The Value and Importance of Hamlet in the Twentieth Century

Importance of Hamlet in the Twentieth Century

The Portrayal of the Hero:

Hamlet is one of the greatest tragedies written by Shakespeare. The Value And Importance of Hamlet ‘is a work of art consists in its durability the highest works of art attain a permanent life and continue to appeal to the successive generations of mankind. Hamlet is one such work of art. The importance of this play lies chiefly in the portrayal of the character of its hero. The play is great because its hero continues to interest the readers till today, and will continue to appeal to the readers of the future. The character of Hamlet has a universal appeal and significance. Hamlet lives and is significant today chiefly because his experience, as depicted in the play arouses an aware­ness of similar experiences in us. Hamlet, placed as he is in a peculiar situation, is shown responding to it in ways which are familiar to our own deepest natures Reading the play, or seeing it on the stage, we get the feeling that, if We find ourselves in simi­lar predicaments, we are likely to react to them in almost the same way in which Hamlet reacts to his predicament.

 Hamlet’s Hesitation, A Prolonged Affair

 In the first part of the play, Hamlet seeks and obtains sufficient evidence to prove that his uncle did really murder his father. The Queen, his mother, has married his uncle. Hamlet, sensitive as he is and deeply attached to his father as he was, is stirred to his very depths by what has happened. His slow progress from an awareness of these wrongs to a conviction of his uncle’s guilt changes his whole outlook on life. He lends at first the greatest difficulty in accepting the new situation and understanding its ‘implications. The verification of the Ghost’s story naturally takes some time but, even after that verification has been obtained, Hamlet hesitates to go ahead with his revenge. In fact, he hesitates so long that his uncle regains the initiative and banishes him from Den­mark. In the second part of the play, Hamlet returns to Denmark and, grieved by the death of Ophelia, whom he once loved, he finds himself compelled by the course of events to kill the King. But by this time he is himself dying, like his opponent in the fencing-match, while the Queen is dead already.

Character and Plot Satisfactorily Coordinated

 On the surface, it looks as if Hamlet’s experiences have little or no bearing on life today. Yet the play continues to enjoy a vast popularity, and there must be a reason for that. One reason is that Hamlet is among the very few plays in the world in which character and plot are satisfactorily co-ordinate. A “plot” is an ordering of life, and a perfectly shaped plot has a perfect ordering of events: an original situation is changed by a measured sequence of events which in turn resolve, with no loose ends, in conclusions by which the new situation is achieved.

Hamlet not only fulfils this condition but achieves something more. To the successful shaping of the plot Shakespeare adds character-development. Instead of being rigidly confined to a pattern of events, the characters develop and take over the plot by themselves changing as the Plot progresses. The characters of this play are certainly no puppets fitted into the various incidents and acting according to the drama­tist’s self-imposed demands with the plot having been laid down at the outset. It is only in the greatest plays that character and plot are interwoven with the skill which Shakespeare shows here.

The Universal Appeal of the Experience Dealt With in the Play

But a stronger reason for the popularity of this play today is that the audience is given a sense of living through a profound experience, an experience which is not restricted to any particular time or any particular place, but an experience which has a universal appeal and significance. All great art has a generalizing tendency. All great, art takes us behind and beyond the present towards a universal set of values. Hamlet is not simply a play on generalized themes, for instance about right and wrong. Prince Hamlet is placed in a situation where quick judgment as to a course of action being right or wrong cannot be made. It is true that the forces of life, as symbolized by Claudius, are evil, and revenge seems to be the correct course to he adopted; yet the onset of this kind of wild justice is extremely slow. There are other forces at work too.

Hamlet’s Conflict, Of Great Interest in Our Own Times

There is first Hamlet’s own nature. Living in an evil world, this man with a noble mind wavers, as any human being would do, between reason ad emotions. His soliloquies flow from his reason:  they show him relying on a rational solution to the problem he faces. But they contain also deeply emotional outbursts. Then there is the Ghost of the dead King. Evert after death the old King wants a hand in the ordering of the future. Prince Hamlet finds himself driven by impulses emanating from his father’s Ghost, and he finds himself unable to question the rationality of those impulses and then there is Fate, or whatever name we may like to give to the most powerful force of all. Like ourselves, Hamlet sees that men are not what they think they arc, and that their potentialities are not limitless Men can cope with their physical environment, and the best of them can confront what is within them but time and accident thwart both reason and emotion. As the Player King says:

Our wills and fates do so contrary run

That our devices still are overthrown.

