Hamlet Essay

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a great play that has sparked a ton of different opinions. As you know, any dramatic work is characterized by conflict. In this play it is two-level. the first is personal, the second is of man and era.

Shakespeare raised a number of acute questions for his time, which became the problems of the play. This is a thirst for justice and the prevalence of Christian motives, as well as the formation of moral problems. The main place in the tragedy is the problem of morality. It is also a conflict. Even after so much time, the problems that the protagonist solved are still relevant. Namely, the struggle between evil and good. A problem that cannot be resolved after many centuries. A person all the time chooses between good and evil, someone manages to balance them, someone returns from one to the other, because he cannot realize what is good and what is evil.

Example 1: The Corruption of Denmark in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

No nation is entirely free from corruption. Nevertheless, if corruption is strong enough, it can hinder the good governance and decay the fabric of society. It is an obstacle to sustainable development, and leaves little room for justice to prevail. Throughout the play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, a corrupting disease plagues Denmark and the people within it.The incestuous marriage between Gertrude and Claudius, in addition to murdering King Hamlet, is the main example of deceit, corruption and evil. Throughout the play we can sketch a progression of this corruption, through disease, in the characters of Polonius, Claudius, Ophelia and Hamlet.

This directly causes the downfall of the castle and Denmark. At the end of the play, the castle and the land are taken over by Fortinbras, the final even that signifies the fall of the nation. In Hamlet, Shakespeare depicts Claudius as the source of corruption in Denmark, which slowly spreads through Elsinore and leads to the downfall of Denmark.In the beginning of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet arrives to warn Prince Hamlet about the corruption in Elsinore. The ghost tells him that he was murdered by poison inserted into his ear by Claudius. Claudius is the first to fall sick with the disease of corruption. King Hamlet was a powerful ruler, who kept his nation strong, intact and clean.

At the time of his rule Denmark could have been described as an “unweeded garden”(I. ii. 135), similar to the Garden of Eden. Claudius’ sin creates a dirty and contagious weed in this garden. This leads Marcellus to say that “there is something rotten in the state ofDenmark”(I. iv. 90).

This statement refers directly to Claudius’ corruption, as he is the catalyst of the rot and death of the nation. His malevolent actions, which bring him to power, plague the people around him. The ghost tells Hamlet: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love— / … [to] / Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I. v. 23-25). The images of rotting and foulness in odor entering the castle symbolize the contagious property of sin. Furthermore, if a ghost appears, it indicates that something drastically bad or catastrophic has or will occur.

This demonstrates how appalling Claudius’ actions are and the level power it has to corrupt everyone else in the castle. Prince Hamlet is portrayed by Shakespeare as a noble prince who is trying to fight the evil and corruption of the world. After the ghost’s visit, he knows his goal is to restore order in Elsinore. Unfortunately, this corruption affects him himself which causes him to go mentally insane and leads to his death. The first sign of this madness is when he contemplates suicide, which is sinful in Catholisism. 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? (III. i.

58-62) He hesitates whether it would be easier to die rather than to fight against the corruption and all his troubles. The murder of his father, the incestuous marriage of his mother and uncle, and Ophelia’s supposed rejection of him is just too much for him to endure. Hamlet has just come home from university in Wittenberg, where he was taught to think and use ideals and is now having difficulty living in a world that is so rotten.The power of Claudius’ deceitful deeds has the ability to slowly destroy a character as noble as Hamlet. He comes to the conclusion that no one would willingly bear the pains of his life if they were not afraid of what comes after it. It is this fear that causes Hamlet’s incapacity for action. The indecision to kill Claudius prolongs the growth of the madness in himself.

His original intentions of the antic disposition are good but are soon corrupted by the Danish court. He is torn between the corruption in Denmark and his Noble self. Throughout the rest of the play, Prince Hamlet puts on an antic disposition.He pretends to go mad in order to throw off Claudius. However, Hamlet slowly starts to become truly insane as he acts foolishly without thinking of consequences, and often hurts the people he cares about. Polonius is one of the most corrupt characters of the play. However, we can see that his corruption is in his nature and not caused only by the murder of King Hamlet.

In his speech to his son, Leartes (I. iii), he opposes the virtue of being close-mouthed and discrete. Polonius later instructs his servant Renyaldo to spy on Laetes in Paris. This is very hypocritical of him as he is doing exactly what he condemned earlier.He also meddles into the relationship of Ophelia and Hamlet, without taking into account their feelings, and is only willing to satisfy his own goals. He does not want to offend the king or make it seem like he is pushing his daughter to marry Hamlet. Hamlet views Ophelia as someone pure, cares deeply about her and does not take into consideration their difference in stature.

Unfortunately, Polonius manages to corrupt their innocent relationship. After Polonius spies on Hamlet, to prove his insanity to the king, Hamlet suspects Ophelia of being involved in the spying and plotting that has been occurring.He tells her that “God has given [her] one face, and [she] make [herself] another”(III. i. 144-145). He tells her that she is an inconsistent and fickle person and thinks that she betrayed him. Hamlet’s mind is corrupted by the general evil in Elsinore.

Ophelia represents the values of youth, purity and innocence that are corrupted, like Hamlet, by the Danish Court. Her downward spiral into madness begins after the nunnery scene(III. i). She is manipulated by her father and cruelly abused by Hamlet. Before the scene, Ophelia trusted Hamlet’s nobility and Polonius’ wisdom.However, at the end, after her emotions and mind are damaged, she loses trust and faith in both men. Ophelia tells her brother: “”I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died”(IV.

iii. 180-1). As violets represent faith, she had given all of her faith to her father, and lost it when he died. She refuses to acknowledge the corruption in Elsinore and shields herself from it by childish chatter. Ophelia commits suicide by drowning herself. Suicide is an extremely sinful way to die, and is generally only done or contemplated if someone was truly mad.Ophelia’s spiral downfall that ends in death depicts how Elsinore has degenerated to the point that it can corrupt even the purest form of innocence.

