Essay, Research Paper: Hamlet As King

Shakespeare: Hamlet

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What qualities come to mind when you think of a king, or any ruler for that
matter? A ruler needs to be very trustworthy, honest, hard working, fair, just,
forgiving and intelligent. Especially where there is a king, as in the play
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, because a king is in charge of the whole
community. He has to keep in mind all of his subjects as he makes tons of
decisions every day. A king is a symbol of his land. There cannot be a strong
country without a strong king. In this play, which character would make a better
king, Claudius or Hamlet, when all of their qualities and characteristics are
examined? Hamlet would have been a better ruler because throughout the play he
demonstrated how smart he was, how he thought things out before acting, how he
questions things to find the truth and how he is a better person than Claudius.
Claudius is considered by some to be a good king, despite the means by which he
obtained the throne. He did prevent Fortinbras from coming in and taking over
the country. But you have to remember that Claudius is also a villain, a
murderer, a conspirator, and a liar. Claudius killed his own brother and married
his wife just a few weeks later. There is no way that people could or should
respect a person that does something of this nature. The reader is also shown
later in the story that Claudius is not even sorry for killing his brother.
Luckily for him, Hamlet misses the last lines of his prayer. He said “My words
fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven
go”(Act III, Scene 3). This shows the reader that although Claudius is saying
a praying and saying his is sorry for what he has done, he does not really mean
it, therefore he is not really sorry. A person going to church and just sitting
there for an hour, not praying, 1 listening or singing demonstrates what
Claudius is doing. Just the fact that you are there or that you are saying a
prayer is not enough, you have to mean it, otherwise it is just a waste of your
time. Claudius’ life was spared, temporarily, because Hamlet did not hear this
part of his prayer. Claudius, by the end of the play has caused more than half a
dozen deaths, King Hamlet, Hamlet, Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, and himself just
to name the main ones. It is because of Claudius’ scheming that the end of the
play is so plagued by death. When you look at this side of Claudius it makes it
hard to image how he could have ever been a good king, if in fact he was a good
leader. It was Claudius’ obsession for control and power that ruined a great
kingdom. The question left to be answered however is this, would Hamlet have
made a good king? Hamlet possessed many qualities that would have made him a
suitable king. First of all, his father was the king, so he was royalty and
obviously had some knowledge of what a king needed to do. Second, he was a smart
individual. We see at the beginning of the play that he is just coming back from
a university in Wittenberg. Throughout the play all Hamlet wants to do is go
back to the university. It is because of his education that he has such a
questioning attitude, which plays a huge role in the whole play. Being a
scholar, Hamlet is prone to thought rather than actions. He contemplates every
action, prepares for the reaction, and also weighs the consequences. Hamlet
questions things from the very beginning when he asks Horatio why he has come.
Horatio answers that he has come for Hamlet’s father’s funeral, but Hamlet
says in reply “I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student; I think it was to
see my mother’s wedding”(Act I, Scene 2). Horatio then tells us that Hamlet
is correct. This series of events shows how Hamlet has an ability to find the
truth and how he questions things to make sure they are the truth. Even though
it is just a little question, not merely as important as some of the other stuff
that occurs, it is a good example of what kind of person Hamlet really is. 2
There are other times in the play where he questions things that he is told.
What the ghost tells him is probably the best example and the most important
one. First of all he asks the guards a bunch of questions regarding the ghost.
Was it armed? Did you see his face? Was it pale or red? Did it stay long? These
were the type of questions that Hamlet was asking, so he could know more fully
what exactly was going on and have a more detailed idea of what had happened.
Even when Hamlet talks to the ghost and finds out that his father was murdered
by the one that now holds the crown, Claudius, he questions that to be sure that
it wasn’t a trick or that the ghost wasn’t lying. Hamlet says later in the
play, “The spirit that I have seen may be the devil; and the devil hath power
to assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my
melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me”(Act
II, Scene 2). Hamlet is basically saying I can’t totally believe this ghost
even though it may look like my father, I must find out for myself. This whole
questioning attitude, which may seem stupid but is actually a very good thing,
leads to Hamlet having the players put on what he calls “The Mousetrap”.
