In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is Hamlet's passionate force that leads his actions?It is said that Shakespearean tragedies have some distinct features that make them "Shakespearean." One of these is...

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what is Hamlet's passionate force that leads his actions?

It is said that Shakespearean tragedies have some distinct features that make them "Shakespearean." One of these is that the hero tends to be unable to resist to a passionate force that leads him toward a special direction. Is there such a passionate force in Hamlet? Thanks!

Asked on by nastasja

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the passionate force you mention, in my mind, is Hamlet's promise to Old Hamlet to avenge his father's murder. In Act One, scene five, when the Ghost appears to Hamlet on the battlements of the castle, the Prince of Denmark swears he will seek revenge, for not only did Claudius kill Old Hamlet and take his wife and crown, but he sent him to his death without the benefit of absolution of his sins, so he is now forced to wander between two worlds (Heaven and hell).

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,(15)
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. (I.v.13-17)

In this segment, Old Hamlet speaks of the punishment he must suffer each day. He is in purgatory, suffering for the sins he died with. Then the Ghost remarks as to the story that was released to the public regarding his death (death by snake-bite), but reveals that it was murder instead, and that the murderer (Hamlet's uncle, Old Hamlet's brother) "now wears his crown..."

Now, Hamlet, hear.
'tis given out that, sleeping in mine orchard,(40)
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown. (I.v.39-45)

And finally...

Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd;
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled,
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head. (I.v.79-84)

Here he speaks of all that he lost why he innocently slept: life, wife, crown, without the benefit to confess his sins before he died, with every "imperfection" resting on his soul. ("...his account" means reckoning in Heaven.)

These are the words that galvanize Hamlet forward. However, what dampens his passion is his doubt as to whether the ghost that appears is really an "honest" ghost as he tells Horatio. Elizabethans believed that evil spirits could manifest themselves to look like loved ones to have mortals commit sins that would rob them of their eternal souls. Hamlet is blamed in the play for indecision. (This is his tragic flaw.) However, in his defense, he also does not want to go to hell, for the Elizabethans believed it a sin to murder a king, who would have been ordained by God to rule. Once Hamlet receives proof, not only will he know that Claudius is guilty of regicide, but he will know that the Ghost was telling the truth and he can proceed.

In the meantime, Hamlet struggles with the task and mentally beats himself up, thinking he is perhaps a coward who has failed to act. His heart is passionate to avenge his father's death, but not if the ghost is false and it costs him his soul.

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