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“hamlet is a self-obsessed, miserable typical teenager” – to what extent do you agree with this statement?

Throughout the course of the play, the character of Hamlet undergoes major upheaval, so a transition in his psyche is to be expected. One interpretation behind the reason for this transition is the one stated in the title (i.e. that he is a “self-obsessed, miserable typical teenager”); another may be that he is simply the victim of exceptional circumstances (namely his father’s death and his mother’s marriage to his uncle) - either way, it is clear that Hamlet is acting under severe emotional stress during the play.

That Hamlet is a very obsessive young man is easy enough to tell - the list of things he obsesses about is extensive: the afterlife, his father’s murder, his new misogynistic feelings, suicide and general worldly dissatisfaction, to list the main bulk of his obsessions. Some of his soliloquies (which are the passages where Shakespeare allows Hamlet to reveal his complete emotions to the audience) are testament to this obsession, especially concerning suicide (“O that this too too solid flesh would melt”, “To be or not to be”). This self-obsession may be thought of as somewhat surprising when it is noted that Hamlet is meant to be heir to the Dane throne, as it portrays Hamlet as someone in a role of great social responsibility who only has the scope to think about his personal problems. Hamlet is by now old enough to attend university (although his age is unspecified), showing that he has reached an age where he can think independently and fully comprehend his duty to society, adding to the sense that he is being selfish in that he does not think of the well-being of his country, despite the numerous references to problems in Denmark (“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”). It is this personal fixation and irresponsibility on Hamlet’s part that ends up bringing the ultimately Danish monarchy into ruin, with Fortinbras of Norway ascending to the throne. The claim that Hamlet is also miserable is also a valid one: the audience usually finds Hamlet in a highly melancholic state of mind (whether it is mere sullen impetuousness or full-blown suicidal depression). Hamlet seems dissatisfied with everything: his family, his nation, the world, his very existence. Part of the reason for this depressed nature is Hamlet’s tendency to philosophise and contemplate complex aspects of existence, such as the afterlife, which contrasts with the straight-forward “action” men that surround him, and is more typical of the modern moody teenager. For all of these reasons, it can be argued that Hamlet is indeed a “self-obsessed, miserable typical teenager”.

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However, a different interpretation of Hamlet is that he is the victim of exceptionally harrowing circumstances. His age is indeterminate, although the reader is sure that he is a young man. Already with the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, his father dies, only for his mother to wed with “wicked speed” to his father’s brother: such a combination in such a short space of time for one as young as Hamlet is bound to have a detrimental effect on his outlook. Add to this the plainly insensitive handling of this shocking series of events by Claudius ...

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