Does Shakespeare's Hamlet reinforce the significance of the divided self?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the theme of being conflicted is at the root of one of the plot's major conflicts. With the knowledge that his uncle murdered his father, Hamlet is torn with regard to how he can avenge his father's death—what action is sanctioned by God? Who can he trust?

We see Hamlet's internal struggle in the different personas he shows to the women in the play. The first is Ophelia. Though she has been his sweetheart, Ophelia's father and brother have told her to forget the prince. She is also bound by society to obey her father and the King. At the same time, Hamlet believes that Ophelia is betraying his confidences to her father, who passes them on to Claudius. Based on his perceptions, Hamlet is disgusted with Ophelia: he is hurtful and insulting—seeming insane on purpose. When Ophelia tries to return gifts Hamlet has given her, he denies that he ever did so:


My lord, I have remembrances of yours

That I have longed long to redeliver.

I pray you, now receive them.


No, not I!

I never gave you aught.


My honour'd lord, you know right well you did,

And with them words of so sweet breath compos'd

As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,

Take these again... (III.i.101-109)

Then Hamlet insults her asking if she is telling him the truth...which infers that she is lying to him. He knows Polonius and Claudius are nearby spying, and he suspects the worst of Ophelia.

The other side to Hamlet is the man we see when he learns of Ophelia's death: he is so destroyed that he jumps into Ophelia's grave, proclaims that no one loved her as he did, and almost gets into a fist fight with Laertes who blames Hamlet for the losses he has recently suffered in his family. Hamlet notes that if Laertes is to be buried with Ophelia (as Laertes says), Hamlet will also, for he loved her that much.


I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not, with all their quantity of love,

Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her? (270-273)

Then to Laertes, Hamlet says:

Swounds, show me what thou'lt do.

Woo't weep, woo't fight, woo't fast, woo't tear thyself?

Woo't drink up eisel, eat a crocodile?

I'll do't. Dost thou come here to whine,

To outface me with leaping in her grave?

Be buried quick with her, and so will I. (275-280)

This shows the other side of Hamlet—the man torn between avenging his father and seeing evil all around him, and his love of a woman.

Hamlet's other side is seen as he criticizes his mother's swift marriage to Claudius so soon after Old Hamlet's death. In fact, he tells Horatio that he would rather be dead than have lived to see his mother turn her back so quickly on his father's memory.


...The funeral baked meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven

Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio! (I.ii.185-188)

We also see how devastated Hamlet is when he realizes that Claudius has poisoned Gertrude with a drink intended for Hamlet. The King's treachery against him, at Laertes' hand, is not a surprise to Hamlet: he expected "knavery." However, at his mother's death he launches himself at Claudius, who he kills—pouring poisoned wine down his throat and stabbing him with the poisoned sword:


Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,

Drink off this potion! Is thy union here?

Follow my mother.

The duality of Hamlet's nature haunts him throughout the play, pulling him to pieces—caught between anger and love.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial