An Examination of Guilt: The "Poison" of Hamlet and Fifth Business 12th Grade

Guilt, like a disease of the mind, has the power to consume one's sanity, govern one's emotions and demolish one's life. In the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare and in the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, guilt dominates the lives of multiple characters by negatively impacting their fates. This unfortunate fact can be seen through how guilt arises from a flaw in the character's personality, induces a burden on the life of a loved one, and leads to an inevitable death. In both Hamlet and Fifth Business, guilt emerges from a flaw in the character's persona, leading to that character's tragic ending.

In Hamlet, the two main characters that exhibit guilty emotions are Claudius and Hamlet. The incident that initiated the conflicts between several characters is the murder of King Hamlet, committed by his own brother Claudius. Claudius’s fatal flaw is his egotistical nature which distorts his state of mind and compels him to put power above all else. This provokes Claudius’s guilt, which quickly starts to possess him as “[His] stronger guilt defeats [his] strong intents”(3.3.40, Shakespeare) of maintaining his position. Moreover, Hamlet suspects that Claudius is the murderer, bringing more attention upon Claudius’s sins....

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