The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was written by William Shakespeare between 1599 and 1602. The play is set in the kingdom of Denmark, and it dramatizes the revenge Prince Hamlet takes on his uncle Claudius, who has murdered the King Hamlet, and succeeded to the throne by marrying the old king’s widow Gertrude. King Hamlet is Prince Hamlet’s father, and Claudius’s brother, Gertrude is Prince Hamlet’s mother. The play explores many themes including revenge, incest, life and death, suicide, misogyny and faith and trust. The purpose of this speech is to examine the authenticity of Shakespearean characterisation. By analysing the character Hamlet it can be seen that the many traits that he possess make him an authentic character. The traits that will be focused on are grief and mourning and suicide.
Before the play begins Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet has been murdered by Hamlets uncle Claudius. When the play begins it has been two months since his father’s death and Claudius is now king, however Hamlet is still grieving over his father’s death, and is in a deep state of depression.
Good Hamlet, cast thy knighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark (Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 68 & 69).
The above quote is spoken by Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. She is worried about Hamlet, as it has been 2 months since his father’s death and he is still grieving. She has just asked Hamlet to take off his black clothes, and by doing so show to everyone in Denmark, and especially King Claudius that his mourning for his father is over. Hamlet is pained to think that everyone has managed to forget his father so quickly – especially his mother, Gertrude. Dressed totally in black, Hamlet displays all the forms, moods and shapes of grief. His mother cannot help but notice Hamlet's outward appearance of mourning, but Hamlet makes it clear that the obvious signs of grief do not come close to conveying how much sorrow he feels inside.
“Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor the customary suits of solemn black,
Nor the windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected haviour of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have within which passes show,
These but the trapping and the suits of woe” (Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 77 – 85)
Hamlet’s strong feelings of grief, mourning and depression make him a significant character today. Many people in the world can relate to what Hamlet is feeling in the beginning of the play. People die every day and it is the families and friends of those people that are left behind who suffer grief and mourning, and sometimes even depression over losing their loved one. Hamlet is distraught by the death of his father and also by the marriage of his mother to her brother-in-law. All of the grief that he experiences leads Hamlet to contemplate suicide.
We see this contemplation during his famous soliloquy, "to be, or not to be; that is the question:" (Act 3, Scene 1. Line 56). Hamlet is grief-stricken yet he is uncertain that if he were to end his life, things would be any better.
Hamlet is concerned with what the nobler thing to do is,
"Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them" (Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 57 - 60).
If Hamlet was to commit suicide, it would not be a noble act and he would get no credit for avenging his father's death. Although he would be able to "sleep" and by sleeping he figures he would put an end to
"The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to" (Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 62 - 63).
He would have no worries and no more heartache. The pain that he feels would be put to an end.