Showing posts with label Hamlet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamlet. Show all posts

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Psychoanalytic Reading of Hamlet

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is different from other Elizabethan revenge plays in the sense that the playwright did put much effort in depicting the psychological make-up of his hero Hamlet. The way Shakespeare portrays the psychological complexities of Hamlet, the play has become a lucrative text to the critics to see through the psychoanalytic lens. Analysis of Hamlet using psychoanalytic criticism reveals the inward states of Hamlet’s mind. Among the various aspects of Hamlet’s character, the thing that instantly draws our attention is his relation with his mother Getrude. It is here the psychoanalytic ckritics opine that Hamlet has an Oedipus Complex to his mother. Freud developed the theory of Oedipus complex, whereby, says Freud, the male infant conceives the desire of eliminate the father and become the sexual partner of the mother. Hamlet, too, has several symptoms to suffer from Oedipus Complex.

Hamlet’s Oedipus Complex:

A fundamental basis for all of Freudian psychology resides in the Oedipal feelings which Freud believed are common to all male children. The major psychological distinction between one person and another was said to come from the way the person handled those feelings and the way that handling was represented in everyday life( how the hell do you write such nonsense sentences?). Freud is categorical about the existence of the Oedipal impulse
“It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that that is so. King Oedipus, who slew his father La├»us and married his mother Jocasta, merely shows us the fulfillment of our own childhood wishes...

Here is one in whom these primeval wishes of our childhood have been fulfilled.
While the poet, as he unravels the past, brings to light the guilt of Oedipus, he is at the same time compelling us to recognize our own inner minds, in which those same impulses, though suppressed, are still to be found”.  - Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, tr. James Strachey, Avon, N.Y. 1965. p.296.

Freud also explains the difference between what he takes to be an innate universal psychological mechanism and the accepted range of expression of civilization with the notion of repression. For example, Hamlet has fundamental urges which are not visible in the course of the play is a tribute to the energy he has invested in repressing them. Freud allies advances in civilization itself with the increase of repression.

Hamlet and Oedipus from Oedipus the King, by Sophocles, have striking similarities which augment Hamlet’s Oedipus complex. ‘The Oedipus complex’ is a psychoanalytic theory which encompasses the idea of unconsciously desiring the parent of the opposite sex, while desiring to eliminate the parent of the same sex. Hamlet does hold these feeling for his mother, Gertrude, but Hamlet’s situation contrasts greatly to that of Oedipus; Hamlet never fulfills his oedipal desires. Despite this fact, Hamlet is said to have one of the greatest Oedipus complexes.

Now, in analyzing Hamlet, ‘the Oedipus Complex’ is clearly apparent to the reader. As a child, Hamlet always expressed the warmest fondness and affection for his mother. This adoration contained elements of disguised erotic quality, especially seen in the bed chamber scene with his mother. The Queen's sensual nature and her passionate fondness of her son are two traits that show her relationship with Hamlet goes beyond the normal mother-son relationship. Nonetheless though, Hamlet finds a love interest in Ophelia. His feelings for Ophelia are never discussed fully in the play, but it is evident to the reader that at one time he loved her because of the hurt he feels when she lies to him. At this part in the play, Hamlet insults Ophelia by telling her, "Or if/ thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know/ well enough what monsters you make of them. To a /nunn'ry, go, and quickly too" (3.1.136-139). At this part in the play, it is extremely difficult for Hamlet to differentiate between his mother and Ophelia. Therefore, making his true feelings for his mother become more obscure. Another thing is that, when Hamlet's father dies and his mother re-marries, the independency of the idea of sexuality with his mother, concealed since infancy, can no longer be hid from his consciousness. Emotions which were favorable and pleasing at infancy are now emotions of abhorrence and disgust because of his repressions. In the beginning of the play he becomes extremely derisive and contemptuous to his mother. "Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not "seems." (1.2.76). When Hamlet says this, he is mocking his mother's question about why he is still mourning his father's death. Ironically, out of the love he still has for his mother, he yields her request to remain at the court. The long "repressed" need to take his father's place, by gaining his mother's devotion is first stimulated to unconscious activity by the marriage of his mother to Claudius. Claudius has usurped the position of husband to Gertrude, a position that Hamlet had once longed for. Their incestuous marriage thus resembles Hamlet's imaginary idea of having a sexual relationship with his mother. These unconscious desires are struggling to find conscious expression, without Hamlet being the least aware of them.

As the play goes on, Hamlet comes to know that Claudius is the murderer of his father. Knowing the truth makes Hamlet's subconscious realize that killing Claudius would be similar to killing himself. This is so because Hamlet recognizes that Claudius' actions of murdering his brother and marrying Hamlet's mother, mimicked Hamlet's inner unconscious desires. Hamlet's unconscious fantasies have always been closely related to Claudius' conduct. All of Hamlet's once hidden feelings seem to surface in spite of all of the
"repressing forces," when he cries out, "Oh my prophetic soul!/ My uncle!" (1.5.40-41). From here, Hamlet's consciousness must deal with the frightful truth. Therefore, when dealing with Claudius, Hamlet's attitude is extremely complex and intricate. The concepts of death and sexuality are interchangeable in this play. To the reader, it is evident that Hamlet hates his uncle, but his despise of Claudius comes more from his jealousy than from anything else. The more Hamlet criticizes Claudius, the more his unconscious feelings start to unravel. Hence, Hamlet is faced with a dilemma by acknowledging the same feelings his uncle has towards his mother, even though he detests Claudius, and yet on the other hand, he feels the need to avenge his father's death. It takes Hamlet a month to decide to finally take action against Claudius. Hamlet is convinced of Claudius' guilt, but his own guilt prevents him from completely eliminating his uncle. Hamlet is still trying to "repress" his own sexual desires. It could be construed that Claudius manifests all of Hamlet's passions and emotions. If Claudius is killed, then Hamlet must also be killed. The course of action that Hamlet pursues can only lead to his ruin. In the end of the play, Hamlet is finally willing to make the ultimate sacrifice: to avenge his father's death and to kill his uncle, as well as part of himself.

