Analysis of the Character of Hamlet in The Tragedy of Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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Human Beings and Their Flaws

Human beings possess superior intelligence yet despite this unique capability, they can be flawed and harmful to other members of the society. Their complex and powerful emotions can affect their reasoning skills leading to selfish decisions and acts.

Hamlet as a Villain

Hamlet is the protagonist in the play by Shakespeare, Hamlet, who portrays the characteristics of a villain rather than a hero. A villain is defined as an actor representing evil in stories, plays, or work of fiction leading to adverse effects on the other characters while a hero is one that predominantly shows goodness and always struggles against evil to bring harmony and justice to the society regardless of the challenges.

The Actions of Hamlet

The play is about a prince known as Hamlet, which starts with the murder of the King, by his brother (Carroll 232). Hamlet goes through a painful experience as he faces his dad's ghosts, pretends to be mad, dumps his girlfriend, accuses his mother of betrayal, and plots elaborative revenge. One would think that he is going through the teenage crisis as he engages in actions that harm other people. Hamlet portrays violence, greed, selfishness, rebellion, cowardice, insubordination, and vengeance. Clearly, Hamlet is not a hero, but a villain as portrayed by his actions due to selfish intentions.

Flaws and Harm to Others

Hamlet is full of flaws, and his actions cause harm to other characters in the play from the beginning. Hamlet learns about the death of his father in the hands of his uncle Claudius and the experience is very painful and devastating. His reaction to the people around him is quite inappropriate. Instead of overcoming the challenges and obstacles on his path, like true heroes, Hamlet thinks of committing suicide but cannot since God "fix His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter (Shakespeare 1.2.135). In this case, he keeps on complaining instead of showing confidence and reassuring himself. He only thinks of revenge and killing Claudius thus his actions tend to hurt those around him. He also portrays rudeness to other characters such as Ophelia who loves him very much thus, hurts her by refusing to marry her. He names his bad qualities as the reasons for rejecting marriage to Ophelia "I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious…" (Shakespeare 3.1.131). Other acts that Hamlet engages in that affect other characters include planning the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern without any regrets. Throughout the play, he fails to take responsibility for his evil deeds, yet he keeps on cursing the society for faults. It is ironic for him to claim that the will of God plans people's destiny as to when the person dies, and nobody should attempt to prevent it yet he is angry about the death of his father (Carroll 232). Failing to accept that the death was God’s will depicts the level of his selfishness. In the play, Hamlet ends up killing three people, plays a role in Ophelia's suicide, and arranges for the deaths of another two people yet instead of showing remorse he opts for denial and apathy. Thus, Hamlet is not a hero but a villain due to his actions that cause significant harm to other people.

Symbols, Imagery, and Motifs

Symbols, imagery, and motifs are used in the play that reveals Hamlet's villainous character. For instance, Yorick's skull discovered by Hamlet in the graveyard is a symbol representing death and the disintegration of the body. Hamlet communicates with the skull "get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come…no one can avoid death" (Shakespeare 5.1.178–179). This quote reveals his closeness and fascination with the physical consequence of death. His comments on the physical decay of humans reveal his level of inhumanity. For instance, he claims that Polonius's body will be eaten by worms, kings are eaten by worms, and that the dust from the decayed body of Alexander the Great can stop a hole in a beer barrel. Hamlet uses imagery, which sometimes gives some relief to his conflicting moods. Sometimes he uses vulgar terms to show his sarcastic disgust to the world such as when he refers to Rosencrantz as a sponge that soaks up the king’s countenance (Clemen 233). One motif used in the play is misogyny or hatred of women, depicted by Hamlet several times in the work. After his mother decides to get married to Claudius after her husband's death, Hamlet develops a cynical attitude about women, associating female sexuality and moral corruption. The motif occurs throughout the play and is one of the factors that make Hamlet despise Ophelia and Gertrude (Günenç 165 & 167). He tells Gertrude "Frailty, thy name is woman" (Shakespeare 1.2.146). This statement reveals his negative attitude towards women. Through the motif, it is clear that Hamlet's character is oppressive and fails to impress other people. Another common motif is 'ear and hearing,' such as in the case when Hamlet tells Horatio, "I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb" (Shakespeare 4.6.21). Thus, the images of ears and hearing are used to distort the truth, manipulate, or cause harm to others. Another time the motif is used is when Claudius kills the king by pouring poison in his ear. In addition, the motif of incest and incestuous desire runs throughout the play in different relationships, such as one between Ophelia and Laertes, as the latter talks to his sister in a sexually suggestive manner. During Ophelia's funeral, Laertes jumps into the grave to hold her in his arms. Hamlet shows the most active incestuous desire during his relationship with Gertrude, as he gets concerned with her sex life with Claudius.

