Shakespeare’s Characterization of Hamlet

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In the revenge tragedy, Hamlet, Shakespeare characterizes Hamlet as a man with a heightened power of observation, while exploring the unique ways in which his keen eye can interpret the events that occur throughout the play. Hamlet is not an abstract thinker, but he is merely gifted with a greater sense of reality due to his ability to observe and articulate his thoughts and observances. Hamlet’s ability to penetrate to the very core of things through his greater power of observation can be seen in the reflection of his encounters with others, his beliefs about life and mankind, and his ability to perceive what is false and who to trust throughout the play.

Hamlet encounters numerous characters whose actions and words offer him an insight into not only themselves, but the reality of mankind. Hamlet often reflects on these encounters, and can verbalize his opinions and beliefs about the situation or person with clear and often realistic imagery. This ability to observe keenly and reflect can be seen in his encounter with the gravedigger, who Hamlet criticizes for his apathy towards the skeletons in the grave. Hamlet notices how the knave jowls [the skull] to the ground, claiming that same skull may be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o’erreaches(5. 1. 78-81). Hamlet’s observation of the skull as a human, previously full of life, and the ability of Hamet to see this skull with a deeper meaning compared to the gravedigger, illustrates his greater sense of observation and his ability to see into the very core of men and life itself. Hamlet further illustrates his heightened ability to see through others in his interaction with Osric, whose frivolous speech and dress gives Hamlet a deeper insight into his personality and morals.

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Hamlet criticizes Osric’s speech, claiming that he only got the tune of the time and outward habit of encounter, a kind of yeasty collection, which carries [him] through and through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do but blow [him] to [his] trial, the bubbles are out(5. 2. 203-208). Through Hamlet’s short encounter with Osric, he can easily tell that he lacks substance, and uses frivolous speech and clothes to make up for his bland personality. This further illustrates Hamlet’s ability to see into others, using his power of observation to discover, through only a short conversation, what lies behind Osric’s extravagant speech.

Hamlet illustrates his ability to scan reality with a uniquely keen eye while discussing his beliefs about life, death, and mankind. Hamlet displays a frivolous disgust for the world, which may be due to his ability to perceive everything as is completely and utterly true, without flowery verbiage to make the world seem better than it is. As Hamlet ponders over Yorick’s skull, he asks Horatio, dost thou think Alexander looked o’ this fashion i’ th’ earth?, to which Horatio responds, twere to consider too curiously, to consider so(5. 1. 204-213). Hamlet observes the skeletons in the grave, comparing them to that of Alexander the Great. This observation illustrates Hamlet’s ability to interpret an object with a deeper meaning, allowing him a greater understanding of life itself and of the equality that all men possess after death. Hamlet’s realistic view of life and death displays his heightened sense of observation, keenness in diction, and his ability to see into the very core of things, no matter how complicated they may be.

Hamlet’s ability to see through men, knowing what is false and who to trust, further exemplifies his heightened power of observation and greater understanding of reality. When Hamlet first hears of his father’s murder, he exclaims O my prophetic soul!(1. 5. 48). Hamlet’s previous inclination of his father’s murder by his uncle illustrates his ability to perceive what is false and see through the deception of others. When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive to Denmark, supposedly for a simple visit, Hamlet senses that they have come for a different reason, and concludes that they were sent for and that there is a kind of confession in [their] looks which [their] modesties have not craft enough to color(2. 2. 300-303). Hamlet’s ability to sense Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s deceit illustrates, again, his unique gift of observation, which allows him to perceive the lies of others quickly and clearly. Likewise, Hamlet demonstrates his gift of identifying the dishonesty of others when Ophelia meets him to give back his letters. Hamlet senses that Ophelia has been set up, asking her where’s your father, and proceeding to tell her to let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool no where but in ‘s own house(3. 1. 141-144). Hamlet’s recognition of Ophelia and her father’s deceit further exemplifies his heightened sense of observation and ability to see past the lies of others, into the core of men and reality.

Hamlet is not simply an abstract thinker or dreamer, he maintains a greater power of observation than the rest, allowing him to scan reality with a keener eye and see into the very core of men and things. Hamlet’s ability to interpret his observations in a clear and articulate way give him a greater understanding of the world around him, although this understanding may be shared with a frivolous disgust of mankind. Hamlet’s encounters with others, his beliefs about life and death, and his strong perception of deceit display his ability to observe keenly and speak his observations in an articulate, straightforward, and beautiful way–a unique gift that not many possess.

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Shakespeare's Characterization of Hamlet. (2019, Mar 12). Retrieved from