The Soul of Nero:

Some critics say that Hamlet might intend to murder his mother Gertrude herself. The ghost of Hamlet's father has also expressed concern for Gertrude's safety with Hamlet, and to add to the list, Hamlet, himself seems to need some assurance on the matter.
“Now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business at the day
Would quake to look on: soft, now to my mother -
O heart, lose not thy nature, let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom,
Let me be cruel not unnatural.
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.”
                                                       [Act III, Scene II] 
Freud's assumption is that the presence of Gertrude evokes a sense of guilt and discomfort (as a result of his Oedipal yearnings) which Hamlet is unable to tolerate. Hamlet's own allusion to Nero is based on a similar situation - although derived from quite different events. Nero was reputed to have slept with his mother, Agrippina, and then to have murdered her out of a sense of guilt. Oedipus or Orestes? In both cases, there is an argument to be made that the target of Hamlet's aggression would more appropriately have been his mother, rather than his father.

Psychoanalytic criticism at Hamlet's actions:.

If we want to understand the psychological implications of Hamlet, the primary focus should be on the character Hamlet and how he develops and modifies throughout the play. In order to gain a true understanding of most of the detail that is implied through Hamlet’s way of portraying himself to others, it is vital to look deep into the actions that are carried out, and analyze them psychoanalytically.

Hamlet’s hesitation to kill the King :

The play is built up on Hamlet's hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him. The central mystery in it -- namely the meaning of Hamlet's hesitancy in seeking to obtain revenge for his father's murder -- has been called “the Sphinx of modern literature”.  Freudian critics then go on to address what they consider the heart of the matter in Hamlet; the reasons for Hamlet's seeming delay in killing Claudius. For them, Claudius represents, in flesh and blood, the embodiment of Hamlet's Oedipal urges. He has actually killed Hamlet's father and is sleeping with his mother. Hamlet's hesitation in killing Claudius, according to Freud, has to do with his deeper association with him. Claudius serves as a flesh and blood expression of his own repressed childhood fantasies, and to kill him would be to murder a part of his own inner self already associated with self-loathing. The "clincher" on Freud's solution to what he called "The Problem" has to do with not only Hamlet's delay in killing the king, but also with the actual murder of Claudius. The long-awaited event can only take place when Gertrude has died. Hamlet is then free to act because the cause of his repressed guilt has been eliminated, and he kills Claudius immediately.

Hamlet’s Madness:

In the actual play, one of the principle arguments is whether Hamlet is truly mad or not. To analyze this for validity, we would have to look at the linguistics of the play and the situations that play out within it. There is concrete evidence, as well as implied detail, which leads one to believe that Hamlet is only acting as if he were mad in or not. Throughout the play, we come across Hamlet’s often strange and erratic behaviours such as—his fondness for ridiculing, his cruelty toward Ophelia, his broken sleeps and bad dreams, his melancholy, his desire for secrecy, in the scene of Ophelia’s funeral. Hamlet’s these attitudes are mainly outcome of his frustration and mental disturbance.
In Act-I Scene-V of the play, when the ghost unearths the conspiracy of his murder allegedly involving Gertrude, Hamlet pours out his frustration about both his mother and Claudius in such a manner,
“O most pernicious woman!
Oh villain, villain, smiling damned villain!
That one may smile, and smile and be a villain;”

Such psychological disorders result from Hamlet’s mental disturbance. Compulsive obsessive disorder is an abnormal state of mind in which the subject is unconsciously forced to involve in an activity repeatedly. This, usually, is an outcome of some emotional turbulence and needs a clinical treatment.


Soliloquies in Shakespearean tragedies display the innermost layers of human psyche. Like a tip of the iceberg, outward behavior demonstrates only tenth part of what a person is. Hamlet’s following soliloquy, shows that human mind is highly erratic and volatile.
“What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, … and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
However, the most soul-searching soliloquy appears in Act-III Scene 1 which shows the conflict of human mind that tortures almost all the human beings at one or the other stage of life, and that is,
“To be, or not to be, that is the question;
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them; To die – to  sleep,
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay , there’s the rub: …”

Soliloquies are the most authentic means to analyze the inner psyche of any character. His or her inner struggle is revealed in such a situation. In Shakespearean tragedy, there is always an element of psychomachia or the struggle within the soul; which may be externalized in many ways.

In a nutshell, we can say that Shakespeare’s Hamlet has surpassed the confines of the Psychologists’ capabilities and it has been a usual practice of the psychologists to treat Hamlet as a psychological patient rather than as a character.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a Revenge Tragedy

A Shakespearean tragedy is built upon a central conflict which runs through from the beginning to the end of the tragedy until the conflict is finally resolved.The conflict provides the exposition,suspense,climax and the catastrophe of the play.In the case of Hamlet it is not otherwise.The play is built upon the long,tragic conflict between Hamlet and Claudius and the conflict is built upon the motif of revenge.

So,the driving force that shapes the turns of the plot of the play namely exposition,gradual development of the plot,the suspense,climax and the catastrophe of the play is the revenge,especially the revenge for the death of father. It is not only Hamlet’s desire to take revenge ,but also that of Laertes’ that also acts as the driving force behind the plot. In the play Hamlet two of the character's fathers are brutishly murdered. The first murdered character is King Hamlet who is supposed to be revenged by his son prince Hamlet. The second murder is Polonius who is supposed to be revenged by his son Laertes. Both Prince Hamlet and Laertes go to seek revenge for the death of fathers, however they will each use different methods to accomplish their deeds.

