Revenge vs. Justice
Is Hamlet "in love" with Gertrude (does he have an Oedipus Complex)?
Is Hamlet truly insane or just acting insane?
Does Gertrude accept Hamlet's assessment of Claudius? Does she fully trust Claudius? What did Gertrude know, and when did she know it?
Does Hamlet love Ophelia? Does Hamlet intentionally mistreat Ophelia? Does he use her?
Is Polonius a daft old man or a shrewd politician?
Is Hamlet indecisive and/or a coward?
Hamlet's own answer to this questions is a resounding "YES," but do you agree with his assessment of his own character?
Does he act quickly enough to avenge his father?
Is his mistrust of the ghost reasonable?
Does his desire for "grounds more relative than" a ghost's word make sense?
Is his refusal to kill a praying Claudius rational? (BTW, your answer to this question may be influenced by your general opinion of Hamlet's state of mind)
Horatio is to Hamlet as is to . What other coupling of friends/colleagues/comrades/etc (fictional or non-fictional) closely parallels the relationship of Hamlet and Horatio?
Of the sons in the play (Hamlet, Pyrrhus, Fortinbras, and Laertes) who is the best son? What criteria do you use to determine this?
Of the three "Danes" (King Hamlet, King Claudius, Prince Hamlet) who is the best king/would-be-king?
With almost all of the minor characters plotting against each other and against Hamlet, it is easy to lose sight of the only two characters' goals and ambitions that really matter: King Claudius and Prince Hamlet. It is with good reason that these two men do not trust each, and they engage in a game of cat and mouse that goes nearly unrecognized by every one else.
The reasons they despise and fear one another:
Claudius (with Gertrude's help) stole the crown that was rightfully Hamlet's. This is how: (this comes from Legally Annotated Hamlet by Mark Andre Alexander)
By the right of primogeniture Hamlet had a legal claim to the throne of Denmark. He was meant to be king. BUT...
Hamlet was away at college in Wittenberg at the time of King Hamlet's death/murder. He was therefore not physically able to "occupy" the King's estate, Elsinore castle, and "claim" his inheritance of both land and crown. In Act V Hamlet does for the first time declare himself The Dane (the title of the king of Denmark).
Hamlet's fixation on the speed with which his mother married his uncle is significant. He seems particularly galled that in less than two months' time she remarried. According to the Magna Carta, widows (like Gertrude) had the legal right to occupy their deceased husband's property for at least 40 days (the quarantine). Also, a widow could not be forced to marry against her will. All of this means that even if Hamlet had been by his father's side at his death, he could not have removed his mother from Elsinore, nor could he have forbidden her to marry Claudius. Claudius, thanks to Gertrude, now sleeps in the king's bed with the king's wife, and Hamlet is too late arriving at Elsinore to stop it.
Claudius calls Gertrude his "imperial jointress," which could mean that Gertrude had not just a widow's portion but a "jointure" granted to her by King Hamlet. The jointure would have given her permanent control (beyond 40 days) over whatever properties King Hamlet left her in his will. It is unlikely that King Hamlet would have done such a thing since that could mean disinheriting his son. However, Claudius does not seem the type to allow the truth to stand in between him and the throne. Likely, he calls her his jointress in this public fashion and in front of Hamlet to legitimize his usurpation of the throne.
To recap: Gertrude INTENTIONALLY deprived her son Hamlet of his birthright.
Claudius killed his own brother King Hamlet.
N.b.: Hamlet does not learn about this wrinkle in the plot until after he has been forced to accept his uncle as king. (at the end of Act I)
N.b.: Hamlet is not certain this accusation is true until Act III.
Hamlet is still an active threat to Claudius because ...
Claudius' claim to the throne is tenuous, and ...
...Hamlet is loved by the people of Denmark, and this makes Claudius furious and afraid of Hamlet.
The things they do and say, and the plots they concoct against one another ...
Claudius blatantly disrespects Hamlet in front of the whole court by acknowledging the lowly courtier Laertes over Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.
Hamlet openly, but subtly, calls Claudius a pretender.
Claudius insults Hamlet's manhood and accuses him of being "unnatural."
Claudius puts Hamlet under house arrest.
Hamlet decides to kill Claudius and reclaim the throne.
Hamlet acts crazy and wants everyone to believe it's because he has been spurned by Ophelia.
Claudius doesn't buy Hamlet's act, and is convinced he has become dangerous.
Claudius decides to banish Hamlet to England.
Hamlet, again subtly but openly, accuses Claudius of murder in "The Mousetrap."
Hamlet attempts to kill Claudius, but kills Polonius instead.
Claudius recognizes the murder of Polonius as a failed attempt on his own life.
Claudius arrests and restrains Hamlet.
Claudius banishes Hamlet to England with a sealed letter instructing England to execute Hamlet.
Hamlet returns to Denmark, and apologizes to Claudius.
Claudius and Laertes plot to kill Hamlet at a fencing match.
