The State of Mind of Hamlet
The Elizabethan play The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular works. One of the possible reasons for this play’s popularity is the way Shakespeare uses the character Hamlet to exemplify the complex workings of the human mind. The approach taken by Shakespeare in Hamlet has generated countless different interpretations of meaning, but it is through Hamlet’s struggle to confront his internal dilemma, deciding when to revenge his fathers death, that the reader becomes aware of one of the more common interpretations in Hamlet; the idea that Shakespeare is attempting to comment on the influence that one’s state of mind can have on the decisions they make in life.
As the play unfolds, Shakespeare uses the encounters that Hamlet must face to demonstrate the effect that one’s perspective can have on the way the mind works. In his book Some Shakespeare Themes & An Approach to Hamlet, L.C. Knight takes notice of Shakespeare’s use of these encounters to journey into the workings of the human mind when he writes:
What we have in Hamlet is the exploration and implicit
criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness. In
Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a series of encounters to reveal the
complex state of the human mind, made up of reason, emotion,
and attitude towards the self, to allow the reader to make a
judgment or form an opinion about fundamental aspects of human
Shakespeare sets the stage for Hamlet’s internal dilemma in Act 1, Scene 5 of Hamlet when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears and calls upon Hamlet to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.24). It is from this point forward that Hamlet must struggle with the dilemma of whether or not to kill Claudius, his uncle, and if so when to actually do it. As the play progresses, Hamlet does not seek his revenge when the opportunity presents itself, and it is the reasoning that Hamlet uses to justify his delay that becomes paramount to the reader’s understanding of the effect that Hamlet’s mental perspective has on his situation.
In order to fully understand how Hamlet’s perspective plays an important role in this play, the reader must attempt to answer the fundamental question: Why does Hamlet procrastinate in taking revenge on Claudius?