Horatio and Fortinbras are the only characters in the play that are not affected by the disease of corruption. Fortinbras does not get affected since he is not part of the Danish court or Denmark itself. Horatio is one of the most intelligent and brave characters of the play. He is a learned scholar at Wittenberg, who knows how to deal with situations in a reasonable and intelligent manner.When the ghost appears for the first time, he does not fear it like the other characters whom he described becoming “almost to Jelly with the act of fear”(I. ii. 205).

He goes to report exactly what he saw to Hamlet directly. He is extremely loyal to Hamlet and remains honest and sincere during the entire play. He seems to be the only person who knows exactly what is happening and can accurately predict the future. He knows that the ghost will lead to Prince Hamlet’s suicide or madness and he tries to prevent Hamlet from meeting with him. Horatio does not have any strong or dependant relationships within Elsinore.He is a very solitary man, with little or no personal goals, making him immune to the disease of corruption. Although he dies at the end of the play, it is not because of the corruption of Elsinore, but because he offered to die alongside his friend.

With the fall of every character in the Kronborg castle, the fall of Denmark is inevitable. After the fencing match during Leartes and Hamlet, every main character, besides Horatio and Fortinbras is presumed dead. Fortibras sees this as the perfect time to take control of the throne and says: “I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,/Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me”(V. i. 390-391). He, like Prince Hamlet was seeking to take revenge on behalf of his dead father. Conversely, he did not delay his actions and he knew exactly the right time to take what he desired.

Since Fortinbras is originally associated with Norway, it is as if Denmark no longer exists as its own entity and can be considered the fall of the nation. Claudius, as the originator of the corruption in Denmark, is obviously the most evil, deceitful and corrupt character of the play. After murdering his wn brother to take power of the thrown, he marries Price Hamlet’s mother. This can be considered to be incestuous and morally reprehensible. Because of this union, Gertrude is now inevitably corrupt. She, like all other characters who have been affected, must die. In his speech announcing his marriage, he tries to show remorse of the death of King Hamlet by saying: “Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death […]To bear our hearts in grief and our whole kingdom/To be contracted in one brow and woe”(I.

ii. 1-4).His true intention is not taking care of his kingdom or its people, but power and control, through the manipulation of others. Claudius is corrupt enough that he is willing to do anything to justify his place on the throne. Most of his actions in the play are to eliminate threats and secure his power. He repeatedly tries to kill Hamlet by, for example, sending him with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed, setting up a fixed fencing match, and poisoning his drink. All of these backfire and end up hurting him in some way.

Claudius can clearly be seen as the originator of corruption of all the characters. Hamlet is corrupted mainly because of the murder of his father and marriage of his mother, which was committed by Claudius. Ophelia is corrupted due to Hamlet rejecting her and killing her father. However, since Hamlet’s mind suffers the corruption of Claudius’ crimes, Claudius can be named responsible for Ophelia’s fall. The murder of King Hamlet can effectively parallel the death of the state of Denmark by Claudius. In the begging of the play, the ghost of King Hamlet describes his death to his son.Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, And in the porches of my ears did pour The leperous distilment .

. . . . . doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into milk, the thin and wholesome blood. So did it mine.

And a most instant tetter barked about, Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust All my smooth body (I. v. 61-73) He describes his body dying and decaying using images such as curdy milk, poison, rotting and leprosy. These images can be, in the same way used to describe the fall of Denmark.King Hamlet has fallen, and his land must fall with him. Claudius is responsible for both the murder of his brother, and the murder of Denmark. It can be clearly seen that Claudius is the originator of the corruption in Denmark.

His sinful deeds cause catastrophes in the Kronborg Castle, which result in the fall of every character and Denmark. His evil affects even the purest and noblest of characters such as Ophelia and Hamlet. Today’s society can learn a lot from Hamlet. Corruption has gone global; Scores of civilizations have perished due to greed and corruption.It seems it is ingrain in human nature to fall for the traps and deceit as depicted in Hamlet. There seems to be no remedy for corruption. In today’s global economy everyone wants to go ahead at the cost of someone else’ perish and would not stop at anything to achieve their goals.

As seen by Horatio, education and reason is the only remedy by which one can be made to understand the consequences of suffering of society due to corruption and malice.Works Cited Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge School Shakespeare, 2007.

Example 2: Justice in Hamlet

Hamlet, a timeless tragedy written by literary mastermind William Shakespeare, has puzzled scholars for decades. Hamlet, who is arguably the most enigmatic character in English literature, is a vividly thoughtful young prince who conspires revenge on his uncle Claudius for the murder of his father King Hamlet. Hamlet becomes obsessed with achieving this justice for his father’s death, a duty he views as noble, but he quickly comes to realize that carrying out the murder is not as simple a task as he originally thought.

As evidenced by events that unfold that result in the death of many of his friends and family, and also himself, a sense of justice can become easily warped and corrupted when revenge is the motivator. Hamlet’s quest for justice is first introduced when he is visited by an ambiguous ghost who claims to be his father, the former king. The ghost tells Hamlet the details of his murder, including that his uncle Claudius is the culprit. Hamlet, shocked and angry, avows to avenge his father’s death.

He swears he will forget all of the fond memories he had of his uncle Claudius, saying, “from the table of my memory I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records” (Act 1, Scene 5). He replaces these memories with a tarnished image of Claudius as a murderer, and resolves that, in order for justice to be guaranteed, Claudius must also be murdered. However, despite becoming infatuated with this revenge, Hamlet delays multiple times in killing Claudius. His initial delay was to prove Claudius’ guilt, which he does so by staging a play that reenacts King Hamlet’s murder.

A perfect opportunity arises later for Hamlet to carry out his revenge, but Claudius is confessing his sins, which conflicts with Hamlet’s idea of true justice: he does not want Claudius’ soul to go to heaven after his death. Instead, he decides to wait to murder Claudius until after he has committed a sin. Although these actions seen to indicate Hamlet’s infatuation with perfecting the time and circumstance of Claudius’ murder, Hamlet acts rashly after seeing a figure behind a curtain: he believes this to be Claudius, and impulsively stabs the figure, but it ends up being Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes.

