Hamlet, known as the longest and the most significant tragedy by William Shakespeare, has been adapted, re-enacted, and inspired many writers, film makers, and play writers. Probably based on the legend of Amleth, written in the 13th century by scholar Saxo Grammaticus, for over 400 years, Hamlet was seen as a limelight for innumerable plays and theaters through the centuries. The play also possesses a rich critical history, which is enriching with time. In early 17th century, the play was famous for its vivid dramatization, melancholy and madness. Though remaining popular among the general public, the play was still considered as disappointingly senseless and primal by most critics of those times. A sentiment of the period when the play was written was quite different, and it was considered to be a heroic story rather than that of insanity. The main objective of this paper is to analyze Hamlet, keeping in view the critical thoughts and assumptions.
The plot of tragedy
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The basic plot of Hamlet revolves around the elements of revenge and retribution. Prince Hamlet is mourning the death of his father, the latter King Hamlet and the marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrud to his uncle, the new King of Denmark, Claudius. King Hamlet appears in front of his son, Prince Hamlet, as a ghost. He tells the truth to his son, that he had been poisoned and murdered by his brother Claudius. The ghost asks Hamlet to avenge of his death, and the young Prince readily agrees on. However, the Prince requires a concrete proof before labeling his uncle Claudius as a murder and taking revenge on him. The author arranges a play in such a way that its storyline is a mirror image of the murder that Claudius might have committed. Hamlet watches Claudius closely and waits for any reaction that might brand him as a murderer during the entire play. As the time does by in the play, Hamlet gets ensured that his father, the King of Denmark was poisoned by his own brother.
Parallel to this, Hamlet courts Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, Claudius’ most trusted friend and chief counselor. Her father and her brother, Laertes, who is returning from France, warn her of Hamlet’s intention, claiming that he seems to have lost it after his father’s death. Disturbed and worried by Hamlet’s erratic behavior, Queen Gertrude summons Hamlet to her chamber. On the way, Hamlet finds Claudius knelt down in prayer. Hamlet thinks of seizing the opportunity to finally kill Claudius and take revenge on his father’s death. However, he hesitates to kill him, thinking that if he kills the murderer while he is praying, he might be sent to heavens directly. A fierce dialogue between Gertrude and Hamlet, was eavesdropping by Polonius. Polonius is finally discovered by Hamlet who mistakes him for Claudius and stabs him through a curtain. This part of the play signifies the downfall of Hamlet.
Heartbroken Ophelia, who has been brutally rejected by Hamlet, gets another mental shock as she finds out that her father has been killed by the man she loves. Ophelia wanders the castle in madness, and finally commits suicide by drowning. Claudius, fearing for his life, convinces Ophelia’s brother to take revenge. He recommends arranging a duel between Hamlet and Laertes. Claudius also directs Laertes to poison his blade, so that just a small scratch can send Hamlet to his death. However, Claudius also devises a back-up plan with a poisoned drink for Hamlet, in case if Laertes fails. Accidentally, Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine. Laertes manages to finally pierce Hamlet with the poisoned blade, while on the other hand, Hamlet manages to turn Laertes own sword against him. Laertes, during the last moments of his life discloses Claudius’ plan to Hamlet who in a fit of rage stabs him with Laertes’ sword and just to make sure that Claudius does not have a chance of survival, forces him to drink his own poisoned wine.
Distraught by this massacre, Hamlet’s best friend Horatio plans to commit a suicide too, but is sharply discouraged by Hamlet, who says that Horatio is the only living soul who can recount the events of this tragedy. Hamlet also recommends Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, as the next heir to the throne, who upon arriving on the scene and witnessing the story accounted by Horatio, orders Hamlet to be carried off in honor.
The first important part in play
The two most important events in this play have been the topic for discussion for various critics through the ages. The first and the most important part of the play is when Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius while he is praying. According to A.C. Bradley (1905), the theories of this delay can be classified into several categories. The first reason is Hamlet’s doubt in the ghost. Hamlet hesitates to commit murder just because of the ghost’s words. The second reason could be Hamlet’s own internal conflict with his conscience. Though killing Claudius was a moral deed for Hamlet, he also faced a moral repulsion to being a murderer. However, Bradley says that the real reason for Hamlet’s delay could be melancholy. His temporary depression detached him from everything in the world: people, places, emotions, etc. Bradley practically says that Hamlet might have been mentally unstable owing to a number of facts. There are also doubts concerning one of the most significant elements of the play such as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Was it real or was it just a wild imagination of a demented mind? Bradley leans towards the latter assumption.
The suicide of Ophelia
The second most debated and talked about event in the play isthe suicide of Ophelia. Ophelia was undoubtedly in love with Hamlet. However, she was constantly forced to release this love by her father and brother. When Hamlet murdered her father, Ophelia entered a phase of dementia which eventually cost her life. The suicide of Ophelia raises a question in the minds of the audience. Was Ophelia really in love with Hamlet? Or did she love her father most of all and hate Hamlet because of his immoral deed? Rebecca West, in her article “Hamlet & Ophelia”(1957) from the book “The Court and The Castle”, leans towards the latter opinion. It seems like Ophelia went mad for love and sacrificed her life. However, no line in the play explicitly suggests that Ophelia felt affection towards Hamlet. Even in the madness scene with Horatio, she never mentions Hamlet. Therefore, according to the article of Rebecca West, it can be deduced that the cause for the madness and suicide of Ophelia was the fact that her father had been murdered by a member of the royal family. She therefore found herself lonely and without protection, as during this time, her brother was in France. All these facts eventually broke her will to live, and encouraged her to commit suicide.