & Sons)

The setting for Hamlet is the kingdom of Denmark. Whether Shakespeare actually intended it to be the actual kingdom of Denmark or some mythical location is uncertain and really matters very little to the value of the story or to the character development. Nothing tin story is dependent on the setting. There is some evidence that the prevailing battle between the doctrines of Catholicism and the emerging Protestant theology may be at play in the play this is not a prevailing factor in the play. Any religious overtones in the play are likely coincidental.

The opening scene in Hamlet is one of the most compelling in the Shakespearean library. Sentinels are on stage awaiting the arrival of ghosts including the ghost of the late king, Hamlet's father. Hamlet himself sees his father's ghost and learns that his father has been poisoned by Claudius. Hamlet's father asks him to avenge his death by slaying Claudius. Thus, the stage is set for the remainder of the play's action as the intrigue between Hamlet and Claudius forms the majority of the story line.

The main character Hamlet is an extremely philosophical and contemplative individual who spends the entire play thinking of questions that cannot be answered. Indecisiveness is seemingly his greatest trait. Despite being nearly certain that his uncle murdered his father, Hamlet becomes completely involved in making sure that this is the case before taking any action. In his search to determine the absolute certainty about his uncle's role in his father's death, Hamlet takes on other unanswerable questions such as the existence of the afterlife and the wisdom of suicide. (Davies)

Relative to suicide Hamlet actually contemplates the act for himself. He wishes that "the Everlasting had not fix'd His canon 'gainst self-slaughter. (Miner) He eventually abandons the idea despite his dissatisfaction with his life because he would rather continue living in "an unweeded garden" than live in hell as a consequence of suicide providing all observers an insight into his underlying religious beliefs. (Shakespeare, Hamlet)

Hamlet's desire to act morally carries over into his desire to avenge his father's death. He is intent to murder his father's murder, his uncle Claudius, but he will not do so unless it can be done in a moral and accepting way. All this changes, however, when Hamlet returns from an uncompleted voyage to England.

Upon his return Hamlet's personality is seemingly transformed. Passion and anger take over replacing his indecisiveness. Hamlet suddenly decides that he must begin taking action. He begins to take chances as he starts focusing on avenging his father's death. "O, from this time forth / My thoughts be bloody ore be nothing worth." (Shakespeare, Hamlet) With his new zeal, Hamlet is able to overcome his inherent flaws and eventually follow the wishes of his ghost father by murdering his Uncle Claudius.

One of the more interesting and controversial explanations offered to explain Hamlet's hesitancy in going forward with the murder of Claudius is the guilt that Hamlet felt over his feelings for his mother, Gertrude. The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, originated this theory. His theory was based on the argument that Hamlet harbored lustful feelings for his mother and that as a result of these feelings he is no better than his uncle whom he is supposed to kill. (Indick)

The villain King Claudius is an enigma. Having murdered his brother he convinces the nobles to elect him to replace his murdered brother. Strangely, he proves to be highly competent ruler. "A bad man, but a good king." In his capacity as king, Claudius diplomatically avoids a war with Norway and successful quells a potential rebellion by Laertes, who like Hamlet loses his father at the hand of a murderer. Unlike Hamlet, however, Laertes, takes immediate action to avenge his father's death. In doing so Laertes storms the palace resulting in the need for Claudius' intervention. In the end, it is Claudius' talents of manipulation that make capable of both being a murderer and an effective ruler. Unlike Hamlet, Claudius does not allow his conscience to get in the way of doing the job that needs to be done.

The opening scene in Hamlet introduces the character of the ghost to the play's observers. The ghost's identity has been long speculated by Shakespeare experts. Whether hs was Hamlet's father or was Hamlet's imagination, his importance to the story cannot be denied. The ghost represents the torment and confusion felt by young Hamlet throughout the entire play. At regular stages throughout the play, Hamlet and the ghost share dialogue about the situation and examine the alternative courses of action. Courses of action that resemble what Hamlet's own father might have suggested. Whether the ghost was real or imaginary the effect is the same: he serves as Hamlet's last memory of his beloved father.

Queen Gertrude, mother of Hamlet and wife to two Kings, Hamlet's murdered father and Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, provides the unifying theme to the play. The full extent of Gertrude's role in the family intrigue that surrounds the plot in Hamlet is left unsaid in the language of the play. The play observer is left to imagine how involved Gertrude actually is in the treachery. Was she having an affair with Claudius prior to Old Hamlet's death? Is Gertrude aware of Claudius' role in her husband's death? Does she know that Claudius tried to poison her son? None of these answers are provided in the body of the play and because they are unanswered the mystery surrounding the play is increased further. Gertrude's role in the play is central to the plot but, like so many characters in Hamlet, her true personality is never revealed.

One of the minor characters in the play that nevertheless provides a great insight into the personality of the main character, Hamlet, is the Norwegian prince. Fortinbras. Fortinbras is Hamlet's alter ego. Like Hamlet, he also lost his father but, unlike Hamlet, Fortinbras is prepared to take decisive and immediate action to revenge his father's death. In doing so, Fortinbras provides a strong contrast to Hamlet. A contrast that is not lost on the vacillating Hamlet who observes: "To be great is not to stir without great argument but greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honor's at the stake." (Shakespeare, Hamlet) Fortinbras is the antithesis of Hamlet. He is a man of action with little thought- exactly the opposite of Hamlet.

To provide comedic relief to the constant conflicts in Hamlet's mind Shakespeare introduces the dueling personalities of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not likeable fellows but in being so unlikeable they become likeable. Hamlet's decision early in the play to impulsively decide to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern murdered gives additional insight into the complexity of Hamlet's personality. Hamlet is tortured over whether to revenge his father's death by killing his Uncle Claudius but seems to have no trouble killing two harmless individuals like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - further evidence of the complexity of Hamlet's character.

Horatio is young Hamlet's closest friend and is the most stable character in the play. Horatio is provided the distinction of being the one major character in the play to survive to the very end and he is the one person in whom Hamlet appears to have every confidence. It is Horatio who is ultimately left with the burden of summarizing what occurs at the bloodbath that ends the play. He is left to explain how all the main characters, Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, and Gertrude reach a tragic end.

Another comedic feature of the play is the interjection of the character Polonius. Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia and his importance to the play is in that role. Although it is done through the silly nature of Polonius, Shakespeare is able to demonstrate the importance of a father in the lives of children while, at the same time, demonstrate that this importance is not always healthy or well directed. Polonius is not blessed with a particularly high level of integrity but he is a wonderful study in the frailty of the human spirit.

Ophelia, Polonius daughter and Laertes' sister, is the object of Hamlet's affections throughout the play. Ophelia is a tragic figure who is manipulated by nearly every man in her life. Her father manipulates her to gain favor with Hamlet; her brother provides her with conflicting advice as to how to handle her relationship with Hamlet; and Hamlet, her supposed lover, accuses her of being unfaithful and deceptive. In the end, Ophelia is weakened emotionally by all the confusing messages being provided to her by those closest to her and she becomes… [END OF PREVIEW]

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