This brings about more problems for Hamlet, adding further complexity to a situation that was originally supposed to be straightforward: Ophelia, gone mad by the death of her father, commits suicide by drowning herself, and Laertes, encouraged by Claudius, begins his pursuit of justice by avenging the deaths of his father and beloved sister. At the beginning of the play, Hamlet is presented as a normal, albeit bitter, young man. Upon hearing of his uncle’s treachery, Hamlet initially seeks out justice for his father’s murder, determined to catch Claudius in a confession and expose him.

However, Hamlet’s original intentions of serving justice become lost, first when he decides to play the ‘antic disposition’, then when he sets up the play ‘The Mousetrap’, arranging the execution of his school friends, and finally when he forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned goblet. However, due to Hamlet’s consumption with revenge, all of his loved ones die until he is left with nothing by the play’s end. Realizing that his vengeful actions have, in some way or another, caused the deaths of those he loved, Hamlet’s death is somewhat suitable, but certainly not satisfying.

The reader does not finish the play with a feeling that justice has been served. Instead, we are left with a stark, bloody conclusion to what the seeds of revenge can sow. But the other themes of death are seen in Laertes pursuit of justice for the death of his father by Hamlet’s hand and as a consequence his sister Ophelia’s death. Characters who want justice: Hamlet – To restore justice Hamlet needs to expose not just Claudius but his mother as well, something he finds difficult.

He does indeed finally kill his uncle after his mother has been poisoned but only becomes king long enough to name his successor as he is dying himself at the time he kills Claudius. He can restore justice by becoming the rightful king of Denmark and exposing his uncle as a murderer. i am justly killed with mine own treachery. Well, consider the price that was paid in order for Hamlet to exact his revenge: Ophelia shunned, gone mad, then dying; good friends manipulated then murdered; Polonius mocked then murdered; Laertes driven to murder and violence; and a mother reprimanded and killed.

Example 3: Theme of Revenge in Hamlet

In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the theme of revenge is so prominent that it could be considered its own character. The vengeance in Hamlet is essential to the development of Laertes, son of Polonius, Hamlet, prince of Denmark, and Fortinbras, prince of Norway. Revenge is an unnecessary evil causing humans to act blindly through anger rather than through reason. Referring as far back as Hammurabi’s idea of “An eye for an eye,” revenge is merely a chain of wrongdoings stimulated each time by a reciprocated act of evil.

Revenge is set to conquer anyone who comes to seek it. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet while there is the theme of revenge, that theme is divided into two separate entities. There is Laertes’ active seeking of vengeance and “Hamlet’s inner struggle to take action. ” (Shmoop 1) Laertes is extremely quick to take action to avenge the murder and suicide of his only remaining family. Returning home from an adventure for his own educational purposes, Laertes learns of his father murder by a sword through a tapestry.

Upon arrival, Laertes finds his delusional sister, Ophelia, too involved in her songs of “Hey nonny, nonny” to really understand anything happening at that moment. Ophelia drove herself to an actual insanity from death of her father, or perhaps the rejection of Hamlet. Hours later, Ophelia is found in a pond after she committed suicide. Laertes wishes to seek revenge on Hamlet for his direct and indirect cause of his family’s deaths. Claudius is now also presented with his chance for his own revenge against his nephew, or his son in accordance with his incestual marriage.

However, Claudius is only seeking “revenge” for fear of being found out, and hides his cowardice by helping Laertes kill Hamlet. Hamlet is a completely different example from Laertes. Through his father’s ghost, Hamlet is given the task of avenging his father in his untimely death. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet was given multiple opportunities to take the life of his uncle, but failed to do so. Not even sure of himself or of the request the father of his ghost, that he may or may not have seen, demanded. To be certain of Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet decides to re-enact the murder of his father with the production of The Murder of Gonzago (known also as the play within the play or The Mousetrap). ” (Shakespeare-online 2) “The play’s the king Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. ” (Act II, Scene ii, Shakespeare) However, even when he is completely sure Claudius is guilty of killing his own brother, he still finds trouble acting. Hamlet finds Claudius after the play to exact his revenge, but finds Claudius praying.

With his sword at the ready, he starts to talk to himself about how he cannot kill his uncle while his father is “Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night, And for the day confined to fast in fires, Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature Are burnt and purged away. ” (Act I, Scene iv, Shakespeare) Hamlet actually manages to convince himself to not act now, and that another opportunity will present itself. If Hamlet had only taken the time he used to talk to himself to quietly listen he would have notice Claudius’ inability to utter a prayer, leaving the perfect opportunity untaken.

What does separate Hamlet from others around him is his reason for his revenge. Hamlet achieves his revenge in the final scene of the final life. “In large part his course to the fifth act is the result of his moral sensitivity, his unflinching discernment of evil and his determination that it shall not thrive. ” (Prosser 1) His “hatred of corruption” and his “vision of what man should be” fueled him through all his pretenses into his final moments.

While “Hamlet is definitely a great example of a typical revenge tragedy” (NovelGuide 4) he is unique in the way he hesitates in his path to destroy what is evil and to preserve whatever little good is left. Hardly mentioned at all, there was another character in Hamlet that received his revenge at the end of the play. Fortinbras, prince of Norway set off to regain the lands of Denmark, which were lost to King Hamlet Senior years ago. Fortinbras was returning to win back his lands, which he did, and he did so very peacefully.

Fortinbras regained the lands that were rightly his, as there were no more heirs to the Danish throne. Horatio almost foreshadows the movements of Fortinbras, but no further of him is mentioned until the end of the play. “Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Of unimproved mettle hot and full, Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there Shark’d up a list of lawless resolutes, For food and diet, to some enterprise That hath a stomach in’t; which is no other— As it doth well appear unto our state—But to recover of us, by strong hand And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands So by his father lost. (Act I, Scene I, Shakespeare) Fortinbras choice for revenge is the only one that ended up with no more murder involved. All three characters, Laertes, Hamlet, and Fortinbras, were so obsessed with avenging their father’s death, nobody survived to be able to gloat about his victory, except for Fortinbras. Revenge is characterized by a chain of bad choices with another individual feeling he is obligated to make the situation fair once more. Hamlet by William Shakespeare is powerful play that exemplifies the cruelty of revenge and how much anger and how little reason are truly involved.

