Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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HAMLET (Young Hamlet). Although brief summations of Hamletís character should be viewed with some suspicion, given his famous complexity, he is, essentially, a highly intelligent, sensitive, rather noble, youthful man (in spirit if not in years), who, under the pressure of strong emotion, finds his personality beginning to disintegrate. This leads him to act inconsistently and sometimes foolishly. He is not always in full control of his emotions, or his depressed, excitable state of mind, and this causes him sometimes to be very bitter and cruel. On his return to the stage in Act Five, he seems largely to have regained his self-possession, and he has become much more fatalistic, prepared to rely on and trust the workings of Providence to achieve his ends.

At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is already showing signs of distraction. He toys with the idea of suicide as a result of his fatherís recent death and his motherís marriage to his fatherís brother (regarded as incestuous by Hamlet, and probably by many of Shakespeareís audience). There is also the further factor that his uncle has acquired the crown in his absence, though Hamlet says nothing on this matter until much later. He also, the audience learns a little later in the play, is not unreasonably suspicious of Claudiusí part in his fatherís demise. Most of all, however, he feels betrayed and sickened by his motherís behaviour.

He hears that a ghost, closely resembling his father, is walking the battlements of Elsinore each night. He himself encounters this ghost, which claims to be his father, and hears the story of Claudiusí murder. He also learns of his motherís adultery with his uncle. The Ghost charges him to revenge himself on Claudius, and in a frenzied emotional condition, Hamlet swears to do so. He also decides to feign madness, in an attempt to divert suspicion away from his plan. This Ďantic dispositioní has, not surprisingly, the opposite effect, and it is possible to infer that Hamletís adopting a mad demeanour is a way of exorcising his own real and increasingly disturbed mental state.

A troupe of travelling players arrive and the vicarious experience of bloody revenge and passionate heroic grief (brought about by an impromptu performance of a speech at Hamletís request) leads him to meditate on his own lack of heroic action in his fatherís cause. The audience would not, at this stage, have noticed any delay, if Hamlet had not drawn attention to it. However, another part of Hamletís mind is clearly moving in a contrary direction to his impulse to act , as the audience learn that he has begun to doubt the Ghostís word. He suspects that the Ghost was, in fact, a diabolic deception, the aim of which is to ensnare him into bringing about his own damnation.

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William Shakespeare
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