The definition of Hamlet

Now, in our times, we could use the word Hamlet the way Shakespeare used the character Hamlet. Realistic humanism is something Shakespeare brings forth in his plays, where characters are not portrayed one-dimensionally. Thus, the character Hamlet is dynamic like a real human self. His emotional presentations fluctuate rather abruptly and his lost sense of conviction, doubtful thinking, death contemplation and stagnant decision making all reflect a real human self. Hamlet could also be seen as an individual drenched in skepticism trying to find his place in an unstable society that has distorted traditional institutions.

One could detect Hamlet’s dynamic character and impulsive behavior throughout the play. In Act 3 Scene 4, without checking, he impulsively strikes Polonius behind the arras (lines 21-24). In Act 3 scene 1, Hamlet reveals his dynamic character when he admits that he loved Ophelia but not anymore and he tells her that she should not believe in what men say (line 125): “Hamlet: …I did love you once. Ophelia: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so. Hamlet: You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock, but we shall relish of it: I loved you not. Ophelia: I was the more deceived” (lines 114-118).

Hamlet is no hero to those who value the opposite of Hamlet’s characteristics. They find Hamlet to be weak and they take the character in a negative way.  J. Maynard in Russia in Flux writes, “One type [of social missionary] is of the Don Quixote type… Another is of the Hamlet type, a bastard aristocrat, introspective and poetical, is merely ineffectual, and dies by suicide” (1941). A New York Times article used Hamlet negatively once as well: “We cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations, worrying endlessly over whether and how to respond” (1984). Thus, the character Hamlet has now become associated with human deficiencies, such as indecisiveness.

The OED defines Hamlet as, “Used allusively, esp. to denote a troubled, indecisive, or capricious person”. The word Hamlet is now used to describe someone with negative connotations, but this can change. We are using the word Hamlet the way Shakespeare used the character Hamlet; that means the definition is contingent on one’s perception of the character. The definition of the word Hamlet is open ended. Positive perceptions will yield positive definitions. Perceiving Hamlet as a character trying to find his place in both life and society can constitute better, more relevant, definitions for the word Hamlet in our times.


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One Response to The definition of Hamlet

  1. j.sciarrone says:

    What a very creative and clever approach to this definition/dictionary post! I love that you decided to define “Hamlet.” I think that is so interesting, because Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the very first definition we get, and it was only after him that we have a new definition of the word (name?). In the other posts, or at least my own, the words already had previous origins. I think knowing the OED definition of Hamlet is significant to the play, because it illuminates what we see as Hamlet’s characteristics and we may just take that as the absolute truth, but as you said, originally, Shakespeare’s definition of Hamlet did not have to be negative. It’s based on perspective, and maybe one day we can redefine the word.

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