College papers academic writing service

Hamlet and laertes mirroring each other in a contradictory manner in hamlet by william shakespeare

If there have been something like three thousand books and articles published on the play since 1900, it is because and here I can make one statement without qualification the character of Hamlet continues to puzzle us, and everything written seeks to throw some new light on the mystery. But it seems to me that the function of plot in Hamlet has been misunderstood, and I shall try to make some fundamental points about the action as the prime mover and substance of the prince's characterization.

Navigate Guide

In general, the critical contest has been between those who would explain the play by finding the key to the mystery of Hamlet's character and those who would reduce it to melodrama and spectacle.

A third team of critics dabbles in philosophical problems, but these do not greatly affect the tides of the major battle. In the main contest, those who explore the mystery of the character make it the source of the action, whereas those who have insisted on the primacy of the action generally say that the problems of motivation and character in the hero disappear if we consider the play as a rapidly moving, even melodramatic spectacle of bloody violence and revenge.

I should like to look at one or two of these exegeses and then try to look at the play in a completely fresh way. The general terms of the contest, suggested above, are illustrated in the Introduction to Hamlet by my revered teacher at the University of Michigan, O. Campbell, in The Living Shakespeare 1949. His own position and his definition of the opposition are equally interesting. He begins by dismissing as the "speculations of subjective critics" such notions as that "Hamlet was … a brooding 'philosopher of death, a scholar of the night.

Other commentators have assumed that Hamlet's grief has paralyzed his will, so that he is ever at the mercy of a mind involved in ceaseless debate with itself. Still others," he continues, "explain Hamlet's difficulty as the revulsion of a sensitive nature against the violent revenge which the ghost has ordered him to take.

Professor Campbell acknowledges that many students of the play would reject this interpretation as reducing a great drama to the level of a case history of a sick psyche. They would say that Shakespeare intended to give his characters just enough individuality to perform the deeds in "an exciting story of revenge.

Something very serious is the matter with Hamlet, and the full meaning of the great tragedy will never be clear until critics discover hamlet and laertes mirroring each other in a contradictory manner in hamlet by william shakespeare the drama a conscious So either "something artistic design like the one sketched above.

I know that this account of Professor's Campbell's interpretation is somewhat reductive, but I think I have not done violence to the main outlines.

It is perfectly clear that he considers the mystery to be in the character of Hamlet—in what he essentially is as a man, which accounts for how he acts in the play; and he sees the alternative as tending to reduce the hero to a simple figure in a melodrama on the order of the heroes of American Westerns. Even if Hamlet is not a case history of a diseased mind although the term "manic depressive" makes him dangerously close to being one, in spite of the disclaimerwe must acknowledge the intrusion here of modern psychological concepts of the sort that reduce the self by classifying its eccentricities and putting them in pigeon-holes where they are seen as items in the environment.

The struggle of the diminished self with its environing neuroses is a mystery of exploration and understanding rather than a dramatic action. Pushed far enough, it becomes the story of a naked eyeball suffering the cold winds of the world, absorbing agony while it fights to keep from freezing into a permanent trance of horror. If Hamlet is the beginning of this transformation, he is so, I would suggest, only as seen in the perspective of hindsight; and yet I will try to show that he must have been seen in his own time as adding a new element to the idea of man.

When Pepys wrote in his diary that it was the best play and the best part ever written, he must have been responding to something that, even after 1660, was still startlingly new.

I think we can identify this element, but let us for a moment consider the range of critical opinion: Lily Bess Campbell5 finds Hamlet a medical case of "sanguine adust," in the Elizabethan terminology; the great Kittredge insists there is no delay but only problems Hamlet must solve i. Stoll reduces the play to a hasty, opportunistic adaptation of an old play, in which revenge predominates and the hero is not to be analyzed but only watched as he flashes from scene to scene in a wild, melodramatic plot.

In every one, the action is of dominating importance, even while it serves to bring out character and, in the process, the poetry which expresses the characters' quality of mind. In Julius Caesar the story is everything. Its theme moves around the problems of sovereignty and leadership and ambition; it moves through a famous story which has been retold a thousand times.

What the characters become appears in their reactions to great challenges and final decisions; and their importance is writ large on the pages of history. Othello is an overpowering story; what the hero is cannot be conceived apart from the particular action of this play.

Indeed, before this action he was a great soldier and a tremendous leader of men. A towering hero, he carried the simplicities of heroism, for he lived on a battlestage where he saw his own actions against a prodigious and majestic backdrop.

