“An admirable text does not define or exhaust its possibilities”. What possibilities do you see in Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Discuss your ideas with close reference to at least two scenes from Hamlet. Shakespeare’s texts have been re-visited, re-interpreted and re-invented to suit the context and preferences of an evolving audience, and it through this constant recreation it is evident that Hamlet “does not define or exhaust its possibilities”.
Through the creation of a character who emulates a variety of different themes, such as revenge, realisation of reality and the questioning of humanity, we can see the different possibilities within Hamlet as an “admirable text” with enduring human value. Furthermore, the emotional journey of Hamlet and his progression of madness provide further opportunity for differing interpretations. Hamlet connects with audiences from a variety of socio-historic contexts primarily due to its address of fundamental human issues and what it is to be human.
Hamlet’s soliloquy at the end of Act 2 is a conveyance of the emotional journey of Hamlet and its exploration of the theme of revenge provides extensive evidence possibilities of constant reinterpretation as it demonstrates a character to understand and relate to. The soliloquy provides a chance for change in the audience’s perception of Hamlet, and allows for a more intensive insight into Hamlet’s persona. The characterisation of Hamlet suggests he is self-deprecating and insecure, evident in the statement “oh, what a rogue slave am I! , and in this the audience relates to Hamlet in his inability to decide how to fulfil his immense responsibility. The idea of Renaissance Humanism is evident in Hamlet’s conclusion to “catch the conscience of the king” through the production of a play that is emulative of his father’s murder in order to see Claudius’ guilty reaction. This notion is supported by Salter, 1988, who declares Hamlet is of a philosophical nature that is aware of the “larger moral implications of any act”. The soliloquy provides a variation of tone with the peaks of rage, “Bloody, Bawdy Villain! intermingled with moments of profound depression, “I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal”. This is reflective of the emotional journey Hamlet is embarking on throughout the speech, and indicates his lack of stability. Thus, the soliloquy provides further understanding into Hamlet’s attributes and the reasons behind his delayed actions. The characterisation of Hamlet through this soliloquy assists the audience to identify with Hamlet highlighting the universal value of the play of Hamlet and its enduring opportunities.
The lack of definition of possibilities within Hamlet is demonstrated through the interpretation of his madness, which is directly linked to his perception of reality and his experiences of rejection. It can be seen that this madness is caused by an acute emotional overload demonstrated through the extremities of relationships throughout the play. The closet scene in Act 3, Scene 4 is the one point in which Hamlet directly crosses into madness due to the rejection felt from his mother and the perceived betrayal metaphorically portrayed through the ‘incestuous sheets’.
Furthermore, the highly emotive sequence in Act 3, Scene 1 where Hamlet rejects Ophelia through yelling “Get thee to a nunnery! ” is another instance of perceived madness. A psychoanalytic reading of this scene would suggest that Hamlet’s anger at Ophelia is a direct result of his repressed feelings of rejection by women. This idea is evident within the characters themselves with Polonius conclusion that Hamlet’s behaviour is due to the rejection by Ophelia, when he says “he did love you once”.
Therefore, through the theme of rejection a debate on the state of Hamlet’s mind is instigated and it is through the inexhaustible possibilities of differing interpretations of the protagonist that we can see Hamlet’s “admirable” continuing worth. Hamlet’s philosophical musings on the nature of humanity are explored through his changing complex thought process and through this we can see the opportunity for reinterpretation in the differing portrayals of Hamlet’s characterisation. A more definitive reading of Hamlet disputes the claim that he was mad, and instead suggests that Hamlet feigns madness in order to become closer to the truth.
This reading is an example of Shakespeare demonstrating the changing context in Denmark through the projection of the protagonist as an extended metaphor for the emerging Renaissance Humanism period. This period was defined by choice and analysis of events, and is emulated through Hamlet’s alliterated statement in his soliloquy in Scene 3, Act 1, ‘conscience makes cowards of us all. ’ Hamlet believes he is in a psychological state of cowardice, and that his conscience is holding him back through his assessment of the consequences of acting on the orders of the ghost. L. C.
Knight believes Hamlet is the “exploration and implicit criticism of a particular state of mind or consciousness”. This questioning on the theme of humanity and the final stage in Hamlet’s complex thought process is finally resolved in the soliloquy in Scene 4, Act 3. Hamlet’s characterisation, once that of a pure man whose mind was riddled with angst at the idea of murder shifts to a mind of “bloody” thoughts as a result of his bound duty. This personified imagery is a reflection of Hamlet’s now tainted mind since the murder of Polonius, and the constant obsession with Claudius’ murder.
Hamlet accuses himself of ‘thinking too precisely’, and it this extensive thought process that leads him to have ‘cause, and will, and strength, and means’ to finally commit the murder he was assigned to. The 2008 Marion Potts production of Hamlet projects the protagonist at this stage as one with a “steely calm that is much more alarming than a more conventional expression of insanity”. This idea, presented by Diana Simmonds reflects further interpretation of Hamlet’s characterisation.
Hamlet’s changing character and his questioning on the nature of humanity provides a variety of possibility for reinterpretation, and is it through this that we can see the reason for Hamlet’s withstanding value. Through the introduction of themes, such as revenge, rejection, the questioning of humanity and the realisation of reality, as well as characterisation and dramatic techniques, Shakespeare is able to successfully create an enduring text that audience and directors can still find possibilities in today.
Hamlet’s progression of change in psychological thought throughout the play creates an image of Hamlet as someone the audience can relate to. It is the coalescence of all these elements that creates a high level of textual integrity in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the play can be seen as an ‘admirable text” which “does not define or exhaust it’s possibilities”.