Hamlet Critical Response-Hamlet’s psychological state:
Every character in a play has a heart and mind of its own. A successful playwright goes into the heart, and probes the psyche of his characters before creating dialogues for him/her. As for the main character, he takes special care. Generally, all the characters in the play are the responsive characters to the main character. Shakespeare has given us a very interesting play. The theme of the play and the author’s attitude towards the theme, both evoke intense curiosity.
A situation manifests clearly and logically, grows and attains new dimensions. The mutual interactions over the situation, between different characters, reveal in the most natural way, the convictions for which the play stands for. This is the uniqueness of the play. As the story develops, it becomes poignant, without losing its ground and reality. The entire play is centered round the psychological state of Hamlet. In the grim situation Hamlet finds himself, he becomes cynical and thinks that human beings are all ignoble. Is it possible to repair the damage to the inner personality due to the wrong start that one gets in life for no fault of that particular individual? This seems impossible in Shakespeare’s Hamlet!
Hamlet was unfortunate to undergo such a plight. One hopeless situation leads to the other and the degeneration of the personality starts. His journey of life becomes like the rudderless boat in a turbulent sea. Hamlet’s every step is the step towards fulfilling his vendetta. The modern psychoanalytical approaches have created more problems than to solve the basic issue-proper understanding of Hamlet’s personality! Why did he behave the way he did? Is Hamlet purely a fictional character, or based on real-life situations?
Why he is so self-destructive? Hamlet is deeply disturbed by the sudden death of his father and her subsequent quick marriage to his uncle, King Claudius. He becomes an introvert personality, hurt by this deep wound. When he comes to know that his father died under dubious circumstances and he is he victim of a vicious plot, he turns bitter. His mood is depicted thus by Shakespeare:
“How (weary), stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seems to me all the uses of this world (I, ii, 11.133-134)”
He is obsessed with the thought of avenging his father’s death. But his powerful adversary is the King!
Is madness is Hamlet’s real malady or the guise to further his demonic plan of actions? They say, one cries when one is sad; one does not, when one is mad! Hamlet is alert and never for a moment loses his mental balance. He understands well, King’s plot to have him executed. It was such a clandestine operation by the King that his escorts were unaware of the threat posed by Hamlet to the King. A volcano of revenge is raging within Hamlet and he is only waiting for an opportunity for the deadly strike against the King and he has decided to strike so hard, that there is no need to strike again! His objective is when to strike the King, not whether!
Hamlet’s disposition towards Ophelia is unexplainable by the yardstick of reasoning and must take him to the portals of an expert psychologist. She is his former lover. His cruelty and verbal slang towards her are beyond the comprehension of a mind that wishes to know the reason. He taunts her,
“Get thee to a nunnery,
Why wouldn’t thou be a breeder of sinners” (III, i., ll.120-121).
This is an unwanted, vicious attack on her character. She makes sincere efforts to understand him, but Othello hits back at her with a foul tongue. In the entire play, Ophelia is the most delicate personality, and Hamlet does not even spare her for the reasons best known to him. He goes to the extent of “accidentally” killing her father, driving her onward to suicide. Why Hamlet acted thus? Only two persons will know the truth. Hamlet and Shakespeare! Hamlet’s most trusted friends will find it difficult to defend him for this satanic action!
Why Hamlet is obsessed with revenge? Next to father, one loves the mother most. What if the mother is corrupt! One that killed his father had done so for the sake of throne? He has committed the worst moral sin. The information from the ghost puts Hamlet in a precarious position. Killing Claudius is the only option for him; if he does not do that, he will be killed by Claudius sooner or later, and if Claudius remains alive how Hamlet can seek liberation from his mental imprisonment? He begins to contemplate irrational actions so that the society can take him to be insane, and he can effectively carryout the rational action of killing Claudius. “Hamlet does not want to confront Gertrude with the crime in a rational way, thus forcing her to make a difficult choice between Hamlet and Claudius, with disastrous psychological results for Hamlet if she chooses against him.” (Hamlet’s…)
“Ultimately, of course, Hamlet decides to kill Claudius. He does so for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, his mother, in drinking Claudius’ drink and thus poisoning herself, becomes conscious of Claudius’ treachery. She communicates her knowledge of this to Hamlet (“The Drink, the drink, I am poisoned”) and thus her implied withdrawal of all support of Claudius. This eliminates the threat of motherly estrangement, virtually paving the way for Hamlet to kill Claudius.”(Hamlet’s …) The psychological barrier now stands removed and Hamlet does not see any trace of guilt in his decision to eliminate Claudius.
Hamlet’s psychological wound is very deep. He is not sure, whether his mother had sex relations prior to the killing of his father by Claudius, or whether she connived with Claudius in murdering her husband. Hamlet compares his mother to a beast in the very first scene
“O God, a beast that wants a discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer…
O, most wicked speed to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! (I.ii.50-1, 156-7)” (Women in….)
From the first, his encounters with Ophelia are spattered with hostility and disgust:
“I have heard of your paintings, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and you lisp; you nickname God’ creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance. (III.i.143-7) .This stance of Hamlet is difficult to understand. Ophelia is innocent from all standards of behavior, and she genuinely loves Hamlet, and wishes to mend his ways so that she can live peacefully with him. This attitude of Hamlet makes him a serious candidate for complete examination by a psychologist. Is Hamlet’s feigned madness like the learner’s driving license? This madness permits him to say anything unreasonable, and indulge in unmerciful fun against anyone. This madness also makes him the darling of the audience.
There is another important issue to be noted relating to Hamlet. Right from the beginning of the play, in his interaction with any character, in any situation, Hamlet shows unreasonable aggression and gives the impression that he hates the entire humanity. His hatred and bitterness are intense and yet, in most of the situations, he carries the sympathy of the audience. The audience pities Hamlet, instead of condemning him at any time. This is the beauty of Hamlet’s character; and the craftiness of Shakespeare.
- “Hamlet’s Obsession with Revenge.” 123HelpMe.com. 18 Oct 2008
- Women In Hamlet. Retrieved on October, 18,2008.
- <elsinore.ucsc.edu/women/WomenOandH.html – 14k ->