But the play in which the central action springs from the revenge motif is called the revenge tragedy,which shares some other typical features.So,before going further let us see what motivated Shakespeare write such a tragedy in which revenge takes the driving wheel.At first,the writer was certainly influenced by his age.

Hamlet is a play that very closely follows the dramatic conventions of revenge in Elizabethan theater. All revenge tragedies originally stemmed from the Greeks, who wrote and performed the first plays. After the Greeks came Seneca who was very influential to all Elizabethan tragedy writers,including William Shakespeare. The two most famous English revenge tragedies written in the Elizabethan era were Hamlet, written by Shakespeare and The Spanish Tragedy, written by Thomas Kyd. These two plays used mostly all of the Elizabethan conventions for revenge tragedies in their plays. Hamlet especially incorporated all revenge conventions in one way or another, which truly made Hamlet a typical revenge play.

“Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of many heroes of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage who finds himself grievously wronged by a powerful figure, with no recourse to the law, and with a crime against his family to avenge.”

It is said that most of the time Shakespeare wrote the dramas that his contemporary audience wanted.During the time of Elizabethan theater, plays about tragedy and revenge were very common and a regular convention seemed to be formed on what aspects should be put into a typical revenge tragedy.

Now let us discuss in details how the revenge motif helps to carry out the plot. Before introducing the revenge motif,the dramatist at first sets an appropriate setting .In the beginning, Shakespeare sets up the scene, having a ghost on a dark night. Everyone is working and something strange is happening in Denmark. It is as if Shakespeare is saying that some kind of foul play has been committed. This sets up for the major theme in the play which is of course revenge.

The real tension of the play begins as soon as the ghost of the late king tells Hamlet about his murder. Hamlet learns that his father's death was no mistake, but it was Hamlet's uncle's plan to murder him. The ghost also tells Hamlet that he has been given the role of the person who will take revenge upon Claudius.So,like a typical revenge tragedy ,in Hamlet a crime (the killing of the king) is committed and for various reasons laws and justice cannot punish the crime so the individual ,Hamlet proceeds on to take revenge in spite of everything.

Hamlet must now think of how to take revenge on Claudius, although he doesn’t know what to do about it. He ponders his thoughts for a long period of time, expecting to do the deed immediately, but instead he drags it on until the end of the play. 

The conflict of the play gets further development when Hamlet feigns to be insane.Thus,the revenge motif drives him to disguise himself as a mad.

Hamlet starts a battle of wits with Claudius by acting mad and calling it his “antic disposition”, although the whole thing was a ploy to get closer to Claudius to be able to avenge his father’s death more easily. The tactic was a disadvantage in that it drew all attention upon himself. More importantly though it was an advantage that his “antic disposition”, isolated him from the rest of the court because of the people not paying attention to what he thought or did because of his craziness.

After this the revenge motif also structures the middle of the play.One important part of all revenge plays is that after the revenge is finally decided upon, the tragic hero delays the actual revenge until the end of the play.Hamlet does the same thing and his delay of killing Claudius takes on three distinct stages. Firstly he had to prove that the ghost was actually telling the truth,secondly his not killing of Claudius while praying and finally his accidental killing of Polonius.

Hamlet first decides to act abnormal which does not accomplish much besides warning his uncle that he might know he killed his father. Later in the play a troop of actors come to act out a play, and Hamlet has them reenact the murder of is father in front of his uncle Claudius. The actors murder scene also make Hamlet question himself about the fact that he has done nothing yet to avenge his father. Hamlet says " But am I Pigeon-livered and lack gall / To make oppression bitter, or ere this / I should ha' fatted all the region kites / With this slave's offal. Bloody, bawdy villain! ( Act II scene 2 page 84 line 577- 580 ).

During the play Hamlet watches is uncle Claudius to see his reaction when the actors perform the murder scene. Hamlet plan works his uncle throws a fit and runs out the room, where Hamlet goes after him. Now,Hamlet knows that Claudius is guilty.

Afterwards Hamlet finds his uncle as praying, and he pulls out his sword and gets ready to kill Claudius. But all the sudden Hamlet changes his mind because if he kills his uncle while he's praying he will go to heaven, and Hamlet wants him to go to hell. If Hamlet had done it here then Claudius would have gone to heaven because he confessed while Hamlet’s father was in purgatory because he did not get the opportunity to confess. So Hamlet therefore decided not to murder Claudius at this point in the play. So hamlet postpones the execution of his uncle.

The third delay was the fact that he got side tracked. He accidentally killed Polonius which created a whole new problem with the fact that Laertes now wanted Hamlet dead. After he commit this murder he was also sent off and unable to see the king for another few weeks until he could finally do the job.

So,the next confrontation between Hamlet and Claudius does not happen till the end of the book when Hamlet escapes from the latter's ill murder attempt on his life.Claudius tells Laertes that Hamlet is the one who killed his father and thus inspires Laertes to take revenge on Hamlet. Claudius hatchs a plan according to which Hamlet and Laertes will have a mock sword fight, but Laertes will be using a real poisoned sword. Laertes agrees with this, ready to claim Hamlets life for his father's vile murder.

Thus, Hamlet sword fences with Laertes. All the sudden Hamlet's mother Queen Gertrude drinks a poison glass intended for Hamlet. When Hamlet is not looking Laertes stabs him with a poison sword then Hamlet takes hold of the poisoned sword, and stabs Laertes with it. As this happens Queen Gertrude dies from the poison drink. As Laertes lays down dying he reveals to Hamlet that his uncle King Claudius was behind it all, the poisoned sword and drink that has just killed his mother. Hamlet then in a fit of rage runs his uncle through with the poison sword. Hamlet has now finally revenged his father through much time then after his task is completed he finally collapses from the poison on the sword.

