Hamlet - Tragic Flaw of Incongruence
Post on 14-Apr-2017
AP Senior EnglishMr. Lindblom
December 27, 2010
The Mind Body Dichotomy: Hamlets Flaw of Incongruence Hamlets profound metaphysical ponderings, idealistic mourning for his father and tragically brutal end guarantee him a position among the most vivid and compelling characters of Shakespearean literature. Yet, however memorable Hamlets character may be, his tragic flaw is equally distinctive for its ambiguity. Analysts have classically ascribed Hamlets imperfection to his most fundamental personality trait his pensiveness which is criticized as giving rise to an inability to act. Nevertheless, Hamlets cautious contemplations are not responsible for his falling action. Rather, Hamlet is destroyed by the very opposite characteristic - an underlying impulsiveness derived from a divided sense of self. At the most basic level, Hamlet maintains a simple and honorable goal: to safeguard the memory of his father. After King Hamlet dies, Prince Hamlet is severely distraught, so much so that he refuses to abandon mourning in spite of the swift marriage of his mother to his uncle Claudius. Rather than passively accepting death as inevitable, Hamlet describes the loss of his father as having sapped existence of all meaning: How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world! (I. ii. 133-134). This perspective leads him to view Claudius with contempt, for Hamlet perceives Claudiuss hasty marriage to his mother Gertrude as a usurpation of his fathers place. Hamlet is even suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his fathers death, stating I doubt some foul play (I. ii. 253). Thus, when an apparition of his father appears, Hamlet is willing to risk his life to follow it. In response to warnings by his friend Horatio to Think on it because the ghost might deprive your sovereignty of reason / And draw you into madness (73-74), Hamlet replies Why, what should be the fear? / I do not set my life at a pins fee (I.iv. 64-65). With this, Hamlet rejects all caution and reason in favor of a reckless desire to understand. Accordingly, when the apparition tells Hamlet that The serpent that did sting your fathers life / Now wears his crown (I.v. 38-39), Hamlet becomes committed to avenging the unjust murder by killing Claudius. As an idealist, Hamlet has a consummate belief in the importance of justice and is willing to sacrifice his life to preserve his values. He promises the ghost, thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain (I.v. 102-103). Thus, Hamlet promises that the act of revenge will utterly consume his mind for the duration of his existence. Fueled by a passionate grief for his fathers death, Hamlet makes this vow without a semblance of forethought, thereby solidifying his fate as an instrument of revenge for the spirit world. In this manner, Hamlets quest is both initiated and driven by Hamlets more impulsive self. At this point, Hamlet fails himself in failing to deliberate. Separated from his reason, Hamlet carelessly pursues the ghost, credulously believes its tale, and swears to avenge it all done without making any rational considerations. Hamlet does not truly know if the ghost is actually his father, if the tale is true, or even whether he will be harmed as he follows it. These considerations should be essential for anyone plotting revenge for a crime, because just motivation is necessary to ensure proper punishment. If Hamlet wants to avenge Claudius for sending his father to purgatory, he should be sure that Claudius actually committed the act and that King Hamlet actually wants the act avenged. Though Hamlet is ultimately correct in assuming Claudius is responsible for the murder, it remains possible that the ghost was Hamlets own delusion. This is evidenced in the forth scene of act III. As Hamlet sees his fathers ghost and begins speaking with it, his mother questions how ist with you, / That you do bend your eye on vacancy, / And with the open air hold discourse? (118-120). That Hamlets mother is unable to see the same vision as Hamlet casts doubt upon the legitimacy of the apparition. It is possible that it is merely a frantic conjuration of his distracted mind. Accordingly, Gertrude urges Hamlet Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper / Sprinkle cool patience (125-126). This urging actually provides him with good advice. If Hamlet is motivated by insanity rather than by the beckoning of the spirit world, then his decision to kill Claudius is a fundamentally flawed one. In such a case, murdering Claudius might be an unnecessary sin a stain on Hamlets soul which would be of no benefit to his father. Hamlet might indeed have benefitted from followings his mothers advice of patience. Considering the antecedent motivation, his responsive behavior, and the potential consequences of that behavior might provide Hamlet with the firm resolution and intelligent tactics necessary for his