"Denmark's a trap." In what ways?Hamlet by William Shakespeare

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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From the first act of Hamlet, the prince of Denmark finds himself entangled in psychological, interpersonal, and physical dilemmas.  Beginning with the first act in which the ghost of his father appears, imploring his son to avenge his death, Hamlet becomes entrapped in the web of self-doubt.  His first soliloquy portrays his reactions upon learning of his father's assassination:  He is repulsed by the "fraility" of his mother, who without mourning her father long, marries his uncle.  His faith in mankind lost, Hamlet contemplates death which could "resolve itself into a dew" and end his trapped life.

Another psychological trap into which Hamlet falls, as well, is his apprehension, or understanding of mankind as noble, but in perception, it is merely dust.  Thus, Hamlet becomes psychologically entangled with his obsession with the physicality of death as evined in his "to be or not to be" soliloquy.  In addition, Hamlet is further disturbed by the duplicity of Polonius and his former friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who disillusion him in his apprehension of mankind, causing him to concur that there is "something rotten in Denmark." 

These three characters are pivotal in the plots to physically entrap Hamlet.  In Act III, Scene 1, Polonius has Ophelia talk with Hamlet while he and Claudius hide.  Then, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come to Hamlet under false pretexts while they are sent to take him to England where he can be slain.  In Act V, Scene 2, Claudius along with Laertes has devised a plan to slay Hamlet in a duel between the two young men.

In the end, however, Hamlet witnesses Fortinbras's courage as he goes into battle "even for an eggshell"; after deliberation on his own duty, Hamlet declares himself prince of Denmark and sets forth to rid his country of its corrupt court.  In the words of Ernest Johnson, critic,

“the dilemma of Hamlet the Prince and Man” is “to disentangle himself from the temptation to wreak justice for the wrong reasons and in evil passion, and to do what he must do at last for the pure sake of justice.… From that dilemma of wrong feelings and right actions, he ultimately emerges, solving the problem by attaining a proper state of mind.”

Disentangling himself from his melancholy and torturous introspection, Hamlet does, indeed, emerge from his psychological and physical traps, courageous and regal, acting for the good of his beloved country.

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