Back to: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Hamlet enters the play as a character deeply informed by the death of his father. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a play where Shakespeare contemplates on death through various ways and its consequences. Death remains the grand theme of human speculation.
Throughout the play, one sees the philosophical contemplation on death and its practical results. Before the appearance and knowledge of the ghost of the dead king, Hamlet simply mourns the death of his father and his mother’s hasty marriage with his uncle but after his confrontation with the ghost and knowing about the betrayal, his philosophical speculation starts revolving around mortality.
In a helpless stance, he observes the inevitable end of our life. He even contemplates on suicide and like a Christian, he bides with the idea that it is forbidden. Life seems meaningless to him. He wonders, if God “had not fixed his canon against self-slaughter” then one could suicide.
Throughout the play, there remains an air of despair, a death-inspired melancholy, a disenchantment with this world. Every time Hamlet goes through his agony, he questions whether life with all such constituents is worth living but in him remains doubt regarding death and what’s in it and what happens afterwards.
He wonders, “for in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” In his very first soliloquy, Hamlet despairs that “O that this too too solid flesh would melt.” The idea of death pervades the protagonist here so much that his prime action is uttering words.
On his way to meet his mother, he sees Claudius in kneeling position. Again, such a scene, inspires in him the dilemma, his belief in the idea that one killed while praying is sent to heaven. It stops him from killing the king right there. One comes to know the idea of afterlife believed by him.
Afterwards, the series of death ensues only because of this delay in killing Claudius. Through subsequent deaths, one can see how the idea of death and its consequences can be comprehended from Hamlet’s words and the overall plot of the play.
Hamlet stabs Polonius after mistaking him for Claudius behind the curtain. His death brings out the essence of relationships. One notices the absolute fear of Claudius. Polonius’ death deranges Ophelia and activates Laertes.
Ophelia’s suicide provides an occasion to brood upon the nature of death and how it sweeps across everyone and assigns them to oblivion. Hamlet recognises death as an impartial equaliser when he says to the king that to death “your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service—two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.”
The play maintains Christian ideas of death. Hamlet starts having a predisposition towards destiny. This is a unique play where almost all major characters are dead by the end i.e. Ophelia, his mother Queen Gertrude, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet himself. So inevitably, the major portion of the play thematically deals with aspects of mortality.