Throughout the whole play, different characters respond differently in dialogues, conversations and even soliloquies (Newell 3). The thesis in this essay is that , meditative responses are given preference over passionate responses. I explore how different characters in the play bring out those responses and the effect that they have on the play and other characters. These responses bring out the themes and characters of the people in the play.
Hamlet agrees with the need to control passion or what the ghost referred to as “ nature” I. 5. 12. It is his belief that it is man’s duty to control this nature and he even scolds his mother for succumbing to “ compulsive ardour” 3. 4. 86. In expressing his anger toward his uncle and his mother’s marriage he deplores the king’s lust “ Bawdy villain”. In the first act of the play, the three guards encounter the ghost of the dead king. In their desperation, to believe that the ghost is the dead king they do not even take time to think rationally about the whole situation.
The play puts emphasis on the control or moderation of emotion by reason Wilks (117) states that, “ his acceleration to a renewed temperance through chastened self control”. Hamlet tried to emphasize the importance of rationale self control especially the relationship between reason and emotion (Spark note editors 2). Through his soliloquies, we actually see him trying to embrace the intellectual part of him to resolve issues; at the grave site, he is angry with himself for succumbing to the passion of anger.
He agrees with this notion where he congratulates Horatio on being a person “ whose blood and judgment are so well commedelled” 3. 2. 69 and goes on to tell Horatio “ give me that man that is not passions slave 3. 271-72. Hamlet soliloquies are a window into understanding his character, as when interacting with the other characters; they see him as insane, with grief for his father. He has philosophical debates in his mind concerning various issues in his life at that moment. In his soliloquies, he gives attentions to more meditative thoughts and responses.
When he encounters the ghost, reason tells him that he should not believe it is his father even though he feels that it is his father’s ghost. “ Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell? Why thy canonz’d bones, hearsed in death, /have burst their ceremens ……. say, why is this? Whereof? What shall we do? 1. 4. 46-48, 57. His conversation with the ghost about seeking revenge on his uncle shows some passionate responses from him and the ghost.” Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge”(Shakespeare I. 5). This confirms to Hamlet his fear that his uncle killed his father. This leads to rage of insanity, as he tries to figure what to do with this piece of information. This pre occupation of trying to reason and rationalize things delays his revenge for his fathers’ death (Levy 53).
As the play progresses, Hamlet realizes that he cannot solve issues by relaying on reason only and he starts tapping into his emotional side. This is seen in his soliloquy “ 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” 3. 1. 58-63 (Mabillard 1). At this point, he wonders whether he should give in to the hurt and disappointment he feels and commit suicide. He starts to give in to passion or emotional feelings and responses as seen in 4. 9. 56 “ My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth”.
Hamlets determination on refraining from being emotional is weakened when he discovers that Ophelia is dead and expresses his grief and his love for her. In many instances when he gave in to the passion of the moment, he regretted for not controlling himself. He stabs Polonius through the curtain without even confirming who it was and exclaims “ How now? A rat? Dead for a Ducat, dead!” 3. 4. 2. He is the only character in the play that is truly determined not to show emotions. He looked down upon those upon that give in to their emotional nature like Claudius and his mother Gertrude.
King Claudius was a very manipulative person through the skillful use of language; therefore, most of his reactions and responses when in the company of other people had to meditative. His speeches always premeditated, and well thought out. His speeches were compared to poison being poured in through the ear causing an agonizing death. His abrupt leaving during the play that enacted the King’s murder is emotional and instinct reaction, which confirmed to hamlet that he was really guilty “ A villain kills my father, and for that sole son, does this same villain send to heaven “. 3. 3. 76-78. He makes a calculated move by marrying Gertrude, to ascend his brother’s throne and does not marry her out of love, just lust.
When Gertrude comes to tell him that Polonius was stabbed by Hamlet, his primary concern was his own safety, not his wife’s. He plotted against Hamlet, and sends him to exile him in England stating that that action would require his “ Majesty and Skill. 4. 1. 30.
She is the queen of Denmark, married to her brother in law Claudius and is Hamlets mother. She is a passionate woman who betrays her husband and son by marrying the man who killed her husband. Most of her actions in the play, are contrary to a mothers actions, she decides to side with her husband when Hamlet decides to tell her his suspicions concerning his uncle murdering his father. She tries to convince him that he is crazy “ Hamlet, speak no more: thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul/ and there see such black and grained spots and will not leave their trinct “ 3. 4. 14. Her passion is seen in her decision to marry her brother in-law immediately after his death and having him crowned King. She hardly reasons through decisions before making them. As a mother she would not have decided to take the side of the man accused of murdering her husband, she would have sided with her son. Instead, she was busy trying to portray to the world how crazy he was.
Ophelia is a passionate woman who was in love with Hamlet and very obedient to her family. When they told her to stop seeing Hamlet, she obeyed and collaborated with her family to spy on him. Her reaction to her father’s death is very emotional and it is believed that is what causes her madness. She eventually drowns in a river and dies.
Laertes is Polonius’s son and a brother to Ophelia who spent most of his time away in France. He is passionate and quick to action unlike Hamlet. When his father is killed by Hamlet he goes to seek him out and avenge his death. His prompt actions lead to a catastrophy in the end if the play (Bradley 61). Fortinables is the prince of Norway who father had also died and his uncle had succeeded him and was looking to recover his father’s lands. He is very decisive person who is able to make decisions and follow through. He is the complete opposite of Hamlet who tries to rationalize the decision to avenge his father’s death.
The meditative and passionate responses are rewarded in different ways in the play. Meditative acts don’t turn out as well as expected, and this is seen in the following examples. Hamlet’s indecision and reasoning about avenging his father’s death puts everyone in the royal family in danger and they all die at the end of the play (Campbell 135). Hamlet looses the love of his life, due to his belief that he should not be emotional but logical and reasonable.
As Ophelia is buried he regrets not having made her his wife, and argues with her brother “. The passionate responses are as destructive as the meditated ones. The king acted in passion and anger towards Hamlet as he was determined to have Hamlet die, he sharpened, poisoned the blade and poisoned the wine goblet as back up. This provided more avenues for poisoning, resulting in death of the whole royal family.
Bradley, Amanda. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966. Web.
Campbell, Lily. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. New York: Arnes & Noble, 1961. Web.
Levy, Eric. The Problematic Relation between Reason and Emotion in Hamlet. Renascence. Web Literature Resource Center, 2011. Web.
Mabillard, Amanda. Hamlet’s Soliloquy Analysis. Shakespeare Online. 2011. Web.
Newell, Alex. Soliloquies in Hamlet: The structural Design. Massachusetts: Associated University Press, 1991. Web.
Shakespeare, William. The tragedy of the Prince of Denmark, Oct. 2011. Web.
Spark Notes Editors. Spark Note on Hamlet. SparkNotes. com. SparkNotes LLC. 2011. Web.
Wilks, John. “ The Discourse of Reason: Justice and the Erroneous Conscience in Hamlet.” Shakespeare Studies, 1986: 117-44. Web.