goals. Instead, Hamlet accentuates this failure to reflect by immediately selecting a plan to accomplish his new goals without allowing himself time to think. Again failing to give important matters due consideration, Hamlet tells his friends I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on (I.v. 170-171). In this manner, Hamlet binds himself to an ultimately ineffective method of avenging his father, for it does not lead to the swift death of Claudius. If Hamlet carefully thought about his situation, established a clear plan of action, and diligently followed it, he might have been successful in punishing his fathers murderer. Instead, Hamlet becomes caught in a web of uncertainty in which his short bursts of recklessness are either self-destructive or futile; thus, the currents of his ambitions invariably turn awry. Hamlets vacillating recklessness is epitomized by his subsequent decision to enlist the players in his revenge plan. While surrounded by the ghost, Hamlet behaves decisively and confidently as if he is certain that Claudius is guilty of his fathers murder and that King Hamlets appearance makes Hamlet personally responsible for avenging him. However, Hamlet retracts on his promise as he establishes the next stage in his scheme. In admitting that The spirit I have seen / May be a devil (II.ii. 555-556), Hamlet makes clear that his decisions to believe the ghost may have been hasty and that he cannot be as committed as his immediate impulse led him to be. Thus, Hamlet seems to recognize the error of following his whims and the importance of evaluating situations carefully. However, rather than taking note of this recognition and taking care to think before acting again, he makes another rash decision which is completely contrary to his former one. Hamlet arranges for the players to act out the play A Murder of Gonzago in the hope of eliciting a reaction from Claudius. In doing so, Hamlet sacrifices the opportunity for a stealthy killing so he can catch the conscience of the king (II.ii. 562). Thus, Hamlet remains impulsive, even though he cannot be decisive. If he were convinced the ghost was really his father, as he had earlier seemed to be, he would kill Claudius through more furtive means. Now, however, he instead chooses to show Claudius what he knows in the hope of recognizing guilt in Claudius face. This plan is far from secure; Claudius could potentially mask his reaction, and the play will alert Claudius to the risk Hamlet poses to him. Thus, this new plan of Hamlets is further evidence of his inability to think things through. After seeing Fortinbras army in the forth scene of act IV, Hamlet criticizes himself for allowing his capability and godlike reason / To fust (38-39) when he has cause, and will, and strength, and means (45) to kill Claudius. However, it is that underlying ambiguity of cause and action derived from his reckless planning that prevents Hamlets goals from being realized. Hamlet probably has a cause, but he is not completely sure whether the ghost is real. Hamlet should have strength and will, but he holds internal doubts which weaken and confuse him. Hamlet has means, but his hasty plan prevents him from making ideal use of them. Indeed, Hamlet is not truly hindered as much as saved by reason. Fortinbras acts decisively with his army because he established his plan of action prior to setting out. Hamlet, meanwhile, doubts whether he plans to attack, has not decided how he will do it, and has no conception of how he will respond if he is victorious. Reason is the only thing that can potentially check Hamlet when he feels compelled to follow a thoughtless impulse. If he were to yield more fully to reason, he might develop effective plans which he could execute in the same honorable manner as Fortinbras. Hamlet is a tragic figure because he fails to exhibit foresight, for he is made irresolute by his own too-hasty resolutions. Hamlets falling action, indeed, truly epitomizes his tragic flaw of impulsiveness. When Hamlet hears a noise behind the arras in his mothers room, he violently stabs at it probably expecting it to be Claudius. His mother, with whom Hamlet had been talking, cries out O, what a rash and bloody deed is this! (III. iv. 28). This line is particularly appropriate. Hamlet recently told Horatio blest are those / Whose blood and judgment are so well commedled / That they are not a pipe for Fortunes finger / To sound what stop she please. Give me that man / That is not passions slave, and I will wear him / In my hearts core (III.ii. 59-64). Once again, Hamlets action is completely divorced from his reason. His self-concept as a rational being who respects reasoned evaluation of options does not match his senseless emotional explosions. This division is undoubtedly tragic, and it proves to be his downfall. The death of Polonius makes Hamlet an obvious threat to his uncle Claudius, and it causes Hamlet to lose the favor of the