The Internal State of Hamlet
Abstract: This essay uses psychoanalytic, new historicism, and deconstructive methods of criticism to expore the scene in which Hamlet stands before Claudius and Gertrude after he has killed Polonius. The oblective is to provide a better understanding of how Shakespeare uses the events in the play as a means of shaping or changing Hamlet's actions or emotions
Hamlet is a character with emotions that are so complex and intriguing that we, as readers or viewers, are drawn into this story until Hamlet's situations, actions, and feelings become things we can understand, and relate to, as if his emotions were as human as our own. This genuineness Hamlet holds creates for this play an audience who wishes to examine the character of Hamlet in hopes of grasping a better understanding of how Shakespeare uses the events in the play as a means of shaping or changing Hamlet's actions or emotions. The scene in which Hamlet stands before Claudius and Gertrude after he has killed Polonius is a scene particularly worth examining in this respect, because it allows us to see one of the most interesting changes that Hamlet undergoes in the play and how his inner-emotions or thoughts affect his behavior. To explore this engaging scene I will employ the use of psychoanalytic, new historicism, and deconstructive methods of criticism.
By scene three of act 4 Hamlet has already confronted his mother about his father's murder, he has killed Polonius, and taken Polonius's body. This scene finds Hamlet standing before Claudius and Gertrude the next day. When asked where the body of Polonius is Hamlet answers in a calm, yet odd way, "At supper" (4.3.17). Hamlet explains this simple answer by speaking in an indirect way that says Polonius is the supper of worms and kings can also become the supper of such worms. Hamlet later says he has left Polonius's body in the hall and he is placid as he says these things and through this riddle-like speech we see Hamlet as a character whose actions are open to different interpretations.
To see this scene through a psychoanalytic lens is to first examine Hamlet's mental state and to see the actions of Hamlet in this scene as different from those we have viewed earlier in the play. Up until this general point in the play we have seen a Hamlet who is struggling to remain rational. Prince Hamlet seeks to be sure that Claudius is in fact guilty, he expresses his thoughts and anger to his mother in her bedroom, and he internally fights to do what is right. The knowledge of Claudius's guilt and the murder of Polonius has cast a solemn shadow over Hamlet by this time in the play, though. The Hamlet in this scene is one who has reached a proverbial breaking point and he is now a man who has wrongly killed someone and a man who knows he must kill again.
Psychoanalytically Hamlet's internal stress could be causing a breakdown of his...