In Act II of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, what does Hamlet think of humanity?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hamlet is seriously depressed.  His father, the late king of Denmark, is dead.  His Uncle Claudius, his father’s brother, has usurped the throne from the rightful heir, Hamlet, and taken as his wife Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and the widow of his father.  The ghost of Hamlet’s father is haunting the land, and Hamlet, hearing of this, seeks out the ghost.  Upon finding it, Hamlet is told by the ghost that he, the late king of Denmark, did not die by chance, but was murdered by his brother Claudius.  The ghost’s demand that his death be avenged sets the stage for Hamlet’s crisis.  The emotional burden following his father’s death and the revelation that the cause of death was poisoning is too much for the young prince, and he ponders his fate and the mission upon which he has been set by the apparition.  While Hamlet is uncertain about the ghost’s statements regarding the cause of his death, he does set in motion a plan to determine whether this assertion is true.  That plan involves the staging of a play intended to portray the murder of a monarch precisely in the manner in which Hamlet’s father was killed. 

As “Hamlet” opens, the prince and presumed heir to the throne is acknowledged as being depressed, and, when queried, he concedes that he remains despondent over his father’s death.  In Act II, Hamlet’s despondency is evident in his comments to Polonius.  Hamlet, feigning mental illness, pretends not to recognize the councilor to the king:

HAMLET: Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.

LORD POLONIUS: Not I, my lord.

HAMLET: Then I would you were so honest a man.

LORD POLONIUS: Honest, my lord!

HAMLET: Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

While this exchange occurs while Hamlet pretends to be mentally ill, the comment regarding “one man picked out of ten thousand” is an accurate reflection of his cynicism with regard to mankind.  As Act II continues, Hamlet is visited by Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, sent by the king and queen to study the prince and report back on his mental state.  Hamlet’s conversation with these two friends, whom he correctly suspects were sent to spy on him, provides further evidence of his disdain for humanity:

HAMLET: What's the news?

ROSENCRANTZ: None, my lord, but that the world's grown honest.

HAMLET: Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.

And, again, as Hamlet suggests that his confinement is an expression of the suffocating strictures under which all people are subjected:

HAMLET: Denmark's a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one.

HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.

Hamlet is pretending to be mentally ill so that he can enjoy greater freedom to investigate his father’s death.  His despondency, however, is real, as is his exceedingly bleak perception of humanity.  As he states in Act II, “man delights not me.”

zumba96 | Student

Hamlet is depressed and from here on begins the descent of his loss of humanity. Hamlet takes 5 acts to finally make his move to kill the King and even then we are unsure if the King knew why Hamlet was attacking him. At this moment in the play Hamlet is very depressed and does not know how to think properly. Soon he starts debating if he should live or if he should die. His humanity certainly starts to lessen and at this moment, to uncover who killed his father, he starts his act of madness that transforms him in a way where he cannot return. 

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