A Souls Calamity

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“All cruelty springs from hardheartedness and weakness.” The Roman philosopher, Seneca, enlightens us that weakness is a cause for calamity. A man’s flaws define his individual character. William Shakespeare presents Hamlet, a tragedy, where the character’s downfalls are caused by their own weaknesses. Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet are just three of the characters who can be analyzed for their weaknesses. King Claudius finds himself trapped with guilt between his wife and his nephew. His cowardliness, pride and selfishness steer him to his death. Over passionate and quick to act; Laertes’ recklessness guides him to take part in a backfiring plan. This character foil to Hamlet dies because of his own foolishness and miscalculation. Hamlet the tragic hero of the story is an over thinker, he is a man of consideration and not a man of action. His weaknesses destroy him from within.

Claudius’ cowardly actions lead him towards his demise.

Upon taking the thrown, King Claudius uses his power to send others to do his dirty work. The play develops and as Hamlet begins to realize the monstrous identity of his uncle; he becomes an issue. When he was suspicious of Hamlets behaviour, he sends Polonius to spy on him and gather information. However, Claudius being the coward he is, stays back behind the protection of his beloved wife; the mother of his enemy. Furthermore, Claudius uses his manipulative speech to convince Hamlets two best friends against him towards his advantage. Claudius plays Guildenstern and Rosencrantz like an instrument and uses them to converse with Hamlet to discover the origin of his strange behaviour. He doesn’t want to deal with Hamlets insanity personally, therefore makes others do it for him. In addition, upon persuading the overzealous Laertes, that it was not he who killed his father; convinces him to avenge his father's death through a duel with Hamlet. He says; “Laertes, was your father dear to you? Or are you like the painting of a sorrow, a face without heart.”(4.7.107-110) He uses Laertes as a device to slay Hamlet, while he stays back and watches. In addition, Rather than allowing Laertes only two methods of killing Hamlet, the sharpened sword and the poisoned blade, Claudius insists on a third, the poisoned goblet. When Gertrude accidentally drinks the poison and dies, Hamlet is at last able to bring himself to kill Claudius. The king is defeated by his own cowardly actions. Claudius is a wicked politician and has a great level of leadership. Although he may have governing potential as a great king, we become aware that he is a dishonest man. He is the rottenness of Denmark and corrupts it to satisfy his own appetites. One of Claudius’ worst weaknesses is his pride. Claudius is a man of self-importance and no matter whom the rival is, he will do whatever he wants to obtain his reputation. Firstly, Claudius obtains the thrown through a malevolent manner. He murders his brother in order to win the throne over Hamlet's rightful succession. Claudius uses the method of pouring poison into his brother’s ear while he is asleep. Claudius does not fight him in a dual, nor does he have the courage to kill him while he is awake. This proves that his lust for power and desire to be king is not a play of honour. This also provokes Hamlet to seek revenge and strike him down at the end. Moreover, Claudius’s love for Gertrude may be sincere, but it also seems likely that he married her as a strategic move, to help him win the throne away from Hamlet after the death of the king. When Gertrude tells him that Hamlet has killed Polonius, Claudius does not remark that Gertrude might have been in danger, but only that he would have been in danger had he been in the room. He cries; “O heavy deed! It had been so with us had we been there.” (4.1.13) Claudius’ disregard for his wife is terrible and leads Gertrude into quickly changing heart when she finds out the truth. Similarly, Claudius’ selfishness leads to the death of many, including his own. He declares that whoever wins the first round of the duel will take a drink of wine and earn the pearl. When Hamlet wins the first point, Claudius offers him the poisoned drink. However, the Queen offers to drink to Hamlet’s first victory and Claudius interrupts her. In an aside, Claudius says, “It is the poison’d cup. It is too late.” (5.2.297) This particular example shows the self-centeredness of Claudius as he made a brief attempt to prevent Gertrude from drinking the poison. He did not stop her by declaring that the drink was poisoned, because others would question the situation. It would also diminish his reputation and authority in his nation. Therefore, he let his own wife die to save his own image among the people. In conclusion, Claudius’ cowardliness, pride and selfishness lead him into making terrible decisions. In doing so, he is swallowed by his guilt and dies from his own devices.

