Irony in Hamlet
This essay will discuss the issue of irony in Hamlet by dealing with the problems that arise as a result of Hamlet's attempt to avenge his father's death. One of the central problems is the clash between Hamlet's overpowering need to believe in the ghost of his father, who is the authoritative figure in his life, and the awareness that he lacks empirical knowledge of the truth. In trying to achieve this knowledge, Hamlet sets out on a mixed mission of accusation, revenge and the search for truth, finally causing the upset of the original revenge plot when it ricochets off Polonius' dead body and hits Hamlet in the name of Laertes.
As a tragedy, Hamlet deals very heavily in anguish and frustration that are not necessarily allowed the means to be resolved or dissipated. Marvin Rosenberg notes in his essay, "Subtext in Shakespeare", that in tragedies, there are greater uncertainties and the "mystery of the character deepens, and the subtext is subtler, more open to variable interpretation"(82). Hence, unlike Viola, Hamlet's actions overlay motivations of greater ambiguity and these actions, as the play progresses, seemed that they are not primed to make the situation come a full circle. Instead of a an equilibrium, therefore, one finds a form of usurpation where the crown of Denmark, represented by both Claudius and Hamlet, is removed and taken by a foreign prince, Fortinbras.
Hamlet's desire for vengeance came about as a result of the ghost's appearance and his accusatory speech in which he extorts his son to "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5.25). Hamlet is at once struck with the problem of whether he should believe that the ghost is really that of his father and is telling him the truth or whether it is actually an evil spirit in disguise sent to lead him into damnation in his moment of sorrow and weakness. In his attempt to "catch the conscience of the king" with The Mousetrap (2.2.558), Hamlet tells Horatio that if Claudius' "occulted guilt/ Do not itself unkennel in one speech,/It is a damned ghost that we have seen" (3.2.70-72). The significance of Hamlet's dilemma is that it shows Hamlet to be very vulnerable and he seems only subconsciously aware of it. It is this vulnerability that makes the character of Hamlet problematic to the reader/audience because it leads to the blurring of the boundaries of right action and wrong judgment. On hearing of the appearance of his father's ghost, Hamlet exclaims: "My father's spirit, in arms! All is not well./ I doubt some foul play."(1.2.254-255). His expectations that something is wrong is confirmed when the ghost tells him of Claudius' treachery. In this sense, Hamlet is willing to believe in the ghost even before he hears the ghost speaks as he "waxes desperate with imagination" (1.4.87). Then, as the ghost starts to speak, he tells Hamlet to "List, list, oh list!"(1.5.22), pouring into the latter's ears the verbal poison that...