How does Shakespeare use conflict in Hamlet as a way of exploring ideas? An individual's response to conditions of internal and external conflict is explored throughout literature. In his play, Hamlet, Shakespeare delves into the themes of appearance versus reality, lies versus deceit, rejection versus self doubt and tragedy, and in doing so attacks the frivolous state of humanity in contemporary society. In order to explore these themes, however, he uses several forms of conflict to project his opinions and expand his ideas relating to the themes of the play. Internal conflict, as well as external conflict are dominant features of his works, and in Hamlet are made evident through a succession of dire events which can attack and destroy someone.
However perhaps the most captivating form of conflict Shakespeare uses to expand and explore the ideas presented within the text is the conflict between the self and the universe. Old Hamlet is killed by his brother Claudius. Only two months after her husband's death a vulnerable Gertrude marries her husband's brother Claudius. Gertrude's weakness opens the door for Claudius to take the throne as the king of Denmark. Hamlet is outraged by this, he loses respect for his mother as he feels that she has rejected him and has taken no time to mourn her own husband's death.
One night old Hamlets ghost appears to prince Hamlet and tells him how he was poisoned by his own brother. Up until this point the kingdom of Denmark believed that old Hamlet had died of natural causes. As it was custom, prince Hamlet sought to avenge his father's death. This leads Hamlet, the main character into a state of internal conflict as he agonies over what action and when to take it as to avenge his father's death.
Shakespeare's play presents the reader with various forms of conflict which plague his characters. He explores these conflicts through the use of soliloquies, recurring motifs, structure and mirror plotting. Shakespeare uses external conflict in order to explore the theme of consequence, action and reaction in reaction in relation to consequence. Using the idea of external conflict, the playwright is able to demonstrate the aftermath of a difficult decision, leading to personal moral dilemma. This is made evident to the viewer when Hamlet kills Claudius. External conflict is used to explore Shakespeare's view that man is a complex individual and that all actions have a consequence.
The consequence that follows is often an internal one. Shakespeare's Hamlet is presented as thinker who takes a lot of time contemplating how to avenge his father's death, as a result of initial external conflict after Claudius kills his father. He plots against Claudius and schemes to kill him as to avenge his father's death. Hamlet in trying to mask his inner feelings and to foreshadow the fact that he is about to kill Claudius acts out lunacy. Shakespeare's use of soliloquies work on revealing Hamlet's nature and character. We see that Hamlet is a man of logic; we also see his weaknesses such as his procrastination and his self doubt.
The play, like many tragedies concludes with the death of many of the characters. "Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts; Of accidental judgement's, casual slaughters; of deaths put on by cunning and for'd cause" (Act five, scene 2). This is a quote by Horatio as he speaks of how the tragedy came to be. This final act is the concludes Shakespeare's recipe for tragedy. Shakespeare's structure assists him in creating tension and raising questions about the folly of revenge and lies. Hamlet begins with an exposition where the characters and mood of the play are introduced.
The audience is then exposed to the main conflict. The main divergence arises when Hamlet learns of how his father was really killed by Claudius. This helps the playwright present and explore the ideas of deceit, lies and reality. Furthermore the main conflict is followed by a rising action where Shakespeare takes a presents the reality of the situation, from Hamlet's point of view how his father was killed.
'Murder most foul, as in the best it is;' (Act 1, scene 4). He merges the ideas of lies, deceit and self doubt resulting in a melange of moral dilemma and personal complications. This gives way to the recurring motifs of revenge, action versus inaction, broken family relationships and the questioning of life. Using the climatic point of the play, where Hamlet is reassured that Claudius killed his father consequently results in an anti-climax. Hamlet's reassurance has him out to get revenge upon Claudius.
