Friday, December 22, 2006

Hamlet's Rage

Recent comments have given me an idea that may add to the discussion. A well known literary character in much the the predicament as the victims of narcissists was Hamlet.

Notice that, whenever we see him alone and free to be himself, he rages. It's easy to understand why if you you put yourself in his shoes. To act like it didn't happen is unthinkable. How could he wink at the murder of his father and king? Not to mention the dishonor of his mother and queen. Not to mention stealing the throne from Hamlet as the rightful heir.

Hamlet could choose to do nothing about the throne, but he isn't morally free to act like his father wasn't murdered and his mother dishonored. It would be wrong. Very, very, very immoral. The wicked crime cries out to the top of Heaven for justice, and, as Prince of realm under a usurper, the buck stops at Hamlet to do justice.

He naturally wants to run off like Laertes and rouse the rabble for a revolt or to just murder Claudius. But instead, he bides his time. He waits for an opportunity to expose Claudius before the whole court. That is not only the way to go about it most hazardous to his health, but for all those months it looks like Hamlet is going belly up. What an incredible dishonor! people think he's just taken leave of his senses instead of dealing like a king with what has happened.

That, on top of his natural hurt and anger, is what makes the situation so excruciating for him. It is abjectly humiliating to let people think he's caved in and nuts, to even encourage them to think so, so that he doesn't have to talk any nicer than the average "crazy" court jester did with sarcastic remarks at everyone who spoke to him. So that he can keep yanking a conversation wildly off track every time somebody tries to catch him out saying something treasonous.

We see, in his famous raging soliloquies, that Hamlet is being torn in two. These aren't natural thinking: they are like the speeches people make into a mirror. Which is why they are so contrary to what he actually does in the story.

Shall he just have done with it and do like any other prince would (assassinate Claudius) or take the high road and prove what Claudius is before witnesses?

His self esteem is so assaulted that he doesn't even trust himself. He suspects that his choice to take the high road is just procrastination out of cowardice.

But in the end we see that he is no coward. The moment he has his chance, he seizes it to expose Claudius before the court (which actually was the high court of the land) for the dirty, lowdown, rotten, scheming, venomous snake and TRAITOR that he (Claudius) was, giving his life in the deed of executing justice as an honorable man. Hamlet was dying and had nothing to gain by it any more: he just did it because it was justice (the greatest good people believed in that day).

So, what about all that anger? Was it a sin?

I say no. I say it just makes him more a hero and saint - to be that outraged and that much in pain ... so much in pain that he wished he were dead ... and still risk his life and suffer terrible dishonor and anguish till he had an opportunity to set things right in a principled and honorable way.

What do you think? Were his emotions themselves sinful? Or is he to be judged by his deeds? I won't have time to debate much, but I am interested in a variety of viewpoints.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button


At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What we feel is never sinful. We can't control what we feel. We can control how we act upon those feelings,most of the time, we all lose control at times.

Where I tend to get skunked by the narcissists in my life is by their knowingly pushing me to an overly emotional response. When I let that happen, they automatically have an out for how they have wronged me by pointing to my anger. I am rightfully angry in most all of these situations but by choosing to act on that anger at the wrong time makes me fair game to those who can never admit wrongdoing on their own part and must have a scape-goat for their own sinfulness.

Hamlet was absolutely correct in the way he handled the situation. I guess manipulation in self-defense is okay in such an extreme case. However, I'm no good at it and I'm not sure I could pull it off.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

At one point, Shakespeare shows how hard it was for Hamlet. Right after the climax, when Hamlet got Claudius to demonstrate his guilt by arising in anger and storming out of a play Hamlet changed some lines in to fit the crime better.

So, at this point, only the willfully blind court is still ignore-ant of Claudius' guilt.