There is never a real need for revenge, as more of it will eventually lead to the demise of everyone involved. Thousands of years before Shakespeare wrote his plays, Hammurabi created the first law book, almost foreshadowing the dangers of revenge. “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”, while murder for murder will only lead to more murder.

Works Cited

  • “Elizabethan Revenge in Hamlet. ” Novel Guides. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://www. novelguide. com/ReportEssay/literature/shakespeare/elizabethan-revenge-hamlet;.
  • Prosser, Eleanor. “Hamlet and Revenge. ” HowlandPak. HowlandPak, Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://howlandpowpak. neomin. org/powpak/cgi-bin/custom_page_display. pl? id=thomas. williams;cp=28;.
  • Mabillard, Amanda. “Revenge in Hamlet. ” Shakespeare Online, 12 2011. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://shakespeare-online. com/playanalysis/revengetragedy. html;.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. London, England: 1603. Print. “Shmoop. ” Hamlet. Shmoop University, Inc. Web. 1 Jan 2013. ;http://www. shmoop. com/hamlet/;.

Example 4: The Nature of Evil in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Society has been preoccupied by the concept of good and evil since the emergence of civilization and, just as humankind has evolved over time, so has the definition of evil. Evil was first used to describe someone who placed themselves above others and it wasn’t until the Old and Middle English period that evil became associated with wrong-doing. As time passed, the definition continued to become increasingly more specific until it reached its modern day definition: “extreme moral wickedness. (www. etymonline. com/index. php? term=evil) However, what one ultimately defines as evil depends on one’s personal experiences, frame of reference, and culture. For instance, during World War II, the Americans believed that dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was an act of good as it ended conflict with the Japanese. On the other hand, the Japanese viewed it as an act of evil as the bombings resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

This proves that good and evil cannot always be seen as simply black or white, but also as shades of grey making it difficult to label characters in various literary works, especially those of William Shakespeare. The ambiguity of evil in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet forces spectators to interpret each character’s thoughts, actions, and personality in order to place them properly on the gradient of evil. Regardless of one’s personal idea of evil, Claudius can be seen as a villain from many standpoints.

He constantly performs actions with malicious intent and expresses true love only for himself. The first and most important act that Claudius commits is the murder of his own brother, which he does to obtain the crown of Denmark, as described by King Hamlet’s ghost: Now, Hamlet, hear. ‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me – so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abus’d – but know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. (I. v. 34-40)

The ghost’s speech shows the true nature of Claudius’ evil as he allows himself to kill his own brother. However, this is not to say that Claudius does not understand the nature of his sins. Following ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, a test of his conscience set up by Hamlet, Claudius feels overwhelmed with guilt and self disgust; he attempts to repent for his sins and expresses that he realizes the magnitude of what he has done: O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t– A brother’s murder. (III. iii. 37-39)

This is the first and only time that the readers or spectators see Claudius acting as a normal human being and showing or recognizing his emotions. This is very important as many people believe that repentance leads to mercy. However, Claudius finds himself unable to properly do so as he comes to realize that he does not feel remorse for what he has done since he continues to reap the rewards of his deed: Pray can I not, Though inclination be as sharp as will, My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent… My fault is past – but O, what form of prayer

Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder? ‘ That cannot be, since I am still possess’d Of those effects for which I did the murder– My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen. … My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go. (III. iii. 36-40, 51-55, 97-98) If Claudius had successfully repented for his sins, he would no longer be labelled as an evil character. He is, however, unable to do so. Despite Claudius’ callousness, the fact that he even attempts to repent is honourable.

However, by continuing to manipulate, destroy, and murder he voids any chance of forgiveness. He uses his “son” as a scapegoat by focusing all of the negative attention on him and thus avoids negative attention himself, marries his brother’s widow, turns Hamlet’s childhood friends against him, and ultimately causes the deaths of all the main characters in the play. He uses his charm and political power to unleash increasing amounts of chaos proving that, “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain! ” (I. v. 07)

In the end, it is Claudius who is responsible for trapping otherwise innocent characters in a chain of deception, deceit, and destruction which is escapable only by death. Hamlet is the primary victim of Claudius’ malevolent deeds, causing a dramatic shift in his nature. He becomes a slave to misfortune and feels the need to right the wrongs in his life, specifically the murder of his father. Upon hearing the truth about the nature of his father’s death, Hamlet becomes a vital part in the cyclical pattern of evil as he vows to take revenge on his uncle, Claudius: Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift

As meditation or the thoughts of love May sweep me to my revenge. (I. v. 29-31) Although Hamlet is “a victim” of Claudius’ deeds, the reader is unable to sustain any feeling of heightened pathos once he seeks justice by exacting revenge. However, one must take into consideration the common thought processes of the time. It wasn’t until recently that society began to view retributive justice as unacceptable and morally wrong. Therefore, Hamlet would have been justified in his attempts to get revenge for his father’s murder.

In addition, getting revenge gives Hamlet no personal gain except the redemption of his father’s name, while Claudius kills with power in mind. Furthermore, Claudius is responsible for the death of an innocent while Hamlet is only concerned with killing those who are guilty, particularly his uncle.

Hamlet even takes precautions, such as arranging the performance of ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, to prove his suspicions and keep a clean conscience: I’ll have groundsMore relative than this—the play’s the thingWherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King. II. ii. 603-605) By trying to figure out whether or not Claudius is guilty, Hamlet shows that he is trying to cause the least damage possible and does not want to kill those who do not deserve it. A truly evil person would not care whether or not their victim was innocent, as is the case with Claudius. Unfortunately, Hamlet becomes tangled up in his thoughts and emotions and causes more problems than he intends to; primarly when Hamlet and his mother are talking and Hamlet attacks Polonius who is hiding behind an arras.

The attack kills Polonius, who Hamlet initially thought was Claudius. While some may consider this to be evil, Hamlet recognizes the event as a tragic accident: A bloody deed. Almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king and marry with his brother… Thou wretched, rash intruding fool, farewell. I took thee for thy better. Take thy fortune. (III. iv. 28-29, 31-32) By comparing the murder of Polonius to the murder of his father, Hamlet acknowledges that what he has done is wrong but unfortunately this does not allow him to escape the repercussions which follow.

