Prince Hamlet is the most intriguing figure in English literature. Discuss with reference to Hamlet.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prince Hamlet is certainly a fascinating character, who is markedly different from Shakespeare's other tragic heroes. The word "intriguing" suggets that there is some sort of mystery about him that cannot be solved easily, or his character is some kind of puzzle that is not easily worked out, and arguably Hamlet, more than any other tragic hero, has a number of key questions that still continue to be critically debated about him. Two of the biggest questions seem to be whether he was actually mad or not and then why he is unable to force himself to act until the end of the play. He is a character who divides his audience, as on the one hand he speaks words of such eloquence and grace that capture the human condition, but on the other hand he seems to be almost like a moody teenager who mopes around Elsinore and is rather passive. On the one hand the audience feels sorry for him, but on the other hand he can be viewed as being deliberately cruel and vicious in how he gets his revenge. Note the following words he shares with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that point to his tremendous eloquence and insight:

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

In this speech Hamlet at once praises man, but at the same time recognises their infinite frailty and mortality. For him, in spite of the many virtues of man, he is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a "quintessence of dust." He is a character who seems obsessed with death and man's mortality and allows this to stop him from acting. The critical debate surrounding Hamlet, that rages on even today, signals the way that he certainly is the most intriguing of characters, and that he is not going to be understood finally. Hamlet certainly is a "piece of work," to use his own words.

gojsawyer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet is one of the most intriguing figures in English literature due to his soliloquy beginning with the words: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” This concept is often repeated word for word in seriousness and in jest in many popular media formats. Hamlet’s ability to employ self introspection as a means to examine his role in the social order serves as a model for exploring the idea of tragic flaws in literature. Arguably, Shakespeare is the ultimate master of this idea, and it is debatable who can even come close to matching him in this regard.