Selective Perception In Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

1761 words - 7 pages

Selective Perception in Shakespeare's Hamlet

 
       From the end of Act I, the point at which Hamlet judges it may be prudent to feign madness - to "put an antic disposition on" (I.v.181) - much of the first half of the play concerns characters trying to determine why the prince's melancholy has evolved into seeming insanity.  Each of the major players in Elsinore has a subjective impression of the reason for Hamlet's madness; indeed, in each of these misconceptions there is an element of the truth.  At the same time, however, the nature of these selective perceptions provides insight into the characters who form them.  And finally, these varied perspectives are notable in their effect upon the dynamic of the conflict between Hamlet and Claudius, and upon the king's increasing paranoia.

 

Long before the encounter with the Ghost turns Hamlet's vague suspicions into something approaching certainty (I.v.1-113), Claudius views Hamlet not as a madman, but as a threat to the security of his rule and possibly his life.  This is evident from their first scene, in which Claudius publicly denounces Hamlet's "unmanly grief" (I.ii.94) as "a fault to heaven" (l.101); Claudius seems to be undermining Hamlet's popular support by painting him as unworthy to rule.  Even in the face of his court's attempts to dissect the "very cause of Hamlet's lunacy" (II.ii.49), Claudius' initial convictions are never shaken.  Like the other characters, Claudius has his own motives for believing as he does; like the other characters, his beliefs are subject to manipulative reinforcement by the play's events.  Moreover, the speculation regarding Hamlet's madness serves only to convince the king that Hamlet is not mad, and therefore poses a deadly threat.

 

No character in Elsinore, not even Hamlet himself, is afforded the omniscience of the audience.  This omniscience allows the reader or playgoer to examine each of the proffered explanations for Hamlet's mental state.  In the end, though, for the tragedy to function, the audience must accept none of these explanations, for Hamlet cannot be mad.  A tenet of the tragic convention states that the eventual cataclysm must be brought about by the protagonist's own actions, direct and expressive results of a tragic flaw of character.  While insanity and derangement are commonplace in Shakespearean tragedy, such "abnormal conditions are never introduced as the origin of deeds of any dramatic moment" (Bradley 13).  Lady Macbeth is defined by her actions in furtherance of her husband's political goals, not by her hallucinatory somnambulism; the sleepwalking scene is a horrifying moment, to be sure, but Macbeth could end no differently even were the scene omitted.  So it is with Hamlet.  Just as insanity is an affirmative defense against criminal culpability, so too does it act as protection from tragedy: "if Hamlet were really mad at any time in the story, [he] would cease ...

Find Another Essay On Selective Perception in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Investigating Depression in Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

1981 words - 8 pages first act of Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet’s depression is most evident when he sulks and mourns over his father's death, as opposed to the rest of the royal family, who have already put the death behind them. By dwelling in the past, Hamlet shows his overly analytical and indecisive qualities. Hamlet continues, beginning to analyze everyone’s role; however, he over-analyzes every detail, rendering him incapable to act swiftly. Therein lies

Feminine Representation in Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

2671 words - 11 pages Feminine Representation in Shakespeare's Hamlet        Abstract: This essay employs Feminist Criticism, New Historicism, and Marxist Criticism, to analyze the portrayal of Queen Gertrude and Ophelia.   Because Shakespeare's Hamlet centers on the internal struggle of the Prince of Denmark, the reader focuses primarily on his words and actions.  An often overlooked or under appreciated aspect of the play is the portrayal of the

Passionate Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet

2922 words - 12 pages Passionate Gertrude in Hamlet             Like so many of the characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Gertrude appears to be dominated by passion. This essay will explore this and other aspects of her interesting character.   Lilly B. Campbell comments in “Grief That Leads to Tragedy” on Queen Gertrude’s sinful state:   Shakespeare’s picture of the Queen is explained to us by Hamlet’s speech to her in her closet. There

Claudius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

3222 words - 13 pages Claudius in William Shakespeare's Hamlet Ans. 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark' is perhaps Shakespeare's best tragedy. It was written between the years, 1600-1601. Hamlet's character in the play is one of introspection and reflection. He is a person who thinks too much before he acts and also expresses a lot of his feelings before actually doing something. All of Shakespeare's tragedies concerned people in high positions in a