Killing Polonius is the biggest mistake that Hamlet makes in the play, turning Laertes against him and leading to the death of both himself and Ophelia. Although Hamlet can be seen as unnaturally cruel many times throughout the play, he is not evil. Hamlet is simply trying to play the cards he has been dealt in life. Throughout Hamlet, Laertes is described as a very loyal and noble gentleman. Unfortunately for Laertes, he suffers the same fate as poor Hamlet. He loses his father and his sister, just as Hamlet loses his father and mother.

Following his father’s death, Laertes feels the need to kill to uphold his family’s name. At first Laertes believes the murderer to be Claudius but when Claudius convinces him otherwise, Laertes shifts his attention towards Hamlet. In order to get Laertes to do this, Claudius manipulates him into thinking that Hamlet is the root of all evil and must be taken care of. Laertes agrees to do so and even contributes his own ideas: I will do’t. And for that purpose, I’ll anoint my sword. I bought an unction of mountebank So mortal but dip a knife in it, Where it draws blood, no cataplasm so rare,

Collected from all simples that have virtue Under the moon, can save the thing from death That is but scratch’d withal. I’ll touch my point With this contagion, that if I gall him slightly, It may be death. (IV. vii. 139-148) Similarly to Hamlet, it is not evil that gets the best of Laertes, but his emotions. His anger and sadness cause him to react drastically and he makes decisions at a time where he is unable to think straight. Laertes later comes to realize this as he reflects upon his plan to kill Hamlet: And yet it is almost against my conscience. V. ii. 288)

At this point in the play, it becomes evident that Laertes’ “evil” is not of his own creation but of Claudius’. It is not only Laertes who realizes this but Hamlet as well, allowing the men to see the similarities in their situations and apologize to one another: He is just serv’d. It is a poison temper’d by himself. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me. (V. ii. 321-325) Unlike Claudius, the men are forgiven for their sins and are able to die as heroes rather than villains.

This final act of nobility is what truly defines the characters of Hamlet and Laertes, not their mishaps. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet exemplifies how it is not what a character does but who a character is that determines whether they are truly evil or not. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the character’s do not fall victim to temptation or evil. It is the way that they handle themselves once they have done so that allows spectators an insight into their true nature. As Hamlet says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking it makes it so. ” (II. ii. 245-246)

Example 5: The Philosophy of Action in Hamlet

‘Words, words, words’: Hamlet’s philosophy of action Central to any drama is action. What distinguishes drama from other literary forms is the very fact that it is acted upon a stage, that voice is given to the words and that movement creates meaning. It is, therefore, puzzling that the most seminal dramatic work in the English language contains, arguably, precious little of what many might describe as dramatic action. Nevertheless it has moved, enthralled and, what is more, entertained generations of theatre goers across the centuries and is still regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most popular play.

It has divided critics: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe regards as central to the play Hamlet’s inability to act[1] whereas T. S. Eliot reduces the work to ‘an artistic failure’. [2] If Tom Stoppard is to be believed, even the characters are at odds with this apparent lack of drama as Stoppard’s Rosencrantz asks ‘is it too much to expect a little sustained action?! ’[3] If then, we are to acknowledge that action is central to drama, it is important to remember that such action is usually derived from conflict.

When regarding Hamlet through this basic philosophy, the play is in every way dramatic. The play is concerned with conflict. We have international conflict, familial conflict and internal conflict and it is these conflicts that drive the play. This is confirmed within the opening line ‘Who’s there? ’(I. i. 1)[4] Immediately we are plunged into the state of paranoia that envelops Elsinore, the question is confrontational and, furthermore, directs us towards the international conflict between Denmark and Norway. The drama of the play, however, is not as simple as this.

For instance, we must also consider the dramatic structure of a play and apply this to Hamlet; a structure that goes from equilibrium to conflict and then on to a new equilibrium. It is impossible to relate this to the play; for who would agree that the Elsinore, at the start of Hamlet, is in a state of equilibrium? Indeed, as Stephen Ratcliffe points out, the catalyst for all action in the play does not occur within the play[5]. The murder of Hamlet’s father has already happened when Barnardo delivers that famous first line, a line which itself suggests a response to something that has happened offstage.

Ratcliffe goes on to discuss that the line could almost be a response to a ‘knock knock’ joke but more seriously that it: begin[s] the play in response not only to some implicit, unspoken physical action- some motion or noise in the dark, […] but to an implicit action not performed on stage – some motion of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father which Bernardo, who speaks this line, must imagine he has seen and/or heard. [6] Ratcliffe also suggests that the action not performed on stage does not happen at all.

Alarmingly, he refutes Claudius’s confession of fratricide in Act III, arguing unconvincingly that Old Hamlet’s murder had never taken place. [7] In spite of this he does raise an interesting issue that is concerned with the question as to why – when in Western literature dramatic narrative is defined by cause and effect – does Shakespeare place the primary cause off stage and beyond the gaze of his audience? We are left to imagine the dramatic possibilities of opening the play with the alarming and visually striking image of a brother’s murder.

If Shakespeare’s decision to leave this exciting and sinister event in the wings confounds us, what, then, are we to make of the climax of the play? If we are to return to the classic dramatic structure of a play, we expect to see rising action leading to a climax that, in turn, leads on to the falling action culminated by the denouement. Hamlet gives us no such structure. There is no climax in the classic sense or if there is it appears in the final scene, not where one would expect. There is, nevertheless, one possibility that the climax may appear earlier in the play and that would be, in the traditional sense, in Act III.

