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Published: 25-09-2019

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Hamlet and Its Duplicity of Morality

The author Izaak Walton noted, “The person that loses their conscience has nothing left worth maintaining.” The characters in Hamlet consistently struggle with the energy of their consciences, as they are tempted to satiate their innermost desires. Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is the epitome of the power of conscience in the play. Though at initial he is ruled by his conscience, he only starts to carry out his father’s will as he alienates himself from his sense of morality. Even so, the other characters in Hamlet also feel the power of conscience as they think about actions they are about to execute and as they reflect upon their past deeds. Shakespeare utilizes the struggle between morality and immorality to create characters with genuine depth and with whom the audience can connect. The presence and duality of conscience in Shakespeare’s Hamlet illustrates the depth of Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet.

The depth of Laertes is evident in his struggle with his conscience on his quest to avenge the murder of his father, Polonius. When Laertes learns of his father’s murder, he return from France enraged. He seeks instant vengeance and cries, “Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!” (4.five.131) Clearly, Laertes is willing to ignore his conscience and “dare damnation” (four.five.132) to satisfy his own sense of justice. Laertes is also prepared to commit the foulest deeds imaginable to acquire vengeance. When asked by Claudius how far he is willing to go, Laertes exclaims he would “cut his [Hamlet’s] throat i’ th’ church!” (four.7.124) Laertes is ready to slay Hamlet in cold blood inside the holiest of places, the Church. Nonetheless, when Laertes duels Hamlet he starts to feel guilty about carrying out Claudius’ plan. In an aside Laertes reveals that he feels poisoning Hamlet “is virtually against my conscience.” (five.two.274) Despite the fact that he goes via with the plan, the presence of Laertes’ conscience adds depth to his character by displaying his inherent goodness. In the end, Laertes dies with a clean conscience as he asks Hamlet to “Exchange forgiveness with me [Laertes]” (five.two.307). By illustrating the duality of Laertes’ conscience, Shakespeare creates a 3-dimensional character rather than a common man seeking revenge.

Like Laertes, Claudius also struggles with his conscience and this conflict portrays him as a genuine character alternatively of as a normal villain. In contrast, however, Claudius is capable to disregard his conscience completely when he executes his plans. This capability is illustrated when he murders the King even though he is asleep. As the ghost describes,

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole

With juice of cursed hebona in a vial,

And in the porches of my ears did pour

The leperous distilment (1.five.61-64)

Claudius’ comprehensive lack of conscience described by the ghost immediately classifies him as a villain. However, when Claudius reflects upon his actions, he demonstrates the moral struggle he is experiencing. In a soliloquy, he reflects,

How intelligent a lash that speech doth give my conscience!

The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plast’ring art,

Is not much more ugly to the thing that helps it

Than is my deed to my most painted word. (three.1.50-54)

Claudius knows his actions and lies are immoral and he buries this guilt deep within himself. Claudius utilizes his lies to deceive other folks, but in doing so, he feels that he is no far better than a prostitute masking her venereal illnesses with heavy makeup. In displaying Claudius’ guilt, Shakespeare establishes him as a true particular person – not a single who is entirely evil. The clearest illustration of Claudius’ struggle with his conscience comes when he attempts to pray. He cries,

O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder. (3.3.36-38)

Claudius realizes his sins are wrong and extremely offensive to the ultimate judge of morality, Heaven. However, Claudius does not repent considering that he feels that he is unworthy of forgiveness as he still possesses “those effects for which I did the murder” (three.three.54). Clearly, the duality of Claudius’ immorality and feelings of guilt expand his character. When he is given opportunities to address the audience straight, Claudius demonstrates that he is not a simple villain. Alternatively, he is merely a individual whose desires have swept aside the resistance of his conscience.



In contrast to Claudius, Hamlet’s struggles with his conscience are clear and in the end, a defining portion of his character. Soon after the ghost asks Hamlet to seek vengeance, Hamlet procrastinates as he considers the moral implications of killing yet another person. Irritated with his inaction he cries,

That I, the son of a dear father murdered,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,

Should like a whore unpack my heart with words (two.2.550-553)

Hamlet is frustrated with his inability to act without moral consideration. He considers himself a coward and devoid of passion for not completing his father’s quest immediately, and wants to stop analyzing the scenario and act decisively. However, his conscience prevents him from satisfying these urges and in undertaking so, provides him tremendous depth as a hero. Additionally, as a particular person obsessed with his personal conscience, Hamlet realizes he can invoke a reaction from Claudius’ conscience to make particular that Claudius is the killer of his father. When he comes up with the play notion, he notes,

Far more relative than this: the play’s the point

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. (2.2.571-572)

Hamlet wishes the use the power of conscience to guarantee the ghost was telling him the truth. This exploitation of conscience illustrates Hamlet’s profound awareness. Nevertheless, Hamlet also displays his immorality in the play. He entirely ignores his conscience when he murders Polonius in a match of rage. He simply comments, “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!” (3.4.32) Hamlet completely ignores the truth that he killed Polonius in cold blood, but alternatively, he attempts to justify the murder. At this point, Hamlet loses his moral perfection and portion of the audience’s respect. In addition, he disregards his conscience when he sends his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their execution in England. He justifies to Horatio,

Why, man, they did make enjoy to this employment.

They are not close to my conscience their defeat

Does by their personal insinuation grow. (five.two. 160-162)

Hamlet shows definitely no remorse in sending his college buddies to their deaths. He does not take into account the morality of his actions and instead, he attempts to justify their execution. Most rational persons would agree that some punishment for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s betrayal is affordable, but death seems also higher a cost. After once again, Hamlet’s judgment detracts from his initial moral perfection as he moves further away from the image of the best hero. His disintegrating morality prepares him for the ensuing killing he must do in order to avenge his father. The presence of a conscience and his moral duality set Hamlet apart from classic heroes. Despite the fact that he is a great man, he is clearly imperfect.

Clearly, the depth of character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is illustrated by the moral struggles of Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet. Each and every character has a differing duality of conscience. Laertes ignores his conscience till he is about to commit a morally unjustified act. In contrast, Claudius only demonstrates the power of his conscience soon after he commits his heinous crime.

Nevertheless, Hamlet is the character with the greatest depth since his conscience is an intrinsic part of him. He starts the play with a excellent conscience, but he alienates himself from its clutches to fulfill his father’s quest. Essentially, the duality of conscience present in Hamlet mirrors those located in actual life. Not many lie within the extremes of the moral spectrum. Instead, we continuously alternate between shades of grey.
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