Hamlet was published in 1603 by William Shakespeare, a renowned English playwright and actor. This play brings up very sophisticated topics that were very often hidden and shied away from in Shakespeare’s time period. The audience follows the story of a young prince who seemingly falls apart after the death of his father and brings the kingdom down with him. Hamlet is drowning in grief after his father’s death and is driven by a rage at his uncle for the murder. Hamlet loses all other thoughts and emotions as he is overtaken with a passion for revealing the truth, and a passion for revenge.
There is a moment in the play when many readers are no longer rooting for Hamlet, when the vision of his pure character is destroyed. In Act 3 when Hamlet murders Polonius he shows no remorse for his actions and that is a prime example of Hamlet becoming “passion’s slave”. Hamlet is so overcome by his blind rage for Claudius that he is no longer thinking clearly, so when he enters his mother’s bedroom and hears another person in the room, he rashly assumes that it’s his uncle, and lashes out, killing Polonius, “How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!/ (stabs his sword through the arras and kills Polonius) […] Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell/ I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune”(act 3, scene 4, 23-33). The fact that Hamlet shows no remorse for his actions towards Polonius, a close friend, shows that he has gone over the edge of insanity. Over the course of the play Hamlet is so overcome by his emotions that he loses sight of the origin of his behavior. It takes the reappearance of his father’s ghost to get him back on track and to remind him of his original purpose, to prove to Gertrude that Claudius is the murderer. Essentially Hamlet lashing out at everybody, is him becoming enslaved to his passion for vengeance.
Throughout the play Hamlet is on a whirlwind of emotions, always governed by passion over reason. The need for revenge and Hamlets complete focus on correcting a wrong, impede on his responsibilities of being a ruler, a son, and a suitor. As he is so determined on fulfilling that desire of revenge, he doesn’t realize how irrational he’s behaving. An example of Hamlet’s passion interfering with his responsibilities of being a “lover” is how diabolical he treats Ophelia. Hamlet feels betrayed by his mother because of her lack of mourning over her late husband, King Hamlet, and the fact that she hastily married King Hamlet’s brother, Claudius, soon after. This deceit causes him to view every woman as untrustworthy, which in turn negatively affects his sense of duty of being a good “lover” to Ophelia, accusing her of being disloyal and deceptive. His unrefined comments to her exceeded sexist barriers, she says, “You are keen, my lord, you are keen”, complimenting his intelligence, and he replies, “It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge” (act 3, scene 2, 227-228). Hamlet shows some very questionable behavior in this scene through his conversation with Ophelia, which proves him capable of abuse despite his supposed love for her. Unfortunately, this conversation with Ophelia is only one of many moments where Hamlet unleashes his rage on those around him.
Several critics and readers believe that Hamlet’s insanity is just an elaborate charade that he puts on to obtain a confession to murder from his uncle, and it’s true that he started out that way. It’s in this scene, when Hamlet manipulates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, that he appears the most in control of his own behavior, almost eerily so. Almost ironically, Hamlet even shows admiration for Horatio’s calm demeanor, the absence of which is Hamlet’s most flawed trait. “Give me that man/ That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him/ In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart” (Act 3. Scene 2. 64-67). In this scene, as he goes from wild to mature behavior, it appears that Hamlet is not insane after all. So, while there is truth behind the statement that Hamlet is only pretending to be a slave to his passions, over the course of the play it’s obvious that he loses that control over his emotions, and no longer has to pretend to be insane. Hamlet commits the height of this passion in a response to his father’s death and in his evident love for Ophelia. A prime example of Hamlet’s passion is shown in the graveyard scene when he learns of Ophelia’s suicide. Hamlet exclaims, “What is he whose grief/ Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow/ Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand/ Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I, / Hamlet the Dane (leaps into the grave)” (act 5 scene 1, 238-242). Hamlet is beside himself with grief, knowing that he had caused her pain by murdering her father, Polonius.
Hamlet may have started his act of insanity with pure intentions, but he gets in too deep and is overcome by his strong emotions and his passion for vengeance. When Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, his whole persona changes. His moods become more hysterical, his words more aggressive, and his motivations secretive. The old hamlet, the hamlet before seeing his father’s ghost, is gone, and has been taken over by a bitter and vindictive figure. Hamlet let his situation get way out of control, and drowning in his grief, he becomes “passion’s slave”. This play proves that a person cannot just be a human of action nor only a human of thought, you have to find a balance.
As Hamlet shows, being a human of thought can mean that you never accomplish anything significant. In the beginning of the play Hamlet announces that he wants to kill his uncle, but when it comes down to it, he spends the entire play driving himself insane with the internal debate. In contrast, becoming only a human of action can result in almost hysterical behavior, and can lead to negative consequences, like murdering the father of the women you loved. The tragedy of Hamlet holds a great internal conflict as Hamlet contradicts himself many times throughout out the play and causes the unnecessary death of many of those around him.
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