The murder of Polonius in Act III, scene iv might be regarded as the turning point of the play in the same way that Mercutio’s death in Romeo and Juliet is seen as such. It is at this point that we see Hamlet at a height of passion, ‘How now? A rat! Dead for a ducat, dead’ (III. iv. 23). The use of the word ‘rat’ shows Hamlet’s contempt for his supposed victim, the repetition of ‘dead’ embellishes his determination to kill, and the ducat is the small price Hamlet values the life he has just taken. The consequences of this action feed into every other event that is to happen: Claudius’s resolve to kill Hamlet, Ophelia’s eath and Laertes’s act of revenge which brings about the play’s final dynastic collapse. Once again, though, Shakespeare ‘removes’ the audience from the action, having the murder take place ‘offstage’. Polonius is murdered behind the arras and this takes us away from the immediacy of the action. There is no huge build up with a climactic duel as there is in Romeo and Juliet; we are not even given the drama of remorse that is evident in Macbeth. For these reasons, it is impossible to consider the death of Polonius to be the dramatic climax of the play, merely another cause leading on to another effect.

This shortage of ‘action’, though, is illusory. A. C. Bradley comments on this when he suggests a hypothetical reaction to the play: What a sensational story! Why, here are some eight violent deaths, not to speak of adultery, a ghost, a mad woman, and a fight in a grave! [8] Hamlet does have a dramatic conclusion, of that no one is in doubt, but this has come after a series of procrastinations from the titular hero. All other action is kept firmly offstage. One might hear Bradley go on to say ‘Treason, pirates, war, the storming of a castle and a regime change! The latter two were included in Branagh’s film version strongly alluding to the storming of the Iranian embassy in 1981 an event that was intensely exciting and dramatic for any that can remember it. For Shakespeare, however, such extravagant action appears to be superfluous to his play and is, therefore, not of importance.

As a consequence, it would appear redundant to continue analysing what is not in the play, as Ratcliffe has done at length[9], and to focus on what Shakespeare does give us. What Shakespeare does give us is words, ‘words, words, words’(II. i. 192) and it is through these words that he provides the action. It is here where I must agree with Ratcliffe when he suggests that, in Hamlet, it is the language that is of importance and not the action. [10] It is necessary, then, to look at the power of language within the play and how Shakespeare facilitates it in order to sustain a dramatic structure. Firstly, as mentioned above, the catalyst for all the action in the play happens off stage but is delivered to the audience, and Hamlet, through the words of the ghost. We know that these ords are to hold significance as we have shared Horatio’s anxiety for the ghost to ‘stay and speak’ (I. i. 142). The appearance of the ghost is not enough. It is, therefore, the words that are spoken to Hamlet in conjunction with the apparition that help to creates the first piece of dramatic action in the play: Now, Hamlet, hear. ’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, A serpent stung me – so the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abus’d – but know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. […]

Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast, With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts- O wicked wit, and gifts that have the power So to seduce! – won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen. (I. i. 34-46) What is striking about this scene is how it is dominated by the ghost and how little Hamlet actually says. If it were one of the lesser characters, it could be assumed that they were struck dumb and in awe of the presence of a spectre but, even this early in the play, we know enough about Hamlet to realise that this would not be the case for him.

He mentions a few lines earlier that he is not afraid, saying ‘I do not set my life at a pin’s fee’ (I. iv. 65), so why now is he so quiet? Surely Shakespeare feels that Hamlet, like the audience, should be still with trepidation at the drama that is unfolding before them. In this short passage of the ghost’s speech we have incest, adultery, witchcraft, treachery, not to mention murder. Here we see Shakespeare using the power of words to create the action upon the stage, words that, like Ratcliffe points out, enter through our ears as did Claudius’s poison. 11] Later on in the play we will see words used as poison, again by Claudius, when, in true Machiavellian style, he corrupts the mind of the vengeful Laertes. When discussing the power of words we must look at the play-within-a-play sequence of Act III, an aspect of the play which has been discussed at length by the critics but also one that brings into question another facet of action, that of acting. Hamlet is an extremely self-conscious play, bringing comedy into a highly dramatic moment in Act I, scene v when Hamlet asks the ghost ‘Canst work i’th’ earth so fast? (l. 170): this is an obvious comment on the crudeness of Elizabethan stagecraft. Earlier in the same scene Shakespeare has commented on the possibility of a bored audience when Hamlet comments on ‘this distracted globe’ (l. 97)[12] and, when Polonius states that when he played Caesar ‘Brutus killed me. ’ (III. ii. 103) Jenkins points out that the actors playing Hamlet and Polonius were likely to have played Brutus and Caesar respectively in an earlier play and therefore are about to ‘re-enact’ the murder. 13] If we look at Hamlet’s instructions to the players: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-cryer spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant. It out-Herods Herod. Pray you avoid it. (III. ii. 1-14) Again, we have a very self-conscious speech where there seems to be an in-joke upon the acting style of the actor who plays Polonius, if not intended by Shakespeare it could certainly be performed as such.

There is also the awareness of audience as well in the comments about the groundlings which is rather a brave joke which, had they been enjoying the play, would have gone down in good humour. It might also be considered that Shakespeare followed up the joke by including the dumb-show that followed! If we look closely at the instructions, however, we notice the emphasis on the words rather than the action. The opening imperative is ‘Speak the speech’ and interestingly ‘as I pronounced it’ not as I acted or showed it which seems strange to say when instructing actors.

It is true that in the restricted views of an Elizabethan playhouse an audience would go to hear a play but this would not be the case in a private courtly performance. Also we must remember that Hamlet is only concerned with one member of the audience; someone who, one might assume, would have the best view of the play. Hamlet’s instructions are followed by references to the tongue and mouth where the words must inevitably come from and then the simile of the town cryer again placing stress on verbal communication.

Hamlet requests a limit to the ‘action’, the body movement – the acting- so that it is the language that is of paramount importance. In such a self-aware moment of the nature of acting and drama in the play are we not to assume that this is coming from Shakespeare as much as Hamlet? The players’ sequence has significance because here we have on stage the mechanics of Hamlet. There is the murder of Gonzago/Hamlet acted out on stage, the betrayal of Lucianus/Claudius and the union between the Lucianus/Claudius and Queen/Gertrude.

Here Shakespeare gives us what we were denied in the first act the event which sets the whole play in motion. Not only that but by having Lucianus as the nephew to Gonzago we are also witnessing the events that are about to happen on stage or, at least, those that we expect to happen. Interestingly enough, though, is that Shakespeare has included a dumb-show as if to appease the groundlings despite his earlier comments but it is not through watching this that Claudius reacts but rather the words of the players that follows.

