Shakespeare is one of the best British writers of all time

Shakespeare is one of the best British writers of all time. He is best known for his works about life, love, death, revenge, grief, jealousy, etc. One of his many works that contribute to these factors is Hamlet. Hamlet is based on Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, who has been summoned home to Denmark from school in Germany. His father has died and he is shocked to see his mother has already remarried. And to his Uncle Claudius of all people! Hamlet is depressed, angered, and disgusted. He regards the marriage as a “foul incest.” Not only did his uncle marry his mother, he has crowned himself king despite the fact that it is Hamlet who could have been the heir to the throne. To worsen the situation, Hamlet’s father’s ghost appears to Hamlet. The ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. King Claudius had poured poison in his ear while he was asleep. The ghost puts Hamlet on a mission to avenge his murder. But he tells Hamlet to spare his mother, Gertrude, and to let heaven decide her fate. Throughout the play, Hamlet is given many chances to kill his uncle but resists. Many question the causes of Hamlet’s procrastination and whether his relationship with his mother is one of the causes.
Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, wrote the book The Interpretation of Dreams. Many say that Shakespeare has attempted to portray Hamlet as a “morbid, vacillating character who is subject to neurasthenia” (Freud 225). Neurasthenia is a medical condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability. It is associated with emotional disturbance. Freud go against this by saying that the plot of the story shows that Hamlet is not to appear as a person who is incapable of action. Twice in the play, we see him asserting actively. Once where he stabs the eavesdropper behind the arras, and on the other occasion where he sends the two courtiers to death which had been intended for him. In his book he tells us that he believes that Hamlet’s hesitation with his task of revenge can be explained by his relationship with his mother. Freud offers an explanation for what restrains Hamlet from accomplishing the task his father has set before him. According to Freud, “Hamlet is able to do anything- except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took his father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized. Thus the loathing which should drive him on to revenge is replaced in him by self-reproaches, by scruples of conscience, which remind him that he himself is literally no better than the sinner whom he is to punish…” (Freud 225). “The Problem” is not only in Hamlet’s delay in killing the king, but also with the actual murder of Claudius. This event can only take place when Gertrude has died. After she is dead, Hamlet is then free to act because the cause of his repressed guilt has been eliminated (Now, Mother, what’s the matter?).
Ernest Jones, a Welsh neurologist and psychoanalyst wrote Hamlet and Oedipus. In his book Jones writes that “In reality his uncle incorporates the deepest and most buried part of his own personality, so that he cannot kill him without also killing himself. This solution, one closely akin to what Freud has shown to be the motive of suicide in melancholia, is actually the one that Hamlet finally adopts… Only when he has made the final sacrifice and brought himself to the door of death is he free to fulfil his duty, to avenge his father, and to slay his other self — his uncle” (Jones 88). Jones goes on to explain that there were two moments in the play when Hamlet was close to murdering his uncle. Jones says that in both moments, Hamlet’s impulse was not driven by the idea of incest. Jones explains the second moment was when he actually kills the king, when the Queen is already dead and lost to him forever. His conscience is free of an ulterior motive for the murder (Jones 89).
Hamlet is shown to be obsessed with the “incestuous” (I.II.157) nature of his mother. Evidence of this is shown when Hamlet criticizes his mother of having let Claudius “pinch wanton on Gertrude’s cheek” and give “reechy kisses” (III.IV.182-185). Besides this, as Hamlet is chastising his mom, he makes remarks about her sex life. He says “to live in the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed. Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love over the nasty sty” (III.IV.92-95). He then goes on to demand her to abstain from sex entirely. Keep in mind that this is a thirty- year-old talking with his mother. Hamlet’s struggle is seen as the juxtaposition of a repressed sexual desire for Gertrude and a guilt of that same feeling. This can be interpreted from his line “—would it were not so!—you are my mother” (III.IV.16). Hamlet is shown to express a distaste towards sex in general when he says to Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery” (III.I.23).
Hamlet says that his mother “would hang on him as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on” (I.II.143-145). Hamlet also says that “a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer!” (I.II 150-151). Looking from another perspective, Hamlet’s obsession with his mother is not because of sexual desire but a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. His descriptions of King Hamlet and Queen Gertrude’s “blush of modesty,” “virtue,” and “innocent love” can be taken as hints that a deep admiration for his childhood mother and father is what consumes Hamlet. Hamlet’s desperate tries to show Gertrude that one of the “two brothers” is superior than the other, shows that Hamlet is obsessed with his conception of the ideal family. His hesitation to kill Claudius can be explained by how fast Claudius took the position of his new father and king. Also, killing Claudius would infringe on Hamlet’s attachment to parental figures. Gertrude realizes this when she says that Hamlet’s depression is because of “His father’s death and our o’erhasty marriage” (II.II.56-57). In some perspectives, Gertrude is seen playing the part of an innocent loving mother who wants the best for her Hamlet whom she describes as a “gentle son” (III.IV.123) and a “sad poor wretch” (II.II.160). She proves she dearly loves her son when she says at Ophelia’s funeral “I hoped thou Ophelia shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife” (V.I.220). In addition, her dying warning to Hamlet and his retribution for her death shows the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude- a mother’s counsel and his reprisal (Between Generations: An Analysis of Parent- Child Relationships in Hamlet).
