As Confucious points out, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” (‘Confucius Quotes’). Both Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Sophocles’ Oedipus are tragic heroes and, therefore, are designed to have low resilience. A resilient character would have traits such as optimism, control over their emotions and less dependence on fate. Even though Hamlet seems to be a more resilient character, both heroes lack the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and overcome their traumas.
In order to bounce back from any tough situation, a person must have a positive outlook on life. Optimism, which is the expectation that good things will happen in the future, is a key characteristic of resilience (“Resilience: Optimism”). On the other end of the spectrum there is pessimism, which is the belief that bad things will happen (“Resilience: Optimism”). Both Oedipus and Hamlet face tough decisions and have to deal with a catastrophe in their stories. However, Oedipus takes a more pessimistic approach to his difficult situation. When Oedipus discovers that the fate he was trying to avoid comes true, he gives up and gouges his eyes out. Oedipus explains that he has “raked his eyes because he could not look again upon the loved ones he has defiled” (Higgins, 1351-1684). Oedipus’s pessimism precludes him from seeking any reason to move forward with his life. Similarly, Hamlet is also pessimistic and depressed. Hamlet has a lack of hope and expresses his negative thoughts throughout the play. He dwells on death and suicide, which is apparent through the “To be, or not to be?” soliloquy. (Act III, Scene I 56 – 90). If not for the idea that suicide is immoral and a crime in God’s eyes, it is likely that Hamlet would have taken his own life early on. However, this also shows how Hamlet is thinking about the consequences of his actions. Even though his motivation is extrinsic, Hamlet still finds a way to continue living and seek out his revenge. This is a key trait that I believe allows Hamlet to be a slightly more resilient character than Oedipus.
Pessimism is not the only factor affecting a person’s resilience. Negative emotions like anger, fear, sadness, embarrassment, guilt and shame prevent a person from creating a positive outlook on life and becoming more resilient. Therefore, having control over your emotions is an important factor of resilience. Both Oedipus and Hamlet make rash decisions affecting their lives. A lack of control forces the characters to act rashly and not critically analyze the crises they are going through. For example, Oedipus’ fear blinds him from seeing the real state of events. When he discovers the truth, he curses his fate and is overwhelmed by anger, embarrassment, guilt and shame: “Why should I see whose vision shoed me nothing sweet to see?” (Sophocles, 1521-1522). On the other hand, Hamlet seems to handle his emotions a little better. Even though he is angry and caught up in the need for revenge, he thinks about the consequences of his actions and tries to rationalize his decisions. However, he does not have a solid handle over his emotions. He acts recklessly, driven by disgust and rage when he stabs Polonius. This action sparks a chain reaction which, inevitably, leads to the catastrophe of the play. By stabbing Polonius, Hamlet drives Ophelia to madness and infuriates Laertes, causing the final duel at the end of the play. The inability to effectively control their emotions, creates problems for both Oedipus and Hamlet and makes them less resilient characters.
Fate and free will are both very impactful when it comes to resilience. To be resilient, you must believe that making changes will affect your life. Knowing that putting the effort in, and working towards a change, will result in a positive outcome, is a key step in becoming more resilient. Believing in fate makes Oedipus a less resilient character. Throughout the story Oedipus attempts to escape his foretold fate, only to end up falling into it anyway. He believes that fate is in control and rages against it at the end of the play. He considers himself cursed and abandoned by the gods: “What greeting can touch my ears with joy? Take me away, and haste—to the place out of the way! Take me away, my friends, the greatly miserable, the most accursed, whom God too hates above all men on earth! “ (Sophocles, 1525-1530). In comparison, Hamlet does not let fate influence his life as much. Unlike Sophocles, Shakespear considers human will unbeatable. Shakespearean characters must continue to fight for control of their lives (Stockton). Hamlet has a stronger belief in free will and trusts that by putting his mind to something and thinking about it clearly and logically, he can make a change. For example, even though Hamlet is obsessed by revenge, he does not blindly follow the ghost’s directions and looks for evidence of Claudius’ guilt:
The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape. Yea, and perhaps
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds
More relative than this. (Act II, Scene II 560-566)
By consciously making the decision to analyze the issues in his life, Hamlet shows more resilience than Oedipus.
As tragic heroes, both Hamlet and Oedipus struggle to be resilient characters. They are both pessimistic and lack emotional control. However, Hamlet does show more resilience, as he exercises his free will, instead of depending on fate. This key feature is what makes Hamlet a slightly more resilient character. Nonetheless, both characters struggle to show any real ability to adjust to challenges. A resilient person must be willing to envision the “light at the end of the tunnel” in order to bounce back from any adversity they may face. Neither Hamlet, nor Oedipus display significant optimism, control of their emotions or motivation to change.