At the line ‘On wholesome life usurps immediately’ (III. ii. 254) Claudius can no longer remain seated for he cannot deny the words, something that has been discussed and embellished by Ratcliffe. [14] The question as to why Claudius does not react to the dumb-show can be resolved in performance by choosing to have Claudius showing signs of discomfort throughout until he can finally stand it no more as in Olivier’s film version. There is nothing in the text, however, that suggests that this is how it should be performed. The king questions Hamlet, Is there no offence in’t? ’ (III. ii. 227) and in this dialogue there is nothing to suggest that he is suffering from any anxiety regardless of how this line has divided critics. [15] So once again we see that it is words that have more power, more effect and more significance than mere actions. In looking at the philosophy of action in the play one must recognise that the play is essentially a revenge play and that all action must stem from the concept of revenge. Michael Mangan defines the revenge play as a play which: harts the protagonist’s attempts to [revenge]: this may involve a period of doubt, in which the protagonist decides whether or not to go ahead with the revenge, and it may also involve some complex plotting (in both senses of the word) as the protagonist decides to take revenge in an apt or fitting way. The revenger, by deciding to take revenge, places himself outside the normal order of things, and often becomes more and more isolated as the play progresses – an isolation which at its most extreme becomes madness. [16] It would appear, from this definition, that Hamlet is, indeed, a revenge play but who is it that seeks revenge?

I would argue that it is not Hamlet for, as Catherine Belsey notes, ‘[r]evenge is not justice’[17] and we are reminded throughout the play that Hamlet seeks justice. For instance, Hamlet does not act rashly for he states: Give me that man That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart (III. ii. 71-73) This might suggest that Hamlet holds reason close to his heart. Here we see that contrary to popular belief Hamlet is not a man that is ruled by passion but that is not to say that he is not passionate.

If Hamlet were ruled by passion he would not have devised such an elaborate ploy to confirm the guilt of the king but would have acted straight away. Gone would be the procrastinations and Hamlet could have roused up the populace as easily as Laertes does in Act IV, as Bradley points out[18], and Claudius would have been dead by Act II. Many critics that have argued this case seem to suggest that Shakespeare’s reason for prolonging the action was to fill out the five act structure of the play. [19] We are given three possible revenge heroes in the play: Hamlet we can discount, Fortinbras and Laertes.

Shakespeare has provided these two characters to put Hamlet’s inability to act into stark contrast. Through Fortinbras we see the noble prince revenging the death of his father through careful planning and sharp resolve and in Laertes we see a rash young man whose desperate bid for revenge only quickens his own demise. It is important to note that even with the careful planning Fortinbras still shares Hamlet’s prolonging of the act when we consider that Denmark’s defeat of Norway was at the time of Hamlet’s birth some thirty years previous.

Hamlet, however, does not seek revenge. He could have easily been able to exact it when he says ‘Now might I do it pat’ (III. iii. 73). The semantics of the word ‘might’ suggest that he has no intention of committing the murder. ‘Will’ or ‘must’ would imply a more decisive move yet Shakespeare gives us a Hamlet who is questioning his actions. His decision to spare Claudius whilst at prayer further indicates that it is justice and not revenge that Hamlet desires.

Claudius points out to Laertes that ‘No place indeed should murder sancturise’ but Hamlet delays his action because he wants justice – a death for a death- like for like. Significantly, Hamlet is a revenger who is unable to act as Calhoun states he is unable to ‘play the role’,[20] or to use Ted Hughes’s metaphor: Like the driver of a bus containing all the characters of the drama, he hurtles towards destruction, in slow motion, with his foot jammed down hard on the brakes. [21] Having established the substance and value of words in Hamlet it is necessary to return to the question of dramatic climax in the play.

It has always been recognised that it is a dramatic impossibility to act Hamlet on the stage in its entirety and it is not unknown for students of the text to skip through sections when reading but one thing always remains and that is the soliloquies. Within the play we have the most beautiful speeches composed in the English language and it is one of these that, I believe, forms the climax of the play. The climax of language that we are given in the play does follow the classic dramatic structure coming in Act III and at the risk of sounding cliched I would suggest that it is the ‘To be or not to be’ speech.

It is in this soliloquy that we have the nub of the play rests and that is Hamlet’s internal conflict on how he should act. It has long been considered to be the musings of a troubled mind contemplating suicide and whilst no one will argue that Hamlet’s is not a troubled mind is he really deliberating the end of his own life? I would argue no. Shakespeare has already given us such ruminations earlier in the play with ‘o that this too too sullied flesh would melt’ (I. ii. 129) and I find it difficult to accept that a dramatist of Shakespeare’s calibre would not have developed his main character by the third act.

In fact, I would argue that after confronting the ghost and hearing the charge against Claudius, Hamlet has been given new meaning to his life and that all thoughts of suicide have faded. ‘To be or not to be’ should read as ‘To do or not to do’ or ‘To act or not to act’ for it is in this speech that we witness Hamlet’s thoughts on whether to proceed with the killing of Claudius. Not once in the speech is there an ‘I’, nowhere does Hamlet refer to himself. His examples of the ‘whips and scorns of time’ (III. i. 70) save one do not seem to be justifications for taking one’s own life:

Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of dispriz’d love, the laws delay, The insolence of office, and the spurns That patient merit of th’unworthy takes (III. i. 71-74) Apart from unrequited love, for which many have taken their life, these seem to be the wrongs that are urging Hamlet to seek justice against Claudius. I might take this further and suggest a reading of the soliloquy where Hamlet knows that Claudius is eavesdropping, something that seemed to me implicit in Brannagh’s film. Through this reading we can see that Hamlet is acting a role for us as an audience but specifically for Claudius and Polonius.