Now Hamlet comes upon Claudius on his knees and trying to pray. WE (not Hamlet) hear Claudius realizing that he cannot obtain forgivness and keep the ill-got goods = the crown and his brother's wife. Indeed, since he can't repent, he is unforgiveable. (That was well-known Christian doctrine in those days. As far as I know, it still is universal Christian doctrine but certainly isn't well known.)

Hamlet, not hearing this, naturally assumes that Claudius is making an act of contrition, which would entail a promise to make amends. Hamlet is so enraged from the play thing that he feels justified in killing Claudius right now. In fact, the only way to talk himself out of just assassinating him at this very opportune moment is by rationalizing that killing Claudius while he is scared and making his peace with God would send Claudius to Heaven instead of Hell.

A pretty nasty reason for NOT killing somebody, eh? ;-)

But it shows how hard it was for Hamlet to avoid this temptation: he had to think up a malevolent reason not to commit the sin. He decides to wait until Claudius' fear passes and he goes right back to being a creep so he goes to hell when he gets it.

Whatever it takes, I guess. As you say, the anger makes it hard to maintain self control. It was so hard for Hamlet that he had to resort to this nasty reason for not just murdering Claudius.

What brilliant play about human nature. Shakespeare showed us that sometimes we have to do the right thing for the wrong reasons in order to maintain self control when anger rages and an opportune moment to get revenge occurs.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Anna Valerious said...

Kathy, you asked for a variety of opinions on the subject of Hamlet's emotions vs. his deeds and whether or not his emotions were sinful. I don't have an opinion on this that differs from yours, so I hope this isn't a boring response.

I was subjugated for years by my N mother and my N sister because of their attitudes about displays of strong emotions. Any open anger on my part was condemned, proclaimed to be sinful, looked down on, used against me. It was a powerful tool of control on their part. Any display of anger by me would allow them to immediately assume a position of moral superiority. Funny, it never was sinful for them to rage or display seemed to always be justified. They displayed anger a lot more than I ever did!

I have come a long way. I am a Christian, but I do not believe that anger itself is a sin. In some cases, to not get angry would be wrong! Injustice should make us angry! Where sin comes in is what we do with anger. I agree that anger can make self-control much harder to maintain which is where the danger comes in. I agree with you that Hamlet was more of a hero and saint because of his extreme self-control in spite of over-whelming negative emotions. His honorable deeds were all the more exemplary because they were done in spite of how he felt. I see in Hamlet's story a small encapsulation of the over-all story presented in the Bible. That of a righteous, holy God who has to prove the truth in the face of the outrageous lies of a narcissistic Devil. It has required much patience on God's part to allow the working out of events to expose the lies of the evil one to an onlooking universe. God can't stoop to slander and lies. Meanwhile, the devil constantly projects his own attributes on God and lies all the day long. Only time can bear out the truth. There are Biblical examples that God Himself becomes angry...He doesn't sin in His anger, though. Which is what the Bible calls for in Christians. The Bible also presents Christ, as He is in Gethsemane and later on the cross, as doing one thing while His emotions are working at cross-purposes to what He knows is required of Him. Christ is described as be "sinless and undefiled". Obviously, this means that emotions do not condemn us. Our deeds are the measure of our souls.

Emotions are like wind. They blow unpredictably from any direction. We can't be responsible for that. We can only be responsible for how we choose to act on them.

At 12:16 AM, Anonymous gh said...

Very nicely put, Anna. I know it's written in the Bible that we should be slow to anger -- SLOW to anger, not that we shouldn't get angry. It's the difference between rage -- a sudden, violent flash -- and righteous anger -- a steady, reasoned response to injustice. In a way, not being angered when we witness injustice is akin to condoning it. When we don't get angry at all, it's like saying the injustice that was done is no big deal and the victim unworthy of fair treatment.

(It's been so long since I read Hamlet that I can't say anymore if her was a "hero" or just a really good example of a victim in emotional turmoil. Wish I had more to add there, as this is a very interesting question!)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

craig class janesville