This week I fell in love with Hamlet (by William Shakespeare in the Seagull Reader). In fact, I was late getting my blog up because I was unsure what portion I wanted to discuss. I feel as if a week is only enough to scratch the surface of the play.
Our book’s prequel to Hamlet discusses the debate over whether Hamlet is mad, or if he is truly acting so. He tells Haratio not to think him insane as the others soon will, because he is going to put on an act saying:
Here as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on). (page 8)
Though his behavior may seem genuine madness by the end of the play, I still believe it to be an act. The cleverness of Hamlets plans, and his ability to foresee the King’s and divert them accordingly, does not see like the actions of a mad man. The things he says when he is alone, although they seem tormented, are not twisted. I instead think that he finds himself in an obsessive compulsive state over avenging his father’s death. He himself says that:
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain. (page 80)
Here he vows that nothing else will occupy his mind but this arduous quest his father’s ghost has sent him on. Calling his memories “trivial fond records” as though compared to this new reality his past worries seem foolish. One of the things about Hamlets personality I admired the most was his obvious intelligence, and his almost psychic like abilities to predict the actions of others. His plan to act crazy in and of itself is brilliant because insanity provides him with a sort of pardon against his offenses. Even when he commits the murder of Polonius he is simply to be sent England (though the King has other plans for him there) where another person would certainly face death for such an offense. He seems to predict he will need such protection in his plans for revenge; not only that, but acting insane helps minimize how much of a threat he looks to his uncle.
What is certain, however, is that Hamlet is a tormented depressed soul. All except for Horatio seem to be against him at times, and the world itself losing its luster. While speaking to Rosencrantz he says that “this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors” (page 98). This is one of the many times the play portrays Hamlet’s constant pondering over life and death; much like in his famous “to be or not to be” line. There is an underlying theme throughout the story with his apparent frustration over death and the afterlife. When he speaks about how the fear of what is to happen after life “makes cowards of us all,” I get the feeling like he is frustrated with himself for not killing the King more swiftly.
Our text discusses such a question in the excerpt before the play as to why Hamlet takes so long to avenge his father, and I think such fear is a lot of the reason. He has many things to consider when it comes to assassinating the King, including ensuring his dissention to Hell. If he was to kill him when he first considers it, while the King is repenting then he fears he would be sending “a villain to heaven” (page 129). He must catch him in sin before he kills him in order to ensure he is placed where he belongs. He also wants to be sure that the ghost he has seen is not “a devil which has power to assume a pleasing shape” to damn him (page 107). It gives me the impression that Hamlet is in fear of murdering him. He is fearful whether he is truly guilty, and what his own consequences may be for the act. In the end it is only the death of his mother that gives him the courage (and most likely blind rage) to complete the quest he has become infatuated with.
The depth of Shakespeare’s characters is truly astonishing and at many points of this play I found myself thinking “how did he come up with this?” What really makes me love Hamlet is that you can never grow tired of it because it is so complex you discover new layers with every read.