In  Hamlet these two characters Hamlet and Laertes both seek to avenge their slayed fathers. Hamlet with his passive and scheming approach manages to kill his father's murder his uncle Claudius. Laertes with his direct, and forceful dedication slays his fathers killer Prince Hamlet. Altough Laertes took a much more direct approach than Hamlet wasting no time, they both however accomplished their goal but at the ultimate price of both their lives!

Hamlet: The Epitome of Melancholy

In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, Hamlet, the tragic hero, is profoundly affected in actions and thoughts by his unwavering state of melancholy. Melancholia is a medical condition defined as “A mental disorder characterized by severe depression, apathy and withdrawal.” The term was invented in ancient Greece and was associated with the belief that melancholia was caused by having an imbalance of black bile in the bloodstream. Black bile was one of the four humours that the Greeks believed were responsible for the temperaments of individuals. Hamlet succumbed to this ‘illness’ and displayed several of the characteristic signs of the ailment.

Hamlet was seen to have been composed of too much black bile, which led to the medical condition of melancholia. Some widely regarded and well-known symptoms of this state of being were depression,excessive mourning,self absorption, an excessively sentimental response to recent events, Indecisiveness,skepticism and an obstinate outlook and attitude in life; all of which are applicable and relative to the case of Hamlet. It is this fulfillment of the qualifications necessary for the diagnosis of an imbalanced humour that leads one to the conclusion that Hamlet is, indeed, melancholic.

Hamlet's constant thoughts and assessments about himself stem from his melancholy. His incessant introspection as to how he is thinking, feeling, and behaving at any given moment prevent him from acting on the directions given to him by his father's ghost. Hamlet manages to deny himself the act that he craves which consequently gives him more to dwell on when evaluating himself and the progress he has made.


Melancholy is nothing less than what in modern terms is called depression. Depression is not only a legitimate cause for inaction, but next to being dead, may be the best. Depression is a chemical imbalance of the brain that induces inactivity. If ever there was a man who had cause to depression it is Prince Hamlet.

The only action Hamlet can summon is inaction. Feigning madness is only an externalization and an active response to his depression. To that, he is embracing his sorrow instead of combating it. Today it is well accepted that severe depression can rarely be repaired without the use of drug related therapy. As noble as Hamlet may be, his mind has betrayed him with sorrowful thoughts and lead him down a path that has no clear return.

Excessive mourning

Hamlet's melancholy is also displayed by his overwhelming, all-encompassing emotion for any mood that is currently concerning him. Foremost is the death of his father, after which he sinks into a deep depression that traps his mind and spirit for the remainder of the play. He is not merely in a state of mourning; he has become nearly obsessive about preserving the memory and integrity of the former king. Hamlet is the last person in the kingdom to continue grieving for his father, and indicates his sadness by dressing only in “nighted color” (I, ii, 68). He is making a statement to any and all who observe him that he will not dismiss the death, perhaps in regard to the havoc set upon the state of Denmark in its wake. While his mother sees his choice of clothing as showing the whole of Hamlet's sentiments, Hamlet informs her that it “does not denote me truly” (I, ii, 83). He refers to the fact that his black attire barely shows how immense his sadness is; his true emotions run much deeper than can be expressed by the petty decision of what to wear. Hamlet is unable to live a long and fruitful life, the same opportunity which was stolen from his father.

Sudden emotional response

Hanlet is later consumed by a passion for the players who visit Elsinore to perform ‘The Mousetrap’ for the royal family. While his thoughts continue to have the underlying theme of the king's murder, he is overjoyed at the prospect of having the players perform for him. Quickly, he focuses all of his time and energy on the play, its perfection, and the speech which he will write out to be included in the performance. When he has finished setting down the lines for the player to recite, he spends an incredible amount of time directing the player on how it should be read. This action seems redundant since he has witnessed the player performing and was astounded at his intense emotion. The player is also very experienced and would be excellent in his performance, regardless of Hamlet's intervention. Hamlet then continues to plan how the play will be set up in order to achieve the goal of catching “the conscience of [the] king” (II, ii, 610). He has again become interested only in one small part of his life and has nearly forgotten everything else that he was once concerned with. Hamlet's behaviour shows that he is “disposed to be... absorbed in the feeling or mood that possessed him, whether it were joyous or depressed” (Bradley, 1904, p. 201); a clinical sign of melancholia.


Hamlet's hubris is his indecisiveness. Throughout this play, Hamlet's melancholy fuels his indecision. Hamlet’s indecisiveness leads him to present Claudius with the Mousetrap so Hamlet can judge Claudius’ reaction to the re-enactment of King Hamlet’s murder. Hamlet then uses Claudius’ reaction to decide that he will kill Claudius but then changes his mind when he sees him praying: "A villain kills my father, and for that I sole son, do this same villain send to heaven" (III; iii; 76-78). The source of Hamlet's indecision is that he can't decide whether or not to kill Claudius. This is Hamlet's hubris.

Laertes is a fine example of how Hamlet would act without the weight of such melancholy upon him. All in the play agree that Laertes is “a very noble youth” (V.i.191). Laertes sweeps to the revenge of his father in a way Hamlet wishes he could. Laertes even gains the opportunity to seize the throne as Hamlet should. Laertes is untroubled by doubts or fears of failure although he is arguably less endowed than is Hamlet. It is Hamlet’s superior brain that is also his undoing. Laertes acts while Hamlet is muddled in the darkness of his own indecision and grief.


Hamlet is preoccupied with the thought of death.He often contemplates ending his life. Before he even knows of his father’s murder, he wishes for “self-slaughter,” except that it is against God’s “canon” (I.ii.132). Before his “feigned madness,” his melancholy is already present, already torturing his mind, even in the first scenes of the play.

