Discuss Hamlet's internal and external conflicts. Provide quotes to support your answer.

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lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A list of Hamlet's external conflicts is relatively easy to generate.  He has conflicts of some sort with nearly every character on the list except his good friend, Horatio.  The internal conflicts are a bit more complex and subtle.

Here is quick list of what is creating his conflict with each of the characters.  You can find quotes to illustrate the conflict by reviewing the scenes where those characters interact with Hamlet.

  • Claudius -- the man who killed Hamlet's father and very quickly married his mother, making his uncle his father.  Hamlet is very disgusted by the marriage and finding out the truth of the murder from the ghost makes them mortal enemies.
  • Gertrude -- his mother's quick remarriage to Hamlet's uncle is appalling to Hamlet's sense of morality and dignity.  He eventually confronts her with what he perceives to be all her wrongdoings at the end of Act 3.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- his supposed childhood friends who are only at court at the request of the King and are actually serving as spies for Claudius.  Even when they are confronted about their motives, they lie to Hamlet.
  • Polonius -- courtier to King Claudius and father to Ophelia, he is always trying to spy on Hamlet and he has so little faith in Hamlet that he commands his daughter to break things off with Hamlet.
  • Ophelia -- the girlfriend of Hamlet who breaks up with him because her father tells her to.  Later she seems to betray Hamlet by lying to him about where her father is when Hamlet suspects that he is actually spying on their conversation.
  • King Hamlet -- his arrival as a ghost who then tells the story of how Claudius murdered him is both awful and dangerous.  Hamlet knows that ghosts may only be the devil in the disguise of a loved one who is trying to damn his soul, so he must prove that the ghost is telling the truth.
  • Laertes -- after Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, Laertes' father, Laertes is out for vengeance and plots together with Claudius to bring about the death of Hamlet in a fixed sword fight.

As for his internal conflicts:

  • Hamlet is torn between thoughts of suicide and God's commands against such an act.
  • Hamlet wants to fulfill his father's command for justice yet has a hard time acting swiftly because he feels he must have proof.
  • Hamlet is torn between thinking and action.  The "To be or not be soliloquy" is essential to this point, but it is a theme that runs throughout the play.
  • Hamlet wants to think he can control everything in his life, but comes to realize that all he really do is be ready -- "the readiness is all."