July 16th 2012
Fear of Being Displaced in Hamlet
The quality in such plays that does shake us, however, derives from the underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world. Among us today this fear is as strong, and perhaps stronger, than it ever was. In fact, it is the common man who knows this fear best. (Miller, 2).
Arthur Millers argument of the play Hamlet written by William Shakespeare shows how the fear of being broken away from the characters specific views are a huge fear. This fear is often strong possessing characters to act irrationally to keep their viewed position in the social order of the time. The acts of three characters clearly express the desire to avoid their own social exile; Claudius, Polonius and Gertrude each show a great fear of change in their chosen image. Each character lives with a specific view of
oneself. When the view is challenged, the fear possessed causes the poorly maintained situation to tragically unravel. King Claudius wrongfully takes what is not his in the play, after brutally murdering his own brother, he mourns for a short period until he celebrates his new power and new wife. Gertrude - the widow of his late brother - now has Claudius’ hand in marriage; this appoints him as the King of Denmark. Claudius’ views himself as the all mighty King, which happens to be what he is exactly, when he is challenged by Prince Hamlet with his witty play the King is watched for his reaction: “… There is a play to-night before the king. One scene of it comes near the circumstance Which I have told thee, of my father’s death. I prithee, when thou seest that an ac a foot, Even with the very comment of thy soul Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt Do not itself unkennel in one speech, It is a damned ghost we have seen…” (III, ii. 72 – 79)
Hamlets actions challenged the Kings position of power because the play followed the storyline of what the ghost had told Hamlet about the murder,
when the play finished the King immediately asked for everyone to leave as if he had seen enough. Hamlet immediately knew Claudius was guilty of his fathers murder. Both the King and Hamlet knew if the public found out he would no longer be King, and for the King this was bad news, his newfound position of power was in jeopardy. Claudius was enjoying his power and was not prepared to let Hamlet ruin it, he immediately knew that something had to be done. The Kings selfish efforts to maintain his position of power were to eliminate the Queens son, first he tried to have the angry Laertes kill him in the duel with the uncovered sword. When that failed he attempted to poison him to try and control the situation, however due to the Kings fear of being torn from his position of power he could not tell his wife the reason she should not drink the wine, “Gertrude, do not drink.” (V, ii. 280). To save his own wife he could not tell her the real reason to not drink, leading to the unfolding of the tragic death of the Queen. Polonius was the victim of the tragedy that he formed, his tragic death occurred when he was trying to maintain his position as the Kings counselor. His idea of overhearing Hamlet and the Queens conversation leads to the accidental death at the hand of Prince Hamlet: “…Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!...” (III, iv. 33). Hamlet explains to his mother how the man is a fool, how it would not have happened if he did not intrude on the conversation. Polonius had his specific view of power challenged because of his children, they did not choose to challenge him directly but
their actions caused Polonius to fear being disregarded by King Claudius. Polonius feared that the actions of his children would reflect badly upon him, Laertes temper and Ophelia’s interest in Prince Hamlet, he chose not to