Hamlet: An Instrument of Life – Hamlet’s Contribution To the Play
Name: Philip Tome
Teacher: Mrs. Hastings
Due Date: Monday, December 2, 1996
Samuel Johnson writes “Hamlet is through the piece rather an instrument
than an agent.” This statement is true, it is exhibited in several ways. The
manner in which Hamlet’s father manifests himself is an indication of his true
intentions. Hamlet acts as an earthly means of revenge, he is the output for
actions directed by a mortal being. Inner weakness has riddled Hamlet’s life, it
runs rampant in his decisions, or lack of, and has plagued his fate. His
inability to overcome insecurity, procrastination, and an over analytical mind
contribute, overwhelmingly, to his downfall. Hamlet allows negative character
attributes to steer his life, the point being, He is an instrument of his own
indecision, which spawned from flaws within his character. Establishing Hamlet’s
sanity is a difficult task. It’s stability in his life is questionable, but his
contemplation of madness has left him vulnerable to its control. This control
has led Hamlet to act outside of character and in an extremely peculiar fashion.
Hamlet is an instrument of his father, his own self, and of sanity.
The appearances of the Ghost, although sporadic, do not come without
meaning. Hamlet Senior, arguably, is one of Shakespeare’s finest creations. The
character was molded using the Elizabethan view on death and apparitions. Such
belief stated hauntings had a communication value that was used to seek resolve
in unfinished business. The basis for Hamlet Senior’s untimely visits should be
sought. “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” (Shakespeare, William.
Hamlet. United kingdom: Longman Group UK Limited, 1995. Act One, Scene Five, ll
29.) The above quotation provides insight into the Ghost’s purpose. Hamlet is a
device that is readily available for use, he is the bridge between death,
vengeance, and reality. Hamlet had been already effected by the marriage of his
Uncle, Claudius, to his Mother, but the factor that remains liable for Hamlet’s
eventual downfall is the involvement of the apparition. To classify Hamlet as
an instrument of his father is not farfetched. His obsession with life and it’s
happenings cannot be attributed to his madness, the revenge that coursed through
Hamlet’s veins provided a platform for his antic disposition to finally be laid
out. One must not lose sight of the fact that Hamlet’s vengeance was spurred by
his father, thus making him a tool of Hamlet Senior’s involvement and wishes.
Flaws in character have also proven to be costly for Hamlet. Instead of
relying on positive characteristics, Hamlet emphasizes weakness in will,
procrastination, and indecision. “He seems incapable of deliberate action, and
is only hurried into extremities on the spur of the occasion, when he has no
time to reflect, as in the scene where he kills Polonius and again, where he
alters the letters which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are taking with them to
England purporting his death.” (Bratchell, D.F. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York:
Routledge, 1990.) Hamlet has fallen to a poor will, he acts blindly and
therefore behaves in a harsh manner and without cause. “Begin murderer; pox,
leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come; the croaking raven doth bellow for
revenge.” (Act Three, Scene Two, ll 258.) His obsession with revenge is
terrifying, it has mangled his thoughts and damaged his will. “He clearly was a
heroic revenger, a procrastinator, lost in thought and weak of will.” (Courtney,
Richard. Shakespeare’s World of Death: the early tragedies. Toronto, Simon ;
Pierre Publishing Company Limited, 1995.) Hamlet is a brave soul, but his sense
of good judgement wanders, and procrastination becomes more apparent with each
new day. It is by his “…Careless of death” attitude that Hamlet “loses the
power of action in the energy of resolve.” (Bratchell, D.F. Shakespearean
Madness can be taken on in two forms, one being the insanity of mind and
the latter being of the heart. Madness of the mind would entail that a person
is capable of planning and scheming harmful events and/or weapons. Madness of
the heart is much more devastating. To be mad at heart would mean that the
ability to make critical decisions is still present. Hamlet is mad on both
levels. “His contradictory extremes of conduct were reminiscent of the
Elizabethan accounts of melancholy…Such an approach makes Hamlet mostly mad
and rarely sane.” (Courtney, Richard. Shakespeare’s World of Death: the early
tragedies.) Courtney comments on Hamlet’s feelings in relation to his actions.
Hamlet’s mind, on occasion is critical, but his actions are those of a madman.
The madness that pervades him is, ironically, admitted easily. “I essentially am
not in madness, but mad in craft.” (Act Three, Scene Four, ll 206-207.) He is
conscious of his actions and openly admits to madness in them. The problem that
lies is its control. Sanity is questioned to the point that it has become
overbearing and manipulative. It has molded Hamlet’s life, he no longer has
command, it is has been lost in madness.
The Ghost of Hamlet Senior, indecision, and sanity are important factors
that contribute immensely to Hamlet’s life. His actions in life will surely be
remembered in purgatory, but what must be examined is his individuality. He, by
no means, was a leader. His indecision, which lasted for months at a time,
revealed his character. The decisions that his actions backed were clearly made
in haste and can be to the credit of an outside force. Sanity and life, two
factors that rip Hamlet in two, are result of an overactive mind that has
countered all action through the ability to find reason in inaction. His
follower and procrastinating lifestyle has made him an instrument of many
elements within his life.
1. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. United Kingdom: Longman Group UK Limited,
2. Bratchell, D.F. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Routledge, 1990.
3. Courtney, Richard. Shakespeare’s World of Death: the early tragedies.
Toronto: Simon ; Pierre Publishing Company Limited, 1995.