Hamlet says, “The plays the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the
king”(Act II, Scene 2). By this he means that he is going to have a play put
on that is a reenactment of Claudius’ killing King Hamlet and watch for
Claudius’ reaction to the play. If Claudius starts getting squirmy or uneasy,
Hamlet will no for sure that Claudius did in fact kill his father. This play
also shows us another side of Hamlet’s intellect, his fairness and his
realization of his bias and want for revenge. Hamlet himself would probably take
any little movement by Claudius as a confession of guilt simply because he is
angry about his father’s death and wants revenge so very badly. Revenge causes
one to act blindly through anger, rather than through reason. It is based on the
principle of an eye for an eye, which is ultimately what Hamlet wants, to avenge
his father’s death by killing Claudius. But Hamlet is aware of his emotions
and that is why he tells Horatio, “I prithee, 3 when thou sees that act
a-foot, even with the very comment of thy soul observe my uncle: if his occulted
guilt do not itself unkennel in one speech it is a damned ghost that we have
seen, and my imaginations are as foul as Vulcan’s stithy”(Act III, Scene 2).
This is a great example of Hamlet knowing his limitations, he has asked the just
and fair minded Horatio to help him judge. It is things like this that would
have made Hamlet a good king. Hamlet has one of the most well known soliloquies
of all time. The old “To be or not to be” speech, but although many people
know the beginning of this speech, emphasis on the beginning because less people
know the middle and the true meaning of his speech. Hamlet goes on to ask
“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune, or to take arms 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
heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”(Act III,
Scene 1). The meaning of this speech is whether or not he should kill himself.
Again he is questioning and weighing the choices, should he continue his
struggle for revenge or end his troubles by way of committing suicide. This part
of the play shows the reader many qualities of Hamlet. It shows how he to is
human and how he is hurting, how he thinks things out instead of acting
irrationally, and how he questions things. Besides his intellectual qualities
and his questioning attitude Hamlet also shows another characteristic that a
king should have. As we return to the scene where Claudius is praying, we see
that Hamlet almost forgives him. Maybe you can’t go that far as to say Hamlet
forgives him, but rather he forgets about seeking revenge for the moment because
“now he is praying and now I’ll do’t: and so he goes to heaven: and so I
am revenged. That would be scanned; a villain kills my father; and for that, I,
his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven”(Act III, Scene 3). Hamlet
realizes that he can’t kill Claudius at this time because as he said, it would
send him to heaven. Only Hamlet does not hear the end of the prayer, an insight
that we the reader have knowledge of. But it is good to know 4 that Hamlet can
control his anger because a character like Laertes would have just went ahead
and killed Claudius at that time. Hamlet also displays many other positive
qualities throughout the work. One such quality is his ability to fight.
Although you may not think of this as a positive quality, you have to remember
what was going on at that time. A person of nobility should be trained with a
sword. Also there was war all around the kingdom and a king should be the type
of person that could lead his country. The fact that Hamlet was good with a
sword also showed just how well-rounded an individual he was. This play shows
the reader many of Hamlet’s good qualities and sets Claudius out to be the bad
guy from the beginning. It is obvious by looking at the above examples that
Hamlet would have made a good king, he certainly would have been better than his
uncle. Claudius is shown as a murderer and a liar. It is hard to sympathize with
Claudius and his actions. To kill your own brother, marry his wife, and take
over his position as king just is not something people generally find to be
acceptable. Hamlet on the other hand, shows how he is always thinking. He is an
educated man, who lets revenge control him, but not totally. We see how he is
constantly questioning things, looking at the choices and consequences and
thinking before doing. Hamlet is a well-rounded individual who is smart, clever,
determined, tough, and understandable. It is easy for the reader to get behind
Hamlet because he is presented in a much more positive way and the majority of
readers understand the situation he has gone through. It is understandable that
he is mad and that he wants revenge. We live in that kind of world, where
forgive and forget is just that, forgotten. People seek revenge, although maybe
not to the extent of the characters in this play. In general, Hamlet displays
many qualities and characteristics that would have made him a wise, fair and
good king, maybe not the best there has ever been, but certainly better than
Claudius.
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