Struggle and Disillusionment in Hamlet
Shakespeare’s employment of dramatic struggle and disillusionment through his character Hamlet, contributes to the continued engagement of modern audiences. The employment of the soliloquy demonstrates Shakespeare’s approach to the dramatic treatment of these emotions. The soliloquy brings a compensating intimacy, and becomes the means by which Shakespeare brings the audience not only to a knowledge of secret thoughts of characters, but into the closest emotional touch with them too.
Through this, the audiences therefore gain a closer relationship with Hamlet, and are absorbed by him because they are able to resonate with his circumstances, as he is faced with enduring truths of the human condition. Through these, the struggle and disillusionment of life, the world, women and himself are identified. The struggle and disillusionment for life and the unfortunate circumstances it entails in Hamlet’s life is a main feature of his soliloquys. “O that this too too sullied…”(Act 1 Scene 2), is Hamlet’s first soliloquy in the play.
The importance of this soliloquy lies in its establishing of Hamlet’s personality and revealing his mental condition. Hamlet’s struggle and disillusionment for life itself is revealed in the abrupt syntax. The sentences progress by increments and interruptions, and exclamations are followed by clarifications, questions and imperatives. More specifically, the disease motif suggests the disillusionment Hamlet feels towards the world. This technique can be identified early on, with the use of the word “sullied”, meaning smirched or dirty.
Sullied contrasts well into the feeling of contamination and disease expressed by Hamlet. Furthermore there is the dramatic technique of metonymy, as he substitutes the greater idea of contamination with this attribute of “sullied”. Furthermore, this passionate speech alludes to several other areas of struggle, conveying that he sees the world as a neglected garden grown foul (135-7). This disillusionment and struggle about the beauty of the natural world continues in Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be…” (Act 1 Scene 2).
The struggle is suggested through the existential questions that Hamlet asks, suggesting a battle with his conscience. The symbol of the world is a motif throughout the play, being described as “flat”, “weary”, “distracted”, “out of frame”, “out of joint”, “out of time”, “rotten” and “rank”. Hamlet displays his struggle and disillusionment for the world by using metonymy and juxtaposition throughout his soliloquy. “Sea of troubles” and “thousand natural shocks” are alluded to in his speech in order to express his disillusionment, communicating a counterpointing between the divine or earthly and the profane.
This idea is continues in “O that this too too sullied …” (Act 1 Scene 2), His speech is saturated with suggestions of rot and corruption, as seen in the basic usage of words like “rank” (138) and “gross” (138), and in the metaphor associating the world with “an unweeded garden” (137). Shakespeare uses juxtaposition and contrast to enhance these feelings of disgust, contempt and inadequacy. Hamlet displays disillusionment about women throughout the course of the play.
This struggle to come to terms with his mother’s second marriage and disillusionment from the pure and angelic women is present from early on. In his first soliloquy, “O that this too too sullied …” (Act 1 Scene 2), Hamlet censures his mother’s moral weakness as a woman (146). His disillusionment is shown when Hamlet uses the image of the Garden of Eden being polluted by the treachery of Eve, the first mother, expressing his newfound view on women. Furthermore, her incestuous inconstancy moves him to exclaim, “Frailty, thy name is woman! . Hamlet’s misogynistic attitude continues throughout the play. As seen in Act 3 Scene 1, a scene between Hamlet and Ophelia, the negative image of women influencing a negative image of men is demonstrated. Hamlet is accusing men and women, including himself and Ophelia, of unremitting moral fragility, which they show in their most sexual relations. The suggestion toward sexual disgust might seem a response to a mother who has betrayed his feelings so badly, who’s sexuality has poisoned his own.
Lastly, Hamlet can be seen as facing a struggle and disillusionment toward himself. Shakespeare highlights Hamlets struggle through juxtaposing his insanity to the sanity of the other characters, highlighting this internal struggle. By the mid point of the play, Hamlet is fighting an inner battle of what he should and shouldn’t do. In his soliloquy, “To be or not to be…” (Act 3, Scene 1), Hamlet is in deep thought and signs are shown that suggest suicide as well as an increase in confusion.
He states “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? ” (57-60). This shows how Hamlet does not know whether it is better to keep his sorrows to himself or act upon them. This notion is further highlighted in Act 3, where Hamlet has the perfect opportunity to murder Claudius and avenge his fathers death, yet his actions are delayed as a result of his continual internal anguish and struggle.
To conclude, it can be seen that Shakespeare’s employment of dramatic struggle and disillusionment in Hamlet, can be seen through Hamlet’s soliloquys throughout the play. This feature continues to gain the engagement of modern audiences. The close and personal interaction that audiences gain with Hamlet allow for a empathy towards his struggle and disillusionment, as they are enduring truths of the human condition; life, the world, women and himself.