The Character Horatio in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1241 words - 5 pages The Character Horatio in Shakespeare's Hamlet In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the confidant Horatio is created to serve a number of different purposes. Horatio is a flat character. He is a loyal, obedient, and trustworthy companion to Hamlet. His character does not undergo any significant transformation throughout the play, except that he serves as a witness of the death of Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude. Horatio's role in the

Something and Nothing in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1824 words - 7 pages . Rubinstein, Frankie. 1984. A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and their Significance. London: MacMillan. Schiesari, Juliana. 1992. The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Shakespeare, William. 1982. Hamlet. The Arden Shakespeare edn, edited by Harold Jenkins. London and New York: Methuen. Shakespeare, William. 1985

Procrastination of Revenge in William Shakespeare's Hamlet

586 words - 2 pages Procrastination of Revenge in William Shakespeare's Hamlet In the play “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, the protagonist Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, is deceived by many of his former allies, including his mother, Gertrude, and his lover, Ophelia. Perhaps the most deceptive of these former allies is Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Not only does Claudius kill Hamlet’s father, the King, but he also proceeds to marry Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude

Portrayal of Women in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1262 words - 5 pages Portrayal of Women in Shakespeare's Hamlet   Shakespeare was possibly the first writer to portray women as strong, crafty, and intelligent. However, he has still received criticism from feminists about his representation of women. Some have even accused him of misogyny. There are only two female characters in the play Hamlet - Gertrude, Hamlet's mother and Ophelia, daughter of Polonius. Any debate based upon gender roles must therefore

Spying and Deceit in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

936 words - 4 pages Spying and Deceit in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"Throughout Shakespeare's tragedy, "Hamlet," various characters spy, are spied upon, set-traps and fall into traps. All of this activity creates an overall feeling of deceit and deception that permeates the play. The opening line, "Who's there? Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself" (I:1, 1-2), sets the tone of the play where characters must constantly look over their shoulders and protect

Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1395 words - 6 pages        In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are two characters that display qualities of insanity.  They are Hamlet and Ophelia.  Although they both appear to be mad at times, their downfall (or supposed downfall) is quite different.  Ophelia's crazed characteristics show up and intensify quite rapidly, until she is ultimately led to suicide.  Her madness seems definite, and it is never questioned.  The insanity or sanity of the main character is an

Justification of Hamlet's Sanity in Shakespeare's Hamlet

1599 words - 6 pages Shakespeare's play "Hamlet" is about a complex protagonist, Hamlet, who faces adversity and is destined to murder the individual who killed his father. Hamlet is a character who although his actions and emotions may be one of an insane person, in the beginning of the book it is clear that Hamlet decides to fake madness in order for his plan to succeed in killing Claudius. Hamlet is sane because throughout the play he only acts crazy in

Similar Essays

Perception Of Women In William Shakespeare's Hamlet

1919 words - 8 pages Perception of Women in William Shakespeare's Hamlet In Hamlet, Shakespeare carefully represents Getrude and Ophelia. Individually, Gertrude is essentially seen as weak and immoral whilst Ophelia is seen as meek and a victim of society. Collectively, they are seen to fulfil a conventional 16th century role, and it is as our beliefs and views of women change that we are able to perceive the characters in a different angle

Foils In Shakespeare's "Hamlet" Essay

998 words - 4 pages Foils in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"Hamlet, written in 1600 by William Shakespeare, offers one of the most complex and unique storylines in literature history. The cause of its excellence is primarily based on Shakespeare's profound use of his characters. The main character, Hamlet, is a reflective and thoughtful young man who is often hesitant and indecisive. This personality attributes to his hamartia, or tragic flaw. Shakespeare further

Revenge In Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

1426 words - 6 pages Revenge in Shakespeare's Hamlet In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses revenge as a major theme present throughout the work. Revenge plays a crucial role in the development of Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and Laertes, son of Polonius. All three men seek revenge for the murder of their fathers. Revenge can be interpreted as a separate character in Hamlet. Revenge is set to overcome anyone who seeks it. Initially, after each

Imagery In Shakespeare's "Hamlet" Essay

892 words - 4 pages Shakespeare's tragic play "Hamlet" conveys several images of both sickness anddisease; these images support the theme of political corruption. This theme can beexamined by focusing on three distinct aspects of the play. These include: theforeshadowing mood in Act I, the fact that all of the novel's corruption stems frommisdeeds of various characters, and Hamlet's wisdom and concoction for vengeance.The foreshadowing images in Act I, which