He is diverting attention from his true thoughts of murder whilst also confirming his ‘antic disposition’ (I. v. 180). In addition to this it explains why he apparently forgets the ghost of his father as he claims ‘No traveller returns’ (III. i. 80) as it would not be practical to reveal the truth at this stage. Also, the speech concludes that it is conscience that prevents him and the fear of the unknown when prior to this he has stated that it was because that God has ‘fix’d / His canon ’gainst self-slaughter’ (I. ii. 131-132).

Arguably, this could be a variation of the same rationale yet there is a distinct change in tone which suggests a difference in attitude. Therefore, it is within this soliloquy where Hamlet reaches his decision which he reveals to Ophelia (and Claudius) when he says that ‘all but one – shall live’ (III. i. 150). One might argue that the opening line of this speech, ‘To be or not to be’ (III. i. 56), uncontrovertibly suggests that Hamlet is, indeed, reflecting on suicide but, once again, this is another self-conscious reflection upon the nature of drama.

For Hamlet, the character in the play Hamlet, must act in order to ‘be’ and as a revenge hero, that act is the murder of Claudius. While Claudius is alive, Hamlet’s mind and soul are troubled and only through the act of revenge with ‘a bare bodkin’ can he bring about his ‘quietus’ (III. i. 75-6). Words, therefore, are the focus of this play. It is Shakespeare’s longest and in it we are given a character who ‘“comes alive” only in language’[22], it is through words that the dramatic action, except the final scene, takes place upon the stage.

In terms of drama, the play is at odds with its form in that the driving action of the plot precedes the start of the play. We are given a revenge hero who is unable to live up to that title and only seems to spring into what one might call action when he has been hit by Laertes poisoned rapier and he knows that he is about to die, something which he points out twice in the scene. Indeed, in performance, the final scene can be played as equally low-key as it can be played dramatic. In a self-conscious play such as this it seems clear that Shakespeare understands the power of words.

To a dramatist, all action that can be created on a stage is a representation – one that is created through words. Crucially it is through language that the world of Elsinore is created and all those that exist within it exist through the words that they speak. It is, therefore fitting that Hamlet’s dying words are ‘the rest is silence’ (V. ii. 363) for he knows that without language he is nothing. Through Hamlet Shakespeare gives us a world where action is secondary to language because, in drama, one creates the other. 3967 words (exc. footnotes) 4338 words (inc. footnotes)

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins, The Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series (London and New York: Routledge, 1994) Stoppard, Tom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (London: Faber & Faber, 1967) von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, ed. and trans. Eric A. Blackall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995) Secondary Sources Belsey, Catherine, ‘Revenge in Hamlet’, in Hamlet: Contemporary Critical Essays, ed. Martin Coyle (London: Macmillan, 1992), pp. 154-159. Bloom, Harold, Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2003) Bradley, A. C. , Shakespearean Tragedy, 3rd edn. London: Macmillan, 1992), pp. 84-166.

Calhoun, Jean S. , ‘Hamlet and the Circumference of Action’, Renaissance News, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Winter, 1962), 281-298. Dickson, Andrew, The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, (London: Rough Guides, 2005) Eliot, T. S. , ‘Hamlet’ in Selected Essays (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), p. 141-146. Fernie, Ewan, ‘Terrible Action: Recent Criticism and Questions of Agency’, Shakespeare, Vol. 2, No. 1 (June, 2006), 95-118. Hughes, Ted, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), pp. 233-239. Jump, John D. , (ed. ) Hamlet: A Selection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 2-32.

Kettle, Arnold, ‘From Hamlet to Lear’, in Shakespeare in a Changing World, ed. Arnold Kettle (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1964), pp. 146-159. Mangan, Michael, A Preface to Shakespeare’s Tragedies (London and New York: Longman, 1991) Ratcliffe, Stephen ‘What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3/4. (Autumn, 1998), 125-150. ——————–, ‘‘Who’s There? ’: Elsinore and Everywhere’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2. (Autumn, 1999), 153-173. ———————– [1] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, ed. and trans.

Eric A. Blackall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), p. 146. [2] T. S. Eliot, ‘Hamlet’ in Selected Essays (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), p. 143. [3] Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (London: Faber & Faber, 1967), p. 86. [4] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins, The Arden Shakespeare, 3rd series (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), subsequent references are to this edition. [5] Stephan Ratcliffe, ‘What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3/4. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 125-150. [6] ——————–, ‘‘Who’s There? : Elsinore and Everywhere’, Modern Language Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2. (Autumn, 1999), p. 153. [7] Ratcliffe, ‘What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech’, pp. 135-139. [8] A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, 3rd edn. (London: Macmillan, 1992), Lecture III, p. 93. [9] Ratcliffe, ‘What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech’ pp. 125-150 [10] Ibid. , p. 129. [11] Ibid. p. 131 [12] Having opened my Christmas presents and receiving Bloom’s Poem Unlimited after I had written this essay, I feel obliged to cite him for what I assumed to be an acute and original observation.

If only Father Christmas hadn’t been so efficient, I could have at least pleaded ignorance! Harold Bloom, Hamlet: Poem Unlimited (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2003), p. 10 [13] Jenkins (ed. ), Hamlet, p. 294 [14] Ratcliffe, ‘What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech’, pp. 131-132. [15] Jenkins explains how the line has been used to show Claudius’s calm attitude to the play and to prove his unease in Jenkins (ed. ), Hamlet, p. 301. [16] Michael Mangan, A Preface to Shakespeare’s Tragedies (London and New York: Longman, 1991), p. 67. [17] Catherine Belsey, ‘Revenge in Hamlet’, in Hamlet: Contemporary Critical Essays, ed.

Martin Coyle (London: Macmillan, 1992), p. 154. [18] Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, p. 98. [19] Notably the anonymous critic in ‘Extracts from Earlier Critics, 1710-1945’ in Hamlet: A Selection of Critical Essays, ed. John D. Jump (London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 22. [20] Jean S. Calhoun, ‘Hamlet and the Circumference of Action’, Renaissance News, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Winter, 1962), p. 288. [21] Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (London: Faber & Faber, 1992), p. 236. [22] Ewan Fernie, ‘Terrible Action: Recent Criticism and Questions of Agency’, Shakespeare, Vol. 2, No. 1 (June, 2006), p. 96.

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