Hamlet as the 'over reacter'Somebody said in class today that Hamlet simply over reacts to everything!!!!! It is ironic that such a shallow opinion is used to describe such a multi-dimentional...
Somebody said in class today that Hamlet simply over reacts to everything!!!!! It is ironic that such a shallow opinion is used to describe such a multi-dimentional persona... The point in my writing this post is to pose the quesion: Does Hamlet ever cross the proverbial line with an over reaction anywhere within the text or are his actions always justified due to his passion bound views?
I don't think Hamlet is over-reacting; he is merely reacting to some pretty horrific circumstances. His killing Polonius isn't an overreaction, it is an accident. By this point in the play he finally has the proof he needs to feel justified in taking his revenge on Claudius, and has just left one opportunity (while Claudius seems to be at prayer.) Hamlet says that he wants to kill Claudius when he is in a sinful act -- and spying on Gertrude and Hamlet has a hint of sinful in it. Hamlet takes this opportunity, unfortunately, the victim is Polonius, not Claudius.
Another example might be Hamlet's changing the letter to England to state a command to kill the bearers of the letter, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Some may say that this is an over-reaction, but at that point in time, Hamlet only knew that HE didn't want to die in England. He had no way of knowing that the pirates would attack the next day and he would have a way to escape the boat to England. Hamlet was in a self-preservation situation -- them or me -- and he chose himself! Even Horatio applauds his actions when he says, "what a king is this!" He is commending Hamlet for doing what had to be done in the situation -- he was reacting, not over-reacting.
I agree with post #4, lmetcalf. As I was reading these posts, I got to thinking about what I've discussed in class and whether or not Hamlet would be a good King of Denmark, if he were able to take over. I've always thought that he wouldn't, because of his inaction. I think that he would need to take charge and act, certainly not without thinking, but he would need to act decisively. However, I think Hamlet illustrates a strong sensibility in his actions, or inactions. He is adamant about "getting it right." He wants to ensure that if he kills Claudius, he will be justly revenged and he will not "lose his head" in the process. This is not just a revenge murder. This is killing the KING OF DENMARK. He would have to be very sure of what he was doing. I certainly don't think he was over-reacting, but now that I think of it, I'll have to reconsider my thoughts on his hypothetical ability to lead Denmark.
Perhaps Hamlet acts rashly and impulsively when he kills Polonius, thinking that he is killing the king. Throughout the play, we see Hamlet as careful and reluctant to act. He wants to convince himself that Claudius is guilty before he takes steps to kill him, and we see a stark contrast in his steps to avenge his father's death and those of Laertes--who indeed does overreact. The one time Hamlet does act rashly, without taking time to check out the situation thoroughly, has devastating consequences. I think it this act of killing Polonius is the turning point of the play, not Hamlet's inaction. The fall-out from Polonius's death is enormous: Hamlet's exile, Ophelia's madness and death, Claudius's plotting Hamlet's death, and Laertes' becoming Hamlet's bitter enemy.
I tend to think Hamlet looks like he is over reacting because he goes from virtual passivity at times to grand displays of passions at others. For example, he is still and contemplative when Claudius is praying, though he might easily have run him through with his dagger. Shortly after, though, in the heat of a discussion with his mother, he pulls out his dagger and stabs at a curtain behind which he thinks, possibly, the king stands. It seems an over reaction when in fact the two are connected. I cannot do this now, he thinks, since Claudius will die in a state of confession; but nexttime I get the chance I will surely do it! His impulsivity is explainable, which makes it less of an over reaction than a matter of poor judgment or bad luck.
With regard to Hamlet's inaction, one might say that this is his action. His action is to think things through and to work the problem out. However, is this a good? Is Hamlet really thinking things through, or is his "thinking" simply fear at taking the action he promised King Hamlet's ghost. For the record, I don't think he would have been a good king because he struggled with his decisions and then second guessed himself. This might have worked to his advantage or it might not, but either way, a king would have to be more confident and decisive.
It's hard to say what constitutes an overreaction on Hamlet's part. After all, he's in a scenario that none of us are familiary with (I hope). For example, might he be overreacting when he berates his mother for sharing Claudius's bed? It's one thing to be angry at Claudius if you believe he killed your father. But isn't it your mother's business who she sleeps with? So that could be an overreaction. But, on the other hand, I haven't been in that situation and I can't really imagine it so I don't know for sure if that is an overreaction.
Hamlet does not act too much; he thinks too much. After all, it is his soliloquies that move the plot, not his action. Nonetheless, in accord with post #2 Hamlet's impulsive act of killing Polonius, does indeed mark a turning point that produces disastrous results.