Does Age Matter?Scholars have long debated how old Hamlet is supposed to be, some pinning his young as 20, others as old as 37.  Does his age matter? How might differing maturity levels affect...

Does Age Matter?

Scholars have long debated how old Hamlet is supposed to be, some pinning his young as 20, others as old as 37.  Does his age matter? How might differing maturity levels affect his decisions? 

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sullymonster's profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I have always read and taught Hamlet as a psychological development.  In responding to post #4, I think the contradiction should stand, as Hamlet goes through a maturation process.  He works through the adolescent identity crisis and and ego-centrism and is able to see beyond himself.  But the important part of the contradiction standing is to establish that his early self is an early 20's self.  I picture early Hamlet being in the 5th stage on Erikson's stages of development, still trying to answer "Who am I?" and "What is my role in the world".  It is in Acts 4 and 5 that he actually begins to answer these questions.

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Reply #6 has a good point!

I have always read Hamlet with the prince being a younger version because he was in school and had come back from Wittenburg to suffer his father's death.  His maturity also, has to be taken into account.  Is he slow to act...because he has been trained to think before he acts as a diplomat and world leader OR because he is young and inexperienced?  I have always thought is was a combination of the two.

Laertes, in contrast, is about the same age but has not been trained to be the future King.  He is in the same situation as Hamlet as his father has also been murdered, however, he is quick to take action and seek revenge.

jeff-hauge's profile pic

jeff-hauge | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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I would think that the role of the gravedigger would give him some authority on this. The fact that he ties Hamlet's birth to the defeat of Old Fortinbras seems to solidify this as a memorable fact.

A litle old for university. Looks like he hesistated with everything, including picking a major.

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

That is an interesting interpretation and I really like it because it almost shows the emergence of Hamlet's maturity in a way. He was so careful about not jumping at the opportunities afforded him earlier in the play to finish Claudius and in that final scene he's finally ready to be done with it, it's as if he has finally conquered his fear and is willing to finish his quest no matter what. Looking at Hamlet aging a decade in the course of the play could also illustrate how he did finally succumb the the insanity that he was merely posing earlier in the play (because I never read it as actual insanity, I always felt it was purely an act). This is certainly one way that I will look at the play from now on and see how I feel about it.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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I picture him much younger than 37, probably closer to the 20 end of the spectrum. But that's just the picture I have in my head of the guy. Had he been older, I don't think he would have still been a student at Wittenburg, nor do I think he would still be single - Mom and Dad would probably have married him off long before Dad took his fateful nap in the orchard.

Okay, that having been said, I suppose that age does matter because most people are more rash when they're younger. They tend to become more mature as they age (not everyone, I know, but most) and will think things through before acting on them. Which brings me back to my post from yesterday concerning Hamlet as someone whose action was killed by knowledge. I have to say I disagree - he did act rashly when he stabbed Polonius through the arras, thinking he was Claudius (or even if he suspected it was Polonius, don't you think that might not have been so accidental???). He acted rashly when he had a play performed before the entire court, exactly mirroring the circumstances of his father's death, pointing a very accusing finger at the king - that was enough to get him hauled out and beheaded in any other court.

I think Hamlet acts very rash after hearing from his Ghost Dad, which fits with my visual of the guy as young - 20-25 at the oldest.

   Okay, I hate to keep quoting Bloom, but I'm more familiar with his analyses than most others.  In Invention of the Human he notes that in the first four acts, Hamlet is 20 or less.  Yet in Act 5, the gravedigger says Hamlet is 30.  Bloom argues that the multiple revisionary process may be responsible for the more mature Hamlet:  "Attached to some degree to the conception of Hamlet in his own earlier play, Shakespeare confidently let the contradiction stand.  When he named his son Hamnet, Shakespeare himself was only twenty-one, and only twenty-five or so (at most) when he wrote his Ur-Hamlet.  He wanted it both ways, to hold on to his youthful vision of Hamlet, and to show Hamlet as being beyond maturity at the close"  (393). 

clane's profile pic

clane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I absolutely think that age matters when reading the play because it can vastly change one's interpretation of the Hamlet's character. As a young man around 20, I see Hamlet as fairly normal. He is a student, passionate, determined, erratic, in love, not in love, suspicious, angry to a fault with his mother. His feigned insanity is believable to some, but feigned- if he's 20. If Hamlet is older and more mature I might actually think that he might have been on the brink of insanity because his behavior would have been atypical of someone that much older. This is especially true because during Shakespearean time 37 had to be beyond mid-life given that the life expectancy was much lower for people than it is now.

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I picture him much younger than 37, probably closer to the 20 end of the spectrum. But that's just the picture I have in my head of the guy. Had he been older, I don't think he would have still been a student at Wittenburg, nor do I think he would still be single - Mom and Dad would probably have married him off long before Dad took his fateful nap in the orchard.

Okay, that having been said, I suppose that age does matter because most people are more rash when they're younger. They tend to become more mature as they age (not everyone, I know, but most) and will think things through before acting on them. Which brings me back to my post from yesterday concerning Hamlet as someone whose action was killed by knowledge. I have to say I disagree - he did act rashly when he stabbed Polonius through the arras, thinking he was Claudius (or even if he suspected it was Polonius, don't you think that might not have been so accidental???). He acted rashly when he had a play performed before the entire court, exactly mirroring the circumstances of his father's death, pointing a very accusing finger at the king - that was enough to get him hauled out and beheaded in any other court.

I think Hamlet acts very rash after hearing from his Ghost Dad, which fits with my visual of the guy as young - 20-25 at the oldest.

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