The play is Hamlet’s pursuit of his uncle’s death, his desire for his own death, and in the end, the death of all but Horatio.His vigorous morning for his father and his disgust at his mother manifest themselves as melancholy or “the loss of all [his] mirth” (II.ii.280). “The earth,” to Hamlet, “seems like a sterile promontory” (II.ii.282-283). This is an understatement of his world and Roland’s. They are grotesque. “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”(---------). In part it is Hamlet’s attitude.

Living with such rancor, Hamlet has devalued his own existence. He ponders, “To be or not to be, that is the question” to question whether his life was worth the effort it takes to live, and further, whether it is worth fighting for what he believes (III.i.51). He wishes only

To die, to sleep –
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That the flesh is heir to - (III.i.60-63)

He has often, however ironically, commented that his life is not worth “a pin’s fee” and (I.iv.65). In regard to Polonius’ company, Hamlet says that there is nothing he would “more willingly part withal; except my life, except my life” (II.ii.209-210).


Hamlet’s skepticism is also the result of his melancholy.Hamlet's suspicion as to the motives for the actions of those around him are also borne out of his melancholic nature. He does not like to be taken advantage of and would prefer that others be as honest with him as he is, naturally, with them. Different people he comes in contact with try to hide an ulterior purpose: to deceive Hamlet into revealing either what he should not know or the extent of what he knows to be true. His friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, have been sent for by the king and queen to find the reason behind Hamlet's “antic disposition” (I, v, 72). When Hamlet says, “Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, come, deal justly with me,” (II, ii, 277-9) he is demanding an answer from his schoolmates as to their unexplained arrival. Hamlet's melancholic skepticism is an invaluable aid to him, since, had he told Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about his ‘madness,’ his cause would have been discovered and impeded by his parents. He will not allow himself to be “easier played on than a pipe” (III, ii, 373-4) by them; they should hold the sanctity of their camaraderie in higher esteem. Instead, they are betraying a long-time friendship because they are too weak in character to refuse their sevices to the monarchy.

Hamlet's mistrust again becomes evident when he doubts the source of the ghost of his father. In Hamlet's third soliloquy, he says to himself, “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to 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” (II, ii, 603-8). Hamlet would like to believe the ghost but is wary because the Devil might be trying to tempt him into killing Claudius. He is reluctant to do the bidding of the ghost lest he go to Hell for the heinous act he is being asked to commit. By killing a king, Hamlet would suffer the same fate as Claudius, that of eternal torture in Hell, and be denied Heaven by his deeds. Hamlet is aware that he is in a fragile state of mind which the Devil may abuse to bring his spirit down to Hell, unless he can find a way to discover the true origin of his father's ghost. The perception that Hamlet “has a keener eye for the truth than those who are not melancholic,” (Freud, 1915, p. 255) coincides with his relentless pursuit of justice and veracity around him.


Hamlet's stubbornness is one of the survival tactics he has developed to counter his own reluctance to kill Claudius. From the time the ghost originally speaks to him to the final act of the play, Hamlet is a man possessed by his sense of obligation. Nothing can deter him from what he knows he must do to avenge his father. When, exasperated, he cries out, “The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right,” (I, v, 189-90) he is giving voice to his obstinacy. From his point of view, deciding not to comply with the instruction of the ghost is not an option. He must follow through, without being selfish to his own needs and to “revenge [his father's] foul and most unnatural murder” (I, iv, 25). Because of his love for his father, he is sacrificing his pure mind, body and destiny (Heaven) to free the ghost from the “sulphurous and tormenting flames [of purgatory]” (I, iv, 3). Hamlet also refuses to allow Denmark to go on living in sin as it has been since his father was killed. He is the only character in the play who cannot ignore what is happening around him. Hamlet takes it upon himself to stop the incest at Elsinore by confronting his mother in a vain effort to prevent her from continuing with her unforgivable behaviour. Neither she, nor Claudius, has made an attempt to hide their affair and the people of Denmark have been unwilling to make them reprehensible for their transgressions. The prince is thus left to wallow further in his failures and dwell on himself and his melancholia.

Hamlet, the protagonist in Shakespeare's classic tragedy Hamlet: Prince of Denmark suffers from melancholia, to which most of his actions can be credited. Caused by an excessive amount of black bile, as the physicians of Shakespeare's time had determined, melancholia was a common disorder of the four humours in the body. Hamlet's perpetual challenging of himself and his actions makes him unable to act on his inclinations consistently during the course of the play. Hamlet then becomes deeply absorbed in various emotions and moods that are currently affecting him, such as the rage of his father's death followed by the happy occasion of the players' visit to Elsinore. His natural apprehension allows him to be unbiased in his questioning of the motives of those around him, which protects him from his ignorance. The inflexibility he displays is the final sign of his melancholia. He will not permit his plans to be changed or delayed, except by himself, in order to remain in control of his own fate. As one can see, each of Hamlet's decisions and subsequent actions was determined and, in part, predicted by his melancholic nature. Without knowing it, Hamlet is predisposed to an imminent demise by the prognosis of an untreatable case of melancholia.

Hamlet’s melancholy “undoubtedly” pervades the breadth of the play and can be linked clearly to all that Hamlet does and fails to do. His disease is the invisible factor that handicaps this most “noble youth.” The fear and doubt that Hamlet expresses in his soliloquies make him an Everyman. He stands as the great figure of English literature. All people have lost and suffered so.

Hamlet’s Strange and Erratic Behaviour in Hamlet

Who is Hamlet? What type of person is he? Is he sane? Then how should we account for the erratic and strange behavior that he shows throughout the play? Then, is he insane? He is certainly not. There seems to be various interpretations of Hamlet’s psychology. The best that we can do is to judge his actions on the basis of the very situation and in this way we may reach a tentative solution.

So, at first some of his actions in the play are quite strange and erratic. In His such actions as fondness for ridiculing, his cruelty towards Ophelia, his broken sleep and bad dreams, his melancholy and his desire for secrecy, in the scene of Ophelia’s funeral Hamlet etc seem to be totally strange and out of control.

