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Character Analysis of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet

Introduction

Prince Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is considered one of literature’s most complex and intriguing characters. The depths of his emotion, the impact of psychological trauma, and the everbearing moral conflict within him contribute to a seemingly erratic but also highly philosophical character. In finishing Act one of the drama, the reader believes that Prince Hamlet is a passionate, charismatic, and loyal son. Because Prince Hamlet describes his grief with purity, the reader is forced to feel the sadness. Hamlet is Charismatic because of Ophelia’s and Horatio’s admiration of him. Lastly, Hamlet shows the reader his loyalty by meeting his dad’s ghost and agreeing to revenge.

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Critics’ Perspectives

Despite elements of comedic satire. Hamlet is a very dark and twisted tragedy. In popular literature studies, Hamlet is often labeled as a tragic hero, but not all scholars agree with that statement. In their analysis, Anglin labels him as a melancholy, highly flawed character that is superficial with his principles and unable to fight for them (16). In fact, his behavior is immature and distant from the political realities and social norms. Anglin argues that Hamlet is erratic and greatly misinterprets social interactions and other people’s treatment of him, leading to tragedies, most of which he has caused himself with emotional manipulations (20). In his book, Davies agrees with that analysis. Despite being described as a prince, scholar, courtier, and soldier, Hamlet does not act accordingly. He acts more as a madman and clown, which creates a certain contrast for the audience as these words and his behavior do not match his status, role, and position (Davies 5). Another element highlighted by critics is Hamlet’s madness. However, there is some discourse that Hamlet is partially pretending, but also the extent of the deliberateness of the insanity is unknown. This is noticed early on by Horatio and later by Ophelia, as he demonstrates melancholy, carelessness and behaviors stemming from serious mental disorder (Kellnerová 8). At the beginning of the play, Prince Hamlet attempts to show bravery and commitment; unfortunately, as the play unfolds, the reader learns of Hamlet’s weaknesses, which are his self-doubt, recklessness, and enigmatic behavior.

Initial Traits

Initially, Prince Hamlet is shown to be brave, committed, and honorable. He is portrayed as an emotional soul but a daring and brave character. The series of actions that he must undertake is ultimately courageous. He must believe the ghost of his father that a murder was committed. Hamlet then swears revenge and must plan an elaborate mission of regicide against none other than his uncle. It is also implied that he then takes over the throne and becomes ruler of Denmark, a significant responsibility at such a young age. Nevertheless, the noblest of his intentions is to defend the honor of his father and gain revenge on the false king of Denmark, Claudius. When first encountering the ghost, Hamlet is frightened but does not flee, standing his ground “as hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve” (Hamlet 1.4, 4). At the time, when the supernatural was considered an omen of evil, Hamlet showed strong will.

Honor was also important for Hamlet as a prince, soldier, and royalty. When choosing to avenge his father, he is defending the family’s honor. “When honor’s at stake. How to stand I then,/ That have a father killed, a mother stained, /Excitements of my reason and my blood” (4.4. 58-61). At the same time, regicide was a complete violation of the honor code of the time as a royal servant. By the end of the play, Hamlet is inspired by Fortinbras and his actions in defending his family’s honor, pushing him to take the necessary action. Overall, Hamlet seems to be initiated as an eccentric but generally a positive character.

Subsequent Traits

As the play continues, the audience finds that Hamlet is much different in nature. It becomes evident early on that he is enigmatic and even eccentric. He is a young man, but he does not seem to be interested in the same things or act similarly to his peers. On the one hand, he is highly philosophical, showing that he has a rich inner world, “I have that within which passeth show,/These but the trappings and the suits of woe (1.2, 23). At the same time, he demonstrates extreme immaturity, such as rudely insulting and mistreating Ophelia, without reason or justification, based on his own belief that she may be working with Polonius. Hamlet seems to experience rapid shifts in attitude and it reflects how he treats others, which is incorrect. This highlights his enigmatic nature as the ‘Prince of Denmark.’

Hamlet then continues to emphasize specific character traits such as self-doubt and recklessness. These elements begin to border on the line with self-destruction and madness. Hamlet says, “O God, God, /How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world!” (1.2, 25) Similar sentiments are repeated by him in his soliloquies, highlighting that he has lost the will to live, indicating that he is suicidal. Hamlet is uncertain of reality, partially expected seeing he encountered a ghost, but he begins to doubt everything and everyone, including his own purpose, “to be or not to be – that is the question” (3.2, 117). His doubt leads to inaction, which results in recklessness that ends up causing the death of the various characters because of or by the hand of Hamlet in unintended circumstances. Hamlet descended into madness-like behavior fueled by his self-doubt, inconsideration, and obsession with death, which ultimately resulted in his own demise.

Conclusion

From the beginning of the play, Hamlet is shown to be confused but a brave and honorable individual. However, as the play progresses, the audience is opened up to his inner world and erratic behavior; his self-doubt is pushing the limits of suicidal tendencies while his recklessness turns into pure madness, which leads to the unintended death of many characters. Hamlet is undoubtedly a highly complex character, which is why it is both extremely difficult and considered a challenge and an honor to play a role in theater or film. This character analysis demonstrates that while potentially being honorable, courageous, and having good intentions, Hamlet was fundamentally broken inside, battling the demons that behest him in the tragedy of losing his father and being intelligent to understand the philosophical nuances of this world.

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Works Cited

Anglin, Emily. “‘Something in Me Dangerous’: Hamlet, Melancholy, and the Early Modern Scholar.” Shakespeare, vol. 13, no. 1, 10 Feb. 2014, pp. 15–29, Web.

Davies, Michael. Hamlet Character Studies. London, Continuum, 2008.

Kellnerová, Martina. “What a noble mind is here o’erthrown!”: A Character Analysis of Prince Hamlet in the First and Second Quartos of Shakespeare’s Play. 2015. Masaryk University, Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis. Web.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. George Richard Hibbard. Oxford University Press, 2008.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Character Analysis of Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet'. 29 November.

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