In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare Hamlet’s character is revealed through death. In the play his reactions to his encounters of death reveals his views. His indecisive nature is evident in his view of death; his unstable state contributes two themes of death in that is dominant in Hamlet suicide or revenge. Life seems unimportant to Hamlet and he is seeking the answer to life and wonders about the mystery of what comes after it a peaceful slumber or an everlasting nightmare.
The play begins with the ghost of the king, the figure of a dead king but a living soul. This symbolizes the lingering spirit of death that is present in the setting. The ghost appears in different points in the play. Firstly appearing in the beginning Act 1 Scene 1, and appearing again to send a message of vengeance to Hamlet. Death is present throughout the play leaving a dominant presence in the setting.
After Hamlet’s father dies, Hamlet becomes obsessed with the thought of death, and thinks of it as the ultimate answer for his problems. Hamlet first encounters death, of course, in the death of his father. In mourning for his father’s death he is confronted by his mother and Claudius who tell him to move on. Hamlet replies that he would try to be happy but his father had only been dead for such a short time. He also refuses to take of the clothes that signify that he is in mourning, and remains melancholy throughout the play. Hamlet cries out ‘O, that this too solid flesh would melt,” signifying his desire to leave the horrible situation which is life in which he has found himself battling through. He begins with his thoughts of reaching a final rest through suicide. He realizes that he can do little to fix what has occurred, and that he knows too little to really do anything. Later on in the play, we see Hamlet encounter the ghost of his dead father.
When Hamlet interacts with the ghost, he is told that his Uncle Claudius who married his mother is the one who murdered his father, and that he must take revenge for doing so. In Hamlet’s unstable state, he begins to plot his strategy for revenge, yet, when he encounters Claudius in the chapel, he is entirely unable to kill him, confront him, or really do anything. He backed down based on his prediction of a blissful afterlife for his nemesis. Hamlet begins to question the afterlife.
It is only later on in the play, when Hamlet arranges for the players to guilt Claudius into admission of his murderous plot and then when Hamlet duels Laertes and kills Claudius, this is where Hamlet shows that he can act. All this plotting and contemplating murder also coincides with Hamlet’s obsession with his own death.
Of course we then reach Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, this is where he seriously contemplates suicide in order to escape the painful world in which he has found himself. This monologue was fueled by the death of Ophelia’s through suicide. Her suicide only adds to Hamlet’s suffering and confusion, and leads Hamlet upon the mystery of death. and he concludes that people who are afraid of what comes after death will not commit suicide, but those who are not afraid, will commit suicide because life is too unbearable to live through. Certainly, Hamlet’s musings on death suggest that he would die if only he would garner up the courage to kill himself or ask someone to kill him.
As we know Hamlet is the heir to the throne, and struggles with the aftermath of the death of his father. Hamlet voices his internal conflicts and begins his soliloquy with the opinion that death would be a peaceful release from his troubled life, but then his attitude shifts to that of an uneasiness towards death because of its unknowns.
In the beginning of his soliloquy, Hamlet views death as a peaceful liberation from the never-ending agony and constant battery of troubles in life. Through diction, syntax, and figurative language, it is evident that Hamlet’s conception of death as a calm and peaceful slumber makes him prone to suicidal feelings. He describes life as a time when he has to “suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and “take arms against a sea of troubles”. Shakespeare’s use of metaphors to compare life to the constant crashing of sea waves or the bombardment of arrows shows that Hamlet views life as an everlasting fight from agonizing trials such as “outrageous fortune” and “troubles.” He does not seem to have the power or motivation to accept the suffering and “take arms,” to live through life but instead he is considering suicide to enter a peaceful slumber. Shakespeare uses syntax, with the use of dashes in the clause “To die–to sleep–No more–” he emphasizes Hamlet’s view of death as a serene and final rest. The punctuation slows, and cradles each of the fragments, especially the phrase “to sleep,” which is Hamlet’s conception of death. The choice of the word “sleep” as a synonym for both death and the absence of being “no more” shows that Hamlet believes death is not torture, but rather a much needed eternal rest. Shakespeare’s diction “consummation” also gives death a sense of peaceful finality. The word “consummation” is typically used in reference to marriage or the final satisfying completion or achievement of something. Its use makes it seem as if Hamlet is welcoming death as a way to attain his final goal of ending the suffering in his life. In the first section, Hamlet views death as a way to escape from the unbearable challenges of his life.
Hamlet’s attitude towards death changes as he questions the consequences of what suicide because it seem to easy to achieve. His questioning of death is a result of his realization that suicide is much too easy of a solution to rid himself of the hardships of life. His shift of attitude towards death is evident in the contrasting diction of “death” and “dreams” which is paired. Dreams are usually happy and enjoyable, but when they are paired with death, they become nightmares. The sudden change in Hamlet’s thoughts of the restful sleep of death to a restless one filled with foreboding dreams reflects his shifting attitude towards death. He is no longer sure he would enjoy death because it may be filled with haunting dreams. Hamlet then asks, “who would bear the whips and scorns of time” (line 70), which is figurative language, personifying time. Shakespeare personifies time by giving it the ability to whip and scorn, Hamlet’s view of a torturous life once again arises and questions why people don’t end their lives to solve their pain. Hamlet is struggling with the costs and benefits of life and death, his indecisiveness is portrayed strongly by this section. He clearly knows that his life is not working out as he hoped it was, describing it as “weary”. This diction emphasizes his exhaustion from his unfulfilling life. Hamlet does not have motivation to continue living. During this section, the longest, most involved sentence is a question. The fact that a question dominates his soliloquy serves to show that he is stuck in a dilemma, weighing the possibilities of life and death. Hamlet is tired of life, but fears what might be waiting for him in death.
In the last section, Hamlet concludes that he unsure to kill himself and risk not knowing the mystery that death would be better than life. The diction and imagery show that he fears death because it is a concept which he does not fully understand. Shakespeare’s diction using “dread” in reference to the afterlife shows that Hamlet no longer believes that death is a peaceful release. He does not look forward to death anymore, but instead is afraid of the unknown and what death has in store for him. Shakespeare uses the visual and tactile image of “fly” (line 82) to describe the transition from life to death. The visual separation from the earth and mortal life and the tactile feeling of weightlessness support the assertion that Hamlet is reluctant to commit suicide because he would be delving into the unknown and would never be able to return to life. In a display of visual imagery, Shakespeare writes that “the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”. The visual imagery of colors can be seen as a metaphor because the colors are compared to Hamlet’s motivation to commit suicide. At first, Hamlet is set, or resolved, on suicide as a means to end his suffering, but the intensity of his motivation has been diminished by his thoughts. Because he has begun to doubt the benefits of death, Hamlet’s motivation to commit suicide has been greatly reduced and he decides that he would rather live and work out his problems, presumably by the means of revenge. Hamlet turns away from suicide as a means of ridding himself of problems because he is frightened by the unknown.
Hamlet’s attitude towards death shifts as he realizes that death is final and he is unsure he wants to achieve it because it may not be better than life. He believes his life is not what he wanted and not as ideal as he wishes, but he also recognizes that death is not the best solution to his problems because of uncertainty of the afterlife. Death is a frightening unknown to Hamlet, and the thought of dying by his own hand makes Hamlet uneasy because he does not know what death entails.