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The Theme of Loneliness in “Hamlet” and “Odysseus”

The theme of loneliness has been explored countless times in numerous works of literature, yet the ones that address the specified issue most authentically are “Hamlet” and “Odysseus.” Although each of the specified pieces of literature approaches the concept of loneliness from a different perspective, the overall sense of loneliness is a powerful and destructive emotion that links the two stories, making the protagonists show not only vulnerability but also their human side.

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The problem of loneliness as the force that both motivates one to act and at the same time destroys one’s personality is analyzed masterfully in “Hamlet.” Specifically, the theme of loneliness shines in Act 3, Scene 1. Although the issue of loneliness is brilliantly never mentioned, its essence remains pervasive throughout this scene, particularly, when the titular character bursts into his famous monologue. Hamlet’s turmoil and fear partially come from his isolation and his inability to share his feelings and pain even with his friends. Specifically, the following lien screams of the panic that loneliness casts on Hamlet:

The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin. (Shakespeare)

The idea of having to make an action that will inevitably lead to even greater pain and, most likely, destruction, without the support of any friend shines through the specified lines. The isolation and anguish experienced by the lead character are so traumatic that it is compared with the act of actual self-harm. The described perception of loneliness is slightly different from the one portrayed in “Odysseus,” yet the latter features the same excruciating effect of loneliness. In fact, the very setting of “Odysseus,” specifically, that one of a ship amidst the ocean, already creates a very isolated and even claustrophobic impression and causes a “great distress of mind” (Homer). Thus, the sentiment concerning the devastating effect of loneliness and isolation is expressed in “Odysseus,” even though with the help of slightly different tools and wording. Similarly to “Hamlet,” every element in “Odysseus’s” setting creates an environment that cannot be escaped, namely, that one of a ship in the middle of the ocean.

Moreover, the destructive nature of loneliness is explored in even greater depth in “Odysseus” than in “Hamlet,” showing with even greater detail and in much harsher light what toll it can have on an individual. Specifically, by mentioning that Odysseus’ mother died while waiting for her son and being torn by the feeling of loneliness and anguish, the poem conveys its point with great clarity. Whereas in “Hamlet,” the effects that loneliness has on its character are more subtle, serving only as a ploy for him to challenge death, in “Odysseus,” the experience of loneliness literally takes a human life.

Additionally, as the passages under analysis indicate, the context in which the characters experience loneliness is quite different. Whereas in “Odyssey,” the described emotion occurs as a result of being physically estranged from the lead character’s family, “Hamlet” features the scenario in which emotional coldness leads to loneliness and, ultimately, isolation. The lack of emotional support is also clear in the identified scene in “Hamlet,” when the lead character manages to find solace only in complete solitude, which leads to his famous soliloquy and his need to isolate himself from the rest of the untrustworthy family and friends even further: “Let the doors be shut upon him” (Shakespeare). The described effect creates a unique paradox, in which Hamlet requires physical solitude in order to embrace his loneliness and make the decision that will ultimately seal not only his fate but also the fate of the rest of the characters.

The observed effect is quite similar to the one found in “Odyssey,” which shows a character arc in the course of which Odysseus needs to subject himself to loneliness in order to recognize the importance of the bond that he has with his family. His loneliness reaches its peak and borders heartbreak in the scene depicting Odysseus descending into the Kingdom of the Dead and seeing the shadow of his mother, among others, in it. The pain and anguish are expressed clearly in Odysseus’ lament: “I had left her/alive when I set out for Troy and was moved to tears when I saw her” (Homer). Therefore, in “Odyssey,” the lead character must reach the pinnacle of loneliness in order to recognize the need to make a change. The described character progression is quite similar to that one of “Hamlet,” although the outcomes are much more positive in the case of Odysseus.

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Despite the fact that the problem of loneliness is seen in a different light in “Hamlet” and “Odysseus,” both works of literature introduce it as a central theme of their narrative, centering most of the problems faced by the lead characters in each narrative around it. As a result, the phenomenon of loneliness is examined through different lenses, yet the inability to cope with it and overcome its stifling effects remains the main factor driving the development of the lead characters and the progression of the story. Thus, the theme of loneliness becomes a universal concept that makes the leading characters in both works vulnerable, fallible, and, ultimately, human.

Works Cited

Homer. “Odyssey.” Gutenberg.org, 2020. Web.

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” Shakespeare.MIT.edu, 2020. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "The Theme of Loneliness in “Hamlet” and “Odysseus”." August 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-theme-of-loneliness-in-hamlet-and-odysseus/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Theme of Loneliness in “Hamlet” and “Odysseus”." August 7, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-theme-of-loneliness-in-hamlet-and-odysseus/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Theme of Loneliness in “Hamlet” and “Odysseus”'. 7 August.

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