Hamlet is a play thathas beenhailed foryears. The tragic events that arerevealed in theplayare not only intriguing but also melancholic. There are variousthemes and symbols in theplay which isset in a royal palace in Denmark during the seventeenth century.During this period, religion was an important aspect ofthe people`sdaily lives and,this externally influencedthe way in which the play was written.The themes, symbolism, external factors and the turmoil thecharacters face are an indication that Hamlet is a play full ofuncertainties.
Theuse of the ghost as a symbolbrings out the atmosphere of uncertainty. The ghost depicts howHamlet iscaught betweenreality and imagination. For instance, when Hamlet first meets hisfather`s ghost, it is not clear if the ghost isa figment of his imagination, a memory,or an actual ghost as he initially says, "Orever I had seen that day, Horatio! /Myfather! –methinks I see myfather." Heis not certain if the ghost isreal or imaginary.
Symbolism is employed tobring out uncertainty in the story. When Hamlet decides to fightLaertes, Horatio expresses his concern for his safety, but Hamletassures him by saying:
Nota whit, we defy augury: there`s a special
providencein the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
tisnot to come if it benot to come, it will be
now if it benot now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all:since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is`tto leave betimes? (Shakespeare).
He says, "there isspecial providence in the fall of a sparrow." Thisis a biblical allusion of the quote in Matthew 10:29-30 which says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet,not one of them will fall to the groundapart from the will of your Father. Andeven the very hairs of your headare numbered." ( NIV, Matt. 10:29-30). Hamlet`s quote on specialprovidence in the fall of a sparrow reflects his belief that Godcontrols every detail of life. His entire speech shows that there area lot of uncertainties in life. He accepts that he cannot have allthe answers since for every action, there can be many outcomes. Inthe speech he says, "what is`tto leave betimes?" which can be interpreted to mean, let it beas it may.
One of the themes thatbring out uncertainty is the themeof madness. Horatio has reservations about Ophelia`s sanity. Afterher father’s death, she is consumed by grief to the extent thatpeople start thinking that she is mad. Itis not clear in the play whetherit issorrow or madness motivate her actions.In Act IV Scene V, Getrude,Horatio, and Claudius try to engage her in a conversation to whichshe responds by singing. The possible explanation forher behavior could be thather grief haddriven her to madness. It is also likely that her actions were just aresult of the pain she was going through.A similar scenario is when Hamletgrieves the deathof his father, he mourns for such a long time that people startconcluding that the grief has driven him insane (Shakespeare).However, it is not clear if he is mad, just grieving or simplyplaying mad.
Uncertainty in the playhas also beenexpressedthrough the theme of mortality. The mysteries that surround life,deathand the afterlife keep Hamlet from acting. When he considers takinghis life he says:
To be, or not to be:that is the question:
Whether`tis nobler in the mind to suffer.
The slings and arrowsof outrageous fortune,
Or to take armsagainst a sea of troubles,
And by opposing endthem? To die: to sleep
No more and by asleep to say weend.
The heart-ache andthe thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heirto, `tisa consummation.
Devoutly to bewish`d.To die, to sleep
To sleep: perchanceto dream: ay, there`s the rub
For in that sleep ofdeath what dreams may come (Shakespeare).
He cannot go through withtaking his life because according to him, taking one`s life is a sin.His indecision isinfluenced bythe fact that there are many mysteries surrounding life and death. Heevaluates the possibility of life after death,but he is not certainabout the outcome of taking his life.
Hamlet is a characterplagued with dubiety. He is clearly hesitant to make decisions andtake action perhaps owingto the fact thatmany of these actionshad unpredictable outcomes. Hamlet`s introspective nature is hisgreatest flaw because it makes it hard for him to make decisions orcarry out any decisive action. Despite swearing to avenge his father,he hesitates todo so on variousoccasions that the opportunity to kill Claudius presents itself. Forinstance, when he found him praying, he starts thinking about theoutcome of his actions hesitating to kill him because hethinks killing him while he was in the process of praying will makehim go to heaven. Thisindecisivenessand delays in his plan to avenge his father’s death eventually costhim his life.
An external factor thatpropels the incertitude in this play is religion. Most of Hamlet`sindecision on various actions areowed to hisreligious beliefs. He is unsure about the ghost because he does notbelieve in purgatory. The religion the author writes about isChristianity. Denmark was made up of Protestants who do not believein purgatory.Also,Hamlet isconflicted about the ghost he sees and whether it belongs to hisfather. He hesitates totake his lifeand deliberates on the vanityof life and whether taking his life is a sin.
Despite thefact that the play is full ofuncertainties, there are somecases when anatmosphere of certainty prevailed. For example,the certainty of death isseen in Hamlet`slast speech where he says:
O,I die, Horatio
The potent poisonquite o`er-crows my spirit:
I cannot live to hearthe news from England
But I do prophesy theelection lights.
On Fortinbras: he hasmy dying voice
So tell him, with theoccurrents, more and less,
Whichhave solicited.The rest is silence (Shakespeare).
Thisis his last speech before he dies. The last line, "the rest issilence" reveals the finality and certainty of death. Death isthe end of all things. Hamlet wasdone with makingdecisions and having to take action. It was over. The entire royalfamily was dead and with it, the cycle of vengeance. All that wasleft for Hamletwas peaceful rest.
To a large extent, thethemes, symbolism, and characters show that the play is full ofuncertainty.Even though there were instances when the events andtheir outcomes were apparent,the certainty wasshort lived.
Shakespeare, William, andCyrus Hoy. Hamlet.New York: W.W Norton, 1996. Print.
New International Version. Biblica. BibleGateway.Com. 2013