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Updated October 19, 2020

To Be or Not to Be: Hamlet Moral Dilemma

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To Be or Not to Be: Hamlet Moral Dilemma essay
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In William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark and the protagonist of the play. Hamlet is the “embodiment of indecisions and internal moral dilemma”. Although Hamlet is consumed by his father’s death and wants nothing more than to avenge him, his indecisiveness ultimately leads to his demise along with that of other characters in the play. Not only does his internal moral dilemma cause his own death, but the deaths of everyone else in his life.
The play starts with the ghost of Hamlet’s late father telling Hamlet to avenge his death. The ghost demands justice and wants Hamlet to kill his uncle Claudius who poisoned him and caused his untimely death. Brewed over his father’s murder, Hamlet becomes obsessed and seeks out revenge.

However in the entire play, “Hamlet spectacularly fails to keep his oath” (Ryan). Although there is something very comedic about Hamlet’s indecisiveness, it can be argued that the reason Hamlet is indecisive is because he is a noble scholar. He is cautious and stops to think before acting on anything. Therefore, Hamlet’s indecisiveness stems from the fact that he does not want to give in to being impulsive and driven by enraged emotions. He wants proof for his actions, which is ironic because the more he thinks, the less he does.

To be or not to be- that is the question:

One of the most recognizable Shakespeare quotes is another symbol of Hamlet’s inner dilemma and how his experience of loss of his father has pushed him to the brink of insanity. He is even considering taking his own life.

His obsession for revenge causes him self-doubt and is also causing his mental health to slowly deteriorate. Not only is he considering suicide, but his ability to act is also affected because he cannot decide what he should do- do or not do. So he does neither! Therefore, I believe Shakespeare’s use of soliloquy is particularly important because it describes Hamlet’s inner dilemma and showcases the struggles of the mind eloquently.

As Hamlet overthinks and second guesses everything, he begins to wonder if the ghost was really a demon trying to trick him into committing murder and kill Claudius without just cause. Hamlet’s hesitance in killing his uncle Claudius is also showcased through the play in many instances.

I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil, and the devil hath the power
T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is a very potent with such spirits,
Abuse me to damn me.

Because of his doubts, Hamlet wants to confirm his suspicions about Claudius. For example: Hamlet’s hesitance in killing his uncle Claudius is showcased when he reenacts the murder of his father in the play called “Mousetrap”. The plays purpose is to stage the killing of Hamlet’s father, and he does so to elicit a reaction from Claudius that can prove that he is in fact guilty.

The importance of “Mousetrap” signifies Hamlet’s uncertainty once again. He thinks if Claudius sees his sin reenacted in front of him, he will surely show some visible signs of guilt. Therefore, Hamlet’s justification for going to such extent i.e. to stage a play is that he is unwillingness to make the wrong decision. I think Hamlet does not want to sin as it is an immoral act and wants confirmation before performing the sin of murdering someone.

Conscience doth make cowards of us all.

Hamlet’s conscience represents his obligation to embrace his duty as the king’s son and the resolve to avoid any regrets that he may endure if he did the wrong thing. There is no doubt that killing someone is an immoral act and Hamlet is not a murderer. Murdering someone is easier said than done. His hesitancy in killing his uncle Claudius showcases that murder goes against his natural instinct, therefore he justifies the delay as his own judgement of conduct. He wants to condemn Claudius for his wrongdoing. But I believe he is conflicted because he knows “there is no merit in paybacks and fighting wrong with wrong” (Thind).

Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying,
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,
And so am I revenged. That would be scanned;
A villain kills my father, and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.

After Claudius showcased his guilt, Hamlet has no reason not to act now. He has is proof that he was looking for all along- guilt from Claudius that he committed murder. However, Hamlet passed up his most obvious opportunity to kill Claudius when he was praying with his back turned. Hamlet passes this opportunity by convincing himself that he does not want Claudius’s soul to enjoy the pleasures of heaven. He is yet again reinventing another reason to not kill. Maybe internally, Hamlet does not want to stoop to Claudius’s level and subconsciously does not want to make a sinner of himself. Therefore, he is masking that by continuously passing up opportunities to kill Claudius.

If Hamlet had acted decisively at this best possible opportunity, “none of the tragic outcomes later would have occurred” (Nightingale).
Hamlet clearly displays that he is a man of moral. He only wants to hurt Claudius – someone who should be condemned for his sin of murder. However there is ironic in Hamlet’s actions later in the play- he killed a lot of people along the way including his girlfriend and her father.

During an emotionally charged conversation with his mother Gertrude, he hears a man’s voice from behind the curtain, He is so fueled by anger and revenge that he is killed the man. In his hopes that the man behind the curtain is Claudius, he stabbed him. Little did he know that it was actually Polonius! This is an example of how Hamlet. Although wants revenge on Claudius is so obsessed and paranoid that he has killed an innocent man while seeking revenge. This action is inherently contradicting of what Hamlet has been conveying throughout the whole play- just cause to kill.

A bloody deed- almost as bad, good mother,
As kill a king and marry with his brother

To my surprise, Hamlet does not feel bad about this immoral act and goes on talking to his mother about her wrongdoings. Given how the majority of the play Hamlet has been consumed to find facts about his father’s killer, he is not at all bothered. Does this mean that Hamlet was simply refusing to act on killing his uncle but killing someone else (accident or not) is not a concern for him?

Even at a severe moment where he killed an innocent man, he goes back to his mother, pointing fingers at her and making her the reason for this rage. This is also another great example of how the paranoia of wanting revenge is slowly deteriorating the morality of Hamlet- and slowly making him comfortable with an act which he previously deemed immoral.

Ophelia is grieving over the death of her father and mourning his death. Not only did Hamlet has previously break her heart to fake insanity in his pursuit of evidence that Claudius is his father’s killer. He disregarded completed how this actions affects Ophelia.

She is heartbroken by this. She is obviously depressed by Hamlet’s disregard for her feelings and her depression worsens as she learns that Hamlet has killed her father, driving her to madness. Polonius’s death has obviously taken its toll on Ophelia and her death was triggered by her mental breakdown- this being another example of how Hamlets obsession has not only caused him to be dismissive of Ophelia’s feelings, but also causing her to kill herself!

To Be or Not to Be: Hamlet Moral Dilemma essay

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To Be or Not to Be: Hamlet Moral Dilemma. (2020, Sep 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/to-be-or-not-to-be-hamlet-moral-dilemma/

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