Essay on Crawling Inside the Mind of Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Crawling Inside the Mind of Hamlet

Much of the dramatic action of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet is within the head of the main character, Hamlet. His wordplay represents the amazing, contradictory, unsettled, mocking, nature of his mind, as it is torn by disappointment and positive love, as Hamlet seeks both acceptance and punishment, action and stillness, and wishes for consummation and annihilation. He can be abruptly silent or vicious; he is capable of wild laughter and tears, and also polite badinage.

One of the first things which a reader learns about Hamlet is that he uses words with startling agility. He plays on words that sound alike, or nearly alike:

King. But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son--
Ham. A
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We soon see that in private he continues to use wordplay as a disguise in which to taunt and trick both adversaries and friends, so that he is not fully understood and they are encouraged to disclose hidden thoughts:

Pol. Do you know me, my lord?
Ham. Excellent well. You are a fishmonger.
Pol. Not I, my lord.
Ham. Then I would you were so honest a man.
Pol. Honest, my lord?
Ham. Ay sir. To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand. . . . (II.ii.173-79)

A fishmonger was a name for "fleshmonger" or pimp. Hamlet's mind runs on to "so honest a man," a word meaning "honorable," or "truthful, genuine." "I know a hawk from a handsaw" (II.ii. 280-79, 375): wordplay gallops easily, or abruptly it makes a bold and mocking challenge. Hamlet can deliver one message and at the same time another contrary one; "if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty (III.i.107-08); or again, ". . . he may play the fool nowhere but in's own house [page 20] . . ." (III.i.133-34); or again, "The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body. The King is a thing . . . of nothing" (IV.ii.26-29).

Words are wanton in Hamlet's mind, feeding his aggressions and his fears. Sometimes we get the impression that he is
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