“Hamlet” is the story about a dutch prince who got so offended by the whole world that he destroyed himself, all his family and friends and ruined the kingdom.
Resentment is the first emotion that Hamlet exhibits at his first apperance in Shakespeare’s play.
Primarily he resents his mother, who married so early after the death of her husband (Hamlet’s father). He certainly resents Claudius, who had become king despite having no more rights to the throne than Hamlet. And then he resents the whole world in general.
Yet at the same time he does not want to recognize the facts of the situation. There is unrest in Denmark, the country needs a king. Hamlet’s father had taken lands away from the old Fortinbras through force – and the young Fortinbras is gathering an army of cutthroats to recapture the hereditary lands. Hamlet is poorly suited for the role of king; he is indecisive, tetchy and weak (Claudius is a much better king, as can be seen, for example, from how he will later quench the rebellion led by Laertes). Both the queen and Claudius are in their later years – so this is not a case of Romeo and Juliet; it is clear that the reason they have entered into such a hasty marriage (without having maintained the expected mourning period) is not that of a sudden flare of great passion.
We, the readers, tend to idealize Hamlet (with whom we identify ourselves) and demonize Claudius (the antagonist). As a result, we try not to notice Hamlet’s shortcomings, and we attribute all possible flaws to Claudius. Although in the play Claudius behaves perhaps more nobly than Hamlet.
And yes, a lot of bad things are said about Claudius in the play. But who says them? It is Hamlet himself, as well as the ghost of his father. All the other characters in the play are quite pleased with Claudius-as-the-king. Possibly even much more so than with Hamlet’s too belligerent father — at the very beginning of the play Horatio speaks very critically of him, blaming him for the wars he had started.
In most of his dramas, Shakespeare describes violent tempers. Macbeth, having killed King Duncan, aims to kill his sons (while accusing them of killing their father) – they flee, and this saves them. Claudius, on the other hand, tries to build the closest possible relationship with Hamlet. He declares Hamlet his son and heir.
Hamlet cannot accept the offer. He submits to it (by saying: “I shall in all my best obey you”), while inflicting a hidden insult on the king – he deliberately addresses his mother, and says “I shall in all my best obey you” to her. The king swallows it, too – and, by the way, in the course of the play he will swallow many more such insults, until Hamlet finally progresses from hidden insults to murder.
From knowing how subsequent events play out, it seems to us that Claudius’s speech is just a pretense. After all, just a little time will pass and Claudius will try to get rid of Hamlet, first by sending him to his death in Britain, and then by entering into an agreement with Laertes. But by this time it would have become absolutely clear to the king that Hamlet is trying to kill him. Claudius is defending himself rather than attacking.
Hamlet’s resentment stems largely from a sense of helplessness. The ground was cut from under his feet. He had been living under full protection, but with the death of his father, everything suddenly changed. As a prince, he did not show himself (there is not one hint of this in the play), partly because of his indecisive disposition. He does not believe in himself and he resents the whole world.
Goethe had put it well in this regard: “His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer him, to present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave him. ”
This consciousness of one’s worthlessness is the basis for the emergence of feelings of resentment. Anger at the whole world along with the fear of showing this anger leads to the suppression of anger.
Resentment drives Hamlet throughout almost the entire play. Hamlet constantly acts like a deeply resentful person.
First of all, he is constantly joking, or rather, being sarcastic. Sarcasm is a disguise for suppressed anger, and one of the signs of resentment. Hamlet’s sarcasm is aimed at everyone, and above all at those who love him – at his mother and Ophelia. It is aimed at Polonius, who does not dare to object. Let us not forget that Hamlet is a prince, and as a prince, he stands a step above Polonius. And mocking those who cannot stand up for themselves does not make for an attractive personal trait.
And the jokes are not even particularly witty. They are sarcastic; their goal is clearly to offend. For instance, in the jab at Polonius (“to kill so capital a calf”) Hamlet mocks Polonius’ stout stature. In film adaptations Hamlet is usually portrayed by young actors of a sporty appearance, but according to Shakespeare, Hamlet is “fat, and scant of breath”. Hence when watching the films we do not understand the irony that Hamlet himself does not understand, but that Shakespeare had put into these words.
And what is the point of insulting Ophelia (“a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs”) with undoubtedly obscene suggestiveness? Once again, Ophelia, in her position a step below the prince (Hamlet is royal. Ophelia is not even nobility), cannot give him a slap in the face, as she may have done with another suitor. She has to put up with it. But Hamlet carries on:
Hamlet. Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
Ophelia. No, my lord.
Hamlet. I mean, my head upon your lap?