The climax results in a falling action (anti-climax) where Claudius takes charge of action and plots Hamlet's downfall. The final 'catastrophe' where many of the main characters die allows Shakespeare to present to us his view that conflict can breed and multiply and even bring upon the downfall innocent people. Shakespeare's main character Hamlet is a victim of both internal and external conflict. His conflict includes a physical nature as he goes about to avenge his father's death. Shakespeare translates further the idea of internal versus external conflict by giving it a physical nature. Shakespeare also uses soliloquies to emphasise Hamlets inner thoughts and conflict.
This stands in contrast to the way he acts amongst others; with the intention of highlighting the inner turmoil he is experiencing. The infamous quote, "To be or not to be: that is the question: whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer... ". (Act, scene i, 58-90). It is during this soliloquy that Hamlet is contemplating whether he should take his own life.
He is led to the extreme where he questions his existence. As a result of the conflict surrounding becomes it becomes the conflict consuming him. Here Hamlet's conflict between himself and the universe allows the playwright to explore a modern view on the questioning of ones existence. It explores through it the ideas of tragedy, self doubt, rejection and deceit. Shakespeare's purpose here is to show Hamlet's quality of mind. This soliloquy inevitably presents us with Hamlet's inner self, however this is as a result of the outer struggles, such as his fathers' recent death and his mother's marriage to Claudius which has him feeling discarded by her.
'No by the rood, not so: you are the queen, your husband's brother's wife. ' (Act 3, scene 4) This quote reflects Hamlet's feelings for his mother. In his soliloquy his deeply passionate nature is complemented by a relentlessly logical intellect. This shows to us that Hamlet is indeed sane and a man of logic, even when he is at the point of contemplating his own suicide. Hamlet's uses of paradoxes express both his internal and his external thoughts through a literal and figurative meaning. Shakespeare uses this technique to emphasise the sly and fast witted nature of the main character.
An example of this is Hamlet's response to Claudius "Not so my lord, I am too much in the sun" (Act I, scene I, 67). Literally Hamlet means that the clouds of his fathers' death do not hang over him. Figuratively he means that Claudius has called him son once too often. The message here is that Hamlet is resentful towards Claudius. This paradox shows us both his inner and outer self and shows us the sly way which Hamlet goes about concealing his scheme and figuratively revealing what he really thinks.
This is often shown through his sarcasm. The internal and external conflict that Hamlet is undergoing is articulated through this compact and clever technique. This aids Shakespeare in exploring most of the ideas in his play. It shows to us Hamlet's battle with appearance and reality as a result of the lies and deceit surrounding him. Shakespeare uses Ophelia to mirror Hamlet's internal and external conflict. She expresses the recurring motif of love and reinforces the ideas of self doubt and tragedy.
Ophelia undergoes the internal conflict of the loss of Hamlet as a lover as his behaviour towards her becomes spiteful and unjust. This is as a result of Hamlets recent feelings of misogyny which is caused by his mother's marriage to Claudius and Ophelia's recent rejection of him. Ophelia: 'Tis brief, my lord. ' Hamlet: 'As a woman's love. ' (Act 3, scene 2) This resent causes Ophelia to worry and pine. Furthermore the loss of her father after Hamlet kills him (he had mistaken him for Claudius) leaves her in a state of despair.
She loses faith within herself and doubts the meaning of her existence. She questions whether it is worth living now that the men she loves are no longer there (Polonius physically and Hamlet figuratively). The idea of tragedy is reinforced because Ophelia's internal and external conflicts result in her unfortunate and unpleasant downfall as she commits suicide. It is evident through aspects of Ophelia's conflict that Shakespeare also manages to explore the ideas of rejection and self doubt. Shakespeare presents Claudius as a weak character. It is his self doubt and his jealousy that brings upon his conflict which results in his downfall.
Claudius doubts himself and lets his jealousy overtake him when he kills his brother King Hamlet. Claudius assists Shakespeare in exploring ideas such as tragedy and deceit. Claudius's inner conflict (his jealousy) is articulated through his actions as outer conflict (the act of him killing his brother). This outer conflict includes the act of him killing King Hamlet as a result of his inner flaws. It is possible to say that Claudius's crime was an outcome of his lack of family love which was outweighed by his political ambition. Claudius is an important character as he is the one who causes the tragedy of the play.
