Hamlet: Growing Pains
In the epic tragedy Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Prince Hamlet is
entrapped in a world of evil that is not of his own creation. He must oppose
this evil, which permeates his seemingly star-struck life from many angles. His
dealings with his father’s eerie death cause Hamlet to grow up fast. His family,
his sweetheart, and his school friends all appear to turn against him and to
ally themselves with the evil predicament in which Hamlet finds himself. Hamlet
makes multiple attempts to avenge his father’s murder, but each fails because
his father’s murder, but each fails because his plans are marred by very human
shortcomings. It is these shortcomings that Hamlet is a symbol of ordinary
humanity and give him the room he needs to grow.
The Hamlet that Shakespeare begins to develop in Act I is a typical
mortal, bowed down by his human infirmities and by a disgust of the evils in a
world which has led him to the brink of suicide. Hamlet voices his thoughts on
the issue: O that this too too solid flesh would melt…’ (I. ii. 135). He
is prevented from this drastic step only by a faith which teaches him that God
has fix’d/ His canon gainst self-slaughter’ (I. ii. 131-2). To Hamlet appears
his dead father’s spirit, and he must continue to live in the unweeded garden,
/ That grows to seed’ in order to fulfill the obligation he has to his father
Making Hamlet more a story of personal growth than a dark murder mystery,
Shakespeare emphasizes the emotional, rather than the physical, obstacles that
Prince must face in accomplishing his goal. Immediately, Hamlet must determine
whether the ghost speaks the truth, and to do so he must cope with theological
issues. He must settle the moral issue of private revenge. He must learn to
live in a world in which corruption could be as near as the person who gave
birth to him. He also must control the human passions within him which are
always threatening his plans. There are no more sobering issues than these
which would catalyze growth in any human.
Hamlet’s widely recognized hamartia, or tragic flaw, is his inability to
make decisions on subjects with consequences of any weight. That he is aware of
his stagnation in such situations does prove to be helpful in defeating this
flaw. After passing up three oppotuities to entrap Claudius in the third act
(the nunnery scene on which the king was eavesdropping, during The Murder of
Gonzago, the scene in Gertrude’s closet), Hamlet berates himself because of his
indecisiveness: Why (must ) I live to say This thing’s to do; / Sith I have
cause and will and strength and means / To do’t’ (IV.iv. 44-46). Hamlet
realizes that his strength and opportunity are of no avail until he feels
morally right in following through on his vengeful task. Looking towards
Horatio as a model of the Christian stoicism he needs to pull himself through
the play, Hamlet comments on him: . . .thou hast been / As one, in suffering
all, that suffers nothing, / A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards / Hast
ta’en with equal thanks. . . .Give me that man / That is not passion’s slave,
and I will wear him / I my hearts core’ (III.ii. 70-79). Hamlet must become like
Horatio. He must learn that evil is a necessary part of the harmonious order
that God created. When Hamlet can become impervious to the blows of fortune,
his mission will be accomplished.
The impending dark period Hamlet must endure is represented by the
sympathetic fallacy of the state of nature in Denmark. Francisco notes, ’tis
bitter cold, And I am sick at heart’ (I.i. 8-9). This readies the audience for
the appearance of the ghost which will represent the perversion of the
harmonious order that Hamlet must restore.
Hamlet’s reactions to his father’s questionable death begin to reveal
his immaturity. Suffering from an unnatural grief over his father’s death,
Hamlet lets his immaturity be revealed when he says the death was a will most
incorrect to heaven’ (I.ii. 129). As of now, Hamlet has a …heart unfortified,
a mind impatient, / An understanding simple and unschool’d’ ( I.ii. 96-97). He
is, therefore, unable to bear the brunt of something tragic as his father’s
death. Unable to see the god in things, Hamlet views the, world, God’s own
creation, as merely a place of corruption: How weary, stale, flat and
unprofitable, / Seem to me all the uses of tis world!’ (I.ii. 133-134). It
takes a mature man to delve deeper into a particular situation to find some good,
and Hamlet can find nothing.
Although continuing to be very mentally distraught, a sign of growth
occurs when Hamlet bursts into Opelia’s closet. Ophelia, in relating the scene
to her father, says, He took me by the wrist and held me hard’ ( II.i. 98).
This description of the occurrence proves that he has grown enough since the
first act to realize that he needs the help of others in order to stay strong.
Hamlets short-lived relationship with Ophelia did not fare well, and it dies
sharply when he finds out she is conspiring against him. A sign of growth
occurs as he shows his willingness to accept the situation as it is. He says,
I never gave you aught’ ( III.i. 96). Not wholly mature at this point, Hamlet
does revert to some immaturity when he makes threats on many peoples’ lives.
Knowing of the presence of the eavesdropping Claudius, Hamlet makes a mistake
when he declares, I say, we will have no new marriages: those that are married
already, all but one, shall live’ (III.i. 153-5). This statement only proves to
make the situation more difficult to Hamlet because it gives Claudius plausible
reason to ship him to England.
Later in the play, Gertrude calls her son into her closet for what s to
be a lecture to discourage the pranks’ he had been pulling. He finally
mentions to Gertrude that he believes she had some underlying part in his
father’s death. She, in turn, is astonished, As kill a king?’ (III.iv. 30).
This response corroborates the accumulating evidence of her innocence. Due to
Hamlet’s excess of passion during this scene, however, this victory is marred by
his inadvertent killing of Polonius. Now, his the importance of his mother’s
well being is heightened. His Christian concern for his mother’s salvation as
opposed to his uncles damnation shows immeasurable growth. After all, he does
invoke the soul of Nero’ to assure her safety.
At this point, Hamlet is taken to England by two of his friends turned
betrayers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. During this trip, he seems to smother
fear with his newfound blanket of faith in God. This is a principal mark in the
development of his trust in God. He writes to Horatio of his dramatic escape
from the voyage to England and has this to say: There’s a divinity that shapes
our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will’ (V.ii. 10-11). It is in this fifth act
that Hamlet has fully submitted to the will of God, and this very submission
allows him to make the Final push to accomplish his goal. He is confused no
longer and feels obligated to kill Claudius when he says, He hath killed my
king and whored my mother, / Popp’d in between the election and my hopes. . ./
To let this canker of our nature come / In further evil’ (V.ii. 64-5, 69-70)?
He can now view Claudius’ death not as a sinful act of vengeance, but as a duty
to the subjects of Elsinor. When Horatio suggests that the duel that Claudius
has arranged with Laertes may bring about Hamlet’s demise, Hamlet’s reply shows
he has taken on Horatio’s stoicism: If it be now, tis not to come; if it be
not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet will come: readiness is all. .
. .Let be’ (V.ii. 231-5).
The ineffective schemer of the first three acts is no more. Through the
tragic events that Hamlet endures, his character has evolved into arguably his
greatest asset. Now he can put the final touches on the restoration of order
which must be done to successfully end the catastrophe in any Shakespearean
tragedy. As Hamlet forces the poisoned cup to the king’s lips, Laertes
emphasizes that, in order for harmony to be restored, evil must destroy itself:
He is justly served; / It is a poison temper’d by himself’ (V.ii. 338-9). The
now fully grown Hamlet attains salvation after he is poisoned, and this is
hinted at by Horatio: Good night, sweet prince; / And the flights of angels
sing to thee thy rest’ (V.ii. 370-1).