Summary: Hamlet's Motivation for Murder

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Since the first performance of Skakespeare’s Hamlet, the story has incited extensive controversy among scholars, because its characters and story can be interpreted in many different ways. Shakespeare’s various methods of building tension around the main character and the procedure through which Hamlet executes his plan make his claim that he is sanely executing a plot of revenge questionable. The fact that he is completely aware of the violent and cruel traits of his scheme only makes Hamlet seem more mentally unstable. He is slowly driven to madness after the murder of his father and marriage of his uncle and mother, which is evident through his violent nature and sudden isolation of himself. Hamlet's plan was to fake madness; however, over time, he is engulfed with rage and becomes dominated with getting revenge on his father's killer.

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Hamlet's motivation for murder originates from his fathers request of Hamlet to get revenge. His father wants Claudius, his brother and murderer, dead. The request of his father is an extreme one. It requires Hamlet to have the will to kill a man that is currently King of Denmark, husband to his mother, and most importantly, his own family. Sane people are able to overcome the many urges that may originate from rage, which would lead them to reject this plan of revenge, however Hamlet is not able to do so. Although he claims he shall feign madness to fool the King, Hamlet slowly becomes insane, and therefore violent. His savage nature is clear after the performance of the mousetrap play in his mother's quarters. At the first sign of trouble when speaking with his mother Hamlet exclaims “ow now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!” and stabs behind a tapestry without knowing who was behind it . He has a complete lack of patience to even discover who he was stabbing before doing so, resulting in the death of someone he did not intend to kill. T.S. Eliot, a well renowned poet and writer, describes Hamlet’s uncontrollable rage as being “dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear ''. Jack Norman Renfrow analyzes Eliot's opinion in his own essay on Hamlet, saying “Eliot contends that Hamlet is suffering from a grief which is in excess of the facts as they appear. This, to him, indicates that Hamlet is mentally unstable” . Both experts agree Hamlet over reacts to his situation, particularly through violence, indicating he’s lost his mind. Hamlet's violence consumes him to the point he even becomes suicidal. He is to a point where he questions if life is even worth living,.

Hamlet is not only outwardly violent towards others, but even drives himself to the point of questioning whether to take his own life or not. Renfrow enfers Hamlet's emotional state through his analysis, “Its central manifestation consists in the development of the idea that a violent act against another person or against oneself if the only solution to a profound emotional conflict” . Hamlet’s inhuman violence towards himself and others is an indication that Hamlet has gone insane.

Although more subtle, Hamlet’s isolation of himself from people he loves is another clear sign of his mental instability. After the death of his father, seeing his own mother marry his uncle put him through emotional stress he could not handle. He felt his mother moved on much too fast, and to an extent, betrayed him. He chooses to follow a path of revenge from which he could not recover. Maynard Mack, an American literary credit, acknowledges the foolishness of Hamlet trying to take on such a troublesome solution. “He had been too quick to take the burden of the whole world and its condition upon his limited and finite self”. As a result, he loses his true self and becomes bitter and distant to those he loves. When he confronts Ophelia, his lover, he is exceptionally rude to her. He tells her, “Get thee to a nunn'ry, why woulds't thou be a breeder of sinners?” to insult her, effectively pushing Ophelia away and sending her into a deep depression . In his essay, Mack also regards Hamlets insanity’s effects on Ophelia, saying “The passage invites us to remember that we have never actually seen such a Hamlet -- that his mother's marriage has brought a falling off in him before we meet him. And then there is that further falling off, if I may call it so, when Ophelia too goes mad”. His actions not only ultimately end in Ophelia's death but also end up hurting himself more. Ophelia wasn’t the only person he pushed away though. With his mother, he says the paradox “You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife” to express his bitterness of his mother's decision to get married so soon after his father’s death. He even goes as far as to sarcastically tell Horatio the reason behind his uncles and mothers marriage was “the funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables' . Through refusing his mother's acceptance of his father's death and by making sarcastic remarks and jokes, he tarnishes the relationship he once had with his mother. T.S. Eliot makes the connection of Hamlet's use of sarcasm and the state of his sanity by saying “The levity of Hamlet, his repetition of phrase, his puns, are not part of a deliberate plan of dissimulation, but a form of emotional relief” . Although he often jokes, his actions are not feigned sanity but rather trying to make his harsh reality more endurable. Joseph C. Allen, a Southern Illinois Professor, writes in his essay of how Hamlet is also unable to control emotion. “It was also, in any case, foolish of Hamlet to attempt to make a jest of the whole transaction, when he could not help showing how agitated he was, nor help assuring them that the apparition was ' an honest ghost. Hamlet’s dark humour is not his attempt at acting insane, but rather signs of his true insanity that he is not able to contain.

Hamlet suffers a very harsh reality after the news of his father's death and mothers remarriage. Although he has to endure much emotional pain, his solution to get revenge is evil. Once he is consumed by rage, he intends to feign madness to execute his plan of revenge but in turn becomes truly mad. His sense of morality and proper thought slowly disappear as his violence and suicidal thoughts grow. He murders in cold blood and shows little regret. He also pushes away those he claims to have once loved, and as a consequence, ends up getting both them and himself more hurt.    

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