The play Hamlet by Shakespeare expounds the different aspects of human nature as exhibited in the day to day activities. With regard to the plot, the main character, Hamlet who is the King’s son, is summoned home from Germany to attend his father’s funeral only to find his mother remarried to his uncle. Hamlet, upon discovering this, automatically thinks there was foul play in his father’s demise and later comes to confirm this. He then battles with what action to take next between revenging his father’s death and whether to believe his father’s ghost that made him aware of the circumstances that led to his demise. These actions portray different human reactions and weaknesses with specific attention to lust, greed, pity, loyalty, and faith among others. The play utilizes different play aspects to show how people behave that include the characters, themes, set, and the plot.
Characterization is the first important aspect that the play uses to portray human nature. The first character used to portray human nature is the main character, Hamlet. He is used to portray this in two realms, the best and the worst of human nature. Hamlet shows love for his parents. This is evident when Hamlet becomes devastated upon receiving news about his father’s death (Grosz & Wendler, 2003). Considering the ways through which Hamlet remembers his parents’ dedication to each other and to him, it shows that his relationship with his parents was close. He loved his father to the point that he was willing to commit murder if it meant that he could avenge his death after he senses the possibility of foul play in his father’s death. His love for his father prompted him to consider actually killing the new king, his uncle after a ghost of his father visited him asking him to avenge his death. While he was willing to commit the murder, he also considers the possibility of the ghost having been an agent of the devil out to tempt him into committing murder, which his father may not have wanted. This also shows that the human nature has the ability to think rationally even when faced with tempting choices. This nature is also evident when Hamlet decided to put the information from the ghost to the test through a play to see what reaction the new king would have and it bore fruits. Therefore, while his resolve to kill the new king was unshaken, he was still doubtful of what he believed to be true although one of the pointers to this truth was portrayed by his mother’s marriage to the uncle even before the king had been buried. Hamlet also portrays another aspect of human nature; kindness even in the face of betrayal. At the end of the play, Laertes tries to kill hamlet as a result of being misled by Claudius. When Hamlet discovers this, he gladly forgives Laertes when he asked for it. He offered the forgiveness promptly after having discovered that he himself had been poisoned as the three fought. Though Hamlet was the hero in the play as he intended to uphold justice, there are some instances that portray different behaviors like his treatment of Ophelia. Hamlet is cruel to Ophelia and did not want to understand that she was just a pawn in Claudius’ game. She did not have a choice but to do as she was required by Claudius.
There are other characters that are used to portray other aspects of the human nature like Hamlet’s mother and Claudius. Having remarried so soon, it indicates greed on the side of the queen. In addition, having conspired to kill the queen only showed that she was had not been in love with him but with his position. She could remarry anyone that could become the king regardless of relationship to herself or even the king. Hamlet was shocked to not only see her remarried but remarried to his uncle. As Hamlet saw it, it was a direct portrayal of incest but this did not stop her from getting married to him. Claudius portrays greed through killing his own blood brother and as if that was not enough marrying the queen. By the time that Hamlet arrived home, Claudius had already proclaimed himself king. According to succession, Hamlet was the rightful heir to the throne but Claudius did not give him an opportunity to even have a say in who would succeed his father. Instead, he even conspired killing Hamlet probably because he thought Hamlet would later claim his rightful place on the throne. In today’s society, people get into conflicts because of greed. Everyone wants to benefit at the expense of others adding weight to the fact that human nature is marred by greed and some would do anything for it just like Claudius did. From an opinion perspective, greed is at its all-time high in the 21st century. Claudius also portrays the aspect of violence for power by doing anything that could to be able to secure the throne for himself, which is why he killed the king and took his throne. Violence for power has also become a very common thing in today’s society as some want to retain their positions while others want to acquire them forcefully. Moreover, the queen may also have portrayed lust by marrying the new king so fast and without considering any beliefs like taboos (Bloom & Foster, 2008).
Besides the characterization, the play also utilizes themes to showcase the nature of human beings. One of these themes is about mortality, which is portrayed as a very complex issue and unavoidable fate regardless of how much a person tries to avoid it. It is even shown that the much a person works towards avoiding fate, the more they catapult themselves towards it. Following the death of the king, Hamlet cannot stop wondering and considering what exactly is the meaning of life (Shakespeare & Austen, 2010). The main thing that frightens him is the end of life and the eventual afterlife. The unknown of death frightens Hamlet so much that he stops considering suicide. He is not afraid of death but is clearly afraid of the unknown that comes after death. Some of the main questions on his mind were whether kings get a direct pass to heaven and if someone goes directly to heaven if they are murdered. Therefore, this portrays that it is the nature of human beings to struggle with the unknown of death and the idea that an entire life of struggle may amount to nothing at the end of it all (Rindfleisch, 2006). While Hamlet has been appalled by the moral corruption that people exhibit where he concludes that people’s mortality is responsible for many immoral acts in the world as everyone tries to better their lives at the expense of others. Hamlet comes to a realization that death has a role in eliminating differences that exist between people. He came to that realization when staring at Yorick’s skull. Though mortality affects the lives of those in the play and affects their decisions, it is not fully explained even when eight of the nine main characters die by the end of the play. Questions about death still remain unanswered implying that Hamlet only explores the mortality quagmire without finding a resolution. In respect to the current world, people acknowledge that death is an eventual occurrence in the lives of human beings but still they still deny it by acting as if it does not exist and thinking that those that have died have been somewhat responsible for it. They, thus, try to learn from the mistakes of those that died before so as to avoid death but at the same time continue engaging in activities that push them closer to that fate. An example is drunk driving which has claimed a lot of lives but people keep trying to avoid death while still engaging in it thus catapulting themselves towards it. They might avoid suicide just like Hamlet did but do other things that lead to the same fate.
