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Destroying Hamlet's Identity
The titular character in William Shakespeare's well noted play Hamlet has fascinated audiences and literary critics for quite some time. In order to understand his characterization and the development of his identity throughout this work, one must fully understand the situation with which this young man is presented at the outset of the play. Hamlet, after all, is a mere student -- albeit he is also the prince of Denmark. All of a sudden, the young man encounters the ghost of his father, learns that the latter has been murdered, and then is charged with becoming both murderer and avenger by destroying part of his family -- his uncle Claudius. Such a task would be enormous for anyone, let alone a young man recently removed from adolescence. As such, Hamlet has to redefine his identity and essentially destroy his previous identity as a prince of what he thought was a loving family to reform his identity as the worst kind of murderer -- that which kills his kin. This play, then, functions as the impending destruction of Hamlet's former identity and old family values for a new one in which there are no such values.
In buttressing the thesis that Hamlet's previous identity as a loving son in a functional family is systematically destroyed throughout the course of this play, it is important to understand Hamlet's repudiation of familial values. Specifically, then, Hamlet systematically rejects the most eminent surviving members of his family: his uncle, the recently crowned king of Denmark Claudius, and his mother, the queen of Denmark Gertrude. Destroying his feelings for them (and for his mother in particular) is a key part of dissolving his previous identity as a loving son. Shortly after taking up his dead father's command for vengeance in the first act, Hamlet begins this critical process of dissolving the previous ties to his identity by disavowing his ties to his mother and uncle. He cries,
Frailty, thy name is woman! -- A little month; or ere those shoes were old/With which she followed my poor father's body/…all tears…O God! A beast that wants discourse of reason / Would have mourned longer, -- married with mine uncle,/My father's brother; but no more like my father / Than I to Hercules (Shakespeare)
Hamlet's disgust -- and emotional distancing of himself -- from his forbears is readily apparent in this quotation. He unfavorably compares his mother to an animal, and states that even the latter creature would have not remarried as quickly as his mother did after the death of her husband. He also laments her "frailty" in this situation, and the fact that that she barely waited "a month" before remarrying. It is obvious that he perceives these actions on her part as disrespectful, and is in the process of replacing any previous maternal sentiment with this degree of disgust that enables him to destroy his previous identity as a loving son to reform it into a family-member killing murderer. It is also apparent that he feels no conventional familial feelings of affection for his uncle, whom he acknowledges is nothing like his father. In this passage Hamlet is effectively ending his emotional ties with his forebears to reform his identity from a son into a murderer.
Another crucial part of the reformation of Hamlet's identity from that of a loving family member into an assassin who will kill his own family is the renouncing of his own value for life. In fact, Hamlet even renounces the value for his own life. The young man frequently experiences...
It is pivotal that he does so, for the simple fact that a man who is willing to die -- or perhaps even willing to kill himself -- is also willing to suffer the deaths of virtually anyone else, including his mother and his uncle. The subsequent quotation demonstrates Hamlet's suicidal tendencies and alludes to its importance in the reforming of his identity. "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? -- To die, -- to sleep, -- " (Hamlet). This very famous passage illustrates the thoughts that Hamlet has regarding his own suicide. His motive for doing so is clear -- the unique, disturbing situation in which he is in and must kill his family members to avenge his fathers is described as "outrageous fortune." Moreover, the fundamental question of this passage is about suicide; in the first line of this quotation Hamlet is considering whether he should live or not, exist or kill himself. His reference to arming himself with a bevy of destructive implements and "opposing" all his troubles by turning them upon his own self is most dramatic, and shows the progression of the evolution of his identity. At this point in the play, it is quite clear that Hamlet's previous identity as a loving son is virtually eradicated; he is threatening to eradicate himself, as well. Thus, now that his old identity is virtually gone, it is significantly easier for him to take on a new identity as a ruthless killer who will not hesitate to murder his family members -- or himself, even.
Towards the end of the play, it is quite clear that Hamlet has buried his previous identity as a loving son and reformed it into one of a killer. He has already emotionally distanced himself from the rest of his surviving family members, and he has also reached the point at which he is ready to kill himself. A man who is ready to kill himself has little compunction about killing others. The completion of Hamlet's identity as a killer comes near the end of the fourth act, when, after he has been exiled for killing Polonius (Hamlet thought he was killing Claudius), Hamlet comes across a war party that is attempting to converge on Poland. He discourses with the leader of the party, and hears about their belligerent intentions. The certitude of the officer impresses upon Hamlet his own duty as the avenging sword of his father. The subsequent quotation illustrates this point.
How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and blood,
And let all sleep? While to my shame, I see,
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,/
…O, from this time forth,/
My thoughts be bloody, or be worth nothing! (Shakespeare)
This passage alludes to the fact that Hamlet's identity has totally transformed from that of a loving son in a happy family to a killer. The impact that the army of Fortinbras has produced on this young man is readily apparent. Hamlet has encountered the "twenty thousand" soldiers willing to march, die and kill to seek their goals. He compares their reasons for battle to his, and feels a degree of "shame" that he has not completed his mission as a killer as yet. The reality is that Hamlet has yet to complete his mission because his identity as a murderer has not fully formed yet. But his encounter with a group of righteous soldiers has changed that fact, and spurred his own thoughts to become "bloody." Hamlet's preoccupation with blood, then, is the final step in reforming his identity as a killer who is capable of destroying his own family members.
Hamlet's identify as a killer is truly solidified once he finds out that Ophelia, who was his paramour of sorts, has died. The irony of this situation is that Ophelia…
To act in a murderous, vengeful way that is contrary to his true nature, and to assume madness creates madness. At first, Hamlet suggests that vengefulness in a corrupt court is a kind of sanity, when he vows to put on an antic disposition, but he acts in a way that is more and more contrary to his moral nature as the play goes on, rebuking his mother against
He questions whether he should try to clear the court of corruption or just give up and end his life now. It is this emotional doubt that drives Hamlet to act deranged at times, but he overcomes it, and almost manages to answer the difficult questions posed in his life. In Act V, when calm returns, Hamlet repents his behavior (V, ii, 75-78) (Lidz, 164). In Lidz's book Freud is
Hamlet is by far one of Shakespeare's more enigmatic characters. We understand from the beginning of the play with Horatio and Marcellus that they think very highly of Hamlet as they decide to tell him first about the ghostly vision they saw whom they believe to be his father. However, when we meet Hamlet, we are confused. Is he depressed -- or is he simply cruel (Davies 30)? Or is
" This madness likely leads to Ophelia's suicide but, consistent with the entire theme of this play, the exact nature of Ophelia's demise is left to speculation. The fascination with Hamlet is uncanny. What provides this fascination is the fact that there is always more to what is going on in the play than what actually appears to be. Observers of the play are left with an overwhelming feeling that they
Hamlet's enigmatic behavior so upsets Ophelia that she drowns herself, making Laertes even more set on revenge. Eventually these two deaths lead to a duel (provoked by Claudius) between Hamlet and Laertes, No one wins. Laertes kills Hamlet with a poison-tipped sword; Hamlet kills Laertes. Gertrude drinks poison intended by Claudius for Hamlet. Hamlet, dying and seeing his mother already dead, forces the remaining poison down Claudius's throat. Conrad suggests
That is, Ophelia is limited to seeing herself through the eyes of others, and men in particular, having achieved no core identity of her own. Her brother Laertes could easily today also be a modern-day "organization man," as could have been his father Polonius before him), that is, listening to higher authority and then acting to please that authority, without thinking or reflecting on the wisdom or efficacy, generally