Hamlet (Vol. 35) - Essay

The warrior's simplicity entranced Desdemona and infuriated the subtle Iago, under whose management the plot moved into a labyrinth of horror where the Moor raged, struggled, and destroyed even while he could not find his way from turning to turning. It is what Othello did that he talks about in the great speech that ends with his suicide. It is what he did, beside which what he previously was is as nothing, for he has become the creature of his horrid act—a new and terrible creature who cannot undo his ghastly mistake.

There are two time schemes in Othello. To achieve the psychological intensity and the headlong rush that keeps the hero from having time to step aside and think, Shakespeare has packed the action into thirty-six hours after the arrival at Cyprus; but to allow for the probabilities of moral growth, that is, to make the canker of suspicion grow to a cancer of jealousy, takes more time, and for this Shakespeare has provided a series of clues that stretch the same events out to three weeks or so.

No member of an audience would ever disentangle the two sets of time clues at a single performance. An actor could perform the part without realizing that they were there. But the artistic depth and validity produced by them is one of the great wonders of the play, as it is of Shakespeare's craft. Within a single action he has evolved the sort of moral and psychological density that comes from the double plot in Lear. The subtlety and ingenuity of this construction reveals so profound an insight into the function of the action that I do not see how we can turn from it to Hamlet and say that Shakespeare was not really interested in what happend—or that he did not dare to meddle with legendary events that his audience would insist upon seeing unchanged.

No audience over five years old could be so rigid. Not until King Lear does Shakespeare venture to make the plot grow from the character of the hero. There he does, and with the surest hand that he was ever to show, making an action of cosmic dimensions grow out of the strange mixture of vanity, fatuity, and trust in the bosom of a monarch who has but slenderly known himself because he has been insulated by the sheer mass of his authority from his court and his family.

Starting with his initial folly, Lear is plunged into a nightmare which puts out the light of his mind hamlet and laertes mirroring each other in a contradictory manner in hamlet by william shakespeare it has purged him of his vanity and his overweening authority. I think everyone feels that Lear is Shakespeare's most tremendous play, his profoundest search of the human heart.

This greatness is achieved because he begins with a king whose first speech involves him in an action of tremendous significance—and from the initial folly a flood, an ocean, a world, a cosmos of evil pours over him and crashes on to engulf the characters in an action that is, in one way or another, final for them all.

It takes two plots to explore the physical blindness of Gloucester beside the intellectual blindness of Lear.

  • And this is not all; his next step is to repeat his plan for the Mouse-trap;
  • Pushed far enough, it becomes the story of a naked eyeball suffering the cold winds of the world, absorbing agony while it fights to keep from freezing into a permanent trance of horror;
  • Before Hamlet knows anything of the ghost, he is presented, in the second scene, garbed in solemn black, brooding on the fringe of the gay company that has assembled to bask in the first sunshine of the new sovereign.

When the turmoil has passed and the King has regained contact with humanity, the depths of human suffering have been plumbed and agonies of self-knowledge have been realized. The force of the action is hinted in Albany's closing couplet: The oldest hath borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

I say "hinted" because no words can begin to describe it. In Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus the actions continue to be grand, involving issues and conflicts that challenge and define their heroes. Macbeth is not merely ambitious: As the action moves into the very sovereign heart of the body politic, and moral darkness rises to disrupt the wholesome state embodied in its gentle king, so within Macbeth these forces engage in a conflict of appalling depth and intensity and he becomes as full and great as this action.

  • It is the question of sovereignty, which is to say it is the principle that makes the state and holds it together—the life and mind of the body politic;
  • Before Hamlet talks with the ghost, he hears the cannon bruiting the king's carouse and comments on the unwholesome excesses of his land;
  • The point is further supported by the fact that Ophelia is speaking only to herself, since Hamlet has just stormed off stage and the King and Polonius have not come up to her yet;
  • His real part as prince of the realm having been destroyed by murder and incest, he has adopted the role of madman;
  • How many of T.

The supernatural itself is called upon to figure forth the immensities of his spiritual turmoil. Antony and Cleopatra does not have the cosmic dimensions of Lear, contained within a single spirit, but it moves in a larger world than any other play. Rome, Athens, Alexandria—the whole Mediterranean world, indeed the whole civilized world—become dazzling baubles well-lost for the exalted and devastating passion that consumes while it glorifies the heroes.

