“Hamlet’s thinking dramatizes a mindscape paralysed by anxiety”
By Leah Grill
Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy ‘Hamlet’ is a play that dramatizes an anxiety towards renaissance beliefs and values. Hamlet is split between his contradictory identity as a renaissance thinker and an avenging hero, who is paralysed by the corruption of idealism, as he seeks to find truth and certainty amidst a world of doubt and deception. Hamlet’s thinking operates to modify, complicate and bridge an understanding of the human capacity for reason and passion, as he is paralysed by thought itself and the limitations of human agency, giving expression to a man caught between existential torment and the need to take action.
Following the death of his father and his mother’s hasty marriage to Claudius, Hamlet’s thinking dramatizes a mindscape crippled by grief, felt as the corruption of a renaissance ideal of human life. Shakespeare employs the dramatic tension of the opening scene to capture the renaissance anxiety about man’s understanding of his place in the cosmos, opening with a question, “Who’s there?”, immediately placing the audience in a world of ambivalence and doubt, and ironically introducing the enactment of interior identity as a deceptive puzzle. Shakespeare dramatizes the fragmented interior world of individuals through Hamlet’s characterisation, apparent when Gertrude questions him, “Why seems (your father’s death) so particular with thee?”, to which Hamlet responds, “Seems, madam? Nay it is, I know not ‘seems’”, questioning Gertrude’s grief, as his perception of appearances conflicts with the reality of his observations. Shakespeare highlights the crucial difference between what “seems” and what “is”, and how this very enigma perplexes Hamlet to a state of distress, as he wrestles with his awareness of the corruption of his personal idealism of courtly love. Hamlet’s first soliloquy expresses his experience of internal despair and grief, and how “the actions that man might play” can operate in contrast to an interior world “within that passes show”. His condition of extreme grief is expressed through his descriptions of the world that negate the ideals of renaissance enlightenment, “how weary, flat, stale and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world”, and using religious imagery to illustrate a corrupted Eden, “an unweeded garden that grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature possess it merely”, conveying his perception of Denmark’s political and social world through the metaphor of sin and vice. Hamlet’s apparent turmoil further dwindles when faced with the ghost of his late father, who calls for Medieval blood revenge for his “Murder most foul”, challenging Hamlet’s humanist ideals of the morality of revenge. The vengeance thrust upon Hamlet becomes extended as the restoration of a fractured society, echoed through Act One’s closing, “the time is out of joint: O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”, as he adopts an entirely...