"Hamlet has no firm belief in himself or anything else" (Schlegal) Discuss.
The character of Hamlet in William Shakespeare's play has been an enigma since the birth of the play. His inability to act, and his tendency to over analyse situations leads to the main events of the play. Schlegal is of the opinion that his distress is due to a lack of "firm belief in himself or anything else." Schlegal would appear to predominantly base this view on Hamlet's initial misanthropic and frequently suicidal speeches near the beginning of the play. Lines such as, "O that this too solid flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew" certainly indicate a lack of optimism, as do his views upon the world in his first soliloquy, "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world." He considers Earth to be like "an unweeded garden that grows to seed, things rank and gross in nature."
Hamlet is disgusted with his mother about her instant betrayal of his father's memory by marrying Claudius so hastily, and this compounds his propensity towards depression and doubt even prior to his knowledge of the ghost. Schlegal has a small basis for his critique in this sense. However, it cannot be denied that Hamlet's Christian belief in God over rides all of his actions throughout the play. He expresses the complaint, "O that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon `gainst self-slaughter. O God..." Obviously then, Hamlet possesses an avid belief in God, substantially contradicting Schlegal's argument, and this is just at the beginning of the play. Throughout, there are numerous biblical references made by Hamlet including one in which he compares a skull to "Cain's jawbone." The most significant example of how Hamlet is compelled by his beliefs in God is when the first ideal opportunity springs up for him to commit regicide, but Claudius is praying in the chapel:
"Now might I do it...now a is a-praying...that would be scanned...a villain kills my father, and for that, I his sole son do this same villain send to heaven." Hamlet wants to kill him, but considers that should he commit the murder whilst Claudius is praying, Claudius will be in a state of repentance and will not go to Hell as he deserves, but to heaven, the opposite of Hamlet's intention. Had Hamlet no belief in anything as Schlegal claims, he would not see Claudius' praying as being an obstruction, but a perfect opportunity.
In the closet scene, where Hamlet confronts Gertrude, Shakespeare shows that Hamlet does in fact believe that he has a divine mission life, as God's "scourge and minister." He feels he has a divine right to correct the imbalance in the heart of Denmark. This belief in purpose is an issue considered again later in the play following Hamlet's return from (halfway to) England. Hamlet adopts quite a contrasting view of life to that of his original melancholy thoughts. He appears more settled and calm and sheds the pretence of...