Shakespeare’s contemporary Montaigne writes, in his essay, “Of The Inconsistency Of Our Actions,” that, “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.” These contraries are most prevalent in our title character throughout Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy. So much so, in fact, that more is written on Hamlet than almost any other subject in existence.
We witness Hamlet’s melancholic side when he says of his mourning black attire, “I have that indeed which passes show, these but the trappings and the suits of woe.”
We see his creative side when he contrives a scheme to expose the king’s treachery, boldly resolving, “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”
We see his charming and affable side when he greets the players come to town, jovially remarking, “You are welcome, masters; welcome, all. I am glad to see thee well. Welcome, good friends.”
His abusive side is made evident through Ophelia’s confiding to her father that Hamlet, “took me by the wrists and held me hard.”
His conflictive nature is apparent when he denies loving Ophelia, scolding her and claiming, “not I, I never gave you aught,” then later professes, “I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum.”
We see a satirical side to Hamlet with Polonius in the “words, words, words” scene, when he conjures the sarcastic response, “Yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.”
We also see a gentle and kind side to Hamlet. In his private conversation with his loyal friend Horatio; he eloquently confides his admiration with, “Give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of hearts, as I do THEE.”
We even see his cruel side; as in the closet scene with Gertrude. He rails at her with a hateful ferocity that vexes her so deeply, she desperately pleads to the son she so dearly loves, “O speak to me no more; these words like daggers enter in my ears. No more, sweet Hamlet.”
I think we are all as varied within ourselves as the snowflakes that in winter fall. Hamlet is a man of contradictions, and so are all of us; some more than others. He exemplifies the multi-faceted nature of humankind, showing our inherently dynamic essence.
“We know what we are but not what we may be.”