Another theme in the play is lies. Shakespeare portrays human nature as full of lies and deceit where most of the characters lie and depict lies as a necessary part of survival or as a part of life. Hamlet is especially good at lying. At first, Hamlet is depicted as an individual who hates deception. However, he himself lies when the need arises. Hamlet is used to depict a political world marred by moral degradation where lying and deceiving are a necessary part of life and where political spin is the order of the day. This is a similar depiction of today’s world where everyone refers to politics as a dirty game while others refer to it as ‘poli-tricks’. Lies are not limited to just one place or just the play. The play actually shows the exact turn of events as they would happen in today’s world though it was played centuries ago. The disturbing similarity between Shakespeare’s world and today’s world only cements the occurrences as inherent in the human nature. Otherwise, these behaviors could have changed since the old times and people would have become more civilized. However, the behavior has not changed because it is rooted deeply in the human nature.
Another theme about human nature and that many would like to deny that it exists is the nature of men to view women in a sexist fashion. In the play, the men are depicted as pillars of constancy and stability. Hamlet is disgusted with his mother’s unfaithfulness as she was not ashamed of even waiting till the burial of her ex-husband before jumping into another relationship much less with a relative. This only indicated lust. He is also extremely cruel to Ophelia, which was not just because of how she was being treated by Claudius but also because she was simply a woman and a vulnerable individual that ought to listen to a male whenever talked to and show humbleness. Such an attitude towards the female population reveals more not only about Hamlet but also about men in general. Moreover, the only two women in the play have to rely on men to survive. The queen got married to the first individual that claimed the throne even before the burial of her husband while Ophelia had to do whatever Claudius commanded leading to her conflict with Hamlet. Such mindsets have been responsible for the development of various movements geared towards fighting for women’s rights and those that advocate for them are referred to as feminists. There would not have been such movements if the majority of women have been subjected to some form of abuse or discrimination by the men. Most men still view women as sexual objects and people that should submit to every request as long as it comes from a man. They are also seen as second-class citizens and inferior as compared to men. Although this is slowly changing, there is a lot of resistance in the male population that feels it holds a higher position than the women. Since this has existed for a long time, one can only conclude that it is human nature.
The plot shows an ambiguous nature of human beings. While it shows that people can be inherently cruel, they are also capable of great compassion as well as kindness. Claudius was capable of killing his own brother, a person that was loved by all the characters, just so that he could satisfy his greed and need to become king. All people have some greed in them. What makes all the difference is how they deal with the feeling. Those like Claudius vote to do whatever it takes while others choose to view it as a motivator to achieve something through the appropriate channels. It is inevitable but people have the ability to control it in a way that they can take care of their own feeling as well as those of others by being kind. Even in today’s world, the same is evident. While some people decide to hurt others and take their wealth, others choose to work hard so that they can get to the same spot.
The set also portrays self-concern as a human nature that affects most of the decisions that people make. Polonius is the individual that the play used to depict self-concern. He was constantly looking for ways to gain favors from the king. He did not mind who would be affected by his nature of self-interest. As the play indicates, he was not even bothered by sacrificing his daughters’ happiness so that he could prove theories that he developed to the king concerning Hamlet’s madness. People think about themselves by nature without considering others.
In conclusion, Hamlet is a play that is strikingly accurate in its portrayal of human nature as the aspects expounded in the play also affect people in today’s world. If they have survived this long, only one explanation possible; nature. Human beings can be greedy, vengeful, have self-concern and at the same time be compassionate, kind, and reasonable.
- Bloom, H., & Foster, B. (2008). Hamlet. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism.
- Grosz, T. & Wendler, L. (2003). Hamlet. Portland, Me: J. Weston Walch.
- Rindfleisch, T. (2006). Two minor characters in shakespeare’s ‘hamlet’ take center stage in their own play. McClatchy – Tribune Business News Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/463181508?accountid=45049
- Shakespeare, W. & Austen, J. (2010). Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Calla.