The Problematic Relation between Reason and Emotion in Hamlet

Essay by masoud_40_40College, UndergraduateA, May 2008

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Human being is polarized by reason and emotion. These two poles differ in all aspects, while both are gathered in man. Hamlet, the protagonist of Shakespeare’s greatest work, is the sample of this polarization.

The emphasis in Hamlet on the control or moderation of emotion by reason is so insistent that many critics have addressed it. A seminal study is undertaken by Lily Bess Campbell in Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. John S. Wilks, in a masterful of examination of conscience, explores "the subsidence in Hamlet of virulent passion," and notes "his accession to a renewed temperance" achieved through "chastened self-control" (The Discourse of Reason: Justice and the Erroneous Conscience in Hamlet 139, 140). Shakespeare, thorough this character, tries to introduce and show this great feature of man which had been, is, and will be with human beings.

As we shall find, though Hamlet is filled with references to the need for rational control of emotion, the play probes much deeper into the relation between reason and emotion-particularly with respect to the role of reason in provoking as opposed to controlling emotion.

In this paper, it’s going to be noted how the task of controlling emotion by reason is problematized by Hamlet and other characters in the play.

The concept of the sovereignty of reason over emotion derives from the classical definition, adopted by medieval Scholasticism, of man as the rational animal whose reason has the ethical task of rationally ordering the passions or emotional disturbances of what is formally termed the sensitive appetite (referred to by the Ghost as "nature" [1.5.12]) with which man, like all other animals, is endowed: "All the passions of the soul should be regulated according to the rule of reason . . . " (Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II, question 39,