The Many Faces of Hamlet
Of all the characters in the play, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, the character of Hamlet is without a doubt the most complex. His emotions are never stable, his feelings are constantly changing, and his behavior is confusing and inconsistent. Hamlet is described as "a half a dozen characters rolled into one" (Shaw 344) and with as many adjectives in one sentence as "cruel, angry, tender, depressed, clownish, manic, and filled with loathing for women, humanity, life, and himself" (Epstein 329). When put into perspective, however, perhaps this harsh description of Hamlet is justified. With all he has had to deal with (apparitions, deaths, deceit, and interference in his personal life,) it would be very odd if Hamlet's personality and beliefs did not fit the description above.
Hamlet is also thought to possess a melancholic temperament. According to the Elizabethans, a melancholic temperament was marked by its instability. The melancholic person, in this case Hamlet, is prone to sudden bouts of nervousness along with other sporatic mental changes. Also, Hamlet is subject to an erratic type of demeaner characterized by extreme and spontaneous mood fluxuation (Bradley 100). It has been said that melancholy accounts for Hamlet's inaction since the immediate cause of that is feelings of apathetic discouragement. The body is simply inert, and thus not prone to act (Bradley106).
Hamlet, due to such melancholy, can also be deemed fickle in that he goes from one emotion to the next. He goes from mad to lucid such as when he exhibits calmness and content behavior when in his dear friend Horatio's presence to downright cruel and crude when he is in his once beloved Ophelia's presence. One minute he loved her intensely while the next he spoke to her with the same respect given to a whore. Again, "one minute he's languidly brooding on his inability to act and on the insubstantial nature of existence while the next he is happily organizing the players for the evening's entertainment"
Such melancholic and fickle temperament may be part of the cause of his inability to take action, especially the revenge he was supposed to take on Claudius which got postponed on several occasions for sufficient periods of time. Sigmund Freud goes on to state that "the plot of the drama shows us that Hamlet is by no means intended to appear as a character wholly incapable of action" (349). This statement may seem true but to many readers it may also seem otherwise. Freud is correct yet it is painfully obvious that Hamlet is indeed marked by his incapability of deliberate, immediate, and decisive action as shown again by the delay of his revenge on Claudius. While Hamlet most certainly could have killed Claudius immediately upon learning he was the culprit involved in his father's death, Hamlet preferred to think out his actions instead of jumping headlong into something with irreversible consequences. In fact,...