At some point in life, every individual is forced to make a decision and will struggle with what they must do to restore honour and certainty. Often, when in the position of a decision, individuals will reveal a lack of certainty through indecisive actions and pondering. People have a tendency to experience a struggle concerning what is the best for the situation. When individuals face setbacks in their lives, they strive to find a way to bring back the honour that has been lost. Some are even willing to go to drastic lengths just to retrieve it and will do anything even harming others if the need arises. Honour is defined as fairness, honesty, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions and certainty is the absolute freedom from doubt. William Shakespeare explores both of these ideas and the struggle an individual has when attempting to restore these values to their life in his tragedy play, Hamlet, through the development of the eponymous character of Hamlet. This slowly make Hamlet evolve from an honourable Prince of Denmark to someone like his uncle, the “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain”. Throughout the play, Hamlet attempts to restore his honour through different ways; however due to his indecisiveness and doubt, he struggles to act with conviction, which led to his ultimate downfall.
Avenging Hamlet’s murdered father is the main story arc of Hamlet. The theme of retributive justice is indeed at the heart of Hamlet. After a visit by the ghost of his father, Hamlet vows to seek revenge on his treasonous uncle, King Claudius, who murdered his father by putting poison in his ear. But Hamlet is known as being a natural sceptic person. He tends to doubt everything, so rather than making his way to avenge his father’s death immediately, he procrastinates. Hamlet is not certain whether this apparition is there to guide him or deceive him as it may be an an evil ghost that is trying to lure him into treason. This initiates Hamlet’s investigation into his father’s murder; however it is his doubt in the cause of this apparition that keeps him indecisive and prevents him for taking his revenge. Hamlet’s ultimate goal is to avenge his father’s death by killing his uncle, but he lacks the murderous desire to end his life. For this, he scolds himself, saying “I am pigeon-livered and lack gall”. In other words, he lacks the courage to do anything and is appalled by his own cowardice. He thinks that if he was not a coward, he would already have killed Claudius and got his revenge. Hamlet has an inability to act and his uncertainty causes him to express dread and torment about what action he needs to take. All of the possibilities of what he needs to do lead him to the thought “To be or not to be” which reveals that he is uncertain with whether he should continue to live or die, but he is reluctant of this action because he is not sure what lies in the afterlife. Thus, thought fails him a means to restore honour and certainty.
Another way that Hamlet attempts to restore his honour is through manipulating people around him by feigning his madness. Since he is disgusted by his own inaction, he chooses to deceive people with an “antic disposition” to act as a disguise for his true purpose in discerning the King’s crime. In this pretense, Hamlet begins lashing out at innocent people around him. In his feigned madness, he insults his lover, Ophelia, telling her “to get thee to nunnery”. Hamlet is essentially telling her to leave him so she will not be further corrupted by his actions. Hamlet delivers the line in such a way that it upsets Ophelia, but all Hamlet want was to protect her from men and danger. Since Hamlet is now desperate, he resolves to take action. He tells himself that he needs to prove Claudius’ guilt in order to move forward with his plan of revenge. He orders a band of actors to enact a play that closely mimics his father’s death. While the play is running, Hamlet and his loyal friend, Horatio, observes King Claudius to see how he will respond. Claudius reacts in a shocked manner and he rises and calls for lights to be lit. The King’s reaction implies that he is the murderer of former King Hamlet, and Hamlet is now convinced of the Ghost’s trustworthiness. This is the perfect moment for Hamlet to execute his plan of revenge since Claudius is proven guilty for his heinous crime. There is no further excuse to procrastinate. Although this seems to be the right moment, Hamlet still delays his revenge. When he finally has the chance to kill Claudius while he is alone, Hamlet decides not to kill him because Claudius was praying. He believes if he kills him while he is praying, he will go to heaven and not to hell. This furthermore proves Hamlet’s doubtfulness as a character, even when he is able to finally kill his uncle and free the Kingdom of Denmark from its rotten state, his uncertainty holds him back and realize that he has only been deceiving himself. Hamlet’s lack of action eventually takes a toll on him, and his once feigned insanity becomes questionably true. Thus, Hamlet’s pursuit to restore honour undermined once again by his own self; his public antic disposition became a deception of his own mind, leading to a tragic failure.
Upon Hamlet failing his previous plan to restore his honour, he proceeds to Queen Gertrude’s bedchamber to confront her, and there mistakenly kills Polonius. After realizing what he had done, Hamlet displays no contrition for Polonius’ death; showing the degree of his decay beyond the old fair and noble prince he once was. Hamlet is now a murderer, just like his treacherous uncle. He longs to avenge his father, but due to his doubtful nature, he is unable to think properly through with his actions. He either lash out recklessly into situations and harming other people, or overthinking his actions. After being exiled to England, Hamlet sees the Prince of Norway, Fortinbras, leading an army to reclaim a portion of land that once belonged to them. Hamlet compares himself to the young Fortinbras and is ashamed that he is a man of inaction. Upon seeing this, Hamlet says “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”, (IV. IV. 68) with this, Hamlet vows to think of nothing else but his bloody revenge against his uncle. Witnessing a prince who relentlessly pursuing honour and certainty, without any sign of doubt causes Hamlet to feel greatly inferior. Hamlet chooses now to act without further delay or showing mercy. He returned to Denmark and take revenge on the King. Although, in the end, he fulfills his quest for vengeance, Hamlet fails to achieve honour and certainty in his life. Though there were many that were killed or harmed by Hamlet’s actions, the greatest casualty of Hamlet’s journey was himself. Due to his doubtful and dubious nature, he was held back by his own character and brought about the downfall of many others, and in the final act, his actions end up reciprocating on himself, resulting in his own death.
Throughout the play, Hamlet uses different methods of philosophy, manipulation, and force to achieve his plan for revenge. Although, his revenge was achieved in the end of the play, there is lack of uncertainty in Hamlet’s life, resulting in a decay of his ethics, and ultimately lost his honour. Due to his uncertainty, Hamlet deceives the innocent people around him by feigning his madness, thus ruining his opportunity for honour. His doubtful nature restrains him, resulting in Hamlet experiencing extreme hesitancy, and often only acting thoughtlessly. This consequently causes many other characters to be harmed. Moreover, he yields to desperation ultimately becoming the man of corruption he oathed to destroy in the beginning. While a doubtful individual such as Hamlet may encounter many self constructed obstacles in their struggle to restore honour and certainty, they can be successful in fulfilling their desire, however this success does not come without a grave cost.