Hamlet- Critical Analysis The tragic Elizabethan play Hamlet can be considered one of William Shakespeare's most popular works. One of the possible reasons for this play's popularity is the way Shakespeare uses the character of Prince Hamlet to represent the complex workings of a person?s mind. This approach taken by Shakespeare has created numerous different interpretations of meaning that are not fully explained to the audience.
Through Hamlet's internal struggle of deciding when to avenge his father?s death, the reader can become aware of the fact that Shakespeare is attempting to comment on the influence that one's state of mind can have on the decisions they make throughout their life. As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the thoughts that Hamlet encounters to demonstrate the effect that one's perspective can have on the way the mind works. In L.C. Knight?s book Some Shakespeare Themes & an Approach to Hamlet, the author takes notice of Shakespeare's use of these encounters to journey into the workings of the human mind when he writes, ?What we have in Hamlet is the exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion, and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human life.? (192).
Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet's internal conflict in Act 1, Scene 5, when the ghost of Hamlet's father appears and calls upon Hamlet to "revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (191). It is from this point forward that Hamlet begins to struggle with the conflict of whether or not to kill his uncle, King Claudius, and if so when to actually do it. Because of uncertainty Hamlet does not carry out his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, which becomes a vital part to the reader's understanding of the effect that Hamlet's mental perspective has on his situation.
In order to fully understand how Hamlet's perspective plays an important role in this play, the reader must attempt to answer the basic question: Why does Hamlet procrastinate in taking revenge on Claudius? Although the answer to this question can be somewhat complicated, Mark W. Scott attempts to offer some possible explanations for Hamlet's delay in his book Shakespeare for Students as he says ?Critics who find the cause of Hamlet's delay in his internal meditations typically view the prince as a man of great moral integrity who is forced to commit an act which goes against his deepest principles. On numerous occasions, the prince tries to make sense of his moral dilemma through personal meditations, which Shakespeare presents as soliloquies. Another point of view of Hamlet's internal struggle suggests that the prince has become so disenchanted with life since his father's death that he has neither the desire, nor the will to exact revenge.? (74) Mr. Scott points out morality and disenchantment, both of which belong exclusively to an individuals own conscious, as two potential causes of Hamlet's procrastination. He therefore offers support to the idea that Shakespeare is placing important emphasis on the role of individual perspective in this play. The importance that Mr. Scott's comment places on Hamlet's use of personal meditations to "make sense of his moral dilemma" (74), also helps to support L.C. Knight's contention that Shakespeare is attempting to use these dilemmas to illustrate the inner workings of the human mind.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate the way the main character handles a very complicated conflict and the problems that are generated because of it. These problems that face Hamlet are perhaps best viewed as overstatements of the very types of problems that all people must face as they live their lives each day. The extent of these ?everyday? problems is almost always a matter of individual perspective. Each person will recognize a given situation based on his own state of mind.
The one dilemma that faces all of mankind is the problem of identity. As Victor L. Cahn writes, "Hamlet's primary dilemma is that of every human being: given this time and place and these circumstances, how is he to respond? What is his responsibility?" (69). This dilemma, defined by Mr. Cahn, fits in well with the comments of both L.C. Knight and Mark Scott because it also supports the idea that Shakespeare is using Hamlet's conflict to illustrate the effect that perspective, or state of mind, can have on a given situation.
Hamlet's delay in seeking revenge for his father's death plays an important role in allowing the reader to look into the human mind. If Hamlet had killed King Claudius at the first opportunity he had, there would have been little chance for Shakespeare to develop the internal conflict within Hamlet?s mind. Authors L.C. Knight, Mark Scott, and Victor Cahn agree with the widely held view that throughout Hamlet, Shakespeare is attempting to make a comment about the complexity of the human mind and the power that a person's mental perspective can have on the events of his life.
In conclusion, William Shakespeare?s Hamlet conveyed an example of the complex workings of a person?s mind through the main character, Prince Hamlet. Because of the complex emotions of the character, there are many was to interpret his actions and thoughts throughout the play. This complexity of Hamlet helps to make the play very appealing to the audience and therefore remains a popular piece of work in English Literature.
Works Cited Cahn, Victor L. Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies, Histories, and Romances. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Knight, L. C. Some Shakespeare Themes & an Approach to Hamlet. San Francisco: Stanford University Press, 1966.
Scott, Mark W., ed. Shakespeare for Students. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992.
Bogarad, Charley R., Jan Z Schmidt, Legacies. Orlando: Harcourt Publishers, 1995