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Theme of Rationalism in Hamlet

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Hamlet is an English play written by William Shakespeare between the years 1599 and 1601. The play tells the story of Hamlet, and the events that transpire after he vows to avenge his father, who was killed by his uncle Claudius. Throughout the story Hamlet displays extreme amounts of rationality, from his inability to kill Claudius until he knows for certain that he was the one who killed his father, to his careful consideration on when and where he should kill Claudius. Hamlet’s rationality feeds his indecisiveness and ultimately leads to his downfall in the end.

At the beginning of the story, the ghost of Hamlet’s father tells him that his brother, Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, murdered him. After this revelation, Hamlet vows to avenge his father by killing his murderer. However, instead of immediately going and killing Claudius, Hamlet decides to be rational and gather evidence to prove Claudius killed his father. He tells his friend Horatio about his plan saying “Here, as before, never, so help you mercy, / How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself, / As I, perchance, hereafter shall think meet / To put an antick disposition on,— / That you, at such times seeing me, never shall, / With arms encumber’d thus, or this head-shake, / Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase, / … / Or such ambiguous giving out, to note / That you know aught of me:” (Shakespeare, 1.5. 148-158). In order to gather more information about his father murderer, he is going to fake being insane so as to not look suspicious, he also asks Horatio to swear not to tell anybody of his plan. Hamlet’s rationality is displayed through his need to have evidence before he acts. However, this need for evidence leads him down a path of indecisiveness that he cannot escape.

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Hamlet’s rationality feeds into his indecisive thought’s multiple times throughout the play. An example of this was after he sees a play that both him and Claudius attend. After the play, he finds Claudius praying, to which he says “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; / And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven; / And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d: / A villain kills my father; and for that, / I, his sole son, do this same villain send / To heaven. / O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. / … / Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: / When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, / Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed; / At gaming, swearing, or about some act / That has no relish of salvation in’t; / Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven,” (3.3.81-101). Ultimately, Hamlet’s rational thinking leads him to not kill Claudius while he is praying, as he would be sent to heaven, instead he decides to kill him when he is sinning instead so he knows he will be sent to hell.

However, in an uncharacteristically irrational moment in his mother’s chamber, Hamlet’s indecisiveness leads to his breaking point in the fourth scene of the third act, where in an uncharacteristic irrational manor, he stabs through a curtain that was hiding the king’s councilor, Polonius, and kills him. This action starts a chain of events that ends with Hamlet dueling Polonius’ son. During this duel, Polonius’ son reveals that it was, in fact, Claudius who killed his father, however, buy then it is too late as Hamlet was wounded with a poisoned sword and would die after he got revenge on Claudius. Had he not been as indecisive, he may have lived.

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Theme of Rationalism in Hamlet. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from
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