Hamlet And His Many Roles In the Shakespearean play, Hamlet, the title character portrays many roles, and all of these roles intersect in one scene in the play, Act III, scene ii. This scene takes place at the exact center of the play and if broken up into sections one can see a different aspect of Hamlet’s personality for each one.
The play-within-a-play scene suggests that Hamlet is putting on his own play and reminds us that in real life, a person can play many roles. Hamlet plays a different role with each character in the play, such as Polonius, Claudius, Ophelia, Horatio, and the players. In the play scene, these characters are in the same place at the same time. Bert States calls Hamlet “a succession of responses to rapidly changing stimuli” (17).As he reacts with each character, he must move from role to role very quickly. It can be asked which roles are parts of Hamlet’s true self and which are feigned? Shakespeare uses references to plays and acting throughout the play to keep in mind the theme of appearance Vs reality. Hamlet says, “Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well, when our deep plots do pall, and that should learn us/ There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (V, ii.
lns 8-11). He is referring to the plot, the plan to alter the Murder of Gonzago, that he had earlier used to catch the conscience of the king. Hamlet also refers to a play when speaking of his voyage with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: “being thus benetted round with villainies– or I could make a prologue to my brains, they had begun the play” (V, ii.lns 29-31).
Here, Hamlet is claiming that his brain is working independently of his will and that a play is being, in a sense, written for him. He is just acting out a role (Fisch 163). And once again, Hamlet states: “You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audiences to this act” (V, ii. lns 339-340).In this quote, upon dying, Hamlet acknowledges that they have all been taking part in a play. In the study of Sociology, there is a theory that everyone has a number of roles that they perform in their lives. Within the play, Hamlet’s most obvious roles are the grieving son who must avenge his father’s death; Ophelia’s lover and later, arguably, her damnation; the beloved prince of a proud heritage; the well-educated, sensitive philosopher; and most obviously within the play: the madman.
During the play scene, his less obvious roles emerge. It can be argued whether these roles give depth to the layers of Hamlet’s personality, or show how serious his madness had become. These less obvious roles, which will be discussed more fully, are Hamlet as manipulator, critic, good friend, comic, jubilant boy, mocking satirist, and revenger. Hamlet’s role as a manipulator is the most interesting in this scene.It is through his manipulations that all the other roles emerge. The whole purpose of the play scene is for Hamlet to judge whether Claudius is guilty or if the ghost is lying. Therefore, Hamlet must manipulate the events of the scene. Ruth Nevo states: “In the play scene, Hamlet states his grand exposure of these inquiries” (50).
Hamlet’s instructions to the players reflect his intentions: For in the very torrent, tempest, and as I may say, the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.Oh, it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pate fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings (III, ii. lns 5-11). Hamlet is saying that mastery of passion is essential to initiate action, something he has had much trouble with throughout the play. It is with control of his passion, Hamlet begins the play scene so that he may “hold the mirror up to nature” (III, ii. ln 22).
He will reveal the inner truth of the guilty. Thus, through Hamlet’s imposed fiction, the Murder of Gonzago, he will reflect the truth. This is the irony of Hamlet’s manipulations. Another ironic twist is that while Hamlet will reflect the truth of others, he will mask his own truth with riddling statements and jokes, Hamlet’s truth being his knowledge of Claudius’ crime. In the end, the king breaks down and Hamlet’s ploy is successful.It is his text that the players, the court, the king, and the queen all play. He is the master of reality, making his will prevail (Nevo 52).
As the scene is broken down, the first role that is seen, besides the manipulator, is Hamlet the critic. This role emerges as Hamlet is speaking to the players. One will notice that his feigned or unfeigned, depending on opinion, madness in earlier scenes has been replaced by calmness and rationality.He speaks as a well-educated nobleman who strives for classical balance in life. Hamlet wants the players to be moderate and natural in their depiction’s of life, not exaggerated, yet not dull. The speech that Hamlet gives the players can also show that Hamlet can only find the balance and the ordered universe he seeks in fiction.
This is one of the three sections of this scene where it can be argued that Hamlet’s true self peaks out. This may be the case because, with the players who are not involved in his real life, Hamlet can be at ease and at his best.After the players leave, Hamlet is left alone with Horatio. His remarks to Horatio reveal his feelings for him.
This is the second time Hamlet’s true self emerges and admits that he is truly Horatio’s good friend: ..and blest are those whose blood and judgment are so well commingled that they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please. Give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, aye, in my heart of heart, as I do thee (III, ii. lns 68-74).
His speech to Horatio “gratifies our hope that Hamlet will pause somewhere in his busy career of mayhem and self-involvement to acknowledge the services of a dear friend” (States 188). This speech demonstrates Hamlet’s ability to recognize virtue when he sees it. He also recognizes and envies Horatio’s ability to refrain from becoming “passion’s slave.” This speech also proves that Hamlet has told his trusted friend everything about Claudius and the ghost. Up u …