The Personality Decides Destiny
— On Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Personality Decides Destiny
— On Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Abstract！The tragedy Hamlet which was created in 1601 was the representative work of Shakespeare. It narrated a story that Hamlet, The prince of Danish, revenged to his uncle who murdered his father, married his mother as a cheat and claimed the throne. Hamlet is the typical character that embodied the author’s ideality of humanist. Through describing the inconsistent conflict between Hamlet’s ideal and social reality, describing his hesitancy and sorrow and the last failure in revenge, the tragedy reflects the humanist requires to breaking through the fetter of feudalism deeply, and also at the same time it reveals the limitation of the early bourgeoisie in England. Exactly because of the conflict between Hamlet’s humanism ideality and the factual reality
cause the necessity of his life tragedy.
Key words: Tragedy; conflict; humanism; revenge
This play told a story about prince’s revenge for his father’s death in Denmark. But some traits of character that revealed during the revenge finally led to his tragedy. The tragedy profound revealed the maleficences at the end of Elizabethan’s charging—a reversal of the confusion of the times, and showed the humanists’
cognition of reality and resistance. Hamlet, as the typical character of the late Renaissance humanist, his personality and tragedy fully reflected the basic feature of humanists at the special development stage in Europe. In the play, hesitant and pessimistic mood has been working with him hand in hand. In the following content, I will analyzed the personality factors which may cause Hamlet’ tragedy in three aspects.
It is interesting that Hamlet is a revenge tragedy driven by a protagonist unable to commit to the act of revenge. It is Hamlet’s inability to avenge the murder of his
father that drives the plot forwards and the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern all result from Hamlet’s delay.
To highlight Hamlet’s inability to take action, Shakespeare includes a number of
other characters capable of taking resolute and headstrong revenge as required. Fortinbras travels many miles to take his revenge and ultimately succeeds in conquering Denmark; Laertes plots to kill Hamlet to revenge the death of his father, Polonius.
Compared to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is ineffectual. Once he decides to take action, he delays any action until the end of the play. It should be noted that this is not uncommon in Elizabethan revenge tragedies. What makes Hamlet a unique piece of writing is the remarkable way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity.
Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways:
1，Hamlet must first establish Claudius’ guilt, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by
presenting the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius storms out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced of his guilt.
The following quotation shows the hesitancy inner Hamlet:
Now I am alone.
O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann'd,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I, A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing; no, not for a king, Upon whose property and most dear life A damn'd defeat was made. Am I a coward? Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across? Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face? Tweaks me by the nose? gives me the lie i' the throat, As deep as to the lungs? who does me this? Ha!
'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall To make oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites With this slave's offal: bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain! O, vengeance!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave, That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, And fall a-cursing, like a very drab, A scullion!
Fie upon't! foh! About, my brain! I have heard That guilty creatures sitting at a play Have by the very cunning of the scene Been struck so to the soul that presently They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I'll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle: I'll observe his looks; I'll tent him to the quick: if he but blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me: I'll have grounds
More relative than this: the play 's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.
2. Hamlet then intellectualizes his revenge, contrasting with the rash actions of
Fortinbras and Laertes. For example, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in
Act 3, Scene 3. He draws his sword, but is concerned that Claudius will go to heaven
if killed while praying.
Here comes to the most famous monolog:
To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.
To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would these fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death-
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns- puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sick lied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
3. After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England making it impossible for him
to gain access to Claudius and carry out his revenge. During his trip, he decides to
become more headstrong in his desire for revenge.
Although he does ultimately kill Claudius, but that is not so much Hamlet’s revenge plan as it is Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet that backfires.
?. Worldview changed
Another important point in Hamlet’s personality is that he always like to change
the individual view to the general, that means that he often deny everything due to a
case, and that’s a aspect of his personality tragedy. His father’s death made him
changed his worldview, and his mother’s remarriage changed his view to women and this led to his drastically deny to all the women. He denied himself and then it came to the whole word. All these doubts contribute to the establishment of the theory Human Stain.