Ophelia. Ay, my lord.
Hamlet. Do you think I meant country matters?
Here the phrase “country matters” was clearly intended to be pronounced as “cuntry matters” which actually is very offensive. In movies actors play it as the harmless charm offensive – but it’s not!
In addition to sarcasm (disguised anger), another sign of deep resentment is involuntary and poorly controlled outbursts of anger. In one of these outbursts, Hamlet kills Polonius (thinking that the king is standing in his place) – an emotion of such strength arises in him that he can no longer think rationally. And before that, he almost raises a hand against his mother (despite having firmly decided in advance that he would never do so) – the intervention of a ghost is required to prevent this from happening.
When Hamlet grapples with Ophelia’s brother Laertes inside her grave, I am completely on the side of Laertes. Hamlet speaks beautifully – that he can – but a man is judged by his deeds. And his deeds are such that he killed her father, and at that moment the thought of Ophelia had not even occurred to him (by the way, her father was also Laertes’ father). In the scene inside the grave he does not recall the murder. Saying beautiful words about one’s love for Ophelia is easy, especially when Ophelia is gone.
A resentful person finds it easier to love the dead. Forgiving the dead is much easier than forgiving the living.
A deeply resentful person is so focused on their resentment that they cannot love anybody. They can only hate and offend.
Hamlet loves neither his mother nor Ophelia – he does not and cannot love. He has only scores to settle. Horatio is the only one that he experiences some feelings for, but Horatio is completely devoted to him.
Hamlet’s words to Laertes:
What is the reason that you use me thus?
I loved you ever: but it is no matter;
Let Hercules himself do what he may,
The cat will mew and dog will have his day.
are just dumbfounding in their casualness. Hamlet has killed Laertes’ father and (indirectly) sister, yet he believes that he has the right to feel offended by Laertes.
The resentful always finds a reason to be offended. And to offend others.
One more sign of a resentful person is the lack of logical thinking. To be more precise, it is when logical thinking is present (Hamlet is very intelligent), but evaporates when those who are resented are concerned.
In the famous Mousetrap scene, Hamlet sets a trap for the king. He incites the actors to play out the ‘Murder of Gonzago’ scene, where one brother poisons another. At the sight of this the king jumps up with a shout of “Give me some light: away!” Hamlet is thus convinced of the involvement of the king in the murder.
We, the readers, know for certain that the king had killed his brother – we know this from his own words. But Hamlet doesn’t know it. And here we do not immediately notice the complete illogicality of Hamlet’s conclusion. Why did he decide that the king identified himself with the murderer? There is unrest in the country, the nephew is up to no good and is throwing evil looks at his uncle, no doubt intending to poison him any day now… the king could have also been identifying himself with the victim, the slain! Logically, the behavior of the king in this scene does not prove anything at all.
But Hamlet doesn’t care. He is actually looking for signs of the king’s guilt: his resentment makes him want his offender to be guilty.
Suppose for a moment that Claudius had not killed his brother. Hamlet’s behavior would not have changed one bit! And then Hamlet would have destroyed the state, at the same time destroying himself and all those close to him, solely because of his resentment. Shakespeare “saved” Hamlet by giving him a legitimate reason for his resentment.
Resentment is destructive. Especially when combined with a lack of faith in oneself – a sense of worthlessness.
It is no coincidence that all those who were close to Hamlet died. Only Horatio survived – and only because Hamlet wanted the world to hear his story…
There are at least two more resentful people in “Hamlet”. One of them is Laertes. The prince had killed his father, yet he, Laertes, couldn’t take revenge. By challenging the prince to a duel, for example. A prince cannot be challenged to a duel. Laertes has to bear it all.
This resentment leads him to an act of treachery – he uses a real rapier in the duel, and poisons its tip with venom, too. Later, while dying, he regrets not that he killed Hamlet, but he regrets that he has tarnished his honor with a treacherous act.
The other is the author himself, Shakespeare. Shakespeare seems to have been resentful of a woman in his life (and, as a result, of all women), for in his plays the theme of female fickleness is featured often. In “Hamlet” this is represented by Gertrude, the queen. She is, however, eclipsed by Anna from “Richard III”, whom Richard seduced over the body of her husband, which had not yet cooled.
Although this is off the topic of resentment… love and deep feelings are also present in “Hamlet”. These are the feelings between the king and the queen. There are many, too many details in the play from which it is clear that they really do love each other and care about each other, and that their marriage was not just a political necessity. We do not want to notice this – but this is exactly what makes Shakespeare a great playwright and his characters ambiguous and deep.