It is reasonable to wonder what Shakespeare had in mind while writing Hamlet. After all, Shakespeare wasn't a philosopher or historian,or even a literary critic. He was a playwright. He didn't leave us critical essays examining his work. It is left to us to examine his work and decide for ourselves, if we care to, what Shakespeare was thinking. Did he know
that he was writing a drama of deep psychological significance, a play which would eventually be viewed and read the world over, produced many times over hundreds of years, taught in schools, and thought of as one of the world's greatest plays? I, for one, imagine him dotting the "i" in the last word of the play, "silence," putting down his pen, and saying "I hope it runs a year."
Yet Hamlet is an extremely complex play. To appreciate the imagination which went into the creation of this tragedy, let's first delve into what is putatively Shakespeare's most complex tragedy, King Lear. Lear
has three daughters: Cordelia, who is faithful and unappreciated by Lear, and Regan and Goneril who receive everything at his hands and betray him.
These themes of misplaced love and filial betrayal are mirrored in the subplot of the play, the relationship between the Earl of Gloster and his two sons, Edmund, who is supported and approved by Gloster and betrays him,and Edgar, who unjustly becomes a fugitive from his father's wrath. The
mirror is whole. In it we view Cordelia's reflection and see Edgar, while
Regan's and Goneril's reflections, which are of one face, show us Edmund.
In the main plot ofHamlet, Hamlet's father has been murdered.
Hamlet swears revenge, but feign's madness and delays. In the subplot, the
chamberlain, Polonius, is murdered by Hamlet. One of Polonius's children,
Laertes, swears revenge, while the other, his daughter Ophelia, goes mad.
Here, the mirror is cracked. Hamlet's reflection is splintered. We
see one part of him, his revenge motive, in Laertes' action, and we see his
pretended madness in Ophelia's piteous condition. More than this, Hamlet's
image is dimmed compared to those of his counterparts. Hamlet speaks of
revenge, but procrastinates; Laertes instantly raises and army and attacks
the kingdom, but he must be satisfied over his father's murder. Hamlet only
acts mad; Ophelia's madness is too real.
Word Count: 383