Contained in the tragic tale of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, there are numerous conflicts plaguing the youth, which he struggles with to the death. The prince battles within himself, with his royal sense of duty to his country, with his friends, his love, and his family. This essay will attempt to explain and elaborate on these internal and external frays and which opponent emerges victorious in the end.
Perhaps the most tormenting blow and the one that leads off the play is the death of Hamlet’s father and the betrayal he feels that his mother and uncle have dealt him. When he learns that the Queen, before yet the King has been laid in the ground a month, is determined to marry again, and even worse to the dead king’s brother, Claudius, he refuses to put off mourning for the wedding.
“’Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘haviour of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.”
While Hamlet’s mother and Claudius are off making merry over their wedding, Hamlet is left alone to ponder and question what he should do to make better of this cruel injury. He doesn’t believe the story given him of his father’s death and feels that Claudius bears the guilt of murder to gain the throne and marry the Queen. This brings about another conflict for him as he begins to entertain vengeful thoughts, especially after the ghost of his father, who spoke with him on the battlements, confirms his suspicions, saying:
“Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!”
“Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught;
Leave her to heaven.”
This presents the ultimate strife between Hamlet’s rational mind and his idealistic heart, which is well illustrated by his famous deliberation:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep; perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub.”
Hamlet says, “Now there is nothing left but revenge.” He appears wholeheartedly set on the idea, but it was well known that Hamlet was a gentle and good hearted young man, so this must have caused him great inner-dissention as he would normally do no harm to another human being. Yet here were thoughts of murderous revenge in his head and in killing Claudius, he would cause pain to his mother, the very thing the ghost of his father forbade him to do. This causes him to sometimes wonder if the ghost spoke truly after all, and he struggles with this question until he orders the actors in the court to perform a certain play using the same scenario of near relations, murder and marriage to see Claudius’s reaction and thereby confirm the words of the ghost and the suspicions in his own mind.
To add load to an already weighted heart and mind, Hamlet’s love, Ophelia, thinks him insane, along with everyone else due to his recent behavior. He has behaved so wildly to Ophelia that she can only believe his cruelty stems from madness, and so she repeals his letters and denies him access to her. This, understandably causes everyone else to believe that his supposed madness is love for Ophelia, as it would seem from the verse he has written her:
“Doubt that the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
Even more damaging to his sense of humanity and his relationship with Ophelia, Hamlet then mistakenly kills Polonius, Ophelia’s father, believing he is Claudius. He then tells his mother of her husband’s sins and his accusations against him. She, in turn, runs to Claudius with the same, and Hamlet is sent away to England under charge of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who would seem Hamlet’s friends, but who, in actuality are spies for Claudius. Going to England, Hamlet feels, may help him better deal with his father’s death, but he is also terribly confused, and it seems he cannot trust anyone. He soon learns that the plan is to have him put to death by the English court, so he replaces his name in the declaring papers with the names of the two friends who were so ready to betray him and escapes on board a pirate ship leaving them to their fate and going on to meet his.
Returning home, Hamlet finds the worst has happened. Ophelia, having lost her true love and her father, follows suit with her wits and is drowned in a fit of madness. At the funeral of his dear ladylove, Hamlet fights with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, who is also seeking justice for the death of his own father at Hamlet’s hand. Hamlet begs forgiveness of Laertes, but Claudius reveals to Laertes who killed his father and conspires with him to slay Hamlet in an unfair fencing match, with a reserve plan of poison wine should the fencing match prove futile. The two youths inadvertently switch swords, and Laertes falls dead by his own treachery, while the Queen unknowingly drinks the wine and meets her own death.
Thus, Ophelia being dead, along with Polonius, the Queen, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Laertes, Hamlet finally finds the courage to do the ghost’s bidding and avenge his father’s murder, which, if he had braced his mind and heart to do long before, all these lives would have been spared, and none would have suffered save the wicked Claudius, who well-deserved to die. Being weary with pain and sadness, Hamlet himself dies by his own hand, at last finished with the struggles he has faced, struggles in which there are no victors, as well said by Laertes in his last words:
“It is here, Hamlet: Hamlet, thou art slain;
No medicine in the world can do thee good.”
“Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee.
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.”