But some of his other actions such as putting an intentional ‘antic disposition on”, or giving direction to the players, or saying “I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Or says “ It is not madness/That I have utter’d” obviously give the idea of a man who is not only cunning but also the controller of the underworld-the Godfather. All these actions actually indicate how deviously he hatched his intention, in guise of strange and erratic behavior.

Hamlet in a melancholic mood

Hamlet’s first appearance does not seem so eccentric rather melancholic. Here we find him very depressed because of his father's death and more importantly his mother's hasty marriage to his Uncle Claudius, one month after his father's death. He is very shocked not seeing any sign of mourning in his mother which is very clear when he refers Horatio that he (Horatio) has come for his “mother’s wedding” not for his father’s funeral. This unfaithfulness to the husband ultimately leads him to draw the conclusion that "frailty, thy name is woman". So till this point Hamlet comes as a grief, melancholic and gloomy person.

But we find Hamlet as an utterly changed man after his first encounter with the Ghost. Here he is informed a terrible truth that affects his whole vision of life. Then he takes a decision to put musk to conceal his real motive namely, to revenge for his father's murder.

The words of the ghost have an electrifying effect on Hamlet. He cries and almost goes mad. Here his actions can be judged on the basis of the situation. We can imagine how deeply he is shocked hearing the news of his father’s being killed. Hamlet, a sensitive youth and already divided by his mother’s hasty remarriage, can hardly bear the suffering. The effect is he behaves strangely. It will not be very unnatural if we compare his action with that of Ophelia’s after the death of the latter.

But he is somewhat recovered and becomes resolute to avenge his father’s death. Here we notice some grave changes in his character. Though we don’t have any handsome proofs, but still we can imagine that Hamlet’s this change is very intentional, purposeful and instrumental. He intends to present himself as harmless to Claudius. From now he becomes quite unpredictable.

In fact, almost all- Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius and Ophelia also begin to recognize the changes in Hamlet.

They become aware of Hamlet’s strange and erratic behavior. It is in the second scene of act 2, where the audience for the first time experiences the inconsistency in his behavior. Here Ophelia recalls to her father the meeting she had previously with Hamlet. She tells him that Hamlet came to her disheveled and in a shaken state of mind, speaking of "horrors" “as if he had been loosed out of hell”. Like the typical Elizabethan belief, Polonius immediately draws to the conclusion that “this is the very ecstasy of love” believing that he is mad for Ophelia’s love. This unusual behavior towards Ophelia can be seen from this point of view that Hamlet’s faith in women is shattered by his mother’s remarriage and it is also possible that Hamlet may realize that Ophelia would not also go beyond the restricted boundary that is drawn by that society.

Hamlet’ strange behavior with Polonius, calling him “a fish monger”

2nd instance of Hamlet’s eccentric behavior is seen when he meets with Polonius. He is playing Polonius by telling him he's a fishmonger and acting like he doesn't know him, because Polonius is a weasel and would go back and tell the king. Hamlet might as well give Polonius something to talk about. Hamlets sets in motion his insane behavior. "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion, - Have you a daughter?" Whereas Polonius says to himself "Though this be madness, yet there is method in `t". In this discussion Hamlet shows antic behavior towards Polonius by mocking him when Hamlet would usually show great respect for him because of his age and high position in the court. This sudden question to Polonius has caused Polonius to believe that Hamlet has a form of love-sickness and that Polonius is sure to tell Claudius of his condition. Hamlet also accuses Polonius of being the "Jephthah, judge of Israel,” assuming that, like one of the judges of Israel, Polonius would put his country in front of his daughter. Hamlet has now convinced Polonius that he is in a state of madness. By convincing Polonius that he has no consideration for the well-being of others, Hamlet is then hoping that Polonius will tell the court of his emotional madness. So, we see that his behavior is intentional and instrumental by which he disguises his inner motif.

Hamlet’s strange conduct with Rosencrantz or Guildenstern

Again his behavior with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern shows that he is not in a very natural mood rather he is very critical towards them. He again and again asks them the reason behind their coming from the university. He deeply believes that neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern is trustworthy. But he willfully tries to test their trust using his eccentricity. But we the audience realize that his conversation with them in not really without any aim.

Here he discloses that Denmark is in prison which implies Claudius’s mistrustful behavior with the people of Denmark, as his ascending to the throne was not a legal one. He also befools them as he knows that whatever he tells them, will be relayed back to the King and Queen. In another incident, Hamlet plainly tells them that he is mad without any puns to hide the meaning. He tells: “ I am mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly/ I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Here it is again clear that his mad like behavior in not uninstrumental. Hamlet is also able to make smart remarks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, comparing them to sponges. "When he (Claudius) needs what you have gleaned, it is but squeezing you and, sponge, you shall be dry again,". This is random and unexpected, as many of his actions, but the comparison makes sense; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern soak up all the king’s favors, only to become dry again after they mop up the King's “mess,” which was spying on Hamlet, and getting Polonius's body. Later, with Claudius, Hamlet tells how mean a king can be by saying, "A man (beggar) may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm," . This also makes sense, and is not quite as random; when Hamlet confronts Claudius, and the king asks where Polonius is, Hamlet immediately begins the comparison by telling Claudius that Polonuis is at supper. This proves that Hamlet had some kind of planning for this degrading comment, and that his thoughts are not scattered and he is able to stay focused.

Again theme of appearance and reality we find when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform him about the player’s arrival, he doesn’t want them feel that Hamlet treats the players better than his friends. He adds that he will be courteous in the prescribed way of society and “show his welcome as well as feel it.”

