Humans Hamlet’s character. Hamlet’s inability to take action

Humans are all governed by their emotions, intuitions
and instincts. No matter how much an individual tries to take control of
him/herself through the use of logical reasoning, he/she cannot do it because
it is against the very nature of being a human. Sub-conscious or non-conscious,
always governs the conscious, and the individual just tries to understand what he/she
does. Since unconscious has an immense part in the construction of the self,
trying to suppress its authority would only bring frustration and incapacitation
for the individual. A perfect example for this kind of a dilemma can be seen in
Hamlet’s character. Hamlet’s inability to take action stems from his failure to
let his unconscious take charge of his life. As a result, the more he stutters,
the more disillusioned and frustrated he gets.

The Freudian or “psychoanalytic” acceptation of
“unconscious” gives it the authority to govern everything that an individual
does with requests and urges, and it displays itself through “slips of the
tongue, jokes, intrusive thoughts, fleeting memories”. (Vermeule 468) In
Freud’s terminology, “the unconscious” constantly speaks to the individual and
makes up stories (467-468). If it is not fulfilled, “the unconscious arrives
over and over again with its demands”, and as a result, it has an undeniable power
driving the individual’s life. (468) Nevertheless, it is perceived by “the
conscious” in one way or another. However, according to the most recent studies
in “experimental psychology”, “the unconscious” is much bigger than anybody
ever thought of it before because it also involves “internal qualities of mind
that affect conscious thought and behaviour, without being conscious
themselves.” (quoted in Vermeule 469) The unconscious comprises all the “brain
activity” perceived by all the “senses”, and out of the data collected this way
only a scant and insignificant part is actually reachable by the “cognitive
conscious” part of the brain (468):

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 Our senses
deliver around eleven million pieces of information to our brains every waking
moment—of which our eyes deliver ten million. Of those eleven million pieces of
information, we are aware of roughly forty. Exponentially more neural signals
are processed from our peripheral nervous system than ever reach the threshold
of conscious awareness. The degree and number of cognitive process that run
outside our conscious awareness are beyond what anybody can imagine, even the
researchers who work on it all the time. We literally know not what we do.
(Vermeule 468-69)

Consequently, “most mental processes go on outside
of conscious awareness” because “the inward eye cannot see them.” (469) What
we think that we know is just a very tiny portion of what we really know, and
there is absolutely no chance for us to consciously know what we actually know.
So, how do we make sense of the world around us with the little information
that we have? The conscious creates fables with that little information and we
believe that the fictional world those fables have produced is “reality” (467).
So we create our own “reality” by building it up as a “cause and effect”
system. (469) According to Hume, “our reason gives us an account of why we act
as we do, but the story it tells us is usually just that—a story” (quoted in
Vermeule 470). And through that “story”, we see the world around us and believe
that it is real.

It can be said that an individual’s capability in
making deductions mostly rests on his/her unconscious. Since the unconscious
provides the individual with intuitions, feelings and impressions for guidance,
s(he) has to count on them in taking any step. And conceivably, as a result,
denying them their authority would lead to confusion and dissatisfaction.
However, Hamlet tries to ignore the clues he gathered through his senses and
tries to legitimise what he does or what he would do through using logical
deductions by analysing his every potential movement. According to Neema
Parvini,

Hamlet is a character who resists human nature, his
own nature, because he consistently tries to avoid relying on intuition by
pre-meditating and reasoning through all of his decisions. He plans most of his
actions; he calculates risks and weighs up benefits against costs. He does
whatever he can to be driven by his intellect rather than by his emotions. But
of course, this endeavour fails utterly. (52)

Hamlet tries to understand everything through “logical
reasoning” without giving his “intuitions” any chance to operate and refuses to
take his emotions into consideration (53). For example, when he first meets his
dead father’s ghost he is assured of the treachery of his uncle, Claudius, and
he promises his father’s ghost to avenge his death:

That youth and observation copied there,

And thy commandment all alone shall live

Within the book and volume of my brain,

Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven! (Shakespeare
1.5.101-104)

