How Hamlet Defines What it Means to be Human Part. 2

Shakespeare’s contemporary Montaigne wrote in his essay “Of the Inconsistency of Our Actions” thus: “Whoever will look narrowly into his own bosom will hardly find himself twice in the same condition. I give to my soul sometimes one face and sometimes another, according to the side I turn her to. If I speak variously of myself, it is because I consider myself variously; all the contraries are there to be found in one corner or another; after one fashion or another: bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant, lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal: I find all this in myself, more or less, according as I turn myself about; and whoever will sift him to the bottom, will find in himself, and even in his own judgement, this volubility and discordance.” A sampling of these things are peppered throughout the tragedy. We hear Hamlet’s melancholic side when he says, ” I have that indeed which passes show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe.” We see his ingenious side when he comes up with a way to expose the king promulgating, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” We’re exposed to his pleasant side when he greets the players from out-of-town; his lustful side is shown through Ophelia’s description of how he “took her by the wrists and held her hard.” His lying side shows when he tells Ophelia “not I, I never gave you aught.” He is a man of contradictions but so are all of us. He exemplifies the multi-faceted nature of our species as he shows such a diversified range of qualities and emotions. Sarcastic and sardonic as with Polonius in the book reading scene; genuine, gentle, and kind when he has his private conversation with Horatio; or insidious and harsh as in the closet scene with his mother. We are as varied within ourselves as there are different perspectives on Hamlet’s character; or in another words we are truly “characters unlimited.”


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