Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, is a revenge tragedy which navigates a world of complex personal struggles relevant to this day. Burdened with the alleged assassination of his father, Hamlet combats his inner turmoil between his filial obligation to avenge his father or stay true to the Christian belief through following the new king, raising questions of corruption and the inevitability of death. The amoral state of Denmark which Shakespeare has produced deliberately creates a complex network of opposing ideals to raise morally ambiguous questions that still remain debated today, giving the play Hamlet a universality that has allowed it to endure to the modern day.
Hamlet’s inaction in carrying out his duty for revenge due to his emotional weakness and morality is one of the most recognizable aspects in the entire play. A clear contrast is created between the task he is given by his father’s ghost, and his own personal values, painting an inconclusive picture in Hamlet’s mind whether to act. The real source of his procrastination stems from his morals which do not allow him to carry through with the murder which is evident through: “why yet I live to say “this thing’s to do” sith I have cause and will and strength and means to do it”. This paradox is created by Hamlet himself to show that not only is he aware of his own action, but also that his is aware of the consequences. The polysyndeton of “cause and will and strength and means” emphasises the corruption of Denmark that Hamlet lives in; and all the reasons that prompt him to carry out his revenge. Furthermore, the cyclical nature of Hamlet’s final soliloquy, ending with “my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth” implies further inaction. Through swearing to his ‘thoughts’ rather than his ‘actions, it shows that even when facing his potential death, he is unable to break the cycle due to his morality. According to the critic Goethe, Hamlet’s task from the ghost is “too heavy for his own soul”. This idea can be seen in the rhetorical question, “And I shall couple hell? O fie! Hold, Hold, my heart…”. This shows Hamlet seriously considering removing his ethics to go through with his revenge but is once again stifled by his innate morality. Therefore, Hamlet’s morality prevents him from successfully avenging his father’s death until the end, highlighting the futility of his emotional weakness.
With Denmark during the Elizabethan era as the epicenter of the play, Shakespeare utilizes corruption to highlight the struggles of moral characters in an unjust environment. The political instability is shown early in the play with the guard Marcellus stating “something is rotten in the state of Denmark”, foreshadowing not only the deaths of many integral characters, but also the political unrest Denmark is feeling as a nation. Corruption is epitomised in Hamlet through the character of Claudius who used the ambiguous method of murdering King Hamlet to satisfy his obsession for power. Claudius’ duplicitous nature can be evidently seen by his repeated use of the word ‘seems’, as shown in “seeming-virtuous queen” and “Seems, madam … I know not seems”. This language feature highlights his conniving thoughts as he refrains from forcing people to do his bidding, but rather leading them towards his goals. Shakespeare also utilises metatheatre in the form of ‘Mouse-trap’ play to reflect the corruption riddled throughout Denmark. The deaths of many major characters such as Gertrude, Laertes and Claudius that emanate corruption are heavily juxtaposed to the loyal Horatio. Hamlet tells Horatio “thou art e’en as just a mad/ As e’er my conversation coped withal”, as he is the one person who remained with his morals intact and untainted in the corrupt world of Denmark. The corruption in Denmark transformed many characters (FIX THIS)
Hamlet considers the implications of life and death as an attempt to escape corruption with the burden of his morals. The graveyard scene, where Hamlet willingly leaps into the grave symbolizes his curiosity in the matter with the stage directions, “This is I, Hamlet of Dane (leaps into grave)”. The decisive exclamation of himself as “Hamlet of Dane” shows that his ambition can only be obtained in death. The outrageousness of his action presents humorous, satirical tone through which Shakespeare alludes to Hamlet’s overall inability to release himself from his moral shackles into the corrupt Denmark. Despite his yearning to know what lies after death, his Catholic morals clash with his intrinsic belief inhibiting from committing suicide. This idea is evident in the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy; “who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death”. Showing that Hamlet believes that he has not committed suicide not because he is afraid of death, but that he is unsure of the afterlife. Through this inner turmoil, Hamlet undergoes a transformation over the course of the play; beginning as a young man curious of the world around, however soon discovering the corruption of Denmark and losing his passion. This transformation can be seen as he goes from “to be or not to be?” to “let be” in the final act. Hamlet’s consideration of death is a result of his desire for a world free of corruption and the lack of understanding creates and ambiguity of Hamlet’s philosophical perspective of life and death.
Hamlet is a play which both, reflects its own context and resonates with modern audiences. Through conflict and ambiguity, Hamlet explores the futility of morality in a corrupt world. The integration of these ideas through soliloquys, characters and dramatic techniques gives the play its textual integrity allowing its existence to this day. By showing the inevitable deterioration of a character until he makes the ultimate sacrifice due to his morality, Shakespeare uses the play to provoke a true thought about the true corruption of society.