The human nature, a through an interweaving of good and evil, a mingling of kind and cruel, a bundle of two very dissimilar ways of thinking and acting, it has it all. The sophistication of the human mind, the way how of its working system, the questions of morality mutating with its very nature, never ceases to amaze indeed. And that is what we all witnessed in the Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, a play by William Shakespeare, which is considered to be one of his best works of Tragedy all time. On this play, mankind’s naked true and filthy nature is served to the plate, without any single piece of wool neither to cover nor to clean up the messes made by his filthiness. This does not mean that human being is a cruel animal as a whole, but what history has to offer is not the deeds of humans which may cause the fields of heaven to be crowded with the souls of the good people, but what is heard and seen is the total reverse of it. And that is all that Shakespeare is talking about throughout the play. He is reflecting his frustration and disgust towards humanity and its nature. Stay tuned, it is Judgment Day.
The story revolves around the internal dilemma that the character Hamlet is going through, on avenging his father’s death. And this is the sauce that Shakespeare had used throughout the play, in building up the story plot and at the same time making the theme of the story in exemplifying the sophisticated system of the human mind and pointing out sharp critics to that time’s most sensitive issue Humanism.
At the beginning of the play, it shows that human nature to be a greedy, self-involved and vengeful creature. And it is on this idea that all of the conflicts are all set to happen in the plot of the story. Claudius, driven by his greed to commit murder, for the sake of seizing power. Even the way he killed his brother, can be considered as one of the ‘Mother of Murder’ cases in modern times. Pouring a poison inside the King’s ear is a true definition of cruelty. And his right hand Polonius is self-involved as far as it gets to giving up his daughter just for the sake of filling his loyal personality in the eyes of the new king. And on the other hand, Hamlet has bought to be blind in vengeance, from the moment he confirmed that Claudius is one who murdered his father. And I think that these are the three building blocks of the storyline. Human nature has been all of these and has also similarly evolved through the ages. From the very first time Adam and Eve took a bite of the apple from the forbidden tree, for their boundless wishes of unlimited power, till to those tiny drops of poison dripping down in the sleeping King’s ear, humanity has been all about that. That, ‘I’ is always far greater than ‘You’. Keeping in mind that, we can be base and cruel, but we also can show a great deal of compassion and kindness towards each other too. But this time let us focus only on the bad and evil figures that we all share, according to the play. Excluding the fact that whether it is hidden deep down us, or it is all crumbling in our personality through our day to day life.
Analyzing the king’s character, Claudius kills his brother so that he can claim the crown and the queen. The fact that the true nobility of the King towards the nation, and even the bloodline they both share of him being his brother did not stop his greedy nature to take over. Knowingly or not, most people, at one point or another will be driven by greed. Most, however, will not have the determination and desperation that Claudius displays in the play. What is meant to change is only the form and structure that it takes through ages of different times and period. In the time that Shakespeare wrote the play, murder was heavily frowned upon as it is now. Greed is part of all people. It is the inescapable prison of human nature, but we control it to a certain degree.
And when we see Polonius, Shakespeare characterizes him having one of the main aspects of human nature that is self-concern; constantly looking for ways to ingratiate oneself to the person that one might think that he/she would benefit him/her in the future. Polonius sacrificing his own daughter’s happiness so that he can prove his theories about Hamlet’s madness to the king is truly the barely naked selfish nature of him that is contemplating and reflecting the self-concerned human nature, in this character. And that is one of the viruses we live in our day to day life. Self-concern is another inherent trait that humans cannot escape. People are constantly thinking about themselves and how things are going to affect their lives. We care deeply about our well-being. Certainly, there comes the occasion that we think about others, but most of us live in our world that we always come first.
Vengefulness is yet another inexorable human trait. Hamlet’s entire character is changed by his need for revenge. He has set his mind to one and only one goal, he always tells himself that ‘Revenge is Everything!’. He eats, he wakes up in the morning, and he breathes to avenge his father’s death. And that’s it. That is his life. This, in turn, characterizes the brute and bold human nature towards revenge.
There are so many aspects of humans behavior revealed in Hamlet which makes it so difficult to point out only some. But most would agree on both the irrationality and the unpredictability of people’s behavior reflected in Hamlet. Hamlet’s character is like a puzzle. Here is what I have read in an article written about Hamlet. It says, ‘He appears as a sensitive and brilliant young man who is seething with an inner self-loathing and perhaps a generalized hatred of other people around the world. After all, he is not only the key character but the driving force behind most of the questions that are asked about human nature. He has many traits that contribute to the success of his character and the success of the play in general. The three most important characteristics are his indecisiveness throughout the play, his fatalistic views, and his overdramatic persona.’
And I couldn’t agree more on these three behavioral aspects of Hamlet. And I will try to describe them in a bird’s eye view manner, including the already stated points by the article, which I think I should not change the overall views.