The Setting and Hamlet's Character

The setting of the play helps to understand the character of Hamlet as a villain. The story is set in the late Middle Ages in the royal palace in Elsinore, Denmark (Jackson 323). The public image seems to matter a lot in the royal court, and Hamlet is a moody teenager. His strange behavior disappoints his parents since they are interested in politics thus have to control his character. Claudius and Gertrude have a difficult time trying to bring him under control as he pretends to be insane "Madness in great ones must not unwatched go," says Claudius (Shakespeare 3.1.203). This reveals that Hamlet's behavior hurts others including his parents thus; he qualifies to be a villain. The play is also set in the graveyard where Hamlet mocks the dead, including Alexander the Great. The act of talking to the skull reveals his disrespect for the departed regardless of their position in the society. According to Holderness, Hamlet undertakes a forensic reconstruction of the object, restoring its features (226). As he speaks with the skulls in the Graveyard, Ophelia is being buried in the same area, and his behavior in the burial shows that he is not sympathetic to the family. The story also takes place at the burial place of Ophelia in the graveyard. He fights with Ophelia’s brother Laertes inside the grave, which shows disrespect for the dead as well as the mourners. Hamlet portrays a lack of emotional control and his weird way of expressing revenge. The two have no regard for anything happening around them except their desires to attack one another. Setting the scene in the graveyard foreshadows the death of Hamlet as the play end. The behavior portrayed by the two is contrary to the expectations of a hero thus Hamlet is a villain. There are several conflicts within a single individual thus, the events of the play occur in different scenes. The setting helps in developing the character and understanding his role in the development of the plot. Due to his flaws throughout the work, Hamlet can be considered a villain.

Hamlet's Actions and Consequences

In conclusion, Hamlet is an essential character in the play despite his flaws and actions that negatively affect others. He cannot be considered a hero despite being the protagonist due to his efforts that involve revenge, fights, and words that hurt others. From the beginning to the end, Hamlet is determined to cause trouble having feigned madness. Through analyzing his character, it is clear that his behavior causes trouble to different people including Ophelia, who commits suicide. Symbolism and motifs also reveal his weak nature while the setting helps to understand the way Hamlet changes from the first to the last setting. A hero is supposed to face any challenges to defend the society or other characters regardless of the impending danger. However, Hamlet’s interest is to revenge the death of his father leading to the deaths of several characters as well as causing psychological pain. From rejecting girlfriends to fighting inside the grave, Hamlet seems not to care about the consequences of his actions to others so long as he achieves his mission. Therefore, Hamlet is a villain and not a hero for engaging in acts that cause pain to others.

Works Cited

Carroll, Joseph. "Intentional meaning in Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective."Style 44.1-2 (2010): 230-260.

Clemen, Wolfgang. The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery. Vol. 9. Routledge, 2013.

Holderness, Graham. "I covet your Skull-death and Desire in Hamlet."Shakespeare Survey: Theatres for Shakespeare (2007). 224-237.

Jackson, R. L. P. "Setting the Time Right in Shakespeare's Denmark”. The Cambridge Quarterly 45.4 (2016): 323-342.

Günenç, Mesut. "Ophelia and Gertrude: Victimized Women In Hamlet."Journal of International Social Research 8.41 (2015). 164-172.

Shakespeare, William. Tragedy of Hamlet, Boston: Ginn & Company, 1909.

November 24, 2023




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Hamlet Literature Review

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