Facts you should know About the Universality of  The  Value and Importance of Hamlet

And Hamlet himself says: “If it be now, ’tis not to come;.” This origin of man opposing a supreme power gives to the play of Hamlet a high position in world drama. For the Greeks, tragedy portrayed bewildered man in relation to some supreme, unknowable power, a background before which his own littleness was emphasized. In a later development, drama in this tragic mould became religious, the supreme power being seen as Godhead. Something of the significance of Hamlet today may result from this, but development has moved further. Hamlet is not a mere pawn moved here and there by a supreme power. He is an agent of the divine authority, bringing justice and retribution, and as such he is a part of the supreme power; and at the same time, as victim, he is an opponent of that power.

The puppet controlled by the whim of Fate has become the man at the centre of the conflict between pre-destination and free will, a conflict as vitally interesting in our own times as it was in Shakespeare’s. Hamlet is now on one side, now on the other. Charged with revenge, he brings vengeance on himself. He forgives Laertes, yet he kills him. He is Hyperion and the satyr in one, the god-man and the animal-man, and he cannot achieve his purpose of punishment without becoming involved in the crime. A fairly simple pattern of events is thus overwhelmed by complications beyond human range, and the hero submits to Provi­dence, “so that with this dual role, Hamlet also accepts, though he does not comprehend, himself and his own lot, so mysteriously composed of good and evil, in that universal design which ‘shapes our ends’.


The Representative Quality of Hamlet’s Character:

This is what a critic (Stopford Brooke) says regarding the universality of Hamlet : Hamlet is supposed to be entirely different both in intellectual power and in strangeness of phantasm and feelings, from the common run of educated men, to be in a class apart. It is not really so, and one proof of that is that so many hundreds of thousands of men and women, when they listen to him, listen to their own souls. The thoughts he has they have had; the imaginative dreams and fancies he expresses have passed through their minds. The questions he puts to life, the questionings he has had about death, and those he has about suicide when he is alone ; the impatience he has with the troubles he is called upon to face, and the demands which they make upon him : the impulses under which he has to perform the demands and to battle with the troubles ; the fading of those impulses as fresh thoughts occur to him and make him glad to forget them—are all common to millions of men anti women who belong to the pensive, sensitive, imaginative, con­templative, idealizing type of humanity, which thinks rather than acts, is quiet rather than stirring, dreaming rather than practical ; to whom the soul is more than the body, the mystic more than the material life. Wherever persons of that type exist, in poverty or in riches, among peasants or princes, we find Hamlet, and they find themselves in Hamlet. And the wonder of the play consists not in the mental apartness of Hamlet from the rest of the world, but in the amazing power of the poet who made him, who embodied in him the representation of one million-people type of humanity , who made him so act, so speak, that he set before us not only the type, but almost all the variations within that type, almost all the main directions of their thoughts and feelings about the life of man The thoughts Hamlet expresses are not of exceptional range or excellence. ! They do not set him on a pinnacle above other men. They are, as thoughts alone, the ordinary thoughts of his type in a cultivated youth with a turn for philosophy what do make his thoughts apparently greater and deeper than those of other young men of his temperament is the noble passion of their clothing, the splendor of words.

Characters of the Other Type

There is the other type of people who use their intellect on the business of the world. They arc the active, practical, quick-deciding, dry-thinking type. This type is also represented by millions, and millions of people in all ranks of life, and not one of them can comprehend the Hamlet type. Claudius, till Hamlet made him afraid ; the Queen, till Hamlet pierced her conscience ; Polonius ; Laertes ; Ophelia, till she became mad—they belonged to this type ; Hamlet and Horatio to the other.


Leave a Comment