Another character, whose weaknesses have led to his downfall, is the passionate Laertes. He is too quick to act and does not calculate the conflict ahead of him properly. Blinded by revenge and manipulated by Claudius, Laertes ends up being part of a backfiring plan. Laertes response to the death of his father is immediate. Upon learning that his father was killed, he jumps to conclusions that Claudius is responsible. Storming back to Denmark, he confronts the king and threatens him to pay for his actions and to surrender the crown. Immediately after he enters the room he declares: “O thou vile king, give me my father.” (4.5.116) He doesn’t ask anyone for solid facts, he just assumes Claudius is the issue. When infuriated, Laertes demonstrates rash behaviours. He is drastically angered at the death of his father and boldly seeks vengeance against the killer. This leads him into being easily manipulated from the wicked Claudius. His quick action leads him into joining alongside Claudius to destroy Hamlet and be his agent of death. However, he overlooks the initial plan and does not realize that the poison tipped blade could be consequential. Furthermore, Laertes underestimates the power and wisdom of Hamlet. He throws himself at Hamlet for the sole purpose of vengeance, only to be on the receiving end of his own foolishness. It is not until he is on the ground when he admits that he has done wrong. After Hamlet finds out that his mother has been poisoned, Laertes shouts: “The treacherous instrument is in thy hand, Unbated and envenom’d, the foul practice hath turn’d itself on me.” (5.2.322) By not analysing the plan through his head, particularly the poison tipped sword, he risks his life. Laertes is over zealous and this escorts him down a rough chain of events. Laertes utters; "To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation: to this point I stand, that both worlds I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I'll be revenged most thoroughly for my father." (4.5.130-134) Laertes is going to avenge Polonius’ death similar to Hamlet and his own father. He displays his desire for revenge at any cost and thus, ends up being blinded. Laertes loses his life due to his foolishness and his weaknesses. Too quick to act, Laertes exhibits a character foil to the over thinking Hamlet.

Inner weakness has riddled Hamlet's life, it runs uncontrolled in his decisions, and has plagued his fate. His inability to overcome insecurity, procrastination and an over analytical mind contribute, to his downfall. One of Hamlets greatest flaws is his ability to over think a situation due to his insecurity. Throughout the play, we distinguish that what Hamlet is sure of in one scene he doubts in the next. Upon confronting the ghost of his father and listening to his cry for revenge, Hamlet is convinced that it is real. However once he is alone, he rejects what he has witnessed and is swallowed up in fear. In a soliloquy Hamlet says: “The spirit that I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power. T’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.” (2.2.594-599) Hamlet wants to find a way to get Claudius to admit his crimes. By not killing Claudius while he had the chance when told by his father’s spirit, Hamlet rockets to his demise. His insecurity informs Claudius that the drive behind his insanity is because of him. Similarly, Hamlet contemplates situations too long and is slow to act upon striking his foes. He knows that something strange is happening, but he continues to question everything that the ghost tells him. Hamlet struggles with learning the truth and puts off the revenge against his uncle again and again. However we learn that he doesn’t take all the chances he has to kill him. Hamlet is idealistic and doesn’t avenge his father when he has the opportunity during the scene where Claudius is praying. He knows that if he kills him while he is admitting his sins to God, Claudius will not experience the pain and suffering, which Hamlet desires. As he overhears Claudius repent his sins, he says to himself; “And am I then reveng’d. To take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and season’d for his passage? No.” (3.3.84) Hamlet wants an ideal revenge, which his opponent will suffer damnation in hell. He purposely delays killing Claudius because it is more to his taste to perfect his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into practice right away. Furthermore, Hamlet is over analytical. In the same scene, he is prepared to murder Claudius with his knife above his head, but talks himself out of it. Instead he decides to write the play in which the players will perform the same story the ghost tells Hamlet. Even after Hamlet decides his uncle is guilty. Hamlet fails to take immediate action. He does not confront his uncle, but continues to delay his duty to his father. It is not until he finds out that his mother had been poisoned from Claudius that he decides to finally kill him. However, Hamlet is too late and is already poisoned by the blade of Laertes during their previous duel. Hamlets downfalls were caused by his inner weakness and inability to act.

In conclusion, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet all face the same fate in the end, but it is their flaws which define their path. In the play Hamlet, the characters downfalls originate by their own weakness of character. Claudius’ cowardliness, pride and selfishness lead him to become devoured by guilt. He is shattered by his own nature, and his devices are played against him. Laertes’ intentions are sanctified, but his rash thinking and miscalculation lead to his failure. Hamlet yet brave, loyal and intelligent, he is overwhelmed by his own conscience. His inability to act on his father’s murder leads him to risky circumstances. William Shakespeare has created a breathtaking tragedy composed of unique and intricate characters. Each individual’s actions intertwine with each other and lead to another ones death. It goes without saying, that a man’s weaknesses define his own character.

Work CitedShakespeare, William. Hamlet. Oxford University Press, 1992.

Mabillard, Amanda. "Hamlet Commentary." Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the page) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/hamletcommentary.html >.