Isolation as the Root of Hamlet's Torment
Does Hamlet stand alone? Does this magnate of English literature hold any bond of fellowship with those around him, or does he forge through his quandaries of indecision, inaction and retribution in solitude? Though the young Dane interacts with Shakespeare's entire slate of characters, most of his discourse lies beneath a cloud of sarcasm, double meaning and contempt. As each member of Claudius' royal court offers their thickly veiled and highly motivated speech Hamlet retreats further and further into the muddled depths of his conflict-stricken mind. Death by a father, betrayal by a mother, scorn by a lover and abhorrence by an uncle leave the hero with no place to turn, perhaps creating a sense of isolation painful enough to push him towards the brink of madness.
With the supporting cast of detractors circled around him, Claudius clearly constitutes the core of Hamlet's opposition. The king's animosity towards Hamlet spreads to the rest of his entourage in the same way that his refusal to mourn his brother's passing left only the prince in black attire and dark-eyed grief. Claudius and the others each make weakly shrouded attempts to gain Hamlet's support, but the deafening falsity of their gestures leaves little doubt about their true sentiments. The first appearance of King and nephew together begins with the disingenuous greeting, "But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son-" (1.2, 64) to which Hamlet sardonically retorts, "A little more than kin, and less than kind!" (1.2, 65).
This initial encounter between the two men reveals a sea of mutual hostilities and as a broker of the king's will, Polonius parallels such an antagonism. The advisor's first meeting with Hamlet occurs amidst the conception of a plan to gain insight into the prince's condition by abusing his ties to Ophelia, and in the spirit of such impropriety Hamlet greets him with the slander, "You are a fishmonger" (2.2, 174). Prior to this we discover Polonius' rancor for the prince when he warns Ophelia of Hamlet's feigned affections: "Do not believe his vows" (1.3, 127). As with Claudius, there exists little cordiality, less true affection and even less of an attempt to disguise the relationship. The king fears his nephew's grief-enraged condition and the dutiful advisor mirrors these suspicions. Hamlet, meanwhile, casts an equal contempt at the pair in protest of Claudius' unnatural ascension to the roles of both father and husband.
Built up around this central opposition of Claudius and Polonius remain the various accessories to the conflict. Laertes follows his father's lead in defamation of Hamlet and further admonishes against Ophelia's association with the prince: "Fear it" (1.3, 33) and "Be wary then" (1.3, 43). Hamlet's former schoolmates Rosencrantz and Guildenstern likewise ally with Claudius to hugely pervert the notion of allegiance. Blind of their betrayal, a companionless Hamlet joyfully greets...