Horatio: "Before my God, I might not this believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes.
For they are the actions that a man might play,
But I have that within which passes show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.ii)
This passage gives information that makes Hamlet more complex and not simply seem crazy. No one believes that he has seen the ghost of his dead father, and considering that his father’s ghost asks him to get revenge for him by killing the King, he reacts with emotional distress. His emotional outbursts and strange comments have everyone around him believing he has gone crazy and that the ghost of his father is all in his head. This shows that Horatio, who didn’t believe the ghost was real, sees the ghost also and comments that while he’d never had believed it before now that he has seen it himself he knows that Hamlet really is seeing a ghost.
Polonius: “This above all — to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (I.iii)
This seems like great advice, that as long as you know why you are doing something and can make sure it is for the right reasons and is the best course of action you will always be able to never lie or pretend to be different than you are to others. This is ironic since Polonius is telling his son this but he himself hadn’t acted in accordance with this. Hamlet also points out in one of his moments of self-reflection that people convince themselves that whatever they are driven to do masks their true intentions even to themselves. Since we react with emotion, we can convince ourselves anything is a righteous act or at least warranted under the circumstances.
King: But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son—
Hamlet: A little more than kin, and less than kind. (I.ii)
Soon after Hamlet’s father’s murder, his Uncle, now King and married to his mother calls Hamlet his cousins and son which Hamlet resents. He knows the King killed his brother and he is grieving yet also seeking revenge. Instead of always showing outbursts from Hamlet, Shakespeare often gives him puns or other humor to underscore his wit despite grieving to the point of appearing mad. This is a great example as Hamlet is saying what he thinks of his Uncle referring to him not just as cousin but also son. He says that this means the King is a little more than kin, being doubly related, but that his isn’t kind. The King just continues to talk as if he didn’t hear Hamlet and his mother soon joins in to further suggest it’s time to move on since his father is dead. Neither seem to understand what Hamlet is saying, which evokes a sense of compassion for Hamlet’s experience and understanding as to his motives.
- Does Hamlet’s constant introspection and procrastination just part of the plot or does it serve a structural function in the play’s pacing?
- How is Hamlet’s relationship with his father’s ghost different from what his relationship with his father had been like?
- How does Shakespeare motivate the actions of the characters?
- In Hamlet’s third soliloquy, he seems rational and calmer compared to the first two. He tries to reason out if one has the right to kill themselves. Given that he often has seemed mad to this point, is his processing of the right to commit suicide a philosophical argument or does it stem from depression and continued grief over his father?
- The dumb show in Hamlet plays out the King’s murder by his brother and the Queen being wooed by him until she accepts his proposal. Why don’t the King (Claudius) and the Queen seem to resent the intention of the show?
Shakespeare, William. The tragedy of Hamlet. University Press, 1904.