Though he is the main cause of misfortune Claudius expresses human qualities and even feels remorse and asks for forgiveness from the lord for the murder he committed. This however does not disregard the fact that his evil side outweighs his good and has him stopping at nothing for the sake of upholding his position as king. Shakespeare presents to us Claudius as a character who allows his inner conflict to take over and be uttered through his vindictive actions. Claudius's conflict further explores Shakespeare's motif of reality versus appearance. His desire for power that has lead to external chaos has him trying to cover up his act.
He pretends to be a noble king to his people in order to gain their love and faith in him. The reality of the situation is that Claudius is a murderer and he has deceived his people into thinking otherwise of him, this also reinforces Shakespeare's idea of deceit and appearance versus reality. Gertrude is more so a victim and explores themes through her internal conflict. Shakespeare presents to the audience ideas of love, reality, self doubt and deceit.
Her vulnerability after her husband's death has her marrying Claudius (her husband's brother). After Hamlet informs his mother of the reality of her husband's death she is furthermore faced with uncertainty. She is a target of deceit but this is also due to her vulnerability and her weakness in character. Her fast remarriage after her husband's death has Hamlet feeling betrayed and his faith in women becomes shattered. Though Gertrude is easily led on and rather selfish she does show love for her son, even though she does not comprehend him at times. The audience is able to understand Gertrude's conflict and personality via her actions.
Shakespeare reinforces ideas of love, through the love she has for Hamlet, self doubt which is expressed through her vulnerability, lies and deceit as a result of believing Claudius and finally tragedy. Inevitably it is as a result of external chaos which results in Gertrude's downfall. Shakespeare uses Laerte's inner and outer conflict as a way of exploring ideas. These ideas are expressed mainly through his physical actions. These actions come as a result of his grief of his fathers and his sister's death. As it was custom he to sets out to avenge his fathers death and kill Hamlet for the pain he has caused him.
It is obvious that you could closely compare these characters and find that they are in quite a parallel circumstance; they are both out to avenge their fathers' deaths and both have their relationships with the women closest to them crushed (Hamlet with his mother and Ophelia and Laertes with Ophelia after her death). We see that Shakespeare uses Laertes to mirror Hamlet's situation and explore the different ways in which they take action as a result of their differences in character. In doing so the playwright assists the reader in being able to compare the nature of the characters conflicts both internally and externally. The internal conflict as a result of the horrid events they have had to endure in turn becomes physical and ends in a dual where they both die. Here Shakespeare explores the idea of tragedy. Polonius, the father of Laertes and Ophelia explores the ideas of self doubt, deceit and tragedy through his conflict.
Polonius's conflict is mainly drawn from his self doubt as a result of this he relentlessly agrees with the king and jumps to his every demand. This consequently has him deceiving the others around him. As a result of his eavesdropping onto a conversation between Hamlet and his mother Hamlet accidentally kills him whilst he is standing behind a curtain as he believes its Claudius. Polonius dies as a result of his internal conflict; an idea which the playwright explores with yet again a different approach; via another character. Shakespeare uses conflict in Hamlet as a way of exploring ideas. He does this thorough the internal and external conflict that his characters face within the kingdom of Denmark.
The conflict that follows is an outcome of lies and deceit which brings about tragedy. From this play we learn of the difficulty associated with taking a life as Hamlet agonies as to how and when he should kill Claudius and furthermore whether he should take his own life. Hamlet being a logical thinker undergoes major moral dilemma as he struggles to make accurate choices. From the internal conflict that the playwright expresses to us it is evident that it can kill someone, firstly mentally then physically. The idea of tragedy is explored in great detail through conflict where the playwright's main message is brought across to the audience; Shakespeare stresses to his audience the point that conflict be it internal or external it can bring upon the downfall of great people and in turn have them suffer a tragic fate. It is Shakespeare's aim to show us the complexity of man and that moral decisions are not easily made.