Character Analysis Of Hamlet in Hamlet by Shakespeare

We have covered the many-sidedness of Hamlet’s character above. That Shakespeare put something of himself into Hamlet is not an unreasonable proposition. All critics go beyond the dramatic interest of the character and see something of humanity reflected in him. Hamlet has appealed, still appeals to men of different temperaments. Whatever the speculation about Hamlet as a character, there is always some truth, relatively to the critics. After all each reader or critic, according to his own insight and perception, will find some- thing of fascination and intriguing interest in Hamlet’s character. We have given above and discussed the views of critics. Here we can but deal with some specific points.

Hamlet is pre-eminently an intellectual not a dreamer- though it is supposed that at the University of Wittenberg he has made a study of philosophy and metaphysics. It is true that he has a speculative turn of mind; but he keeps his eyes and ears open, and rarely misses anything that goes around him. As soon as he returns to Denmark he senses all that is rotten there. Over-sensitive as he is, his mother’s hasty marriage outrages his feeling. The ghost’s revelation seems to confirm the misgivings of his mind. When he learns how his father was poisoned to death was Claudius, and it was given out that a serpent stung him while sleeping in the garden, Hamlet cries out, ‘O my prophetic soul !’ Hamlet must have been suspecting some foul play. Now that he knows the truth, we expect that he should have proceeded to action at once. And here is the stumbling-block for critics. Here we have a quality (or should we say a defect of character), which is most pronounced in Hamlet.

Hamlet is over-conscientious- or as Schucking puts it, he is mercilessly honest. The ghost urges upon him to revenge. We doubt very much if it could have been immediately executed. If there is the appearance of delay- an impression which seems to be confirmed by Hamlet’s self-reproaches in his soliloquies, in view of his over scrupulousness, we must allow him sufficient time to make sure of his ground before proceeding to act. We may say that the ghost’s revelation should have been enough. Here another element in his character should be noted-his scepticism. There is doubt in his mind whether the ghost is really his father’s spirit.

Hamlet is sceptical about the ghost- the ghost appears twice to Hamlet, and each time he invokes protection of the angles of heaven. He definitely expresses his view on the point in his soliloquy at the end of the second Act:

“The spirit I have seen

May be a devil; and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape…..

…….I’ll have grounds

More relative than this. The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”

The play-scene provides positive proof of the king’s guilt. He confesses to a “craven scruple of thinking too precisely on the event,” and in the same breath praises ‘godlike reason’.

Also Read : 


“Sure he that made us with such large discourse,

Looking before and after, give us not

That capability and godlike reason

To fust in us unus’d.”

There seems to be a contradiction in Hamlet here. He uses his ‘godlike reason’ and judgement perhaps a little too much-and now he blames himself for delaying his task and duty. By nature and constitution he must fully exercise his reason and judgement on the matter of revenging his father’s death before he is sure of his ground

Hamlet is conscious of the ‘godlike reason’ fully operative in him- and seems to revolt against it. Thinking too precisely on the event’ is but a scrupulous use of reason and it seems to hamper action. Reason should impel him at once to the task of revenge and his too scrupulous use of reason is hampering action. He can not move into action until he is fully satisfied of the guilt of Claudius, and he blames himself for letting the godlike reason ‘Fust’ in him ‘unused’. There is an element of cursedness in his nature. His self-analysis for which he shows infinite capacity and inexhaustible patience is but the effect of reason and judgement being too active in him. He may ascribe to himself ‘bestial oblivion’ craven scruple’. The reverse is true of Hamlet. He is lavish of self-reproaches-why ? Because he thinks day and night to the revenge. What he needs is a little more of patience, and then he could have waited for the right moment. He meets the King but twice in the play, that means he has little chance of executing revenge until the end. He spares Claudius at prayer. It is his reason and judgement that deter him now. Truth and justice, the claim of which he is too rational and judgement, and he declaims against the dilatoriness of revenge.

Hamlet’s cynicism- His first soliloquy expresses both a loathing of life and particularly a cynical outlook; O God, God!

“How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable,

 Seem to be all the uses of this world!”

It is occasioned by his mother’s frailty? She followed his father’s body “’like all tears, and yet within a month married his uncle-and his father was ‘so excellent a king-a Hyperion to a satyr which his uncle was. He deplores the choice and taste of his mother. Hamlet was so devoted to his father, and his mother’s crime in marrying his uncle is one he can not get over, but it can not certainly be all the explanation of cynicism. He is an intellectual with hyper- sensitiveness and excitability and acute powers of observation. His cynical view of life may be dated from his life in the University of Wittenberg and seems to have been reinforced by the vice and corruption he meets everywhere in Denmark:

“The time is out of joint, O cursed spite

That ever I was born to set it right.”

The evil times, and not merely his mother’s laxity, are responsible for his cynicism. He might have easily passed by the evil and corruption that met him everywhere but he thought that he must set things right. So we discover a strain of idealism in him.

Hamlet’s idealism- The strain of idealism makes Hamlet so unhappy over his mother’s marriage, over th state of things in Denmark-and in his relations with Ophelia. He loved Ophelia sincerely and passionately, there is no question about that:

“I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quality of love Make up my sum.”

Ophelia disappoints him as much as his mother. “Frailty, thy name is woman.” It covers both his mother and Ophelia. His idolatry of his father is proper to an idealist. He is disappointed in his mother and Ophelia because like an idealist he expects too much of them. Ophelia is used a tool by the King and Polonius, and Hamlet can see through the whole thing. And there is partial justification when Hamlet cries out:

“Get them to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things, that it were better my mother had not borne me…… Why should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are all arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.”

It is cynicism let loose, but his cynicism is the reaction of his idealism.

“O, what a noble mind is hero 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 observed of all observers, quite, quite down!”

Ophelia used to think of Hamlet in these terms. Here emerges another picture of Hamlet and it is as true as the disillusioned, cynical, melancholic, distracted Hamlet we meet in the play. Hamlet that was, is pictured in the words of Ophelia; it was in the days when Hamlet had nothing of the revolting experiences of life such as he encounters on his return to Denmark from the University of Wittenberg – the evil and corruption of the society in Denmark- his mother tainted, his father murdered. S. E. Goggin thus reconstructs the Hamlet that was: “Hamlet had been educated at the University of Wittenberg, and about the time of the play he attained the age of thirty. He had resided for some time at his father’s court at Elsinore. There he had become extremely popular with the common people (IV. Vii. 18), and was regarded as the hope and pride of the State (III. i. 152). He had acquired a reputation as a scholar, a soldier, and a gentleman, and was the admiration and model of the fashionable youth of the day (III. i. 150). He was of an open and unsuspecting nature ‘most generous’ and free from all contriving (IV. Vii. 135).”



Leave a Comment