How is Hamlet portrayed as selfish and manipulative?

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there is a fine line to navigate as to whether Hamlet is manipulative and selfish—where we fall with regard to that line is based upon Hamlet's circumstances. One might believe that Hamlet is manipulative because he plays Claudius and his supporters like an instrument, knowing what to do to get the response he is looking for. Ironically, Hamlet says something about this very kind of manipulation to Guildenstern. When Hamlet tells Guildenstern to play a pipe (flute), Guildenstern swears he does not have the skill, so Hamlet asks he why he thinks he can "play"

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At the beginning of the play, Prince Hamlet is overwhelmed with emotion following the tragic death of his beloved father and his mother's recent marriage to his unscrupulous uncle Claudius. After Hamlet interacts with his father's ghost, he discovers that Claudius assassinated his father and vows to get revenge.

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interacts with his father's ghost, he discovers that Claudius assassinated his father and vows to get revenge.

Hamlet then informs his friends that he will "put an antic disposition on" in order to confuse his uncle while he plots his revenge. In doing so, Hamlet develops into a rather self-centered, manipulative man, who is primarily concerned with self-preservation and discovering the perfect way to avenge his father's death. Hamlet displays his selfish personality by offending his former sweetheart, Ophelia, by telling her, "Get thee to a nunnery." He is not concerned with her feelings and proceeds to play games with her heart by purposefully acting mad and briefly showing signs of affection. Hamlet's mind games with Ophelia contribute to her heartache and diminishing mental health.

Hamlet illustrates his manipulative nature by having actors recreate his father's murder on stage and carefully examining Claudius's reaction to confirm that he assassinated the king. He then demonstrates his selfishness after he accidentally kills Polonius and refuses to disclose the location of his body. He is completely unconcerned about how his actions will affect Ophelia or Laertes.

Hamlet further displays his selfish, manipulative personality by having Rosencrantz and Guildenstern murdered. On their way to England, Hamlet reads Claudius's letter and dooms his former friends by rewriting the instructions, which lead to their death. Hamlet shows no remorse for his actions and is only concerned with following the Ghost's instructions. Overall, Prince Hamlet feels threatened after his father's assassination and is forced to act selfish and manipulative in order to survive the threatening environment and avenge his father's death.

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To answer this question we need look no further than how Hamlet treats his old school chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Once he finds out that they've been spying on him for Claudius, he immediately resolves to have them killed. He does this by giving them Claudius' instructions to the King of England to have Hamlet executed, so that when they arrive in England they, and not Hamlet, are killed.

Hamlet has clearly lulled his friends into a false sense of security—the better to save his own skin. It's perfectly understandable that Hamlet would want to avoid being executed, but sending his old friends to their deaths leaves a pretty nasty taste in the mouth.

Observe also the shabby way that Hamlet treats Ophelia. He's led her to believe that he loves her, but in reality he's only out for what he can get. That's why Ophelia is so shell-shocked by Hamlet's brutal rant—"Get thee to a nunnery"—which shows a side of him that she'd never seen before. In fact, this unhinged outburst is so shocking to Ophelia that it precipitates her long, sad decline into madness, which eventually leads to her tragic suicide.

Hamlet had every right to resent the crafty scheme in which Ophelia had become embroiled, but it wasn't her idea; she was inveigled into it by Polonius and Claudius. So as with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's implacable wrath is ill-directed.

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In Shakepeare's magnificent play, it becomes apparent that Hamlet's noble nature waivers at times because of the grave injury it suffers. Having learned of his father's assassination, he is repulsed by the weakness and sinfulness of his mother in marrying her brother-in-law, the treachery of his friends and love, Ophelia, and the corruption of the Danish court as exemplfied by Polonius, Laertes, and others. Feeling himself under attack from his world, Hamlet reacts with a certain narrowed self-protectiveness and a cruelty born of his injury.  This cruelty focuses itself mainly upon Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Gertrude

In his private invective against his mother, Hamlet fears that Gertrude may have been involved in the murder of his father:

O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain—
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark. (1.5.105-109)

And, so, feeling threatened by his mother, Hamlet vows that he wil "wipe away all trivial fond records" (1.5.102) of his youth and act defensively toward Gertrude. Thus, in subsequent scenes, such as Scene 4 of Act III, he berates his mother for marrying Claudius:

What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight, (3.4.83-85)

Ophelia

Because Ophelia loves Hamlet, but becomes a pawn to her father's machinations, Hamlet's cruelty towards her seems the most acrimonious.  Offensive and even indecent in his words to her in return for the hurt she causes him when she returns "remembrances" to Hamlet, Hamlet denies having loved her and, in his misogyny orders her to go to a convent and live out her life:

If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy
dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt
not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery. Go, farewell. Or
if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know
well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery,
go; and quickly too. Farewell. (3.1.145-149)

Yet, in this scene there is a certain protectiveness that underlies this cruelty. But, Hamlet's virulence is pronounced in Scene 2 as he asks lewd questions of her and makes bawdy innuendos in order to embarrass her and reject her.

