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Suicide In Hamlet

This print version free essay Suicide In Hamlet.

Category: English

Autor: reviewessays 17 March 2011

Words: 1682 | Pages: 7

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, suicide is an important and continuous theme throughout the play. Hamlet is the main character who contemplates the thought of suicide many different times throughout the play, since the murder of his father. Hamlet weighs the advantages of leaving his miserable life with the living, for possibly a better but unknown life with the dead. Hamlet seriously contemplates suicide, but decides against it, mainly because it is a mortal sin against God. Hamlet continues to say that most of humanity would commit suicide and escape the hardships of life, but do not because they are unsure of what awaits them in the after life. Hamlet throughout the play is continually tormented by his fathers death and his inability to get revenge and Claudius and on several occasions seriously considers suicide, but always ends up backing out because it is a sin forbidden by God. Opehlia, on the other hand, is driven mad by her father’s murder and by Hamlet’s betrayal and commits suicide. But because she is part of the royal family, her sin is forgiven and she is given a full Christian burial, despite even the priests’ suspicions about the cause of her death. With suicide being so openly displayed and discussed in the play, it seems that suicide was not on any social level, considered anything degrading or disrespectful.

We first see Hamlet contemplate suicide after Claudius and Getrude ask him to stay in Denmark, rather than return to Wittenburg to resume his studies against his wishes. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy, Hamlet clearly wants to commit suicide, and wishes that his, “solid flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!” (I. ii. 133-134). Hamlet wishes that his body would melt away so he would not have to see Claudius and Getrude together again, and pretend as though all is well. Hamlet explains to us that he does want to die, but he says he can not because, “the Everlasting had not fix’d/His canon ‘gainst self slaughter! O God! O God!” (I. ii. 135-136). Hamlet wishes that the Everlasting or God, had not set canon, or law, against suicide. Hamlet continues on and almost complains on the state of the world, calling it stale, flat, and unprofitable, showing how truly miserable he is. Hamlet considers suicide as a possible option of escape from his life in a painful world, but feels as though religion is preventing him from doing so. Hamlet then provides us with the roots for his pain and the reason for his contemplation of suicide. Hamlet is is troubled by his mothers marriage to Claudius, but especially how quickly the two were married after his father’s death. He continues to express his dislike and hatred for Claudius calling him a satyr, while praising his father and saying how excellent of a king his father was. In one of the final lines of the soliloquy Hamlet comments on how the marriage is a bad omen for Denmark, “It is not, nor it cannot come to good,” (I. ii. 163). For the first time we are introduced to the idea of suicide which will continue to present itself as the play develops.

When Hamlet is set up and spied on by Claudius and Polonius, he examines the moral aspect of suicide in a painful world. He opens his soliloquy with asking a simple question, “To be, or not to be:that is the question:” (III. i. 58), that is, whether to live or to die. He then begins to question whether it is nobler to suffer life and the, “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” (III. i. 66), or to take ones life and end one’s suffering. He compares death to sleep and at first thinks that this sleep will bring an end to ones pain and suffering, but also the uncertainty it might bring. Hamlet then decides that suicide is truly the desirable course of action, “’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d,” ( III. i. 71-72). But even in his admitting that suicide is the best course of action he also admits with using the religious word, devoutly, that there is more to this question, and that is what will happen to someone in the afterlife. Hamlet corrects himself and continues his metaphor of dreaming in the after life, and he is uncertain what kind of dreams await us in the after life, and that these dreams should not haunt us but give us rest. He then concludes that the uncertainty of the after life after suicide is what ultimately prevents all of humanity from committing suicide to end the pain which people experience throughout their life time. He outlines a list of all of the situations which would drive someone to the point of suicide, ranging everywhere from problems with love to hard work to political oppression. Hamlet then asks who, if anyone, would choose to suffer through all of these terrible situations when one could end the suffering with a knife, “When he himself might his quietus make/ With a bare bodkin?” ( III. i. 83-84). Hamlet answers his own question by saying that no person in their right mind would submit to these horrible situations in life when one could just end it all with a knife, except that the “dread of something after death,” (III. i. 86), forces people to deal with the problems of their life because they have no idea what to expect after death, and after death might even be more miserable than their life. The uncertainty surrounding the afterlife is what leads people to submit to live their lives, and that our, “conscience does make cowards of us all;/ And thus the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,” (III. i. 91-93). Hamlet covers the main themes in the book, suicide and death, and says that in addition to God telling us that suicide is a sin, that our own conscience’s are laid out in such a way that it is impossible for us to get around the barrier of the fear of the unknown. This mental barrier and unconscience barrier, and the conscience religious barrier prevents all of humanity from ending their suffering and committing suicide.

With all the talk and thought of suicide it is surprising we actual only get one case of suicide. Ophelia has been driven mad by her father’s murder and Hamlet’s actions, and falls from a tree into a river and willingly gives in to the water and drowns. Even though Ophelia is suspected to have committed suicide she receives a full Christian burial. The gravedigger’s are debating the on whether or not Opheila should be buried in a Christian grave because she committed suicide and one says that, “If this had not been/ a gentlewoman, she should have been buried out o’/ Christian burial,” (V. i. 24-26). During the burial ceremony even the priest who was conducting the ceremony called Ophelia’s death suspicious, but continued with the burial. The fact that even though Ophelia committed suicide and it is not a kept secret at all, shows a lot about how people at this time dealt with suicide and how serious they actually thought it was. This is probably a unique situation because Ophelia is part of the royal family and her sin can be somewhat forgiven, but if it were a peasant or any other regular person who was not a part of the royal family I do not think that it would have been as easily put aside and forgotten. This willingness to forget, makes me reconsider how seriously these people took their religious beliefs.

The final and culminating suicide of the play is the final scene in which the entire royal family is slain by its own internal corruption. It is not the same type of suicide or with the same deliberate intent as Ophelia or Hamlet contemplated, but all the members of the royal family are eventually slain by their own treachery. Laertes plots with Claudius to kill Hamlet by poisoning Laertes’ sword which he will use in the fencing match. But in a scuffle between the two, their swords get switched and Laertes is killed by his own poisonous sword, and Gertrude is unintentionally slain by Claudius’ plan. Claudius is stabbed by Hamlet with the poisonous sword that he set up for Hamlet to be slain by, but Hamlet also forces him to drink the poisonous wine which he was also meant to drink. Finally, Hamlet, has been killed because of his delay to get revenge on Claudius allowed Claudius enough time to set up a plan and assassination plan of his own.

Murder is contemplated and happens so much during this play, that by the end of the play, it does not bother the reader. Hamlet makes suicide out to be something which which is against the will of God and is an incredibly serious sin, but not once does anyone say anything close to this concerning the morals behind murder. This focus on the problems and morality of suicide, and the lack of doing so with murder fascinate me whenever I read Hamlet. Putting aside the religious and conscience barriers which face people when they contemplate suicide, Hamlet does not seem to give us any reason to believe that he or society, thinks that there is anything morally wrong with suicide. When Hamlet comes to the conclusion that people do not commit suicide because they are afraid of what they do not know, still holds true today. I believe that people in general, do have a fear of the unknown, especially afraid of what awaits us after life.