Hamlet is an enigmatic character. I find myself asking all kinds of questions about him. Is hamlet mad? Indecisive? Is Hamlet right in what he does? Why is Hamlet attractive?
The first question, is Hamlet mad, is answered in the text by Hamlet himself- he’s just faking. Even Polonious notes, famously, that
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t
I have heard that some people find Hamlet whiny, indecisive and narcissistic. I have never felt this myself. True there are scenes when I was not really sure what he was thinking or planning (like when he is pretending to be mad), and that is probably because he didn’t know himself what to think or what he wanted to do. But I think that it makes sense. He has experienced a lot of change and sadness with his father dying, his mother marrying his uncle soon after, and his uncle taking the throne (when it should have been his).
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?
And then he sees the ghost of his father who tells him his death was murder, and to avenge him. This must have been a pretty confronting and confusing thing- ghosts were not a common belief, and how did he know it spoke true? Even if it did speak truly, did he really want to become a murderer? Was it his job to enact justice, or was it better to not act and remain unsullied? How involved was his mother?
What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a stra
When honour’s at the stake.
but to persever in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness; ’tis unmanly grief
It is also true that some of his speeches are rather melancholy, but give him some slack (unlike King Claudius and his mother)- his father had only been dead a couple months. As someone who has been prone to existential despair and depression, I never found Hamlet whiny or overly focussed on death. I totally get where he is coming from. I think that people who cannot empathise or understand people experiencing existential despair have something wrong with them, and people who can empathise or understand but have never experienced it themselves are very lucky
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
The earth, seems to me a sterile promontory
I have seen two English language enactments of Hamlet (and one in Korean). One was by my local State Theatre Company, the other a film version with David Tennant as Hamlet (2009). Watching both, I found myself drawn to Hamlet- there was something about him that I found attractive. Now it has been a little while since I saw them, and I didn’t get the same feeling from reading the text, so I don’t know how much was to do with the handsome actors spouting wonderfully crafted lines, and how much was to do with Hamlet’s character itself. Did I find him attractive because his speeches show intelligence as well as being beautiful, because it is rare to find a man open about his emotions? I think I might just have to watch the movie again with the sole purpose of investigating this question! Is Hamlet attractive, and why? What do you think?
Hamlet is chock-a-block full of famous quotes, many which are in common usage but often people aren’t aware of their origin. Here are a few other lines that I like:
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
More Matter with less art
one may smile, and smile, and be a villain
for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it s0
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.