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Position Paper on The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Essay Sample)


Throughout the play, Hamlet claims to be feigning madness, but his portrayal of a madman is so intense and so convincing that many readers believe that Hamlet actually slips into insanity at certain moments in the play. Do you think this is true, or is Hamlet merely play-acting insanity? What evidence can you cite for either claim?

Position Paper: Essay Topic 1
"The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," is a tragedy play that William Shakespeare wrote between 1599 and 1602. Using the Kingdom of Denmark as the setting, Shakespeare explores Prince Hamlet's revenge mission against his uncle, Claudius, who killed his brother, King Hamlet before seizing the throne. Claudius went ahead to marry his deceased brother's wife, Queen Gertrude. Hamlet takes the responsibility of avenging his father's death by looking for every opportunity to kill Claudius. Unfortunately, Claudius is a well-protected king and getting to him was not an easy task. Furthermore, Hamlet tends to struggle with doubts about whether to trust the ghost of his father and whether killing the present king is a right thing to do. The play reaches a climax when he stabs Polonius in Act III and commits himself to violent actions and tendencies. These events bring him into direct conflict with the king. Later on, the king sends Hamlet to England with the intention of having him killed. To his surprise, he returns to Denmark and causes trouble at Ophelia's funeral. All these events eventually lead to several deaths in the royal family, including his demise. Many critics often view Hamlet's plot from a deterministic perspective by arguing that the prince tendencies towards melancholic reflection and inability to act are tragic flaws that lead to his demise. Although the concept of tragic flaws is central to the Hamlet plot, the audience cannot accurately understand the play from a deterministic perspective.
Those who view and analyze Hamlet from a deterministic perspective believe that the prince had tragic flaws in his behavior and personality that contributed to his death. This argument becomes valid when one considers the fact that Hamlet was overly concerned with revenge and death. The tragic flaws start in act 1 scene 5 where his father's ghost tells him to "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (1.5. 25). From this point onwards, Hamlet develops an obsession for ravage. Furthermore, the weakness leads him to madness and chaotic surrounding that cause the death of many people, including his mother and the king. To the determinists, these deaths may not have taken place if Hamlet was not obsessed and fascinated by tragedy and death. It is also worth noting that Hamlet's flaws make him extremely discontented and melancholic with his family and the leadership in the kingdom of Denmark. He is angry with his mother because she quickly married the new king after the death of King Hamlet. In another scene, he repudiates Ophelia even though he used to love her. To put this into perspective, Hamlet behavior shows disgust and disappointment. These flaws eventually lead to his destruction and that of the royal family.
Hamlet flaws are evident throughout the play, the reader or audience should not conclude that they were responsible for all his tragedies and problem. He makes decisions and behaves in a manner that leaves a lot to be desired. It is such traits that drive some critics to take a deterministic approach when looking at the play and argue that the flaws led to Hamlet's troubles. However, one must also consider the fact that Hamlet, like any other human being, did not always have flaws in his behavior, decisions, and personality. Consequently, the audience cannot trace all his erratic tendencies to his flaws. More specifically, the flaws that Hamlet tends to portray originate from the Ghost that he met in the fifth scene in Act 1. The ghost of King Hamlet told Hamlet that Claudius killed him and asked for revenge. It is at this point that Hamlet starts to show tragic flaws as he seeks to keep the wish of the ghost. More specifically, he commences digging deeper to find out whether Claudius was responsible for his father's death. From the Act 1, deception and death burn in Hamlet's heart like a hot iron. Thus, his erratic nature and negative behavior originate from the interaction with the ghost and not Hamlet himself. Taking this into account, it becomes evident that Hamlet may not have been entirely responsible for his tragedies. Instead, it is the Ghost of his father that manipulates and drives him to seek revenge even to the extent of causing his destruction and that of his family. A better understanding of the play goes beyond the mere consideration and assumption that Hamlet had tragic flaws that contributed to his destructions. Given the description of characters in the play and the different sceneries that they encounter, it is unlikely for one to predict the end of the piece based on Helmet's flaws.
One of the main reasons why the deterministic view of the play is inappropriate and unacceptable is the mere fact is makes a literal assumption that Hamlet’s death was directly as a result of his flaws. When one looks at the play with an open mind, it becomes evident that Hamlet did not die because of a tragic flaw. Instead, he lost his life during a fight with Laertes. Even after being advised otherwise by Horatio, Hamlet decides to take part in a fight that could have ended with the death of either party. Before the fight, Hamlet says that "all's ill here about my heart," but that one must be ready for death since it will come no matter what one does (4.2.222). Even if the audience makes the assumption that Laertes was a skilled swordsman who could still have killed Hamlet, it is undeniable that certain specific events led to the fight in the first place. To understand this argument, one should ask the question on what would have happened had Hamlet gotten into Gertrude's chambers in the absence of Polonius. No fatal flaw drove Hamlet's actions and caused him to go to Gertrude's room at the particular time he did. If Hamlet had not accidentally killed Polonius, may be the swordfight may not have taken place. But since Hamlet did not choose to get into his mother's chambers when Polonius was there, then his flaws cannot be blamed for his death because the resulting swordfight that could have ended either way.
Secondly, critics who understand the play from a deterministic view ignore the several scenes in the piece that demonstrate that Hamlet could control his actions and behavior. In Act 3, Hamlet slips into Claudius room with the intention of killing him. However, he changes his mind after realizing that the king was praying. Hamlet says that "Now might I do it pat. Now he is a-praying. And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven” (3.3.75). Killing the king when he was praying was not adequate revenge because it would send him to a right place. Thus, Hamlet makes a prudent decision to wait and look for another opportunity to kill the king. What comes out in this scene is that Hamlet, like any other human being, could control his actions and think about his life choices. He had the opportunity to kill Claudius but choose not to because it was not the right kind of revenge. While the deterministic view of the play considers Hamlet to be an indecisive and flawed character, events of this particular act and scene prove that he could also make wise and well thought decisions. By viewing the play from a deterministic or tragic flaw perspective, critics make it a morality tale that considers people like Hamlet indecisive and erratic. In this view, any action that Hamlet takes contributes to his downfall. Unfortunately, this is not the case because there are some instances where Hamlet takes his time to think about his decisions and make choices that appear realistic. If he was as indecisive as critics who take the deterministic approach imply, then he would have killed King Claudius on the first opportunity he got without thinking about the consequences.
A deterministic understanding of the play further denies the reader an opportunity to see Hamlet's philosophical nature and how it affects his life and decisions. Some of the ideas and choices come out as existentialistic, relativistic, and skeptical. An example of a scene where he shows subjectivist principles is where he tells Rosencrantz that "for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me, it is a prison." (2.2.240). The argument that there is nothing wrong or right often exist in the mind of individuals who borrow a lot from Greek Sophists who posited that there is no absolute truth because ever person perceives things differently. The clearer indication of Hamlet's existentialism exists in his famous "to be, and not to be" soliloquy. In Act 3, Hamlet says ‘To be, or not to be? That is the question—/ 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 heartache and the thousand natural shocks/ That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation" (3.1. 57-64)
Here, Hamlet uses "being" to refer to action and life and "not being" to allude to inaction and death. All these instances show that Hamlet was a philosophical character who carefully thought about some of the issues around his life and that of other characters. When readers and critics focus too much on his flaws and mistakes and the fact that such errors contributed to his death, they fail to understand and explore the philosophical aspect of the play. In the long run, the approach gives a one-sided understanding and analysis a piece that is full of philosophical ideas and perspective.
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