“When your desires are strong enough, you will appear to possess superhuman powers in order to achieve them” is a quote by Napoleon Hill, one of the earliest American authors of personal success literature. His quote about the ability to achieve desires relates a lot to the life of Hamlet. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet has been viewed by critics as one that possesses inhuman (or superhuman) qualities in order to take vengeance on his uncle Claudius, who, on the contrary, is seen as one who possesses human qualities.
Hamlet’s inhuman characteristics and Claudius’s more human behavior are defined by conflict with the supernatural, perception of cleverness, and influence by outside forces. In Hamlet one of the inhuman qualities that Hamlet bears is the ability to see the ghost of his father who returns to tell him that Claudius has indeed been the cause of his death. Hamlet is the only one that can see the apparition when it appears for the second time. When Gertrude is present with Hamlet when the ghost appears, she believes it “is the very coinage of [his] brain” (3. 4. 157).
The queen believes that the ghost Hamlet speaks of is only a figment of his imagination caused by his madness. Claudius, on the other hand, is incapable of seeing the ghost, revealing his human qualities. Although Claudius cannot see the apparition, ironically he is the reason that it appears to Lord Hamlet. Claudius, like every other human, contains the flaw of sin by giving into temptation. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius is the “adulterate beast, with witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts…won to his shameful lust the will of my most seeming-virtuous queen” (1. 5. 49-53).
Claudius used both fancy words and gifts to seduce Gertrude and make her give into his lust, making him a human who let temptation control his decisions and drive him into sin. The appearance of apparitions in Hamlet exhibits one of the reasons Hamlet is seen as inhuman, while Claudius is human. In addition to the conflicts with the supernatural, perception of cleverness is another concept that defines the inhuman Hamlet and human Claudius. Hamlet is subtle and sly in his thinking when trying to find a way to prove Claudius’s guilt. Hamlet decides that putting on a play, The Murder of
Gonzago, and observing Claudius’s reaction to the poison poured into the ear of the actor will be the best way to prove his guilt without Claudius knowing that Hamlet is on to him. Hamlet explains to Horatio that during the play “one scene of it comes near the circumstance, which I have told thee, of my father’s death…when thou seest act afoot, even with the very comment of thy soul observe my uncle” (3. 2. 76-81). Hamlet’s idea to have both Horatio as well as himself observe the action of Claudius to the murder is a perfect use of cleverness.
His scheme is one that spares the innocent but condemns the guilty in the end, proving the inhumanness of Hamlet. On the other hand, Claudius has faults in dealing with his cleverness, making him more human. Claudius devices a scheme to have Hamlet killed when Hamlet arrives in England. Claudius’s plan turns on him when Hamlet finds the letters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are carrying that order for Hamlet’s death and switches them with letters that read “on the view and knowing of these contents, without debatement further, more or less, he should the bearers put to sudden death, not shriving time allowed” (5. . 48-51). The switching of the letters by Hamlet results in the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two innocent individuals brought into the debacle. Claudius’s poor perception of cleverness condemns both the innocent and the guilty, making his plans flawed and ultimately human. Along with perception of cleverness, influences on both Hamlet and Claudius by the outside world reveal Hamlet’s inhuman and Claudius’s human characteristics. Hamlet has been pressured greatly by the ghost of his father to seek vengeance on the throne and restore justice.
Hamlet at first is eager to do so, but as the play goes on Hamlet constantly finds himself unable to take action against Claudius. This is because Hamlet sees the world as a prison, “a goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst” (2. 2. 262-263). One would believe that Hamlet would simply take action against Claudius for his own satisfaction, but Hamlet realizes that Claudius’s death will not restore his own faith in the natural goodness of human life.
Because Hamlet becomes aware that committing the death of his father would not hinder any of the evil still present in the world, Hamlet decides to hold back on his action, revealing his inhuman quality of being influenced by such distant forces. Unlike Hamlet, Claudius doesn’t allow the influences of the outside world to affect his decisions. Claudius assumes Hamlet will not feel grief and anger towards him for quickly marrying Gertrude after the death of Hamlet’s father.
Hamlet expresses his feelings about the quick marriage to Horatio by saying “the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” (1. 2. 189-190). Hamlet tells Horatio that marriage followed the funeral so quickly that the foods of the funeral were still fresh for use in time for the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude. Claudius does not believe Hamlet will have harsh feelings towards him after marrying Gertrude so hastily, which explains why he is considered human for making selfish decisions and not taking the outside forces into consideration.
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, critics have argued that Hamlet contains qualities that represent the inhuman, while Claudius possesses traits that symbolize the human. The concepts that define these behaviors of both Hamlet and Claudius include conflict with the supernatural, perception of cleverness, and influence by outside forces. In the world today people are put into awe by the types of accomplishments humans show they are capable of achieving. Many of these undertakings leave one to wonder, do all humans have a little bit of superhuman in them?