The Tragedy of Suicide
In Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, suicide is a continuous and important theme throughout the play. The ideas and opinions of this time period are well expressed through Shakespeare’s play, which is a well-known tragedy because it is about the suffering of the main character who is seen as the “hero”. In the play, the tragic Hamlet, is visited by the ghost of his father, whom had died a month before. He tells Hamlet that his uncle, Claudius, the man who just married his mother, was the one responsible for his father’s death and he tells Hamlet to kill him. Throughout the play, Hamlet contemplates the thought of suicide since his father’s death because he is so unhappy and devastated. He thinks of the advantages of killing himself and leaving his painful life with the uncertainty of the after-life. He eventually decides against killing himself because he believes it is a mortal sin against God and would not be noble of him. He thinks that many people would commit suicide to take the easy way out but do not go through with it because they are afraid and uncertain of what will happen afterwards if they do.
Hamlet is very troubled by how quickly his mother remarried after his father’s death and that it is to Claudius and becomes even more distraught. He calls Claudius names and shows his hatred towards him while praising his father by saying how great of a king he was. In one of the final lines of the soliloquy Hamlet comments on how the marriage is bad for Denmark, “It is not, nor it cannot come to good,” (I. ii. 163). Hamlet saying this shows us one of the reasons for
Hamlet being so unhappy with his life at the moment. Later in the play Hamlet is being spied on by Claudius and Polonius, and he returns to the idea of suicide in a troubled, painful world and the moral aspects of it. He opens his soliloquy with asking a simple question, “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” (III. i. 58), meaning should he live or die. He then wonders if he should suffer the pain of his life, “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” (III. i. 66), or take his own life and end his own suffering.
Suicide is brought up again in the play with the character Ophelia, who is driven crazy after a few tragic events. When Ophelia drowns everyone is suspicious and believes that she committed suicide because she fell into the water and did not try to get up, therefore she committed suicide. In the beginning of act five two men digging her grave are arguing over the fact that she had drowned and shouldn’t be allowed consecrated ground, as stated by Christian Law, due to the fact that her death was uncertain. They continue talking and say that she gets away with it because she is of a higher status. Her funeral was short and simple, and the priest says that her death was suspicious and without her ties to the royal family she would have been buried in an unsanctified ground. In this scene Shakespeare shows the people’s views of suicide during this time period. They believe suicide is a sad, selfish, tragic unjustifiable way to die. Throughout the play Shakespeare says multiple things on the topic of suicide in a negative connotation. Hamlet and other characters contemplate the act, but Hamlet is the one who gives the idea the most thought, while Ophelia basically kills herself. Hamlet considers it twice in the play but realizes he would accomplish nothing and would not be able to avenge his father’s death. He wants to escape his painful emotions but understands he has to live in order to carry out his goals and to be more noble.
Suicide is a reoccurring theme in the play. Not only do the characters think about the idea of killing one’s self, there is an event that is questioned to be an act of suicide. While other characters in the play discuss the consequences and moral sin suicide causes to a person’s soul and the religious believes they have on the act itself. The fact that Hamlet decides to live to carry out his revenge for his father shows nobility and moral character. Ophelia was not so lucky. She was overcome and stricken with grief which lead to her tragic death. Hamlet realized that suicide was a horrible and immoral way to die and he rather die with purpose after accomplishing his goals. In the end of the play Hamlet eventually dies along with the rest of the royals but dies avenging his father while in a dual and after killing his uncle who just poisoned Hamlets mother.
In the play Shakespeare talks about many tragic events and the ideas and opinions many of the people had on them from their time period. Suicide was and still is seen as the easiest way out but can cause pain and destruction to the people around you, just like any death or horrible event would. It provides a solution to temporary issues and will in fact not fix your problems. Hamlet realized this and decided to live while Ophelia took the easy way out and killed herself leaving behind a great deal of pain for her family and friends.
Puchner, Martin. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. W.W. Norton ; Company, 2012.