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Death By Design
“In a world of despair, our lives will end. Some with out warning, while others die by design. Under watchful eyes we tread on evil ground, with jaded eyes around us, each step is scrutinized.” – Eulogy for an Angel by From Autumn to Ashes Shakespeare’s Hamlet displays the extent to which human destinies are interrelated. In Hamlet, it is the characters’ destiny to die, because they deserve their downfall. Every character within the play affects more lives than just their own. The entire play is based on this fact, with each person’s destiny overlapping and intertwining with the fates of others. King Claudius’ bad character ultimately leads to his demise, through a series of actions he takes. As well, Hamlet’s rash actions and decisions lead him to his deserved pinnacle of tragic ruin and the death of Ophelia. Several other characters orchestrated their own deaths, through their misdeeds and ill-chosen responses to situations within the drama-filled palace court. While all these characters brought their muddled fates upon themselves, Claudius is the culprit to lay the blame on for instigating all of the superfluous conflict within the palace.
We see that the event of King Hamlet’s death acts as the push of the domino effect seen throughout the play, and this event is caused by none other than Claudius. If Claudius did not kill old King Hamlet, then life for all of the characters would remain completely copasetic. Claudius’ gluttonous and lecherous greed for Queen Gertrude’s flesh and his hunger for power and money override his set of morals, and results in the death of many innocent people. Gertrude, the habitually innocent queen, ends up dead, with her metaphorical blood on Claudius’ hands. This is a direct result of Claudius’ foul nature. In plotting Hamlet’s death with Laertes, Claudius poisons the drink that is meant
Chantelle Laliberte for Hamlet. As Gertrude goes to drink, Claudius meekly protests, “ Gertrude, do not drink”, and does not make a further attempt to save his ‘beloved’ queen’s life, for fear of exposing himself to Hamlet and the rest of the court (Shakespeare 5, 2, 282). Blasphemously, Claudius even goes so far as to cowardly try to blame the queen’s collapse on the battle “She swounds to see them bleed” (Shakespeare 5, 2, 302). It takes a foul kind of man to allow his love to drink poison, in the vain name of saving face, and then to shame her by denying his part even after she falls. Polonius is another one of those innocents whom Claudius essentially kills. Claudius readily admits to consorting with Polonius, “Her father and myself, lawful espials, / Will bestow ourselves that, seeing unseen, / We may of their encounter frankly judge” (Shakespeare 3, 1, 32-34). Although Polonius’ death is by Hamlet’s hand, if Claudius did not support Polonius’ shady habit of eavesdropping and meddling with the affairs of others, Polonius would never have to die. Polonius is destined to die, as it is not only Claudius’ choices that affect his life, but Hamlet’s moves as well.
Hamlet’s fuss on detail of revenge causes complications in the plot that could have been avoided, mainly Polonius’ death. By deciding not to kill Claudius while he is praying, Hamlet ends up needlessly killing Polonius; an intrusive, but otherwise innocent old man. If Hamlet had taken action when he had the perfect chance to, events revolving around Claudius and Hamlet would have ceased and ended with Claudius’ death. “ ‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged/ To take him in the purging of his soul/ When he is fit and season’d for his passage?/ No”, Hamlet says while Claudius is praying (Shakespeare 3,3,85-88). Hamlet does not want to kill him then, because it will not be
Chantelle Laliberte real revenge if Claudius has repented and is free to go to heaven. Unfortunately, Hamlet’s moral religious sense fails to understand, that because Claudius murdered a man for personal gain, praying will not save his soul. If Hamlet had acted swiftly and killed Claudius for revenge at that opportunity, Hamlet would never have been in such a rage as to stab blindly into the curtains in Gertrude’s room, thus needlessly killing Polonius. This unnecessary murder points Hamlet steadily into the direction of his preordained destiny of death. Hamlet procrastinates too much and gives Claudius and his accomplices’ time to react to his feigned ‘madness’ and send him away to England. This results in the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as well as Hamlet needing to somehow find a way back to Denmark. The deaths of two more innocent people, and an added time delay could have been avoided if Hamlet was man enough to take care of the business of avenging his father’s death immediately. By allowing more and more time to lapse between when Hamlet meets his father’s ghost, and when he makes a move for revenge, Hamlet gives Claudius the upper hand in the situation. By procrastinating, Hamlet almost receives a premature death and Claudius would have gone unpunished. This indecision on the part of Hamlet further defines that he deserved to die. Hamlet further deserves this fate because of what he has done to Ophelia. Hamlet completely crushes Ophelia by leading her on, and then dumping her like a sack of bricks. Hamlet rejects Ophelia harshly, “I did love you once/…You should not have believed me: for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not/…Get thee to a nunnery!” (Shakespeare 3, 1, 115-121). He then goes so far as to insult her cruelly with “you jig, you amble, and you lisp” (Shakespeare 3, 1, 145). These