Polonius

In Act III, Scene 4, when Hamlet accuses his mother of unfaithfulness to his father and Polonius moves from behind the arras, Hamlet impetuously draws his sword crying, "How, now, a rat?" (3.4.22) and slays the spy.  Without remorse for his act, Hamlet tells his mother, "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room (3.4.216).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Former boyhood friends of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are opportunists who are easily persuaded to betray Hamlet. However, Hamlet suspects them of their subterfuge and quickly constructs a counterplot, having them go to their deaths instead.  This act against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is more self-preservative than cruel, but Hamlet certainly manipulates them well.  Added to this is the fact that the two men could have destroyed the letter that condemns Hamlet, but not understanding the world that they are in, they do not.  Thus, they become pawns in the corruption of the Danish court, and, as such, suffer the consequences of Hamlet's determined plans to rid Denmark of its rottenness.

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In Shakespeare's Hamlet, how is Hamlet manipulative and selfish?

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, there is a fine line to navigate as to whether Hamlet is manipulative and selfish—where we fall with regard to that line is based upon Hamlet's circumstances. 

One might believe that Hamlet is manipulative because he plays Claudius and his supporters like an instrument, knowing what to do to get the response he is looking for. Ironically, Hamlet says something about this very kind of manipulation to Guildenstern.

HAMLET:

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make

of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know

my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery;

you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my

compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in

this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood,

do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call

me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you

cannot play upon me. (III.ii.348-356)

When Hamlet tells Guildenstern to play a pipe (flute), Guildenstern swears he does not have the skill, so Hamlet asks he why he thinks he can "play" Hamlet, making him do what Guildenstern (or more likely the King) wants.

This shows that Hamlet very much understands the concept of manipulation. Claudius is trying to keep Hamlet under his thumb and Gertrude happy so he can enjoy being King. Hamlet's intent is to prove Claudius' treachery. 

When Hamlet arranges to reenact his father's murder in the play, Mousetrap, he is out to catch a "rat." Claudius' guilty response in seeing his actions shown on the stage convinces Hamlet that the Ghost is honest, and that Claudius did murder Old Hamlet. Once the Ghost appears to Hamlet in Act One), much of what he does is the result of knowing of his father's murder. He manipulates, but his purpose is a noble one.

Hamlet can be seen as selfish. The women in Hamlet's life suffer as Hamlet tries to prove—and avenge—his father's death—though they are not blameworthy. Polonius and, more importantly, her King, tell Ophelia to talk to Hamlet and then tell them what he says. Polonius and the King control Ophelia. She is not free to do as she wants, but Hamlet still blames her and treats her harshly. He asks if she is "fair" (honest). Then he asks where her father is, knowing he is close by—to hear her report:

HAMLET:

Where's your father? (III.i.139)

Then...

HAMLET:

Get thee to a nunnery. Go, farewell. Or

if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know

well enough what monsters you make of them. (146-148)

Hamlet blames women for making monsters of men: Hamlet has no right to blame Ophelia or his mother for his behavior—or Claudius'. 

When Hamlet confronts Gertrude, he rails at her because of her relationship with Claudius—her dead husband's brother. Gertrude had done nothing to cause Old Hamlet's death, but Hamlet feels offended—he is furious because she married again after losing Old Hamlet. (And to marry her brother-in-law in that era was considered incest.)

HAMLET [to Gertrude]:

Leave wringing of your hands. Peace! sit you down,

And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,

If it be made of penetrable stuff... (III.iv.38-40)

He declares that he will lay bare all her sins: because he is mad at her. But Old Hamlet appears and tells Hamlet to leave his mother's judgment to heaven.

Hamlet manipulates to expose his father's murder. He is selfish because he is in deep emotional pain—and he takes it out on Ophelia and Gertrude: though they are not to blame.

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