Armies are betrayed, fleets of warships abandoned, kingdoms tossed aside to dramatize the relation between Antony and Cleopatra. She uses these elements to describe him: His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck A sun and moon, which kept their course, and lighted The little O, the earth … His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear'd arm Crested the world: And when such a one dies, O sun, burn the great sphere thou move'st in, Darkling stand the varying shore of the world!

Only with such a world backdrop could Shakespeare have glorified a destructive passion, a fading hero, and a sensual and imperious woman. And it is more than a backdrop: Without these imperial choices the story would not rise to its imperial theme.

Repeatedly in the play the characters are defined through their choices in situations of extraordinary importance: Thus we see Cleopatra's character as made of her thoughts about and her reactions i. She has her being, she becomes herself in these events.

She is woven of the strands in this fabric of setting and action. And likewise in Coriolanus we see an action that brings military heroism into violent confrontation with the demands of plebeian democracy—and the hero advances into a situation where he has to break the ties that gave his military leadership its meaning.

Coriolanus emerges into choices and deeds that shatter his identification with State, with self, with family; and yet the State and the family still sway his decisions. We no longer respond to this play very successfully because physical heroism no longer confers utter greatness: But we can appreciate the fact that the action of Coriolanus is everything; it brings the hero into new realms of the spirit; it makes him realize and enact implications of his position that could not have existed apart from this action.

  1. April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire … I will show you fear in a handful of dust … I can connect Wavering between the profit and the loss In this brief transit where the dreams cross The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying … In a wilderness of mirrors. V, ii, 216-221 Let no one say that Shakespeare was not aware of these subtleties!
  2. What he sees in her eyes adds a heavy stone to his burden of doubt. Harry Levin even proposes that the Player's speech be seen as a carefully wrought mirror image of Hamlet's following soliloquy.
  3. The Player curses Fortune; Hamlet curses himself—and so on.

Again, what Coriolanus becomes is not implicit in him unless he is involved in the action of the play; it is the action that makes the emerging man. The more we look from one great play to the next, the more difficult it becomes to sustain the notion that plot was not important to Shakespeare.

If we take the proper perspective, however, we see that Shakespeare used old and famous stories precisely because plot was so important to him.

It was only with important actions that he could generate important characters, and such important actions cannot be invented out of nothing; they must be drawn from the deepest springs of the society. I propose that we should look at Hamlet as primarily, in Aristotle's terms, the imitation of an action.

Then instead of wondering "what is the matter" with the hero, we shall be able to start with the simple and indeed the engaging assumption that nothing at all is the matter with him. Starting on this ground brings us the inestimable satisfaction of being able to believe what another important character says when she describes him. Everybody knows Ophelia's description, which is about as forceful and unequivocal as it could possibly be: O what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword, The expectancy and rose of the fair state, The glass of fashion and the mould of form, The observ'd of all observers … … that noble and most sovereign reason Speeches of this sort are an extremely familiar convention of drama to establish the "official" view of a character. When they are so eloquently full and precise, they are there for the audience's information.

The point is further supported by the fact that Ophelia is speaking only to herself, since Hamlet has just stormed off stage and the King and Polonius have not come up to her yet. She is not concealing or probing or manipulating, but speaking her heart. Nothing in the play gives any sound reason for doubting this speech.


Ophelia is not mad yet, and she certainly knows Hamlet well enough to speak with authority about him. That Shakespeare should give her so eloquent a speech is in itself evidence that she is to be seen as capable of such eloquence as Polonius and Laertes, who also comment on Hamlet, are not, the one being fatuous and tedious, the other pompous and fulsomeand it seems equally obvious that the eloquence implies some intelligence and insight.

Ophelia of course is mistaken in thinking Hamlet mad at this point. In her distress and innocence, she is as easily taken in by his subterfuge as she is intimidated by his violence. But this innocence is our assurance that she speaks without subtlety and expresses the general and "official" view of Hamlet.

Her speech tells us in the plainest terms what Hamlet was. She has described the ideal Renaissance prince, and we must start by accepting this as fact.

The ideal prince was as far as anyone could be from having "something the matter" with him. He was the model of courage, decision, manners—the mold of form, the expectancy and rose of the fair state.

This character has been so firmly established by Hamlet's early conduct that Polonius and Laertes characterize and damn themselves by their suspicions of him. The ignobility of their advice to Ophelia condemns them in the speaking of it—and the fact that Hamlet needs no defense from such contemptible charges shows that his essential nobility and honor have already been made clear by his appearance, his speech, the deference of Marcellus and Bernardo, the loyalty and respect of Horatio, and the fact that they go straight to him with the dangerous story of the ghost.