Antiheroism has always been an interesting aspect of a character that authors
have chosen to illustrate. In literature, there has been countless antiheroic
characters, from Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Allie
Fox in The Mosquito Coast, to others as famous as Robin Hood and … By literary
definition, an antihero is the “hero” of the play or novel, but has negative
attributes which separate him or her from the classic hero such as Superman.
Such negative aspects may include a violent nature, use of coarse language, or
self serving interests which may inadvertently depict the protagonist as a hero
since the result of serving those interests may be the betterment of society or
an environment. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist, Hamlet, is
depicted as an antihero. One main factor which gives Hamlet such a label is that
he draws sympathy, as well as admiration, from the reader since Hamlet feels the
pain of losing his father along with the burden and obstacles in avenging his
Act four places a special emphasis on Hamlet’s intelligence. In scene two,
Hamlet is very insolent and rude towards Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with such
That I can keep your counsel and not, mine
own. Beside, to be demanded of a sponge, what
replication should be made by the son of a
king? (IV, ii, 12-14)
The reference to the sponge reflects the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
are easily ordered by the king and do not have minds of their own. Hamlet does
not like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern since they are servants of the Claudius,
Hamlet’s mortal enemy. The reader does not like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
either which causes the reader to side with Hamlet.
Another incident of Hamlet’s high intelligence is shown when he Hamlet tells
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,
I am glad of it: a knavish sleeps in a foolish ear. (IV, ii, 24-25)
This statement leaves Rosencrantz and Guildenstern more or less confused. Hamlet
is clearly more clever than the two of them combined and is able to toy with
them.Hamlet has an excellent command of the language and because of it, can use
words to the point that those around him will not understand and may label him
Hamlet shows another example of his cleverness, this time towards Claudius, when
I see a cherub that sees them. But, come; for England! Farewell, dear mother.
(IV, iii, 49-50)
The cherub, or the angel, gives Hamlet a sense of superiority over Claudius.
Having an angel at one’s side would be a definite sign of power, which is
exactly what Hamlet tries to maintain over Claudius in their constant power
struggle. Just when Claudius thinks he controls Hamlet, it is really Hamlet who
has the upper hand over Claudius.
There are very strong philosophical references made by Hamlet in this act
regarding life and death. Hamlet tells Claudius,
Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us,
and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end. (IV, iii, 21-26)
This statement id a reference to the food chain, and in turn, a reflection on
the meaning of life. It illustrates the equality of men in that whether one is
born to be a king or a beggar, when one dies, we are all equal. Worms and
maggots do not treat anybody differently once one is dead and buried.
The final scene draws the greatest sympathy towards Hamlet even though he is not
even in the scene. The forces of Claudius and Laertes have combined against
Hamlet. Claudius states,
To an exploit now ripe in my device, Under the which he shall not choose but
fall, And for his death no wind of blame shall breathe; But even his mother
shall unchange the practice, And call it accident. (IV, vii, 65-69)
Claudius is willing to undertake any measures necessary to eliminate Hamlet, to
the point that it does not matter whether or not it hurts Gertrude in any way.
This scene depicts Hamlet as the victim, much like two bullies picking on a
smaller child in school, since the king, with the aid of Laertes, is out to kill
Hamlet, this time with a passion. Much like a political revolutionary, Hamlet
has the system against him and is facing death because of his loyalty and honour
towards his father.
The fact that Hamlet’s life is not indeed in jeopardy attributes to his “hero”
status. In addition, his only fault is the desire to avenge his father’s murder,
an act considered completely honourable by the reader. However, Hamlet’s
negative attributes include his rudeness towards others, including the fair
Ophelia, and a violent nature as shown when he kills Polonius, albeit accidently,
and shows no remorse, causing a reclassification from the classic hero, to the
more appropriate label of antihero.