Hamlet: How does Shakespeare build up to the climax in the final scene?

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Hamlet: How does Shakespeare build up to the climax in the final scene?

Although Shakespeare wrote many plays, one would not be criticised for saying that Hamlet is his most famous. Based on the true story of Amleth, Prince of Jutland, Hamlet tells the story of a young boy in turmoil after he suspects that his Uncle murdered his father to marry his mother and become king. Although the play is full of drama, the climax of the play is the final scene (Act 5 Scene 2) which Shakespeare has built up to in a number of different ways.  

The character development of Hamlet is one of the most important ways he built up to the climax. At the start of the play Hamlet is very shy and moody. The King has noticed, as he says “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?” (Act 1 Scene 2) The only outward sign of the person he will become is when he says “A little more kin, and less than kind!” after the King says that Hamlet is his son (Act 1 Scene 2) Although this could just show that Hamlet is more outgoing and cheeky than he seems, it also shows a deep mistrust and dislike for Claudius right at the start of the play, before Hamlet even knows that he killed his father. This shows an intelligence and understanding of character, but it could also show a deep mistrust for people. Shakespeare has cleverly used these layers of meaning to make the audience wonder just exactly what Hamlet is really like. After Hamlet talks with the Ghost, Ophelia is telling Polonius what he did when he came to see her. Ophelia says

“He took me by the wrist and held me hard/ Then goes he to the length of all his arm/ And with his other hand thus o’er his brow/ He falls to such/ As ‘a would draw it” (Act 2 Scene 1)

The audience would be shocked by Hamlet hitting Ophelia. They may suspect that he has feelings for her, as he has already taken his feelings out on his mother who he loves. Yet they do know that Ophelia has done nothing wrong, so they may be confused as to why he has hit her. They may become very interested in what Hamlet will do next. When Hamlet is speaking to Polonious and calling him a “fishmonger” (Act 2 Scene 2) he has started to come out of his shell, and is no longer wary of the effect his words may have. Of course, Hamlet being cheeky to Polonious could also mean that he is deeply suspicious of Polonious and his true intentions, so Shakespeare has cleverly shown how intelligent Hamlet really is. He has done this especially by his use of language. The word “fishmonger” could either mean someone who is like pond life or someone who was being nosy, i.e. “fishing” about in Hamlet’s business.  

A very important character development is in Act 3 Scene 1, with Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy. In this soliloquy he is speaking about suicide, for example “and by a sleep to say we end/ The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/ that flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation/ Devoutly to be wished” which basically means “If I die I’ll not have to suffer heartache and all the thousands of bad things that happen to living people. It’s some amazing that I want to have” Later on in that soliloquy he says “To sleep-perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/ when we have shuffled off this mortal coil” which means “If death is just a sleep, what dreams will we have?” or “Will I be in Heaven or hell?” This is not the first time he has thought about this, as in Act 1 Scene 2 he has a soliloquy where he says “Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/ his cannon against self-slaughter” which means “God says it’s wrong to kill yourself, so if I do what punishment will I have?” This may shock the audience, because Hamlet has become so depressed he is thinking of taking his own life. In this time period, it was considered wrong to take your own life as people were religious and thought that God should decide when it was your time to die, which was why murder was thought of as such a bad thing. Also, the idea of suicide is surrounded in philosophical questions: if a person doesn’t want to live, should that have to? What happens after death? Do heaven and hell exist? The fact that he is talking about Heaven and Hell shows that he is wondering if he has been “good” or “bad” through his life, which may make the audience wonder how “bad” he really is and how “bad” he is yet to be. This is building up to the climax as the audience is in suspense as to whether what he will do that is “bad” and what he will do that is “good”.

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Later, in Act 3 Scene 1 Hamlet is speaking to Ophelia. He is using very poetic language but insulting her, i.e. “Ha ha! Are you honest?” and “You should not have believed me. For virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not” This may make the audience dislike Hamlet because they know he loves Ophelia and she has done nothing wrong. He is simply being mean to take his temper out on her, and this is a development because the “old Hamlet” would have been nice to her despite his ...

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