The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is widely considered to be Shakespeare’s finest work. Hamlet is a confused young man beset by the conflicting demands made upon him by his religion, his sexual desires, his desire for revenge and a his oedipal desire for his mother.
Prince Hamlet is an inept character, forced into circumstances beyond his capacity. His father, the King Hamlet has recently died and his uncle Claudius has ascended the throne marrying his widowed mother, the queen Gertrude. Hamlet continuously displays an oedipal jealousy towards his step-father, calling him a satyr (a symbol of male sexuality and hedonism) (Pliskin and Just).
The ghost of his father appears to Hamlet thrice in the play, accusing Claudius of murdering him and urging Prince Hamlet to avenge his death by killing Claudius. Shakespeare takes great pains to establish that the ghost is not a mere hallucination though Hamlet does suspect that it is not really the ghost of his father but an evil spirit that is trying to provoke him into killing his uncle. The ghost’s bona fides as a genuine supernatural being are established through the use of multiple witnesses. Before it appears to Hamlet, the ghost is seen by a group of four men, three palace guards and a Hamlet’s foreign friend Horatio.
Hamlet misses an early opportunity to kill Claudius when he finds Claudius praying for forgiveness in his private chapel. Hamlet does not want Claudius to die while he’s praying. According to Hamlet’s religious beliefs, if Claudius were to be killed while praying he would go to heaven while his own father is in the Purgatory, suffering for his sins. The idea of Claudius escaping hellfire is unbearable for Hamlet who wishes eternal torment upon him.
Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest in the play is the daughter of Polonius, a henchman of Claudius. Her father tries to use her to spy upon Hamlet. Hamlet apparently discovers this and condemns her as a prostitute in the famous get thee to a nunnery scene.
In many ways Hamlet is a typical tragic hero, indecisive and impractical, held back by his romantic ideals. Yet this indecisiveness and ineptness lies in context of a revenge fantasy, unlike the hero of a tale of vengeance, who would kill his father’s murderer first and worry about moral and philosophical implications later, Hamlet misses the opportunity to get revenge because of moral dithering.
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