people. Thus, Hamlet is sent off to England where Claudius makes arrangements to have him killed. This situation only occurred because Hamlet does not take advantage of the opportunities which present themselves to him. Hamlet quickly resolves to take revenge, decides to allay suspicion my maintaining a faade of insanity, vacillates unexpectedly to doubt, exposes his knowledge to assuage his concerns, and then commits a senseless and blatant murder which allows Claudius to send him away. Had Hamlet thought things through at any point, he might not have found himself in such a situation. A single, unified plan might have been effective, but his constant, impulsive vacillations prevent his success. Hamlet does manage to redeem himself. While on the boat to England, he finally manages to combine thought with action. Hamlet states, Rashly, / and praised by rashness for it he read the letters Claudius had written to England urging the King to execute Hamlet, altered them significantly, and even had the presence of mind to seal the letters with his fathers signet ring. In this manner, Hamlet combines his audacity which impels him to seek out and read the letters with his artifice which allows him to effectively execute his plan to achieve a desirable end. Similarly, when the ship is attacked by pirates, Hamlet boards them and is taken prisoner. This situation proves favorable, for the pirates return him to Denmark where he can make another attempt at avenging his father. Unfortunately, Hamlet again wastes his opportunity as a result of his inability to unite his action and his thoughts. Despite having previously claimed to no longer love Ophelia, Hamlet becomes deeply emotional when he sees the royal family and Laertes bearing Ophelia to her grave. Hamlet claims I am not splenitive and rash (V. i. 231), yet he proceeds to initiate a tussle with Laertes over who cared more for Ophelia. This statement and Hamlets ensuing hypocrisy evidence, once again, the sharp division between Hamlets ideas and behavior. This fight with Laertes provides the foundation for their subsequent duel. Though Hamlet says I am very sorryThat to Laertes I forgot myself (V.ii. 75-76), this regret does not prevent him from accepting the fatal challenge Claudius proposes. Though Horatio warns him If your mind dislike anything, obey it (V.ii. 192), Hamlet chooses once again to proceed into a situation with reckless confidence. Of course, this is Hamlets final error. In the duel with Laertes, Hamlet is poisoned and dies shortly after, finally, taking revenge on Claudius. Hamlet is a tragic figure, but his tragedy is solidified not by thinking too much, but by failing to think before acting and by failing to act on his thinking. Hamlets quintessential error is failing to take advantage of opportunities by acting thoughtlessly and by thinking ineffectually. When Fortinbras states that he arrived to claim [his] vantage (V.ii. 169), he captures the essential nature of his success: the effective combination of purpose to with action claim. It is the simple yet fundamental disunity between purpose and action which causes Hamlets downfall. Judging by the theories of humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, Hamlets tragic flaw would be one of incongruence. An individual exhibits incongruence when they behave in a manner that conflicts with their self-concept; in other words, it is the gap between the real self and the ideal self, the I am and the I should (Boeree, 1998). Since Hamlet is unable to unite his belief in rationality with his impulsive emotions he wavers continually between action and inaction. No strategy is effective without proper personal unity. Thus, because Hamlet is unable to resolve these differences, he is doomed to his most lamentable fate. Hamlet is an individual ravaged by ambivalence Hamlet is unable to reconcile his discreet and reflective intelligence with his belief in the necessity of decisive action. It is this personal incongruence which leads Hamlet to vacillate precariously between hasty decisiveness and absurd hesitancy before capitulating to the rash yet cold murder of Polonius. Superfluous caution leads Hamlet to neglect his opportunities, yet he subsequently botches his own plans with subsequent carelessness. If Hamlet had been a fiery and decisive individual which he yearned to be, he might have successfully murdered Claudius shortly after his own fathers death. If Hamlet truly committed himself to inaction until he had fully evaluated his situation, he would not have brought his end upon himself. If Hamlet had combined reason and passion, he might have achieved a truly desirable outcome. Ultimately, Hamlet is destroyed by neither action nor inaction, but by the personal incongruence produced by his inept fusion of the two. Works Cited:Boeree, George C. "Carl Rogers." Ship.edu. 1998. Web. 31 Dec. 2010. .Shakespeare, William, and Cyrus Henry. Hoy. Hamlet. New York: Norton, 1992. Print.