Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Who to Be . . . or Not to Be

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Revenge, jealousy, and mass death seem to be defining characteristics of many of Shakespeare's tragedies. But there is something else, something less gruesome, that his tragedies have in common: the hero is faced with the task of self identification.

For example many of the characters in King Lear face this problem and even hide behind lies and even disguises in order to protect themselves from who they really are. King Lear seems to hide behind his title as a king, and thus, doesn't see how he can truly love his daughter. Edgar has to hide from his brother and father to save his own life instead of stand up for himself.

I want to look more into this idea of identity (specifically how a character identifies himself) in Hamlet. I find it interesting that Hamlet begins with the theme of identity. Bernardo and Francisco trying to identify a each other:
"Who's there?"
"Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself."
"Long live the king."
"He." (1.1.1-5)

The main focus of my paper, however, will be the character of Hamlet. From what I understand, there are a couple times when Hamlet is talking about himself and who he is and who he should become. Consider the famous line "to be or not to be, that is the question"where Hamlet is considering who he can become. There are also the contradictions about his character that Hamlet shares in a soliloquy. 
"The fact that Hamlet is contrasting himself to Hercules, who display a symbol of intellectual and physical strength; he implies that he lacks self worth and self esteem" (UKessays). He has running through his mind the words of his father, "to thine own self be true." How is he going to decide what his "self" actually is.

I am interested in the psychology behind Hamlet's search for defining himself. I am planning to look at how this defines how Hamlet, the hero, struggles with defining himself through self-esteem. 


  1. I thought this was a super interesting idea so I Googled "how does Hamlet self-identify?" and this articled pulled up. It mentions a really cool aspect of the play regarding identity--the audience has an advantage over the other characters because they get to hear Hamlet's soliloquies and asides, thus giving them better insights into his character and identity. (Starts about page 3).


  2. I think it's a great idea to write your paper on Hamlet before we read it - that way you can annotate your book specifically with your paper in mind! Also, isn't the line "to be or not to be" refer to whether he should live or die and not who he's trying to become? Unless scholars have said otherwise...that's just my understanding of it. But I love Hamlet, and I'm excited to see where you take this. Good Luck!

  3. I love the theme of identity and I had considered doing something similar! I think you could look at why they had to identify and he circumstances around it to help with the bigger picture!

  4. I agree with Riley. However, I think that your title clearly distinguishes your focus as different from what most scholars have decided that line is talking about. But, "To be or not to be," questions existence in itself and Hamlet's potential suicide, and I do think that would be something that you'd need to address in your paper (especially if you keep that as your title).