Character Analysis Of Shakespeare's Hamlet And Othello

Like Hamlet, Othello is based upon the passions that lead to insanity; read this article for the analysis of these characters.

In the tragic play Hamlet, William Shakespeare explorers the psychological afflictions of man whose mother, marries his father murderer who also happens to be his uncle. The ghost of the Hamlet's father, who was the King of Hamlet, appears before Hamlet, tells him who the murderer is, and makes him swear revenge against his murderer.

Thus I was, sleeping, by a brother's hand

Of life, of crown, of Queen, at once dispatched;

Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

Unhous'led, disappointed, unaneled,

No reck'ning made, but sent to my account

With all my imperfections on my head. . .

If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.

Let not the royal bed of Denmark be

A couch for luxury and damned incest. (Hamlet 81-86, 87-90 Act I, scene V) Prince Hamlet irrational, and delusional, already, thus swears revenge against his father's murderer, who now wears the crown of the King of Denmark.

So, Uncle, there you are. Now to my word:

It is "adieu, adieu! Remember me."

I have sworn't. (117-120 Act I, scene V)

However, Hamlet does not immediately seek revenge. He says he delays his revenge to seek the opportune moment to strike. However, Hamlet's procrastination drives him virtually insane. For Centuries Scholars have pondered the reason for Hamlet's delay in punishing his father. The Romantic writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Characters of Shakespeare's Plays(1817), believes that: "Shakespeare's mode of conceiving characters out of his own intellectual and moral faculties, by conceiving any on the intellectual or moral faculty in morbid excess and then placing himself, thus mutilated and diseased, under given circumstances..." (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Characters of Shaekespeare's Plays, 1817). Thus, Hamlet's propensity to reflect arrests his ability to act, he simply thinks too much and the action in the play proves this to be true.

Hamlet spends most of his time thinking. A good deal of his narrative, sounds more like speeches as if he is speaking to himself, or his own mind. A good deal of Hamlet's speeches are soliloquy's, however, even when he is speaking to someone, it sounds as if he is contemplating matters in his own mind.

. . .I have of late--but wherefore I

Know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exer-

cises; and indeed,, it goes so heavily with my disposition

that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile

promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you . . . what a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! In form and moving how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of . . . (311-315, 319-322 Act II. Scene II) By now, the reader or viewer of the play is screaming kill him already, stop thinking about, just do it, but Hamlet does not. He continues to analyze every detail to the point of a psychotic breakdown. He seems to be analyzing whether he should obey the ghost of his father, his thoughts, and his imagination, which seem so clear and evident to him, or the real world. Coleridge agrees with this assessment. He says: In Hamlet I conceive him to have wished to exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between the real and the imaginary world. In Hamlet this balance does not exist-his thoughts, images, and fancy[being] far more vivid than is perceptions, and his very perceptions instantly passing thro' the medium his contemplations, and acquiring as they pass a form and color not naturally their own. (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Characters of Shaekespeare's Plays, 1817) However, as a Romantic writer, and one of the founders of the Romantic movement, it is not unusual for Coleridge to view Hamlet in this way. The Romantics believed in "The authoritative weight of classical precedents in literature, like the authority of church and state in society, was rejected in favor of poetic forms that seemed to reflect a more fundamental aspects of the human spirit " (Anderson, Buckler, and Veeder, The Literature of England, Vol. 2, P. 615). For these writers, "man was imaginative, more than rational--that is, capable of creation, invention, and inspiration" (P. 617). Hamlet, therefore, is the classical Romantic figure. He uses his mind to try to solve the problems of man. It could be argued that Hamlet is trying to rationalize his situation, but he is more than just rational, he imaginative, and allows the images he conjures in his mind to influence his thinking. Rather than turn to God, Hamlet turns to his inner self, and the supernatural to try to solve his dilemma. "Hence great, enormous, intellectual activity, and a consequent proportionate aversion to the real action, with all it's symptoms and accompanying qualities" (Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Characters of Shaekespeare's Plays, 1817).

Hamlet's inability to act, and his vivid imagination drive more insane as the play moves on. He becomes less and less rational, and moves further away from reality. He woos Ophelia, leads her to believe he will take her as his wife, but then tells her he feels he is not worthy and she should: Get thou to a nunnery! Why wouldst thou be a Breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my Mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, Ambitious; with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, Or time to act them in. (151-137 Act II Scene I)



Hamlet, of course, has done no wrong, other than woo Ophelia, but this is not for what he is judging himself. Hamlet is judging himself for his inability to act. He is agreeing with Coleridge's thesis that his imagination and mind prevent him from acting. His thoughts consume to much of his time for him to act upon his ambitions, or "to give them shape." He is a prisoner of his own mind, a man stuck in the imaginary world, an irrational thinker, in a rational society. The most famous speech in Hamlet, proves Coleridge's theory beyond doubt. It is the ultimate speech of indecision and mental contemplation:

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 and arrows 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 air to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die--to sleep.