Hamlet’s indecisiveness is evident throughout the play, especially during his dilemma of whether the Ghost is real or has been sent by Satan to trick him into doing something he shouldn’t do. He spends too much time worrying about situations, on their ‘what if’ sides, rather than focusing on their mere appearances as they are meant to be in the first place. And for that, he is seen shingling between two ends indecisively, till the last sip of breath he had.
His fatalistic views are utterly spread all over the story, which has led to the ending of the play to be a total tragedy. Which many argue as Hamlets bold and blind vengeance is a set up by the author William Shakespeare to show a deep critic and disgust of the society he has lived in and make a toe to head clearance of the sins and all the peoples with any kinds connected with the sin (without any forgiveness based on size and kind of sins they made or contributed to), and gave out his wish of a fresh new start for the wide nation.
Besides, the one thing that makes Hamlet either an exciting or depressing story is because of a completely overdramatic persona it had in it. The article argues that, and I quote; ‘Granted, part of his drama is since it was just Shakespeare’s writing style, and if it seemed dramatic it was probably because the play was a dramatic-tragedy. Beyond that though, Hamlet threw almost every situation out of proportion. By the end of the play, the drama around him seems to finally catch up with his drama, but throughout the rest of the play he is caught up in his drama.’
And personally that is why many of us feel in such a way that the environment we live in, the society we are born and raised, almost all the situation that happens in our day to day life, is nothing but a drama which is written and directed by one supernatural author, and set us the characters to act the mysterious sets of plays on this huge stage, the earth and beyond. And that might be the reason why the terms fate and destiny make sense for us after all. Because we believe everything in life is meant to happen. There is an Arabic saying, which I have read in the book ‘The Alchemist’ that says it all. ‘Al Maktub!’ meaning ‘it is written!’.
And here is the moment, where Shakespeare used his one of the famous soliloquy ‘To be or not to be’ in Act 3 Scene 1, which is a deep critic about humanity. Hamlet directly addresses a fundamental and profound question on the human condition, mortality: and questions our mere existence is a blessing or a curse to this world. That’s pretty much the point of this speech. Hamlet is seriously considering those big questions about life and death, and what it means to live. Hamlet is contemplating suicide on and off throughout his soliloquies. After all, instead of obsessing about whether or not to kill himself, he’s exploring the reasons why people, in general, don’t commit suicide (because they are not sure about the world that is waiting for the next stage, not because they have a life worth living for) which might be one reason he doesn’t use the word ‘I’ or ‘me’ in this whole soliloquy. He’s not even talking directly about himself. He’s thinking more generally about life itself. When it comes down to it, he’s talking about you, us, and everyone else out there. That’s why the question is ‘to be or not to be.’ Essentially, Hamlet’s asking whether people should exist or not.
As the play unfolds, it also digs deeper for the search of the mysterious working of the human mind. L.C. Knight compares Shakespeare’s use of these encounters to a journey into the workings of the human mind when he says: ‘What we have in Hamlet is the exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion, and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human life.’
Some scholars argue that Hamlet does not seek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, and it is the reasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that becomes paramount to the reader’s understanding of the effect that Hamlet’s mental perspective has on his situation. The moment Hamlet hesitated to kill Claudius when the great opportunity sets on, when he was kneeling and praying for forgiveness for his deeds, and that was the perfect moment to kill him but he didn’t, because he wants him to rot in hell even in the afterlife, is a way that Shakespeare wanted to show that how much Hamlet (‘we’ are) is so vicious in his (‘our’) character.
As Victor L. Cahn writes, ‘Hamlet’s primary dilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place and these circumstances, how is he to respond? What is his responsibility? Hamlet’s delay in seeking revenge for his father’s death allows Shakespeare’s look into the human mind to manifest itself. If Hamlet had killed Claudius at the first opportunity, there would have been little chance for Shakespeare to develop the internal dilemma which he wants to comment on, that is, the complexity of the human mind, and the power that a person’s mental perspective can have on the events of his life.’
These all are the reasons that Hamlet is indeed one of the most influential works of art and literature of its time and also in the modern ages too. Due to the fact that for whom who are reading the book or watching the play, the set of the play is his/her life, the stage is the world that he/she lives in, and all the storylines are the situations he/she confronts within a blink of an eye, a touch or grab within a stretch of a hand of reality. From my perspective, the play is more of a true story rather than a mere imagination in the author’s mind. That is Shakespeare with his silky smooth artistic mind and creativity, touching one of the ever sensitive issues of all time, Humanity. For those who had a deep self-judgment in reading the story, it is crystal clear that the bends won’t mend, and the scars won’t heal. And I end,
‘So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less,
Which have solicited, The rest is silence.’