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Hamlet: From Emotional Distress To Reason

1873 words - 8 pages

Throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet struggles with an assumed obligation to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet repeatedly deprecates himself for not having avenged King Hamlet’s death, and yet is never quite ready to do so whenever the chance arises. Hamlet’s “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” soliloquy in Act II Scene 2 of the play reveals the internal conflict that Hamlet has between the seemingly obligatory option of murdering Claudius as revenge for King Hamlet's death and his lack of commitment to do so. Through the firm decision that Hamlet makes at the end to expose Claudius’ alleged guilt, the “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” soliloquy serves the thematic function ...view middle of the document...

These lines, which ring of dejection and melancholy, depict the turbulent, emotional side of Hamlet’s conscience that is present at the beginning of the play.
In the beginning of the soliloquy itself, Hamlet’s emotional distress arises from his own shortcomings in comparison to the actions of the passionate Players. After Hamlet meets the Players who will later perform the play in court and observes the passion and intensity with which the First Player delivers his monologue despite portraying a secondary character, Hamlet states: “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I! / Is it not monstrous that this player here, / Could force his soul to his own conceit / …and all for nothing! / For Hecuba! / What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her? What would he do / Had he the motive and the cue for passion / That I have?” (2.2.577-589). Hamlet reveals that he believes himself to be worthless—a “rogue and peasant slave” in comparison to the Player who pours his heart and soul into his performance. The Player’s display of intensity in his acting has no genuine basis since Hecuba, the character that he portrays, is fictional and of no real importance to the Player himself. Yet, the Player is still able to fully impersonate the character and represent the passion and the feelings of Hecuba. Hamlet, on the other hand, has a personal, intimate, and genuine motive for planning to murder Claudius since Claudius is the alleged murderer of his father. King Hamlet was a man that Hamlet had loved, and, on a less personal level, a king that Hamlet was loyal to. Hamlet thus recognizes that he has more of a reason to be passionate than the Player does, from which he concludes his own failure since he has shown less intensity in avenging his father’s death than the actor has in portraying an insignificant, fictional character. Hamlet is so troubled over this supposed failure that he becomes quite distressed, as indicated by the rapid series of questions that he asks himself. This state of emotional distress reveals Hamlet’s turbulent thoughts and his growing disappointment with himself. As a result of Hamlet’s recognition of his own presumed failure, he grows increasingly agitated over his incompetence, and this agitation will only continue to increase in the soliloquy.
Towards the middle of the soliloquy, Hamlet reaches a point where he is very depressed due to his perception of his own shortcomings and starts to question his reasons for his lack of action, but still ends up accomplishing absolutely nothing. After repeatedly criticizing himself for not doing anything to avenge his father’s death, Hamlet asks himself, “Am I a coward?” (2.2.598). This question that Hamlet poses to himself is not a rhetorical one, but rather one that he wants answer to, and a specific answer too—that no, he is not a coward, since being cowardly is not one of the traits of an ideal man in his society. This line is crucial to understanding Hamlet's state of mind...

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