1. The change about the humanist worldview
At the very beginning, which he studies in Wittenberg, Shakespeare shows us the happiness of Hamlet. In that period, he has wonderful dream on humanism. To him the world is so bright, charming. In his mind, his father is on behalf perfect man. He also believes that the harmonious relationship between human would come true sooner or later. But after his father’s death, Hamlet is so puzzled by the conflict between humanism idea and the gloom reality. When we firstly see the prince, Hamlet appears as a dejected person. He is shrouded by sadness; he does not know where to look for happiness of life. When he realizes all the crimes in the court of Denmark, all his wishes of life have been changed. He decides to change the society, but in action he hesitates.
2.Mother’s remarriage led to the view of human stain
The mother’s quick marriage is a huge stimulation to Hamlet. In the first paragraph of the monologue, after “things rank and gross in nature, possess it merely” he said “That it should come to this”, neither about his father’s death nor his uncle’
succession. That is:
That it should come to this!
But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two:
So excellent a king; that was, to this,
Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother
That he might not beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month--
Let me not think on't--Frailty, thy name is woman!--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears:--why she, even she--
O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
Would have mourn'd longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules: within a month:
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good:
But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.
Before Hamlet’ father’s death, he loved Ophelia very much, and then his mother’s remarriage changed everything. He turned to be extremely disgusted with
Ophelia, even said some indecent words to injury her. He said “Get thee to a nunnery,
go farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.” And “---for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness---- if you
be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.” In all the
section that Hamlet insulted Ophelia, a self-catharsis of his should be noticed: I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us.
This is not madness, he also said “virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we
shall relish of it”. It seems that Hamlet’s denial of the human beings included him.
?. Sensitive and fragile
As one of his challengeable enemy, Claudius is on behalf of the evil force; his crime is collected with all the society’s darkness. Hamlet is eager to wipe out such evil force and revenge for his father’s death. But it can not be solved only by having Claudius died, of course to achieve which is not easy. To remove the evil force which is commonly existed in the society and reverses the situation is more difficult. What Hamlet is hesitating “is not what he should do, but how to do it.” Judging from the objective aspect, Hamlet’s enemy is not only Claudius, and also some villains. As a new style of thought of a newly emerging capitalist class, humanism just exists as a power of thought at that time, which is far away to match with the feudal evil force. The bourgeoisie revolution in England happened in 17th century, judging from the feature of the time, Hamlet’s death is destined. Judging from the character of him, Hamlet has the most weakness which dominates his action. Because of his prince social position, there is no communication with people. Although he has sympathy to them, he also learns people are angry to the evil force, and they also keep hope on him, he is unwilling to corporate with people. What he believes is his own ability; what’s more, in his mind he is the only person who can complete such hard task, which is the root of Hamlet’s social tragedy. So Hamlet’s tragedy is of an advanced humanist’s failure to struggle with powerful evil force of him, of the time, which has strong classic meaning.
Hamlet describes the truth England and the Europe society in the later Renaissance. It reveals the author’s self-questioning on Renaissance movement and
his carelessness on people’s life and future. The Renaissance promotes Europe into the time human beings awakening. People’s belief to God began to shake, under the
flag of “personality liberation”; it was the custom to do what you like to. For one side, people’s thought liberated, which promoted the development of the social civilization. In the other side, especially in the later of Renaissance, it was full of overflow of
selfish desire and social’s confusion. Encountering such an enthusiasm and confused time, instead of the optimistic and romantic brought by the humanism, Shakespeare shows us the hidden danger which hided in the ideal and progress. It is destined to fail for humanists. Hamlet is the reflection of such social phenomena.
 Bradley. A C. Lecture IV: Hamlet. London: Macmillan, 1922.
 Cartwright Kent. Remembering Hamlet, University Park, Penn: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.
 Michael Mangan. A Preface to Shakespeare’s Tragedy. Peking University Press, 2001.
 William Shakespeare. Hamle, Prince of Denmar.. The Oxford Standard Authors Edition. 1601.
 Zhang Longxi. Reading Shakespeare: Hamlet. Room G07, Lee Wai Chun Building, CUHK, 2003.