The ways in which individuals struggle to restore honour and certainty.
“HAMLET: To be, or not to be? That is the question—
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them? To die…
Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”
Hamlet is an enigmatic character that attempts to restore honour by avenging his father’s death. He is plagued with the passing of his father alongside his uncle’s rise to power, thus resulting in a life of ambiguity. Not only is Hamlet bewildered by puzzling visions and by commands seemingly incapable of fulfillment, but he is also the victim of misinterpretation by those around him. Hamlet constantly questions everything he is presented and as a result, spends too much time contemplating decisions that more often than not, no decision transpires at all. It is as if Hamlet lacks the connection between thought and action; consequently, his slow paced decisions lead to the deaths of the principal cast. Ultimately, the fate of Denmark’s deepening sense of insecurity is a direct result of Hamlet’s lack of honour and convicting action. Hamlet attempts to restore honour, to his father, yet because of his indecisiveness and doubt – uncertainty- he struggles to act. Therefore, Shakespeare is demonstrating how in order to achieve certainty and restore honour to old king Hamlet, Hamlet must compromise his own honour.
CREATIVE PIECE #1
With every heart’s last beat,
with every lung’s last breath,
a friend, I meet.
But heaven’s light through the
day and night
To die, to sleep, to sleep,
among a bank of flowers
is my work.
As for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee
because no man is death
except for me.
This poem is about death and how death gains a friend when someone dies, however, death’s powers are weakened by heaven. Despite these weakening powers, death is still evermore powerful because everyone dies – no matter what. Hamlet struggles with deciding to kill or let Claudius live, thus causing conflict between life and death. This concept – the struggle between life and death – is central to the plot of Hamlet and its themes and is represented in the poem through heaven weakening death with its light. Hamlet’s root of action is avenging his father’s death; however, Hamlet’s feigned madness eventually consumes him, which leads to the deaths of the entire principal cast of the play because of Hamlet’s indecisiveness pertaining to killing Claudius. The poem speaks to how death impacts all except for one – Hamlet – because he is the one to blame for the others deaths. Ultimately, Hamlet’s inability to restore honor to his father by avenging old king Hamlet’s death leads to the destruction of his life and the lives of those around him, thus thrusting Denmark into an uncertain future at the hands of the brash Fortinbras.
CREATIVE PIECE #2
The inspiration behind this drawing largely stems from the themes of death and the consequent struggle that Hamlet has with it throughout the play. The skull – a clear symbol of jester Yorick’s skull in Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy – is looking down upon Hamlet from a power position (upper left corner). The constant struggle in Hamlet to “kill or not to kill” Claudius evokes within him a sense of paranoia and chaotic madness that was not feigned by him intentionally. The black strings of death and corruption that had led Hamlet to true madness begins to overpower him – just as the red strings from the skull are woven and fed into all sensory areas of the drawing subject’s face (eyes, nose, mouth, etc). By letting himself be obsessed with the death of another, Hamlet ultimately became consumed by death and chaos as a result. Often, the human mind is more readily empathetic by being presented with an image – in whatever form that may be (art, imagery in poetry, etc). Furthermore, the red strings are symbolic representations of the blood shed in Hamlet, but they also allude to an eastern myth regarding “The Red Thread of Fate.” Fate and destiny are major themes throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays, and Hamlet is no exception. Hamlet’s certain fate that he is given through enacting an honourable revenge against Claudius creates a red string of fate attached to himself and death. In the Eastern mythology, the red string may never break – although it may bend and knot – further representing the twists and turns in Hamlet’s back-and-forth plans to kill King Claudius. However, Hamlet was never able to detach himself from the fated death that followed him – starting with the death of his father. I chose to represent Hamlet’s struggle with death as a drawing because art gives a striking and immediate reaction within most people. It is easier for me, in fact, to relate to something that I can see rather than hear or read. The empathy for Hamlet and his circumstance lies within the truth of humanity: death is uncertain and unknown, an experience no one who lives has ever experienced, and one no one has gone through who lives.
It is no secret that it can be hard for people to walk around in another’s shoes – especially when trying to fit into the shoes of a fictional character written centuries ago by a man whose vernacular is as foreign to today’s mainstream population as an alien language. However, there are unquestionable truths within Shakespeare’s plays – and his characters in particular – that shed light on a humanity that never truly changes. Even after centuries of linguistic shifts. Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most universally known and beloved plays, and for good reason. Hamlet showcases the very rawness of human character – the depths through which individuals will go to restore honour and certainty in their lives are expertly exemplified through this broody character. Through a constant fluctuation in trying to decide whether killing King Claudius would restore certainty and honour, Hamlet reveals the all too realistic truth that humanity is afraid of: finality. Within the clutches of death there are no second chances, and one can never be certain that death is the only answer to any problem – death gives no do-overs. Within this struggle that Hamlet faces, we find empathy and understanding; after all, who would not empathize with a character that is as uncertain of death as everyone else? Furthermore, the concept of honour and the sacrifice of one’s own in order to salvage another’s is a truly noble and relatable urge. It is easy to destroy one’s own honour of it means becoming certain of the secure honour of someone you care deeply about. In the case of Hamlet, he was willing to kill and face death to restore the honour of his father – although the uncertainty in death prolonged this from happening, Hamlet did indeed showcase the parts of humanity willing to overcome their pride to restore another’s honour.