Hamlet’s usual behavior with the actors

After this scene we see Hamlet’s very usual behavior with the players. Here we find a contrast between his behavior with his two friends and the players. His directs the players how to act with quiet dignity and moderation. He advises them against extravagant gestures and melodramatic exhibitionism. So we see that his strange and erratic behavior before Ophelia or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Polonius is very intentional because the scene which is going to be performed in the next evening will resemble the murder of King Hamlet. He expects that if the ghost is telling the truth about Claudius murdering his father, then Claudius will react to the scene, admitting his guilt. Hamlet states "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.”. Anyone who can plot that, and think that far ahead, can never be mad.

Bed chamber scene 'Mad as the sea and wind when both contend'

After this scene when Gertrude calls her son to her chambers to discuss the reasoning of his putting on a play so closely related to the death of his father, we see his terrible earn nest to awaken the sleeping monster of conscience in the bosom of his mother. But he has such a wild and distracted look that his mother sees danger in it and cries out for help. Later he kills Polonius and his mother’s description( “ Mad as the sea and wind when both contend /Which is mightier”) also shows Hamlet's wanting others to think that he is truly mad. So it is not his insanity that brought about the rash action of killing the unknown man behind the tapestry rather it is his postponed revenge that consumed him.
His putting his two friends to death

That Hamlet is very cunning and quite normal is seen from the fact how aptly he managed put his friends into death.

Hamlet’s behavior in the grave of Ophelia

Such kind of reaction is not unexpected. As his speech indicates (40 thsnd brothers could not equal his love) he is terrible shocked by the sudden that of Ophelia. Though he did not behave well with Ophelia, Hamlet’s only solace of life was Ophelia, only Ophelia. But her death completely transports him to a friendless, loveless world. So, his lament is the lament of a frustrated young man who has lost his father, seen his mother go astray and also lost his more-dear-to-life beloved. It cannot be judged as unnatural or erratic.

Thus, throughout the play we see Hamlet act madly as well as soundly and there is a certain explanation behind each of his actions. To sum up, his behavior after the death of his father and his beloved Ophelia results from his deep frustration. Apart from these, all his insanity and seem-to-be-uncontrolled behaviors are instrumental and have a definite aim namely to avenge the murder of his father.

Significance of the Gravediggers' Scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet

In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet gravediggers' scene is one place where seriousness intermingles with the comic element . Apart from serving as a comic relief in the rising tragic action of the play,the grave diggers scene also deals with some other major and important themes of the play. The gravediggers scene,one of the longest scenes of the play is divided into parts: the encounter between Hamlet and Horatio and the two gravediggers and the Ophelia’s burial.The main purposes served by this scene include the comic relief,criticism of the organized religion, giving emphasis on the theme of mortality,foreshadowing the final tragedy ,putting off of Hamlet’s antic disposition and realism.

Comic relief

The scene takes place in the most suspenseful moment of the play. There has been a series of tragic scenes before the grave digger scene. Polonius is killed by Hamlet in Claudius’s bed chamber and as a result Claudius orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to prepare to take Hamlet with them to England. Ophelia goes mad and soon Laertes arrives with mob. Soon Hamlet sends back letters to Horatio and the king that he is coming.So when the audience waits to see the ultimate outcome of all these happenings the two grave diggers come on the stage and engage themselves in a legalistic chop-logic. Thus the grave diggers provide a broad comic relief to an otherwise deadly serious and grim tragedy. The occasional admission of comic ingredient in a tragedy or comic relief is used to calm down the tragic feeling momentarily in order to make it more intensifying. Though Aristotle in his Poetics does not make allowance for the dilution series action, the Elizabethan dramas are replete with instances of the combination of the comic and the tragic elements.This tendency of using the comic in tragedy and its final canonization also became popular in Shakespeare. The comic relief is a regular feature in Shakespeare.The part played by fool in Kinglear, porter in Macbeth is the same as the apart played by the grave diggers in Hamlet.

The scene opens with the legalistic chop-logic between two grave diggers.Commenting on the Ophelia’s death by drowning,the first clown speaks in a light-hearted manner describes the incident in an amusing way.He also questions on the doubtfulness of Ophelia’s death and asks what the proper definition of suicide.

“Here us the water-good here stands the man good
If the man go to this water and drown himself
It is, will he will he, he goes, mark you that. But
If the water come to him, he drowns not himself.”

The first grave digger makes this observation in order to clarify the whether Ophelia committed suicide or she had got drowned accidentally.The first clown then goes on to say that there is no ancient gentleman but grave diggers ,because they hold up Adam’s profession.

He then asks the second clown a question: What is he that builds stronger than either the manson,the ship-wright,or the carpenter?The second clown fails to answer and the first clown then says that it is the grave digger who builds stronger than anybody else because the house that the gravve digger builds lasts till domesday.The grave diggers also comment on the unequal treatment of the church laws.All this is light –hearted talk.

The gravediggers represent a humorous type commonly found in Shakespeare’s plays: the clever commoner who gets the better of his social superior through wit. At the Globe Theater, this type of character may have particularly appealed to the “groundlings,” the members of the audience who could not afford seats and thus stood on the ground.The grave diggers are thus, professed clowns of the play and they provide a unique kind of humor in the play. The humor provided by the grave diggers serve to lighten the tragic stress of Ophelia’s death. The scene would definitely get a laugh from the uneducated groundlings who would enjoy a relief to the long and tension-prevailing play.

Apart from the comic relief two others important things come out this comic scene.The first thing is the criticism of the organized religion and the second thing is the universility of death.

The conversation between these two gravediggers also develops a serious theme that the laws of religion and the state are not same for all. Over the doubtful death of Ophelia the first digger says that the persons of high rank or status should have in this world the right to drown themselves or hang themselves while their fellow Christians do not enjoy the same right.By pointing out that nobles receive different treatment from organized religion than poor people do, the gravediggers show religion is unfair and influenced by appearance rather than the “reality” of someone’s soul. Religion, that bedrock of human life, can’t be trusted, and all of Hamlet’s earlier philosophizing about religion and death, all his agonizing, was pointless.