And he even inscribes: “So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word: / It
is ‘Adieu, adieu, remember me.’ / I have sworn ‘t.” (1.5.110-12) He becomes so
resolute in his revenge plans that he acts out to be a lunatic, and by escaping
from other people’s company he says: “… Man delights / not me – nor woman
neither, …. (2.2.303-04) However, he still cannot put his plans into
practice, because he is still interrogating the matter in his head. After
interviewing the actors who will take part in a play in the palace, he detests
his own inability to take action. He wants to see his uncle’s reactions to a
play about the slaying of a king: “… What would he do, / Had he the motive
and the cue for passion / That I have? He would drown the stage with tears”
(2.2.543-45). He knows what he has to do but he still cannot put himself in
motion:

Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak

Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,

And can say nothing – no, not for a king,

Upon whose property and most dear life

A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward? (2.2.550-54)

He needs to make himself ready to actually do something, and he knows
that it is the cause for his inertia:

Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,

That I, the son of a dear father murdered,

Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,

Must like a whore unpack my heart with words, (2.2.568-71)

Although, through his intuitions and emotions, he is aware that he must
avenge his father, he still needs concrete evidence to be sure. His
consciousness does not let him follow his unconscious (or sub-conscious) take
charge, so he looks for more concrete evidence:

… I’ll have these players

Play something like the murder of my father

Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks,

I’ll tent him to the quick.  If he but blench,

I know my course … (2.2.581-85)

            Hamlet, the melancholy
philosopher (Young 82), consistently ruminates over life and death. He is never
really sure of what to do when he is using logical thinking: “Whether ’tis
nobler in the mind to su?er / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or
to take arms against a sea of troubles,” (3.1.58-60). He perpetually looks for
answers, and that is why he makes actors stage the play the Murder of Gonzago to see his uncle’s reactions, which is about the murder of a king by
one of his close relations. So, “his constant need for reasoning and
analytical thinking, then, could be explained simply as the by-product of the
need for verification (as a justification for murdering Claudius)” (Parvini
55). After getting the proof that he needed to be sure of Claudius’s treachery,
he is more resolute in taking action. However, his constant need for logical
reasoning makes him contemplate at every step of the way: even before he goes
to talk to his mother in her chambers, he still “has to ready himself with a
rationalising pep talk” (54):

… Now to my mother.

O heart, lose not thy nature. Let not ever

The soul of Nero enter this ?rm bosom.

Let me be cruel, not unnatural.

I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.

How in my words somever she be shent,

To give them seals—never, my soul, consent!
(Shakespeare 3.2.375-82)

In the soliloquy quoted above, the continuous struggle
between Hamlet’s conscious and unconscious can be seen: Hamlet pleads to his
unconscious “heart” never to betray his conscious and rational self by
admitting “the soul of Nero enter this ?rm bosom” (3.2.376-77). He does not
want to complicate the matters with his mother, Gertrude and reveal his secret
agenda to her, so he wants his “tongue and soul in this be hypocrites” (3.2.380),
meaning that he wants to stay calm while confronting her with her sins.
However, trying to balance his conscious reasoning and unconscious emotions, he
entirely breaks down. When he goes into his mother’s chambers, his erratic
manners scare his mother and lead her to call out “help” (3.4.22) and he
accidentally kills Polonius, who has been eavesdropping on them (3.4.24). His
plan to unveil Gertrude’s part in his father’s murder to herself works out to be
successful, but the more he tries to make reasonable arguments against her the
more emotional he gets as Gertrude says:

 O Hamlet, speak
no more.

Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul,

And there I see such black and grainèd spots

As will not leave their tinct. (3.4.88-91)

He does “cleft” his mother’s “heart in twain” (3.4.156), not by his
logical and reasonable speech but his passionate arguments against her past
actions:

… Mother, for love of grace,

Lay not that ?attering unction to your soul,

That not your trespass, but my madness speaks.