There is a fallacy within our world. We are unable to understand or even gain slivers of the truth that lies within death. Death is final. With the technology of the twenty-first century we are still unable to turn the uncertainties of the afterlife into certainties. However, there have been endless attempts to understand the uncertainties that death brings. We have tried animating the dead, preventing death through medicine, and even trying to attain immortality. In Hamlet, however, death’s finality is twisted because the dead are capable of coming back to life. The ghost of old king Hamlet returns to haunt his son and avenge his own death.
In my own writing, I often personify death because it brings helps me understand the uncertainties that are present after life. Instead of trying to bring the dead back, I use my own experiences to try and understand death’s motives, which in turn, helps me understand what happens once you die.
A wide spectrum of Hamlet’s uncertainties emerge throughout the play, and even the reader is left with questionable thoughts on what his main uncertainty is in the end. By having a better understanding of his character now, I feel as if we have a connection. Hamlet’s troubles seem to have stemmed from the death of his father, which traps him in a mindspace of ambiguity. My troubles have stemmed from the uneasiness as well as pressure that emits from postsecondary and career expectations. Hamlet is expected to have many duties as prince, to be honourable and strong for his family and country, just as youth in society are expected to succeed for not only their own future, but for the future of the next generation. My greatest uncertainty is in relation to my parents. If I grant their wishes, it is seen as honourable to them, but dishonourable to myself, and if I decide to go through with what I want, I am honouring myself, but dishonouring them. I have yet to come up with a resolution to this- should I do it for their sake, or for my sake? A common trait I share with Hamlet is that we both linger on thoughts that take into consideration the pros and cons as well as the consequences of our actions for too long. It is a teeter tottering dilemma of whether an individual is able to choose one side over another- the outcome in which determines the fate of their relationship with others. In order for Hamlet to pursue his father’s honour, he commits dishonourable acts and sacrifices the lives of others, the latter occurring mostly because of his stalled decision making. In my case, there would be no lives lost, but instead, broken bonds of disappointment and lost respect would be the most probable outcome.
Connotatively, honour is ironic. Honour can mean that to be honourable is finding personal integrity or abiding by moral principles. However, honour can also be interpreted as society judging one’s virtue. In fact, religious and societal beliefs determine what is honourable and what is dishonourable. Meanwhile, certainty is a degree of security. William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is centered on an individual who is rooted in uncertainty; nonetheless, he is forced to make significant decisions regardless of the ambiguity that surrounds him. Throughout the play, Hamlet finds that in order to restore certainty he must compromise his honour. Therefore, Shakespeare’s play demonstrates how honour and certainty conflict. Consequently, this translates to an internal struggle of uncertainty between Hamlet’s faith and his path to restore his father’s honour. In order to achieve certainty it is necessary for one’s honour to be compromised
Hamlet is a character full of a multitude of choices he could not decide on – until he made the ultimate decision of death. Death to those around him, and ultimately death to himself. All of which were in the pursuit of restoring his father’s honour – which he felt had been cracked and damaged beyond repair by his own uncle Claudius. He was able to trade his own honour for madness in order to rectify the uncertainty that came with the death of his father. Alas – poor Hamlet, in this madness, exemplifies a shining revelation about humanity and their lacking ability to resolve major uncertainties such as death. Through Hamlet’s constant oscillation between death and life, there is the stark fact that death is the most unknown – and the most feared – phenomena in human history. The only thing about death that is certain is the fact that one cannot come back from it. And here lies the uncertainty of whether death is a viable option for any harrowing crisis an individual may face. The empathy we feel for those who have died or those who are near death is the inherent understanding that death is the truest form of finality to be found – the very same reason why Hamlet found it so difficult to act upon his urge to kill Claudius and restore his father’s honour. Death is final. Any option that is reversible automatically gains favour over something that is irreversible, because humanity is unable to cope with things they cannot change. Hence, the reason why Hamlet is so endearing and why he evokes so much empathy within so many people is this: he represents both the parts of ourselves that have to face something irreversible and the other parts that fight to obtain what we believe is right. In Hamlet’s case, doing what he felt was right entailed bringing the irreversible into a situation that demanded the restoration of honour and certainty. And there is nothing more certain than death.