To sleep--perchance to dream, ay there's the rub! (66-73 Act II Scene I)

Hamlet and Othello bare many similarities in their characterizations. "Othello, a great success in Shakespeare's time, was one of the first plays to be acted after the reopening of the theatres in 1660, and since that time has remained one of the most popular plays on the English stage" (The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare, http://bertrand.bucknell.edu/multimedia/collection/othello.html, accessed May 10, 1999). Othello suffers from similar psychological problems. The web site titled "Othello" notes: In Shakespeare's poetic tragedy Othello, passionate desire unravels into all-consuming madness. The celebrated Moorish general Othello cherishes the high-born Venetian lady Desdemona with a love so great that it should transcend cultural and social differences, but instead it leaves them defenseless before the deadly intrigues of the vengeful Iago. ("Othello." http://www.orshakes.org/othello.html, accessed May 10, 1999)

Othello is about Iago, who has been passed over for promotion, plots to get even with his superior the Moor Othello, and the more favored Cassio. He does so by sowing the seeds of jealousy in Othello, convincing him that his wife, Desdemona, had been cuckolding him with Cassio.

Iago Nay, but he prated,

And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms

Against your honour,

That, with the little godliness I have,

I did full hard forbear him. But, I pray you, sir,

Are you fast married: Be assured of this,

That the magnifico is much beloved,

And hath, in his effect, a voice potential

As double as the duke's: he will divorce you. (Act I Sc. II, lines 6-15)

It is not the exact same story we get with Hamlet, but it again deals with the psyche of man. Hamlet's mind drives him to the point where he is unable to act. Othello is driven by to insanity by his jealousy just as Hamlet is driven to insanity by his inability to act.

Othello a former black slave (a Moor) is embraced by the system that would have otherwise enslaved him, but for his strategic and military prowess. He becomes celebrated and, at the height of his influence, takes a white wife, the daughter of a secure member of the establishment he now belongs to. He does not cultivate his past but looks forward and hopes to be accepted on his merits. Nevertheless, he remains isolated, insecure and suspicious, partly because he has no power base. He is a creation of other people and deep down he has an inferiority complex despite his bluster and pride. He truly cannot believe that his wife, that paragon of virtue and purity, could have settled for him. His insecurities, are played on by Iago and eventually trigger off an engulfing suspicion and jealousy of his wife's supposed infidelity, which culminates in him murdering her. Othello says, My wife! My wife! Wehat wife. I have no wife.

O, insupportable! O heavy hour.

Methinks it should now be a big eclipse

Of sun and moon, and that th'affrighted globe

Should yawn at alteration. (Act V. Sc. II lines 97-101)

When he discovers that he has been tricked by his friend, he is overcome by remorse and kills himself. Othello asks before dying that they remember him

Of one who loved not wisely, but too well

Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,

Perplext in the extreme; of one whose hand,

Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away

Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued

Albeit unused to the melting mood. . .

I took by th'throat the circumcised dog,

And smote him""thus. {He stabs himself. (Act V. Sc II, lines 345-356)

The play concentrates on more than just the character of Othello, but as the director Oliver Parks notes

Iago is totally fascinating--a Machiavellian mind manipulating everyone around him--and he's riveting to watch. But for me, at the centre of the play is the all-consuming love between Othello and Desdemona, which flies in the face of the conventions of the time. I wanted to reinvest the tragedy with passion and romance, because without romance there is no real tragedy. I saw the play as an erotic thriller, and that is what I wanted to translate onto the big screen. Passion is the driving force of the story. Every character is motored by desire. There's an extraordinary fusion of people boiling with different passions. ("Othello" http://ritzfilmbill.com/synopsesfiles/othello/Othellos.html)

Just like Hamlet, Othello is based upon the passions that drive the main character over the brink of insanity. Othello's love for Desdemonia was so deep he could not bear the thought of another being with her. He felt insecure in his own position and this added to his insanity. Unlike Hamlet, who constantly has ghosts whsipering in his ear, Othello must deal with the lies and accusations of Iago. Iago tells these lies with the intention of driving Othello insane. The characters bare similar personality traits. Hamlet is jealous of his mother's relationship with his uncle the King, and Othello is jealous of Desdemonia. Hamlet seeks revenge, but his insanity prevents him from acting. Othello seeks revenge, but his insanity does not allow him to see who that vengeance should be directed towards, and he in his insanity he is driven to murder his own wife, and then kill himself. In both plays Shakespeare is dealing with man's psychological imperfections when faced with jealousy and obsession. Hamlet like Othello, but not directly, end his life tragically. He knows he will not win the final battle, and that his life will end. He also, indirectly, is responsible for the death of the woman he loves. It is Hamlet's rejection of Ophelia that drives her to suicide.

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