Hamlet Point Of View

In Hamlet, what is the narrative perspective?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrative perspective of Hamlet brings up an interesting and somewhat complex set of questions. First, in brief, we can say that the "narrative perspective" in the play is definitively objective (which is another way of saying the play uses a strictly limited third-person voice).

"If an impersonal point of view is taken, the author detaches himself completely and is [...] third person" (eNotes).

We have to recognize, however, that Hamlet is a narrative in the sense that the play tells a story from beginning to end but it is not a prose narrative and it is not truly narrated (there is no authorial figure "telling the story"). Thus, Shakespeare's Hamlet falls into the standard mold for theatrical plays and offers an objective or distanced perspective in terms of authorship - the author is not part of the story. There is no story-telling persona or story-telling voice. All the action of the play is presented via dialogue and action

Dialogue and action are objective (outwardly displayed) means of telling a story. They are external to the characters' minds, as it were, and so are visible to the audience.

In Hamlet there are no moments when a narrative voice enters the mind of a character to explain feelings or thoughts, which would be a more subjective mode of story-telling. 

The absence of a narrating voice also means that there is no way for the author to comment on the action of the play. Any commentary (moral, intellectual, political, etc.) made by the play is necessarily made by the characters within the play. What does this mean in terms of narrative perspective? 

The standard narrative devices of objective story-telling through dialogue and stage-direction serve to create a distanced, objective narrative perspective. In this way, some might argue that - as a traditional devised play - there is no narrative perspective in Hamlet at all. 

Other playwrights have found ways, however, of generating a narrative perspective in their theatrical writing. Using extensive prose segments that discuss and describe the inner-lives of the characters, Eugene O'Neil was able to create plays that were both objective and omniscient. O'Neil's prose segments were used, in part, as elaborate stage directions but served to insert an authorial insight into the work that spoke to the reader through these asides - as opposed to communicating only through dialogue and action. 

Hamlet, as a more traditional play, only uses stage directions to show characters' entry, exit, and action. 

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare as the author of the play is telling the story through a third person omniscient narrative -- he "sees all," knowing all the thoughts of all the characters.  This narrative allows for a level of intimacy for each of the characters, something by which the audience can synthesize and comprehend the action of the play. however, none of the characters in the play have this viewpoint; Hamlet's first person narration gives him latitude to explore what he has witnessed, what he thinks about what he has seen, and what actions he should or shouldn't take, as exemplified in the famous "to be or not" soliloquy. Claudius also has a moment of self-revelation while praying when he considers what he has done to become king.