Hamlet – Hero or Villain

Hamlet comes across as both a hero and a villain throughout ‘Hamlet’ at different intervals. His loyalty, morality, honesty and popularity are certainly heroic traits however one can’t deny his villainous ways in his dealings with Ophelia, his killing of Polonius and most importantly his delaying of killing Claudius. Hamlet is full of faults yet full of honourable intentions. His negative qualities are slim compared to his heroic qualities therefore I believe Hamlet to be a hero, a “prince among men”. When we first meet Hamlet, he is dressed all in black and conveys all the “moods, forms and shapes of grief”.

This depression is caused by his father’s recent death. Gertrude, his mother and Claudius, his uncle have noticed however Hamlet’s melancholy is much more intense than he is letting on “too too sullied flesh would melt”. He’s unable to forget his father even when all those around him have resumed their merry lives. “I shall not look upon his like again”. This demonstrates the loyal side of the prince. His grief is further intensified by the cold-hearted actions of his mother. Gertrude married her brother in law, Claudius “within a month” of her husband’s death.

Hamlet is unable to understand her disloyalty “a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer”. He believes he is living in a society with no standards and so becomes disillusioned with life “how weary, stale flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world”. His loyalty is certainly a heroic trait. The anger he felt towards his mother had a very a negative effect on a Hamlet. He began to feel anger at women as a whole which leads me to his villainous dealings with Ophelia. Hamlet feels neglected when Ophelia as ordered by her father, Polonius repels his letters.

He condemns all women with the criticism of moral fickleness “fraility thy name is woman”. He hates Ophelia one moment and longs to engage in sexual intimacy with her the next. “Lie between maids’ legs”. He mistreats her with heartless and demeaning behaviour. In the nunnery scene he denies he ever loved her and tells her “get thee to a nunnery”. His inconsistent treating of Ophelia eventually drives her to insanity. The actual recognition of his love for Ophelia can only come when Hamlet realizes that she is dead, and free from her tainted womanly trappings “I lov’d Ophelia”.

This is without doubt one of the most villainous qualities of Hamlet. His cruel treating of Ophelia however can also be seen as a heroic trait. He is honest about his feelings towards her. He is honest throughout the whole play, which is rare in ‘Hamlet’ as most of the characters live their lives through deception. He doesn’t once hide his hatred of Claudius “a little more than kin and less than kind”, he is also honest of his disliking of Polonius when he says his words have no substance “words words word”.

He eventually tells his mother how disgusted he is with her marriage “O shame, where is thy blush? ” and admits he treated her with cruelty “I must be cruel only to be kind”. He is even honest about his own inaction as he “lets all sleep”. His honesty throughout the play is admirable and only further proves him to be a hero. He is without doubt a man of high morals which is an important feature of a hero. He agrees to avenge his father even though he almost crushed with the burden. “oh cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”.

It is clear that he does not want to murder but accepts the task nonetheless “I have sworn’t”. He also apologises to Laertes for killing Polonius and asks for forgiveness. “give me your pardon, sir I have done you wrong”. His moral character is what I most admire about Hamlet. However Hamlet’s bravery for accepting the burden of revenge only heightens our awareness of his most negative quality, inaction. Faced with evidence that his uncle murdered his father, Hamlet becomes obsessed with proving his uncle’s guilt.

He delays the moment of revenge for as long as he possibly can. He even passes up the perfect chance to kill Claudius in the courtyard when he is praying claiming if he kills him now he is only sending him to heaven. “this is hire and salary, not revenge”. Hamlet is aware of his inaction and is very self-critical of it. He admires the player’s passion in the play and become annoyed at himself for being “unpregnant of my cause”. He is made further aware of his inaction when the young Fortinbras fights for land “that had nothing in but the name” while he “lets all sleep”.

His procrastination is his biggest fault and is his ultimate downfall in the play. Inaction is certainly not a heroic characteristic. After Hamlet returns from England he is a changed man. He tells how Horatio how “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends”. It is becoming clear that Hamlet now sees the role of avenger in a different light than he did earlier in the play. As a true hero he is conscious of the fact that he is acting as an agent of justice. This new attitude remains with Hamlet right through to the play’s conclusion.

Claudius invites him to engage in a duel with Laertes and Hamlet freely embraces the challenge. Hamlet seems to be more self-confident about his own ability to take clear, effective action. We are given the picture of a noble and fine young man in the concluding scenes. He finally gets revenge on Claudius however is stabbed by Laertes by doing so. A true hero who sacrifices himself to bring justice and honesty back to the state of Denmark, even his enemy Fortinbras admits he would have “proved most royal” for the throne.

Hamlet is a truly much loved prince who possesses a vast degree of human virtue and ability and whose death is not only tragic but extremely noble. His villainous qualities, however strong in the beginning, truly evaporate as the play concludes. An honest, loyal, brave and moral man, there is no doubt that Hamlet is a hero. I’d trust him to rule my country any time! A hero is defined in the oxford English dictionary as “a man, often of divine ancestry, who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for his bold exploits. ” You can’t deny it’s the perfect description of Hamlet!

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