Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Is Hamlet a noble hero?

  • Apologies for the lack of posts recently!! I’ve had SO MUCH READING AND STUDY TO DO! Taking a 30 min study break to do this essay for you guys!
  • This is just a question that I have made up which should cover any Hamlet character question.
  • It’s quite a broad question which should hopefully provide the scope for discussing a wide variety of his traits and characteristics.
  • One thing I always do in an essay, and it’s something which I’ve forgotten to draw your attention to and that is OPEN WITH A QUOTE. This is a fantastic way to immediately catch the attention of the reader/examiner and it shows your knowledge of the text INSTANTLY.
  • The reason why I’m doing this question as opposed to a more specific question is because this allows me to present both sides of Hamlet’s character and most of the question on Hamlet’s character tend to deal with the DUALITY OF HIS DISPOSITION. Hamlet is a fascinating character with many different traits and hopefully this question can make that clear.


“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”

These are words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet by William Shakespeare that highlight the condition of the protagonist himself. Hamlet is a multi-faceted character – as the prince of Denmark he is noble, courageous, valiant and intelligent. Shakespeare presents us with a character who has high moral standards and a sense of spiritual sensitivity. His abhorrence for evil and his contempt for the hypocrisy of the court is illustrated through his quest to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet is an extremely complex character and there certainly is a dichotomy therein. Hamlet’s bravery and nobility are at times, overshadowed by his procrastination and vacillation from action to inertia. Hamlet is unable to act in a decisive manner and this is his hamartia. However, because we admire Hamlet’s moral sensitivity, we tend to accept his behaviour. He gains our sympathy and by the end of the play, Hamlet emerges as one of Shakespeare’s greatest noble heroes; albeit a tragic one.


When we are first introduced to the crestfallen prince in Act 1, Sc.(i), he is not present, however the sombre mood and eerie atmosphere set the tone for the whole play. Everyone around him appears to be getting on with their lives after the “most unnatural” death of Old Hamlet. Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother (and the queen) has married Claudius – Hamlet’s uncle. Everyone’s new found happiness elude Hamlet, whose grief is evident through “his inky cloak” and “customary suits of solemn black”. It’s evident that the anomalous murder of his father has had a greater impact on Hamlet that is had on his mother. He praises his father, saying “so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a satyr” and expresses his disapproval towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. Despite the misogyny of his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses his filial loyalty towards his father, underlining the fact that he guided by a his sense of morality – a truly noble and admirable quality in the young prince.


This loyalty is something that is a constant feature of his disposition and when the Ghost appears to Hamlet, he shows his bravery and courage by following it, despite Horatio and Marcellus urging him to do otherwise. The Ghost reveals himself to that of Hamlet’s father – the king Old Hamlet. He tells his son “but know, thou youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown”. This is an extremely important scene, as we are made aware of that fact that Claudius is the murderer. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s death and in doing so proceeds to “put an antic disposition on” of feigned madness. Hamlet is of noble extraction and sees Claudius as a threat to the state of Denmark. He recgonises that the “time is out of joint” and feels that he was “born to set it right”. His nobility is perceptible, as Hamlet feels by killing Claudius, he is purifying the whole court and ridding Denmark of evil.


Claudius is the consummate villain of the play and it is important to note that Hamlet hates and mistrusts him from the start – even before he knows that he is the murderer. He sees his “uncle-father” as a “treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” and will not allow him a redeeming feature. When the Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity, which is both fratricide and regicide, it cements Hamlet’s hatred of him and acts as an agent provocateur to his actions. However, unlike Claudius, Hamlet is not a cold hearted killer and refuses to kill Claudius solely bases on the Ghost’s appearance. He will not do so until he is absolutely certain, beyond reasonable doubt that his father was murdered by is very own brother. Hamlet displays a conscientious and intelligent mind.


This intelligence is often expresses through Hamlet’s soliloquies, which also portray a man who is highly philosophical. In Act 2, Sc.(ii), he waxes praise upon the endless abilities of man, saying “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable”. One of Hamlet’s most admirable attributes is his verbosity. He is an eloquent scholar and often gives us insights into life through his deep and meaningful soliloquies. Hamlet will do anything without considering the consequences of his actions. In doing so, he highlights his cleverness and nobility.


