In his continual inability to actually face the matter of the usurper king, Hamlet decides to get his message across by using a group of masquers who have arrived at the castle. The players portray what has happened in the form of a play,and Claudius is quick to comprehend what Hamlet is doing. He immediately begins to plot his death.
Hamlet’s friend, Laertes, is chosen by the king to kill Hamlet because by this point Hamlet has been instrumental in the death of Laertes’ sister, Ophelia, and his father, Polonius.
What is supposed to be a “friendly” fencing duel becomes a fight to the death with not just a poisoned rapier involved but a tankard of poisoned wine. It isn’t long before Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet are all dead. And all because Hamlet was afraid to face the king to begin with.
But, just a few moments before his death, Johnson says, Hamlet reaches an awareness of a consciousness beyond his neurotic split and indecision when he says:
Our deep plots do pall. And that should learn us
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
“Hamlet is the man of nobility and partial consciousness who see a vision of the meaning of life,” Johnson writes. “But he is not strong enough–or complete enough–to bring that vision into focus.”
Caught between vision and practicality, he fails at both. In this, according to Johnson, he is the prototype of so many modern men who see a noble world in their imaginations but don’t have the means to accomplish it.
Faust begins where Hamlet fails, finding a solution to the problem that overwhelmed Hamlet.
Next Week: Faust