Procrastination is a significant theme in Hamlet. Hamlet’s procrastination is what sustains, dramatizes, and prolongs the plot of his revenge. Hamlet’s refusal to tell anyone of his plan and strategy leads to many questioning why he behaves in a melancholy manner. One reason for Hamlet’s delay lies in the difficulties of the situation. “Claudius is not a weak king, but a shrewd king who does everything to protect his life from unforeseen attacks. He is protected by courtiers and surrounded by his Swiss bodyguards making it difficult for Hamlet to meet him alone” (Procrastination in Avenging the Murder of Father in Hamlet). Another reason is Hamlet’s personality. Some take into account that Hamlet does not have solid proof of Claudius’ crime except for the Ghost’s word. Hamlet is aware that the ghost might be a heavenly spirit trying to guide him or a spawn of hell, trying to deceive him. “The spirit that I have seen May be the devil, and the devil hath power T’ assume a pleasing shape” (II.II.560-562). Hamlet puts on a play, “The Murder of Gonzago.” In the scene, “The Mousetrap,” at the talk of poisoning, the King rises and demands that the play ceases. The King’s reaction confirms Hamlet’s suspicions. After this the King is on guard and acknowledges the fact that Hamlet knows what he’s done. “You say I’m crazy ’cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done” (Smith).
The act of revenge is fulfilled within hundreds of pages and thousands of lines. Many ask why Hamlet delayed in avenging for his father’s murder. In the end, the “villain,” King Claudius, dies but it was not Hamlet’s direct actions which led to the death. It was Laertes’s actions which led to all their deaths. Well into the play, Hamlet accidently kills the King’s advisor, Polonius, who is also Laertes’s father. Because of the death of Polonius, Laertes wishes to seek revenge. In doing so, he challenges Hamlet to a duel, a plan which he devises with the King. Laertes’ challenge of a duel leads directly to the death of Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet. This leaves some to question if Laertes had not wanted to avenge for his father’s death would Hamlet have come around to killing Claudius?
Are you confused? Here’s a background as to what happened after “The Murder of Gonzago.” Feeling threatened, the King tries to persuade Gertrude that Hamlet is mad and that he is a danger to them. He doesn’t need much help in persuading her because Hamlet has accidently killed Polonius who happened to be in the room when Hamlet was causing terror to his mother (III.III). Gertrude agrees to have Hamlet sent to England but is left in the dark that King Claudius is sending him there to be executed. Unfortunately for Claudius, as Hamlet is on the way to England, they are attacked by pirates. Hamlet snuck onto the pirates’ ship and persuades them to use him as bait to be returned to Denmark. Hearing the news of Hamlet’s return, King Claudius devises a new plan with Laertes, in which both Laertes and Hamlet will fence. However, Laertes’ sword will be “unbated” and dipped in poison so “that if Laertes gall him slightly it may be death” (IV.VII.132-145). And “if Hamlet by chance escaped Laertes’ venomed struck” (IV.VII.157) Claudius will offer Hamlet a drink, which will be coated with poison. On the day of the duel, the King says that if Hamlet wins the first or second hit, he will drink to Hamlet’s health. In the first hit, Hamlet strikes Laertes. He denies the drink saying he’ll play another hit first. After hitting Laertes the second time, Gertrude rises to drink from the cup. The King tells her not to drink, but she does so anyway. Laertes finally scores a hit against Hamlet, drawing blood. As they scuffle, they exchange swords, and Hamlet wounds Laertes with Laertes’ own sword. Laertes, poisoned by his own sword, declares “I am justly kill’d with my own treachery” (V.II.318). The queen falls and warns Hamlet that the cup is poisoned before dying. Laertes final words are to Hamlet, in which he tells him that he has been slained by his own poisoned sword, and that the King is to be blamed for the poison on the sword and in the cup. Hamlet filled with fury, stabs Claudius with the poisoned sword and forces the rest of the poisoned wine down his throat.
