Harold Bloom says the genius of Shakespeare is that “Characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves” (The Invention of the Human XVII). Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, shows the development of Hamlet within the land of Denmark. Hamlet goes through many changes throughout the five acts, but these changes are not entirely due to the events of the play, but rather to Hamlet’s confrontations with himself. He battles with his mind through soliloquys, he overhears himself speaking, and he always questions himself and the world because he is unable to accept any belief.
It is not until the last act that he comes to any conclusion: an acceptance of fatalism, a philosophy that states that all events are driven by Fate. In Poetics, Aristotle says that every tragic hero has a fatal flaw, or “hamartia”, that causes the events of the tragedy to develop. At the beginning of Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father reveals to Hamlet the circumstances of his death and ushers Hamlet onto a quest for revenge. Unlike Laertes, who after learning of his own father’s death, rushes onto revenge without hesitation, Hamlet spends the next four acts contemplating what it is he should do.
Hamlet knows that his destiny should be to kill Claudius, his father’s usurper. In Act 3, Scene 4, Hamlet has the chance for revenge but he withdraws. Hamlet’s hamartia is his thoughts and his questioning mind; he thinks far too much and he thinks, perhaps, too well. Out of the 4,000 lines of the play, 1500 (more than one-third) are Hamlet speaking, usually to himself. One of that main focuses of Hamlet’s musings is the debate of thinking and knowledge versus action.
In the play-within-the-play, Hamlet writes the last few lines, which the Player King recites, “Our wills and fates do so contrary run/ That our devises still are overthrown;/ Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own” (3. 2. 198-200). To Hamlet, his life and the revenge that he feels obligated to carry out, chain him to his fate. To Hamlet, Denmark is “a prison. ” The only times that he is free is when is thinking; his thoughts are his own and only freedom. Hamlet is very aware of his own fate and the fate of all men: to die. He already knows of fatalism, but he cannot accept it. The thought of death perplexes and frightens Hamlet.
But death, to Hamlet, is not a choice to be made. “To be or not to be, that is the question”(3. 1. 57). “To be or not to be” is not a choice, it is a question and a question is a thought and thus a type of freedom, but death is an end, and thus “none of our own. ” That death is not a choice and “the undiscovered country” can never be known in this life, no matter how much thinking Hamlet does, is what troubles Hamlet the most. It is as if he knows that following the course of revenge will lead him to his death and he cannot accept it. He wants to meet his fate but his thoughts delay him: Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, nd thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought … … and lose the name of action. (3. 1. 84-89) Hamlet thinks of himself as a coward and looks upon himself lowly. He even describes “thought” as an act that makes one sick and irresolute. As a character who disdains thought, but nonetheless is always thinking, Hamlet is always at war with himself. His father gave him the heavy burden of vengeance and Hamlet feels inadequate and unready to meet this fate, at least for Acts I-IV, because he never acts, he only thinks and hesitates. Part of what makes Hamlet think so much is his utter lack of belief in anything.
To believe in something is to have confidence that it is the truth and Hamlet is not confident about anything, including himself. He never says that he believes in God or in good or evil because he always questions everything. He questions the ghost, death, choice, nihilism but he never believes in anything until the final act. After returning from his exile, Hamlet visits a cemetery. This is perhaps the most famous scene in all of literature: Hamlet holding up the skull of Yorick. Act 5 is strange because Hamlet seems to have become calmer, as if he transformed over his exile, and he is not so much at odds with the idea of death.
Hamlet looks straight into death’s eyes and it does not frighten him. In fact, he tells a series of jokes. He speaks of other famous princes who have long since been dead and he recognizes his own fate. When Hamlet is preparing for the duel with Laertes, he tells Horatio of what he had discovered lying in bed the night before. He says “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends”(5. 2. 10). This quote is explicitly fatalistic and expresses a higher order that structures our lives, or at least our deaths. Horatio tells Hamlet that he should not fight because he believes Hamlet will lose and suspects it is a trap.
Hamlet knows that it is a trap. He knows that he is to face death and he accepts his fate by accepting the duel. He is resolute on fighting and not thinking. No longer does he call himself a coward or question the role that he plays in these events; in this final scene he says: There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ‘tis not to come, if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be. (5. 2. 89-193) This is Hamlet’s acceptance with fate. He has struggled throughout the play with confronting his destiny, and he is finally ready because he has finally come to believe that destiny exists and that one must always be ready to confront destiny. Hamlet’s hamartia has been his thinking, his hesitation, and “readiness” is the antithesis of hesitation. His readiness is the final development of his character: he has grown from a hesitant “coward” to a man who has come to terms with death. This is also Hamlet’s only philosophical answer instead of question throughout the play. Let be,” shows us how far Hamlet has developed; after fighting with himself and with destiny throughout the play, he has come to his transcendence and accepted his belief in fatalism. Before the final duel starts, Hamlet apologizes to Laertes for his own “mental illness. ” In a way, this was Hamlet’s problem the whole time: the illness of thought. But time for thinking is over and tragic action ensues. Fate pulls her strings so that Hamlet and Laertes kill each other, but it is not until Hamlet is on the brink of death that he is able to fulfill his destiny of killing Claudius.
Perhaps Hamlet came to the duel only to die, but when he sees the chance to kill Claudius, and recognizes where Fate is leading him, Hamlet forces Claudius to drink from the poisoned cup. Finally, Hamlet’s hamartia has been conquered but at the cost of his life. But his death is not morose, it is triumphant. He died in the name of action, in the name of his father and in the name of fate. He had been battling against hesitation through the play and had finally won through his acceptance of fate, even if it was at the moment of his death.
The play ends with soldiers carrying Hamlet’s body, with military music and rites playing triumphantly and soldiers firing their guns in honor of Hamlet, in honor of what Hamlet stood for: the acceptance of fate and thus of death. Works Cited Bloom , Harold. The Invention of the Human. New York City, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998. 745. Print. Shakespeare, William, and William Shakespeare. Hamlet. Norton Critical Edition. New York City, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 2011. 397. Print.