The Elizabethan play The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarkis one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works. One of thepossible reasons for this play’s popularity is the way Shakespeareuses the character Hamlet to exemplify the complex workings of thehuman mind.
The approach taken by Shakespeare in Hamlet has generatedcountless different interpretations of meaning, but it is throughHamlet’s struggle to confront his internal dilemma, deciding when torevenge his fathers death, that the reader becomes aware of one of themore common interpretations in Hamlet; the idea that Shakespeare isattempting to comment on the influence that one’s state of mind canhave on the decisions they make in life. As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the encounters thatHamlet must face to demonstrate the effect that one’s perspective canhave on the way the mind works.
In his book Some Shakespeare Themes &An Approach to Hamlet, L. C. Knight takes notice of Shakespeare’s useof these encounters to journey into the workings of the human mindwhen he writes:What we have in Hamlet. is the exploration and implicitcriticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness. InHamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal thecomplex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion,and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make ajudgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of humanlife. 92)
Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet’s internal dilemma inAct 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears andcalls upon Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder”(1. 5. 24). It is from this point forward that Hamlet must strugglewith the dilemma of whether or not to kill Claudius, his uncle, and ifso when to actually do it. As the play progresses, Hamlet does notseek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, and it is thereasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that becomes paramountto the reader’s understanding of the effect that Hamlet’s mentalperspective has on his situation.
In order to fully understand how Hamlet’s perspective plays animportant role in this play, the reader must attempt to answer thefundamental question: Why does Hamlet procrastinate in taking revengeon Claudius? Although the answer to this question is at best somewhatcomplicated, Mark W. Scott attempts to offer some possibleexplanations for Hamlet’s delay in his book, Shakespeare for Students:Critics who find the cause of Hamlet’s delay in his internalmeditations typically view the prince as a man of great moralintegrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against hisdeepest principles.
On numerous occasions, the prince tries to makesense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, whichShakespeare presents as soliloquies. Another perspective of Hamlet’sinternal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchantedwith life since his father’s death that he has neither the desire northe will to exact revenge. (74)Mr. Scott points out morality and disenchantment, both of which belongsolely to an individuals own conscious, as two potential causes ofHamlet’s procrastination, and therefore he offers support to theidea that Shakespeare is placing important emphasis on the role ofindividual perspective in this play.
The importance that Mr. Scott’scomment places on Hamlet’s use of personal meditations to “make senseof his moral dilemma” (74), also helps to support L. C. Knight’scontention that Shakespeare is attempting to use these dilemmas toillustrate the inner workings of the human mind. In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives the reader an opportunity toevaluate the way the title character handles a very complicateddilemma and the problems that are generated because of it.
Theseproblems that face Hamlet are perhaps best viewed as overstatements ofthe very types of problems that all people must face as they livetheir lives each day. The magnitude of these “everyday” problems arealmost always a matter of individual perspective. Each person willperceive a given situation based on his own state of mind. The one,perhaps universal, dilemma that faces all of mankind is theproblem of identity. As Victor L. Cahn writes, “Hamlet’s primarydilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place andthese circumstances, How is he to respond?
What is hisresponsibility? ” (69). This dilemma defined by Mr. Cahn fits in wellwith the comments of both L. C. Knight and Mark Scott, because it toorequires some serious introspection on the part of Hamlet to resolve,and also supports the idea that Shakespeare is using Hamlet’s dilemmato illustrate the effect that perspective, or state of mind, can haveon a given situation. Hamlet’s delay in seeking revenge for his father’s deathplays an important role in allowing Shakespeare’s look into the humanmind to manifest itself.
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