It will but skin and ?lm the ulcerous place,

Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,

Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven,

Repent what’s past, avoid what is to come;

And do not spread the compost on the weeds,

To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue,

For in the fatness of these pursy times

Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg –

Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.
(3.4.144-55)

He leaves his mother breathless with the very emotions he tries to
avoid: “Be thou assured, if words be made of breath, / And breath of life, I
have no life to breathe / What thou hast said to me.” (3.4.133-35)

            No matter how much he
tries to use reasoning and logical thinking, Hamlet unknowingly surrenders to
his unconscious side (Parvini 56). For example, in Act 3 Scene 2, after seeing
Claudius leave his seat before the play can finish, he jumps to the “conclusion”
that Claudius must have murdered his father (56). This is the proof he was
looking for all along, however, according Khan, Claudius’s reaction might not
be “to the poison being poured down the ear, but rather to the regicide”
(quoted in Parvini 56). So, what Hamlet does here does not necessarily be a
logical deduction but rather something called “confirmation bias” (Parvini 56).
“Confirmation bias” is a “mental shortcut” which humans make use of when they
have to decide on something (17). Thinking logically and making reasonable
deductions are often too hard to do, and when an individual is presented with
indicative information that usually lead to a similar conclusion, s(he) chooses
the easier step and jumps to a conclusion that seems more favourable to
him/her: this process is called “confirmation bias” (17-18). For example, when
Hamlet sees Claudius leaving his seat, he assumes that Claudius is aggravated
because the scenes in the play depict how he killed his brother. And therefore,
Hamlet deduces that Claudius really did murder his father. However, as Khan put
it, Claudius might have been agitated because of “the depiction of regicide at
the hands of a nephew (quoted in Parvini 55). But the unconscious information
he has already been equipped with makes it easier for him to believe otherwise:

He was already primed to think positively of the ghost
(a vision of his father, for whom he has love and affection) and to think
negatively of Claudius (who, to his obvious chagrin, is sleeping with his
mother). Hamlet, then, was predisposed to believe what the ghost was saying. He
designed The Mousetrap to confirm what he was already liable to suspect: that
Claudius was guilty. (Parvini 56-57)

Hamlet’s failure to free himself from emotions would
not have worked, even if the situations work out more favourably to him. Because
“Hamlet is, in the end, driven by intuitive rather than analytical or cognitive
decision making” (Parvini 56). His hastily submitting himself to draw such a
conclusion (as mentioned above) shows how much he is prone to take actions
unconsciously, just like any other human being. However, Hamlet has an
analytical mind that does not easily let him think and act intuitively. His
thinking is more inclined to go between logical reasoning of the conscious and
intuitions-feelings of the unconscious, and he fails to find a balance between
those two parts of his mind. According to Uffelman, “his attempt to remove
emotion from his deliberation is doomed to fail” because “emotion is
inextricably part of our thinking” (quoted in Parvini 59). Denying the
unconscious the authority it has over arriving at conclusions would eventually be
condemned to be unsuccessful, because “decision-making process derived from
pure reason” can never actually work with success (Parvini 58).

Sub-conscious is an enormous part of the mind of every
individual. And, with the feelings, intuitions and instincts it provides, it
has been leading human beings from the very beginning of life (Vermeule 475).
On the other hand, logical or rational thinking is relatively new in the
evolutionary progress (475). And as a result, trying to create a system based
purely on mechanical workings of logical thinking would only bring the
individual frustration and incapacitation, just like in the case of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

            Hamlet tries to free himself from
his emotions, intuitions and instincts and make decisions through logical
reasoning. He tries to measure his every step rather than acting on impulse,
however, he often fails to do so. He denies his unconscious (or sub-conscious)
the power it has over himself, but in doing so he unwittingly succumbs to its
very power. His denial of himself as a human being with intuitions and
emotions, just like anybody else around him, only brings him indecisiveness and
unhappiness. Therefore, it can be said that his inability to take action stems
from the constant battle between his unyielding and always-demanding
unconscious, and his rational and calculating conscious.