In Hamlet, “sane Hamlet” constantly switches between sanity and insanity. When madness suits his purpose, Hamlet put son an “antic disposition” (I.V.376). When sanity proves worthy, he reverts back to being logical. He claims he is “mad north-north-west” (II.II.376). This means that he is mad sometimes and other times he is sane. To achieve his goal, Hamlet constantly shifts between sanity and insanity. Many can say that this is one of the reasons for his procrastination.
Hamlet uses the realm of insanity as a weapon towards his enemies and their allies. If he acts mad and kills his uncle, people will excuse him because of his madness. Hamlet uses insanity in the form of both words and actions. He attacks Ophelia and asks Ophelia “honest and fair” (III.I.104-106). Hamlet “speaks daggers” (III.II.387) to Gertrude because she is seen as an obstacle to him. After killing Polonius, Hamlet guarantees that Polonius is “dead, for a ducat, dead” (III.IV.25). Hamlet harms Ophelia and Gertrude with his words of insanity and sends Polonius to his grave with his actions of insanity. Ophelia, Gertrude, and Polonius, are Claudius’ allies, and by wounding Claudius’ allies, Hamlet is indirectly wounding Claudius. Some say that for Hamlet to kill his uncle, he must rid Claudius of his allies. Hamlet understands the potential of madness; madness blurs reality and causes confusion. He knows that his presence and his act of insanity troubles Claudius. Claudius sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “Hamlet’s friends” to find out what “unknown afflicts Hamlet thus” (II.II.17). Anger and frustrations start to build up in Claudius. Claudius says, “madness in great one must not unwatch’d go” (III.I.90). He sends many to uncover the mystery of Hamlet’s insanity.
On the other hand, Hamlet’s return to sanity is used as a method of concentration. When Hamlet is sane, he focuses on the current situation. For example, when Hamlet encounters the ghost, he tells it to “speak” because he is “bound to hear” (I.V.7). Also, Hamlet is focused when speaking and listening to Horatio. When Horatio tells Hamlet about meeting his father’s ghost, Hamlet ask Horatio to “let him hear” (I.II.194). Hamlet’s thoughts are clear and he is focused on the topic. Upon meeting his father’s ghost, Hamlet refers to his “prophetic soul”. This shows that his mind is clear unlike the mind of the insane. When Hamlet is alone, he concentrates on things and thinks out the topic thoroughly. An example of this is his “to be or not to be” (III.I.57) speech, in which he talks about suicide and how death is like going to sleep.
Due to the constant reversal of sanity and insanity, Hamlet’s act of revenge is delayed. Hamlet’s mind become twisted sue to the constant changes of personality and he become indecisive. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet says that he will put on an “antic disposition”. But towards the end of the play, Hamlet tells Horatio that “in my heart there was a kind of fighting” (V.II.4).
Do you ever get that feeling, where you’re given an assignment but you have to write a minimum amount? And you write the paper but don’t know what else to write. This is what I’m feeling right now. If Hamlet had not delayed his revenge there would have been no play. Many explanations of Hamlet’s procrastination have been offered, but not all have been accepted. Dr. A B Shaw gives his opinion on the play. He believes that Hamlet is suffering from an acute depressive illness, with some obsessional features. Because of this, he could not make a firm resolve to act, thus, delaying his revenge. He says that in Shakespeare’s time there was no concept of acute depressive illness, although melancholy was know. However, it is seen as a character defect.
“Depressive illness is characterized by low mood, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), negative beliefs, and reduced energy” (Depressive illness delayed Hamlet’s revenge). Hamlet calls himself melancholic in II.II.597. He also expresses himself in a negative way and sees the worst in everything. He describes Denmark as a prison (II.II.243) and makes bitter comments towards women (III.I.111-151). In many parts of the play he dwells on human mortality, sleep disturbance (II.II.255), and on death and suicide. An example of this is his famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy (III.I.56-82). Besides this, Hamlet shows inadequacy and expresses guilt in his failure to act. He says “Do you not come your tardy son to chide?” (III.IV.106-109) and “How all occasions do inform against me…”(IV.IV.32). Hamlet also disparages himself by saying “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!”(II.II.545-583). These are some of the many symptoms of depression. Besides this, events that have help trigger Hamlet’s depression are his father’s sudden death, his mother’s overhasty marriage, and his disappointment in the succession (Depressive illness delayed Hamlet’s revenge). The play makes it very clear that Hamlet has changed since the death of his father. Ophelia says “what a noble mind is here o’erthrown” and Gertrude says “my too much changed son”. Dr. Shaw says this is acute depressive illness, not chronic melancholy. “Hamlet’s self diagnosis is that he is “thinking too precisely on the’event” (IV.IV.41) and that “the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the plae cast of thought” (III.I.84-85)” (Depressive illness delayed Hamlet’s revenge). Indecision is featured in both depressive and obsessional illness.