Chantelle Laliberte dance moves named suggest sexual, seductive behaviour, and “in Shakespeare’s time lisping was associated with sexually immoral behaviour” (Eisenstat 142). Hamlet is inconsiderately vindictive to her, saying things that would break any woman’s heart. Hamlet may have been trying to get Ophelia out of harm’s way and have her stay uninvolved with events, but he only causes her more harm. Hamlet’s rejection and tale of false love for her, coupled with Hamlet’s murder of her father, Polonius, ruins Ophelia, and ultimately drives her to her unfortunate, seemingly suicidal death. Hamlet causes the deaths of four other people who got caught up in his quarrel with Claudius. By the end of the play, Hamlet clearly feels the guilt for his actions, as he realizes what he has caused to happen. Hamlet deserves his fate, because he brings others to their own deaths. Other characters in the play, however, were destined to die because of their willing involvement in the underhanded schemes.
Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Gertrude all, while heavily influenced by Hamlet and Claudius, contribute towards their own foretold demise. Polonius set the stage for his accidental, yet fated death by snooping around and involving himself in other peoples’ business. He is an officious old man, the character that represents the curious side within all of us. First he sets a spy upon his son, Laertes, “good Reynaldo/ Before you visit him, to make inquiry/ Of his behaviour” (Shakespeare 2, 1, 2-4). Then, Polonius spies on his daughter’s interaction with Hamlet, “And he beseech’d me to entreat your majesties/ To hear and see the matter” (Shakespeare 3, 1, 23-24). Finally, Polonius makes his final fatal decision that puts him in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Polonius spies upon Hamlet’s meeting with Gertrude, “Tell him his
Chantelle Laliberte pranks have been too broad to bear with/And that your grace hath screen’d and stood between/ Much heat and him. I’ll silence me e’en here” (Shakespeare 3, 4, 2-4). By making all these decisions to spy on people, Polonius gets into a habit of it. Because of this contemptible habit, his last decision to spy was exactly that: his last. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bring about their own deaths because they are more loyal to money than to their supposed ‘friend’, Hamlet. Rosencrantz states “Both your majesties/ Might, by the sovereign power you have of us/ Put your dread pleasures more into command/ than to entreaty”, telling the king and queen that he and his friend Guildenstern will be more than willing to oblige them and trick their friend into giving information. Furthermore, they agree to take Hamlet to England for Claudius, where Hamlet is to meet his death. Such unloyalty to a friend as this makes the wretched pair deserving of their fate. Queen Gertrude married her husband’s brother within a month of his death. Even for that era, a month is a very short mourning period for a close family member—especially a spouse. To marry a man within that short of time, Gertrude was most likely already fooling around with Claudius, before King Hamlet was killed. Infidelity is a sin, and although Gertrude begins to redeem herself for her actions by supporting Hamlet and agreeing not to tell Claudius of Hamlet’s plans, it is not enough for her besmirched slate to completely be cleared. The choices that Gertrude makes, regarding her relationship with Claudius, and the lack of respect she shows for her dead husband set Gertrude’s fate in stone. Even though Gertrude harmed no one directly, she still deserves to die, through providence, and she brings it upon herself.
Chantelle Laliberte Hamlet is a play filled with messages about life. The main message that is portrayed and repeated over and over again is that peoples’ destinies are linked, and designed by their own actions and choices. Their fates tend to come about by a domino reaction of sorts, with one event leading to another, each decision creating two more possible resolutions for everyone else, until finally the situation, and how it was handled, catches up to people. Claudius’ bad character influences all his choices and leads him to his death. Hamlet’s methods or lack there of, of handling the situations he finds himself in leads him to his demise. Polonius, Gertrude, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are all affected by other characters, and yet ultimately they decide their own destinies. Shakespeare effectively illustrates the extent to which human destinies are inter-related in Hamlet. Upon reading or watching this play, people should take to heart this message that they see so clearly: think before you act, nothing goes unpunished, without consequences.
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