Death has a way of changing one’s perspective on life. Whether it be for the better or the worse. You can never tell what a person is really going through. The death of an instrumental person can change a person’s whole way of living, thinking, and even their morals. Everything can become altered and nothing can really go back to what it was before. We see this in William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Hamlet’s relationship with death goes from being lost in life and grief stricken, to wanting to avenge his father’s death, later becoming suicidal, and finally understanding how death can severely affect more than just in person. Hamlet grows from being a revenge stricken being to fully grasp the knowledge that death is much bigger than anything he could ever imagine.
When we first meet Hamlet, we already know that his father has died, his uncle took over the throne, and his mother has married his uncle. With this, they have taken what was rightfully Hamlets, the throne. They completely ignored the line of succession. All of this throws Hamlet into this deep state of being lost and grief stricken. At this point, he sees death as the reason for his mental and well being declining.
Claudius starts Act 1 scene 2 off with a speech about how the kingdom should overcome the grief they have on the death of King Hamlet. This is a sort of foreshadow to what we will see in Hamlet’s emotions. “That with the wisest sorrow think on him, Together with remembrance of ourselves” (I. ii. 6-7). If the kingdom is feeling sad about the death of old King Hamlet, one could only imagine what was going inside Hamlet’s head. Hamlet is obviously a lost soul at this point.
We are able to see his grief to an extent in this small exchange with his mother. With his great grief being widely shown by him, she tells him, “all that lives must die” (I. ii. 71). He responds saying that is true, Earlier she had told him to take his nighted clothes off. She asks him why it’s so important for him to wear it. “Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not “seems.” ‘Tis not alone alone my inky cloak, good mother, Nor customary suits of solemn balck” (I. ii. 76 -78). It is almost as if she wants him to stop mourning his father’s death.
Claudius also makes it clear that Hamlet is grieving too much. “In filial obligation for some term to do obsequious sorrow: but to persevere in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubbornness” (I. ii. 91-94). It is clear that Hamlet’s grief and loss of well and mental being has affected the day to day of Claudius and Gertrude. At least to the point where they can’t ignore it. All throughout this conversation it is almost as if Gertrude and Claudius have seemingly gotten over the death of old King Hamlet, and are not to the least extent, mourning as Hamlet is, which adds suspicion.
Hamlet’s relationship and attitude towards death changes significantly after the first two scenes. We see that he becomes suicidal, especially with his soliloquies, and he seeks to avenge death. His perception and attitude that death had caused his depression and misfortunes to this point, turned into a relationship where he will use death as a way to solve his problems, whether it be killing himself or getting revenge for his father’s death.
The first time we see Hamlet thinking of suicide is right after his initial scene with Claudius and Gertrude. “O, that this too too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew! Or that everlasting had not fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” (I. ii. 129-132). This the forst of many times he will think of suicide as his escape from this reality he doesn’t want to be in. Subsequently, he is exposed to the ghost of his father. His father tells him to, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (I. v. 24), and that “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown” (I. v. 37-38).
This automatically launches Hamlet into this new, but familiar, sensation that he can use death to solve his problems. Although this time, it doesn’t involve killing himself. Another key moment that shows where Hamlet is trying to use death as a way for revenge, is when he instructs the traveling players to play “can you play the Murder of Gonzago” (II. ii. 488-489). This play will be instrumental in exploiting Claudius’s guilt, and furthering Hamlet’s quest and ambition to use death for revenge. We then see Hamlet, once again contemolaiting suicide with is famous sililoqui, “To be, or not to be…” (III. i. 54-90).
We can see this speech as him switching back and forth from wanting to commit suicide and avenging his fathers death, but in reality it seems to be a way for Hamlet to throw off Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonius off his tracks. During the play, we see Claudius get up and say, “Give me some light; away!” (III. ii. 242). This all but confirms it for Hamlet that he has to avenge his father. He almost forgets about suicide. He almost kills Claudius. But doesn’t because he would go to heaven unlike his father. All this signifies a change starting to occur in Hamlet once again.
The final change Hamlet has in the way he thinks and in his relationship with him killing Polonius. Nothing will ever be the same for him or the kingdom. Ophelia goes crazy and dies while Hamlet is on his way to England. An instrumental moment where we actually see the change in Hamlet from using death as his way to escape or solve his problems, to realising it isn’t the way and that it has a much more deeper effect rather than just him is when he is talking to the grave diggers. They hand him a skull and he knows the man. “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him” (V. i. 157). He starts seeing the effects death can have and actually holds the bones of a person he knows. Almost an epiphany moment for him.
The next moment where we see him change is when he realises the grave is for his beloved Ophelia. “I lov’d Ophelia…” (V. i. 237-239). He now sees the corpse of the woman he loved. The epitome of him seeing that death only makes things worse. In the end, Hamlet becomes more and more close with this relationship and attitude towards death. He tells Horatio to tell his story and keep it alive. Almost a way for people to learn that revenge and death will only make things worse. Death was the hand that shot Hamlet’s family dewn from power.
Throughout the story we see Hamlet go from being a lost soul, to being suicidal, wanting to avenge his father’s death, to finally realising that death and revenge will be the downfall to him and his opponent. He comes to realize that death will not only affect him, but everyone around him. The growth Hamlet has is interesting to see and almost exciting. Yet he dies at the end, doing what his father wanted him to do. Which was to kill his uncle. The death of old King Hamlet changed Hamlet for the worse. It turned him into a person that would, instead of becoming the poor grieving son, a parallel of his uncle. Killing for power.