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Hamlet is arguably the greatest dramatic character ever created. From the moment we meet the crestfallen prince we are enraptured by his elegant intensity. Shrouded in his inky cloak, Hamlet is a man of radical contradictions - he is reckless yet cautious, courteous yet uncivil, tender yet ferocious. He meets his fathers death with consuming outrage and righteous indignation, yet shows no compunction when he himself is responsible for the deaths of the meddling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the pontificating lord chamberlain, Polonius. He uses the fragile and innocent Ophelia as an outlet for his disgust towards the queen, and cannot comprehend that his own vicious words have caused her insanity. Hamlet is full of faults. But, unlike Macbeth, who has committed murder and, as a direct consequence, has been relegated to the heap of weak-willed villains, Hamlet has remained a demigod of sorts - his faults having been quashed by his virtues. What are Hamlets good qualities? How is it that even seemingly negative qualities such as indecisiveness, hastiness, hate, brutality, and obsession can enhance Hamlets position as a tragic hero - a prince among men? To answer these questions we must journey with Hamlet from beginning to end, and examine the many facets of his character. Or first impression of Hamlet sets the tone for the whole play. Even without Shakespeare providing an elaborate description of Hamlets features, we can envision his pale face, tousled hair, and intense, brooding eyes. Dressed totally in black, Hamlet displays all the forms, moods and shapes of grief. His mother cannot help but notice Hamlets outward appearance of mourning, but Hamlet makes it clear that the overt signs of grief do not come close to conveying how much sorrow he feels inside: Hamlet cannot forget his father, even when all those around him have resumed their merry lives, content to offer the occasional conciliatory words of wisdom. The queen, considering she has lost a husband, offers up the rather unhelpful Thou knowst tis common, all that lives must die Passing through nature to eternity (I. ii. 71-2), and Claudius adds, amongst other things, We pray you to throw to earth This unprevailing woe, and think of us As of a father (I. ii. 106-8). Hamlets tremendous grief is intensified by this lack of feeling by those around him, and more significantly, by the cold-hearted actions of his mother, who married her brother-in-law within a month of her husbands death. This act of treachery by Gertrude, whom Hamlet obviously loved greatly at one time, rips the very fabric of Hamlets being, and he tortures himself with memories of his late fathers tenderness towards his mother: So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr, so loving to my mother, That he might not beteem the winds of heaven Visit her face too roughly; heaven and earth, Must I remember? . (I. ii. 141-45) The respect and awe ...

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Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. U.S.A.: Washington Square Press, 1958

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