The Uniqueness of Hamlet
William Shakespeare has created many fascinating characters in his stories over time. One of the most intriguing of all is Hamlet, who is revealed in the great Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet. He is the Prince of Denmark whose father has recently died. The throne now belongs to Claudius, King Hamlet’s brother. King Hamlet’s spirit makes two mysterious appearances seen only by guards and Hamlet’s good friend and fellow student, Horatio. After the ghost makes a second appearance, Horatio tells Hamlet that he has seen a ghost in the form of Hamlet’s father. Curious, Hamlet returns to the place of the ghost’s appearances to speak with it. The ghost reveals to Hamlet the truth to his horrid death. These events all affect Hamlet deeply, and how he reacts to them gives us insight to his characterization. His personality consists of a combination of many differing, unique, and fascinating traits. He is a man of profound sensitivity, of great loyalty, and of an ever-changing disposition.
Hamlet’s ever-changing disposition is one of his most fascinating characteristics. He has an unusual ability in quickly shifting his mental attitude. This is demonstrated in his alleged madness, because he does behave somewhat maniacally, only to become perfectly calm and rational an instant later. In the first act, Hamlet appears to be straightforward in both his actions and thought. When questioned by his mother, Gertrude, about his melancholic appearance, Hamlet says, “Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not ’seems’” (1.2.76). In other words, he is saying that he is what he appears to be. When left alone, Hamlet goes on to voice his bleak thoughts of unhappiness and suicide; however, when Horatio enters the room, Hamlet lightens up immediately at the sight of his beloved friend.
Previous to Horatio’s entrance, Hamlet speaks in his first soliloquy in which he strikes a note of despair and shows us that he is restrained from suicide only by the laws of God. Hamlet has a perfectionist attitude, which makes him angry with himself for his “inadequacies”. He sees himself in comparison to those better than him and is too judgmental, especially with himself. By judging himself too harshly and setting his personal standards too high, he is contributing to his own sense of worthlessness and unhappiness. These feelings lead to his contemplation of suicide. In his first soliloquy, he muses, ” how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/ Seems to me all the uses of this world” (1.2.133-134). He is very tired of his life and feels that living it is pointless. Although it has not been learned as to exactly why Hamlet is in utter despair, it can be inferred as to how he came about this emotional status. It is most likely caused by, among other things, his unhappiness with his uncle on the throne, the thoughtless actions of his mother, and most importantly, the death of his father.
Another distinct trait of Hamlet’s is his loyalty. His sorrow at his father’s death is interwoven with his disgust in regards to his present familial situation. Hamlet is an extremely loyal person to those he loves and throughout the first act of Hamlet, his loyalty is almost exclusively shown towards his father. When he learns that King Hamlet was, in fact, murdered, Hamlet is left with feelings of hatred and resentment in his heart towards the accused murderer, Claudius. When the ghost tells Hamlet about Claudius’ evil doings, Hamlet is prompt by replying, “Haste me to know’t, that I with wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love/ May sweep to my revenge” (1.5.29-31). This passage shows how Hamlet decides to avenge his father’s death. In fact, he declares that he will be committed to nothing else but the revenge against Claudius.
Hamlet’s resentment of King Claudius is further revealed. He says that Claudius is
” My father’s brother, but no more like my father/ Than I to Hercules” (1.2.152-153). This comment, which appears in the first soliloquy, makes it appear that Hamlet does not consider himself particularly strong or heroic. At the same time, he is also stating that King Claudius is nothing like King Hamlet, whom Hamlet believes to have been a great man. He also lashes out verbally at Claudius in numerous interesting ways. His first words in the play, for example, are, “A little more kin, and less than kind” (1.2.65). This means that Claudius is twice related to him, as uncle and stepfather, but not really kind at all. He also uses a pun in answer to the King’s question as to why Hamlet is still so depressed. Hamlet replies that he is “too much in the sun” (1.2.66). In actuality, Hamlet means that the King has called him “son” once too often. He does not like this because he is not Claudius’ son, nor does he wish to be. He feels that King Hamlet always was his father and always will be his father.
Hamlet, however, is neither loyal to, nor holds the same high regard for his mother as he does his father. In his first scene, he speaks with his mother, and mocks her lack of grief for his father, her dead husband. He says, “I have that within which passeth show/ These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (1.2.85-86). He may merely mean that his grief for his father is genuine, but “passeth show” may also mean that he has some sort of feeling that cannot be shown by his black clothing and cloudy face. Later, when alone, Hamlet says in his soliloquy, “Frailty, thy name is woman” (1.2.146). He is expressing disgust at the speed with which his mother went from his father’s grave to his uncle’s bed. He even jokes about it with Horatio, bitterly. He says that the real reason his mother’s remarriage came soon after her husband’s death, was so she could save money by serving the leftover funeral refreshments to the wedding guests.
Even though Hamlet is bitter and straightforward, another strong trait of his is his sensitivity. This is shown by his proneness to depression as well as his tendency to get into conflicts. His sensitivity, however, is not only personal, but also pertains to the thoughts and feelings of others. When the ghost of his father, for example, somewhat describes his treacherous life in the burning pits of hell, Hamlet shows a great sympathy for it. He does not like suffering of any sorts, whether the subject is human or non-human. He does not believe that spirits are much different than humans in the fact that they also suffer from human pain, whether it is mental or physical. His belief also holds true amongst the entirety of people, regardless of class.
His sensitivity towards others is also shown in the fact that despite his royal blood, he does not believe himself to be better than anyone else. For example, Horatio greets him as ” my lord, and your poor servant ever” (1.2.162). Hamlet then replies that if Horatio is going to address Hamlet in such a formal, honoured way, Hamlet will return the favour by addressing him as “sir”. Of course, this belief that all are equal could just be reserved for Horatio because he is Hamlet’s dear friend; however, Hamlet’s lack of self-confidence and lack of evidence to proving he looks down on others also implies that Hamlet does, in fact, believe in equality.
Hamlet’s combination of characteristics is vast, complicated, and sometimes conflicting. On the whole, however, his characteristics, loyalty, sensitivity, and an ever-changing disposition, all add up to create one fascinating and distinct person. Hamlet’s profound sensitivity of everything surrounding him has helped him to become a well-respected member of royalty and liked by many. The other characteristic that commands respect is the loyalty that he never loses sight of. Even though, at times, his loyalty is so strong that one might consider it obsessive, it is comforting to know that it is still solidly intact when tested. The one characteristic that can, however, create problems for him is his ever-changing disposition. Although the first act of the play does not often show him other than melancholic or angry, it is shown that his emotional state is, in fact, much like a roller coaster. He goes from anger to depression, to happiness, to curiosity, then back to extreme anger. Despite this, his fascinating combination of traits gives him the potential to become Denmark’s next great leader.