Importance of Uncertainty in Hamlet

Hamlet, like many of Shakespeare’s other works, such as Othello and Richard III, is a play that focuses on power struggles and revenge. However, it differs from Shakespeare’s other works of this genre in that the character of Hamlet’s actions come from a much different place than those of characters like Iago and Richard III.

At the start of Othello, Iago claims to be trying to overthrow Othello and all those who have more power than he does, because he resents their powerful statures and wants to get revenge on them for it. As the play goes on, he confesses to believing that his wife Emilia had previously cheating on him with Othello, adding to the list of reasons of why he wants to get revenge on him. He is ruled and driven by hatred and the desire to take others down, and those who are around him rarely if ever question his claims. His goal is to get revenge on Othello, and Othello and the other characters in this play are certain in his words and do not hesitate to trust him; they make getting revenge easy for him.

Richard III states at the very beginning of the Richard III that he wants to become the King of England, and he goes on to kill (or have others kill) his brother, King Edward IV, his two sons, and his brother Clarence in order to eliminate all of the other heirs to the throne that come before him. He does not hesitate to do any of this nor does he feel any guilt about it; his goal is to take others down and to gain power. Case closed. The people that he hires to help him achieve this do not ever question him or his character or encourage him to stop; even those who realize that what he is doing is wrong do not stand up to him. Richard III is a decisive character in his actions, and his helpers are decisive in following him.

Hamlet, however, is different from the other revenge and power – seeking plays that we have read in class, because Hamlet is not ruled by cruelty. He’s ruled by love. He wants to kill his father’s brother Claudius not because he wants to take the throne away from him but because he wants to avenge his father whom he killed in order to gain the throne. He is not killing his uncle in order to gain it himself. Even after he makes the decision to kill Claudius in order to avenge his father, he sees it as carrying out the will of the ghost who gave the instructions to do it and not from a mean – spirited place. He also does not just blindly trust the ghost or make assumptions about him. He is curious about the logistics of what he is doing and the ghost who gave him his instructions, and ask questions. He unlike Iago and Richard III is not certain of his actions.

Hamlet differs from Shakespeare’s other works of this genre because it is not just a play about revenge or power; it is a play about indecisiveness and uncertainty. This sheds light on the amount of uncertainty that is in the other two plays, and how the horrible endings of them could maybe have been avoided if the characters had been more uncertain as opposed to being afraid to question. The play of Hamlet shows how prevalent uncertainty is in everyday life and how important it is to question those around you.

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3 thoughts on “Importance of Uncertainty in Hamlet

  1. jacobic1

    Reblogged this on Shakespeare I and commented:

    I agree with you that Hamlet is not ruled by cruelty when he approaches the task to kill Claudius. However, I think it is not necessarily love what rules him either, but rather it is doubt. He gets the order of his father’s ghost to eliminate Claudius, and promises to obey it. But instead of going ahead and hatching a plan how to kill Claudius, Hamlet wants to first find out whether this deadly task is justifiable. Even then, when he got his prove that the Ghost had told him the truth Hamlet is not putting the order into practice immediately. This doubt of his may have even been triggered by the Ghost saying to Hamlet in 1.5.84-85: “But howsoever thou pursuest this act,/Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive”. Hamlet’s reaction also changes in this scene, which might be an indicator for his beginning doubt. Whereas he is eager to do it in line 29-31, he is hesitant, even a little bit puzzled after the Ghost exits. Also, the first thing he does after the Ghost had disappeared is to write in his notebook. This shows that he would like to “remember” this meeting with his dead father. Because what he writes primarily describes the fratricide: it was villainous and done it was done with a smile.
    Hamlet may have agreed to fulfill the order, nevertheless, he leaves us as the audience uncertain if he actually will kill Claudius or not. We can observe this even later in 3.4. where he decides not to kill Claudius while he prays. I think we have to be aware of the fact that Hamlet was chosen to become the vehicle to solve a conflict he was never involved in. Thus, this task is a heavy burden for Hamlet, as it will make him a murderer, yet even a sinner.

    Reply
  2. elainemarina24

    I enjoyed your thoughts on the comparison of Iago, Richard III and Hamlet. Indeed, Shakespeare’s tragedies always have a revengeful murderous character. However, Hamlet is different. He is different almost to the point that you want to cheer him on. He has every right with pure intentions to kill Claudius. (As crazy as that sounds) He doesn’t seem to be driven by power, but to set his fathers spirit free and not let Claudius get away with what he has done. Thanks for your post!

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth Browne

    Wow what an accurate Iago, Richard III, and Hamlet comparison! It’s weird that we build up such an oddly compassionate feeling for Shakespeare’s protagonists regardless of it they are doing good or evil. I agree with you point that Hamlet leaves us with the uncertainty if he would actually kill Claudius or not. This is where I find Hamlet different from the others you compared him to because he has that uncertain feeling while the others seem more “one and done.” You pointed out very valid points!

    Reply

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