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Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

2636 words - 11 pages

Throughout Hamlet, and many other plays of Shakespeare, the themes of suicide, madness, and the relations between the two play a key role. As in the case with Hamlet, it is not just one character that faces these challenges. Hamlet and Ophelia are both driven to madness because of the awful circumstances they encounter throughout the play, and their suicidal – albeit passive – thoughts and actions are a bold statement on both their mental states as well as their complete inability to further cope with living. Though both Ophelia and Hamlet want to die, neither actively pursue death. Hamlet discusses suicide, yet never takes his own life because of his own fear of death. Ophelia never truly discusses it, yet easily puts herself into a situation where death is possible. A more modern equivalent would be the example of a man who, instead of standing on a train track intending to commit suicide, stands near the edge of the tracks, thinking that it would not be bad if someone pushed him off. He will not take that final step towards death, but if death happens, he welcomes it. This has a lot to do with the theology of the time in which Hamlet was written. Self-murder was a sin greater than any other, and the soul of someone who committed such a heinous crime against God would be relegated to the deepest pits of Hell. In his madness, Hamlet debates whether it is worth it to commit suicide, but his passive death wish – the idea of living until something or someone else takes his life – gives him an out against the moral outrage of outright self-murder. Ophelia too goes quite mad. When her passive death wish is realized – the opportunity to die in an 'accident' – she does not try to save herself; she simply lets herself drift away down the river. During the course of the play, both characters find themselves in situations where they must deny – or accept – the call of suicide.
In his first soliloquy, the audience is faced with the first glimpse of Hamlet's suicidal mind:
“Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God, O God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!” (5.2.129-134)
Here Hamlet is upset and contemplating suicide. His anger and pain are compounded not only by his father's death, but also by his mother's quick marriage to her brother-in-law. In fact, in a close reading by R. Chris Hassel, Jr., the language used in this soliloquy explains a lot about Hamlet's mentality: “Hamlet may say that 'all the uses of this world' are 'weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable' to him. But in fact his 'too, too solid flesh' loves, idolizes, clings to an inordinate number of these things. We see him devastated by an idolized father's death and an idolized mother's frailty...So powerful is this compulsion that he can read 'a father killed,' 'a mother stained' as licence for murder” (Hassel 616). Hamlet...

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