Hamlet's Search for Identity

Why has Hamlet captivated actors, critics and audiences for centuries? What makes Hamlet himself so mysterious? Unlike most characters, who are defined by what can be seen on stage, Hamlet appears to be “constructed around an unseen or secret core.” Shakespeare characterizes Hamlet extensively, but it still seems that something is missing –passages contradict each other, accounts of scenes change, and at times it appears that not even Hamlet himself could explain himself. In this paper I argue that a traditional character analysis cannot define Hamlet; rather, what identifies him best is the lack of a clear-cut identity. Hamlet’s changing mood, state of mind, and behaviour are not simply devices to confuse his enemies, but rather the manifestation of his endless search for his true self. Hamlet fascinates us because we see ourselves and our searches in him.

In general, Hamlet is observed – and thereby characterized – by nearly everyone who speaks. Every person in the court is observing him and trying to figure out who he is. However, these accounts present very different images of him. At times, the differences between two perceptions of the same man could not be greater. Would we take all these versions of one character into...

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