The comic relief for Shakespeare is in tune with the tragic temper. A Jacobean audience would promptly appreciate the serious intention of this black comedy. The grave diggers of Shakespeare in way represent the grave that Hamlet life has become. The black comedy of the gravediggers suddenly transfers the focus of attention from abstract matters such as love, honor, and revenge to the basic question of human survival. The Gravediggers remind us the commonality of death. Death is not necessarily the solemn and mysterious thing that Hamlet, in "To be or not to be...", contemplates. Death is nothing more that a day's work for these two: it is dirt and stink and toil, and it waits for every one of us.Their speculation on death also serves as a prologue to the ’worm meat’ theme discussed by Hamlet a few minutes after.

Prologue to the ’worm meat’ theme

The gravediggers’ dialogue ,with its emphasis largely on death also serves as a prologue to the ’worm meat’ theme developed in this same scene. While the Second Gravedigger goes to fetch some liquor, Hamlet and Horatio enter and question the First Gravedigger.The gravedigger and Hamlet engage in a witty game of "chop-logic" — repartee composed of a series of questions and answers.When the first grave digger tosses up a skull and dashes it to the ground ,the Prince is impelled by to muse upon death as the great leveler of all people.Throughout the play Hamlet is obsession with the physical decomposition of the body.In his first soliloquy Hamlet contemplates,
O that is too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew.

The same contemplation over death and human mortality is further developed in the scene. Hamlet’s obsession with the theme of mortality is evident in his preoccupation with Yorick’s skull, when he envisions physical features such as lips and skin that have decomposed from the bone. Recall that Hamlet previously commented to Claudius that Polonius’s body was at supper, because it was being eaten by worms (IV.iii). He dwells on the subject of death and the fact that all men are worm's meat, that all that lives will one day die, and that no rank or money can change the equality of death.

Hamlet is fascinated by the equalizing effect of death and decomposition: great men and beggars both end as dust. In this scene, Hamlet meditates on the ironic fact that overreaching politicians ,lawyers with their tricks,self-seeking courtiers,vain court ladies even those held to be examplars of greatness in this world ultimately are not more than the ’quintessence of dust’.

He also imagines dust from the decomposed corpses of Alexander and Julius Caesar.Lexander also died and his dead body was reduced to dust in course of time. Dust is eart or clay which is changed into loam for making wall.The imperial ruler Jlius Caesar also died and his dead body was also reduced to dust.Thus death is the great leveler.

2nd part

“Here comes the King” at line 210 moves us abruptly into next unit of action. This second part of the scene ,which consists of the burial of Ophelia serves to revealHamlet’s whole personality and also he finally puts off his antic disposition.The scene ,in which Hamlet appaears as different man also serves as the objective correlative to reveal Hamlet’s inner state of mind.

When Ophelia's body is placed into the grave, Hamlet watches the Queen strew the coffin with flowers. "Sweets to the sweet," she says; "I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife." Hamlet now realizes that it is Ophelia who lies dead in the casket.Laertes ,no longer able to restrain himself,cries out in grief and then leaps into the grave,asking that he be buried with his sister.At this point Hamlet steps forward and demands to know why Laertes should so emphasize his sorrow.He says

I loved Ophelia .Forty thousand brothers
Could not with all their quantity of love
Make up my sum.What wilt thau do for her?

Here Hamlet comes out of his pretended madness when he faces the reality of the death of Ophelia, the young woman he has always loved. It is heart-rending for him to observe Ophelia's burial and realize he has lost her forever. Preoccupied with his vengeance, he knows he has allowed her to slip from his grasp into the river. He now feels utterly alone, having lost his father, mother, and true love. When he can take the pain no longer, he jumps into Ophelia's grave beside Laertes. This totally human response from Hamlet demonstrates that no amount of philosophizing can reduce heartache and that no amount of vengeance can fill the void left by the death of a loved one

The gravediggers scene is a pause between the rapidly rising action of the last few tragic scenes and the upcoming final tragedy. It also allows the audience to again see Hamlet in his normal disposition. Possessing a fine sense of humor, he is capable of appreciating the wit of the gravediggers even in the midst of his troubles. Possessing a depth of sensitivity and emotion, Hamlet frees himself from pretense and openly expresses his grief by entering Ophelia's grave; he does not realize that he will soon be entering his own grave.

Thus the scene intensifies the effect of tragedy. In this sense, the effect is paradoxical. Its humour provides a catastrophe that is to follow. It is the calm before the storm. Simultaneously, the eerie atmosphere of the play adds to the aura of the tragedy. The amalgamates of comic sequences introduces low tragedy into a high tragic situation. In there cases, the function of the comic scene is not only to provide relief and lesson the tragic-illusion, but also to intensify the tragic.


One technical purpose served by this scene is realism,for which Samuel Johnson so highly praised Shakespeare.Johnson said that Shakespeare is very realistin in his portrayal of the world. In the real world the suffering of one person has hardly any effect on the life of the other persons. In real world some go to the pub and some others go to bury the death.This naturalistic portrayal is seen through the gravediggers. Death is tragic, painful, somber, grotesque. But who ever knew that death could even be laughed at. But here the gravediggers engage themselves in merrimaking and singing and tossing of the human skulls.

In Kinglear, the fool serves precisely the purpose of providing relief with words of ironic significance, constantly reminding tears of his own foolishness. The fool actually exists on the margins of tragedy and comedy. He even helps fear to plunge into the tragedy of madness. In Macbeth, the function of the porter scene is equally ambiguous. The porter's drunken merriment relieves the horror of Duncan's murder and at the same time confines Macbeth castle to hell. Like the porter and the fool, the grave diggers introduce symbolic dimension in the play, making in realize the philosophers of death.