Hamlet and Claudius kill each other.
III.i.88-52: Hamlet's encounter with Ophelia while her father and Claudius eavesdrop presents a pessimistic view of marriage and child-bearing. A "nunnery" is of course a convent, but in Hamlet's day it was also a euphemism for a brothel. Hamlet probably intends it to mean both of things at once: he calls Ophelia, and women in general, "bawds" (sluts), and he wants her to be chaste. He sees her as both a slut and an ice-queen.
II.ii.170-219: Hamlet calls Polonius a "fish-monger" (pimp). He also warns Polonius that Ophelia may get pregnant or may already be pregnant.
At the play "The Mousetrap," Hamlet makes a series of sexual jokes / puns at Ophelia's expense:
country matters = cunt-ry matters and is also a reference to the presumed sexual moral laxity of rural people
"lie in your lap" and "lie between maid's legs" are both references to the "missionary position"
when Ophelia calls Hamlet "keen" she means that he is "sharp-tongued," but he takes "keen" to mean "sexually aroused" and says it she will "cost [her] a groaning" to relieve his sexual tension.
III.iv: In his mother's closet (her private chamber), Hamlet questions his mother's sexual attraction to Claudius, asking her how she could leave eating on "this fair mountain" (his father) to glut herself on "this moor" (his uncle). "O shame, where is thy blush?" he asks, wondering how his mother's sexual appetite could overpower her reason and all of her senses. He casts Gertrude's sex life with Claudius in the grossest possible terms: "In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty." Finally, after the Ghost reminds Hamlet that he was not supposed to harass his mother, but "leave her to heaven" (I.v.86), Hamlet asks of his mother, "Go not to my uncle's bed."
Incest: Hamlet and his King Hamlet's ghost use the word "incest" five times in the play in reference to the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude
Hamlet accuses Gertrude of haste in moving into "the incestuous sheets" of Claudius
King Hamlet calls Claudius an "incestuous, ... adulterate beast" ...
... and begs Hamlet, "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be / A couch for luxury and damned incest."
Hamlet fantasizes about killing Claudius in the "incestuous pleasure of his bed"
and finally, as Hamlet forces Claudius to drink poison he calls his uncle "incestuous, murderous, damned Dane"
Act 1, scene 1, lines 79-111
(in subsequent notations, the Act will be designated by a capitalized Roman, numeral and the scene by a lowercase Roman numeral, and the line numbers in Arabic numerals like this: I.i.79-111)
... Our last king,
Whose image even but now appear'd to us,
Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,
Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,
Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--
For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--
Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
Well ratified by law and heraldry,
Did forfeit, with his life, all those his lands
Which he stood seized of, to the conqueror:
Against the which, a moiety competent
Was gaged by our king; which had return'd
To the inheritance of Fortinbras,
Had he been vanquisher; as, by the same covenant,
And carriage of the article design'd,
His fell to Hamlet. Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark'd up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in't; which is no other--
As it doth well appear unto our state--
But to recover of us, by strong hand
And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands
So by his father lost: and this, I take it,
Is the main motive of our preparations,
The source of this our watch and the chief head
Of this post-haste and romage in the land.
The rugged Pyrrhus, he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear'd
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is he total gules; horridly trick'd
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord's murder: roasted in wrath and fire,
And thus o'er-sized with coagulate gore,
With eyes like carbuncles, the hellish Pyrrhus
Old grandsire Priam seeks.'
'Anon he finds him
Striking too short at Greeks; his antique sword,
Rebellious to his arm, lies where it falls,
Repugnant to command: unequal match'd,
Pyrrhus at Priam drives; in rage strikes wide;
But with the whiff and wind of his fell sword
The unnerved father falls. Then senseless Ilium,
Seeming to feel this blow, with flaming top
Stoops to his base, and with a hideous crash
Takes prisoner Pyrrhus' ear: for, lo! his sword,
Which was declining on the milky head
Of reverend Priam, seem'd i' the air to stick:
So, as a painted tyrant, Pyrrhus stood,
And like a neutral to his will and matter,
But, as we often see, against some storm,
A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
The bold winds speechless and the orb below
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Doth rend the region, so, after Pyrrhus' pause,
Aroused vengeance sets him new a-work;
And never did the Cyclops' hammers fall
On Mars's armour forged for proof eterne
With less remorse than Pyrrhus' bleeding sword
Now falls on Priam.
How came he dead? I'll not be
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation. To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I'll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.
And so have I a noble father lost;
A sister driven into desperate terms,
Whose worth, if praises may go back again,
Stood challenger on mount of all the age
For her perfections: but my revenge will come.
O, that this too too solid flesh
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! God!
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't! ah fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. 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.
O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables,--meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
I have of
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.
To be, or not to be: that is the
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 heart-ache 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,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would 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 sicklied 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.
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?
'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!
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,
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.
occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
Alexander was buried,
Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
Imperious Caesar, dead and turn'd to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!