Shakespeare created a well rounders character in Hamlet and Hamlet himself uses his intelligence in a cunning and shrewd manner. He refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying because he knows that in doing so, Claudius will go straight to heaven. Instead, he constructs an elaborate plan, in which he’ll have the players re-enact The Mousetrap, which he hopes will “catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet hopes that when Claudius sees the players mimic his crime, it will prove too much for him and his guilt will be perceptible. Even in instructing the players, Hamlet impresses us a knowledgeable and cultured man. He tells the players exactly how to act – showing precision and attention to detail. When the player king is poisoned, it proves too much for Claudius and he swiftly exits – just as Hamlet has intended. Through his shrewdness and cunning – he has consummate evidence that Claudius is the killer.


As an audience, we are willing Hamlet to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death, but his hamartia – his procrastination prevents him from doing so. Hamlet’s nobility, bravery and intelligence give him a super human persona, but his inability to act in a decisive manner is his fatal flaw. He ruminates too much “o’er the issue” and this spawns the death of many of the play’s central characters. He is an enigma and at times, we are often left wondering as to who he hates more – Claudius for killing his father, or Gertrude for possessing such scant regard for her late husband. once Hamlet assumes his antic-disposition, he ceases to be a single unified personality. The complexity of his character lies primarily in the contradiction between the noble and contemplative Hamlet suggested by his soliloquies and the often harsh and cruel nature revealed in action.


This duality is evident in his maltreatment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Hamlet uses guttural language to describe his mother’s relationship with Claudius. His obsession with what appears to be an incestuous relationship is an extremely disturbing aspect of his character. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst suggested that the reason for Hamlet’s procrastination and why he prolongs in killing Claudius is because of the “Oedipus Complex”. Perhaps Claudius has carried out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother? Similarly, Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia – his girlfriend is inhumane. He teases her saying “I did love you once, I love you not”. He urges her “get thee to a nunnery” and his maltreatment Ophelia is not an appealing aspect of his character. Nevertheless, we overlook Hamlet’s behaviour and when he kills the “meddling old fool” Polonius, we don’t view Hamlet as an ignoble villain, but rather as the antithesis, because we are aware that he is motivated by filial duty.


In the final act, we see a truly noble Hamlet. He acts on instinct and with courage and defiance. We are made aware that he truly does love Ophelia, as in the ‘graveyard scene’, when he finds out that the deceased body is that of Ophelia’s. he jumps into the grave. He defiantly declares his absolute love for her and says “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love, make up my sum”. We see Hamlet’s nobility and realise that his flippant comments to her stemmed from his antic disposition and feigned madness.


Even when Horatio – the voice of reason urges Hamlet not to take part in the duel with Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, Hamlet is fearless and courageous and vows to take part. The battle has been arranged by Claudius with the favoured outcome being Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is selfless and does not fear death – a truly noble and heroic quality. The great tragedy is that Gertrude drinks the poison which Claudius has prepared for Hamlet and Laertes dies. However, Hamlet, in his dying moments, avenges his father’s death by stabbing Claudius. The play ends in tragedy, but Hamlet is borne “like a soldier to the stage”.


Hamlet is a young man with depth and thought, who is both riveting and intriguing. He is an enigmatic character who we admire both for his strengths and his weaknesses. His abomination for corruption motivates his action, however his deception is key to the plot and the hypocrisy of the court, which is rejected by Hamlet thus becomes a feature of him, as illustrated through his antic-disposition. Yet, the fascination lies therein, because despite his deception, Hamlet impresses us as an extremely intelligent, courageous and valiant hero, but most of all, as a loyal son. He never acts without processing the consequences and it’s tragic that Hamlet dies even after all his contemplation. The ability of the audience to connect with the emotions of Hamlet, combined with his supremacy over evil, make him one of the greatest noble and tragic heroes in English literature. Indeed, Horatio says it best, when he elucidates the nobility of the Danish prince and showcases the tragedy of his death, saying:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince”.




Good luck,



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