Resilience of Hamlet and Oedipus by W.Shakespeare
Hamlet and Oedipus are both complex characters who have struggled much and experienced many difficulties throughout their lives. Although they were created in different historical periods and settings, they had much in common, and, at some point, they both faced problems that appeared as a test of their resilience. Many researchers have analyzed Hamlet and Oedipus Rex multiple times, evaluating the central characters of literary works and assessing how they deal with their issues. Specifically, there is an open debate on who is more resilient – Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Sophocles’ Oedipus. This paper aims to answer that question by analyzing the main characters of both works and comparing their behaviors. Oedipus is more resilient than Hamlet since serious conditions precede his suffering, he does not have a personal motive, and his highly complicated life is not finished when the tragedy ends.
First, it is essential to understand that Hamlet’s role has always been a controversial subject in the literary community. As it is known, there are thousands of books and articles written on Hamlet which interpret his personality differently. Hamlet has proven to be one of the most complicated characters of all time in theatre. Konstantin Stanislavsky, who is considered to be a great theatrical director of the last century, once said that playing Hamlet on stage is a stumbling block in the actor’s profession (Shakespeare 1). Hamlet was one of the most entangled Shakespeare’s creations, and the creator himself was probably the only person to understand his character entirely. Thus, it would be challenging to analyze Hamlet’s resilience separately since there are many contradictions and controversial opinions on this topic. However, the analysis becomes less complex if conducted as a part of a comparison of Hamlet and another literary character – Oedipus, in this case.
The first reason why Oedipus is – or has to be – more resilient than Hamlet is the conditions in which the actions take place in both tragedies. Oedipus is the son of Laius, king of Thebes, who sends his son away from the royal family because of a deadly prophecy (Sophocles 26). The events of the tragedy occurred in ancient Greece many hundreds of years before the events of Hamlet. As it is known, Greek mythology, including its gods, supernatural events, and mysteries, was perceived earnestly in former times. A single prophecy could fear an entire city’s population, and many people would do everything in their power to avoid certain prophecies or even cancel them. On the opposite, many people believed that prophecies were inevitable, and those who had become their victims – like Oedipus – could only face the prophecy and embrace its consequences. Hamlet, in his turn, is only a victim of a palace intrigue, which makes his resilience look less exerted (Shakespeare 43). In other words, the problems of Oedipus appear much more widescale as he deals with celestial matters, and he has to withstand their pressure.
Another reason why Oedipus is more resilient than Hamlet is that both characters’ motives are completely different. Although Hamlet has the right to grieve and mourn his dead father, his further actions are motivated by vengeance, not by grief (Shakespeare 43). He pretends to be insane while watching the situation to make sure that Claudius, his uncle and his mother’s new husband, has murdered his father, the former King of Denmark, to claim his throne. Once Hamlet acknowledges that Claudius is indeed guilty, he takes a series of actions that eventually lead him to kill his uncle and take his vengeance. Hamlet demonstrates resilience going through these events, but he only does what he thinks should be done, while Oedipus does what he has to do, and his fate was predicted long before his birth. Hamlet could embrace his fate and make peace with it, though it was not the best option. However, Oedipus does not have such an option at all. His motive appears obscure as he does not even have one: Oedipus follows his determined fate.
Furthermore, the hero of Sophocles has suffered since he was a little child as his father ordered his people to kill Oedipus. The man who was supposed to do it could not take a child’s life, which is why he gave the king’s son to a shepherd from Corinth. Trying to avoid the prophecy, Oedipus leaves his adoptive parents and kills his birth father on his way to Thebes. His wandering, filled with struggles and awful deeds, has brought him much pain, and he tells his children that none of them is as sick as he is (Sophocles 3). Summing up, Oedipus has to live as an adopted child, deal with the deadly prophecy, leave his parents to save them, and then fulfill the prophecy, unknowingly killing his actual father. His problems start when he is just an innocent child. On the contrary, Hamlet’s struggle begins when he is a grown man who has some life experience and a fully formed mind and whose beliefs are already established. He starts as a prince with more resources and opportunities than Oedipus, meaning that the character created by Sophocles has to be much more resilient to withstand the burden of his misfortunes.
Finally, Oedipus has to deal with the consequences of his actions after all the main events of the tragedy, and Hamlet dies after he kills Claudius, ending his suffering. Death frees Hamlet from his burdens and the necessity to be strong and resilient since there is no need for all that in the afterlife. Although death is mostly considered a negative phenomenon, for Oedipus, it is a luxury that he cannot afford, which is why he cuts his own eyes off and becomes blind (Sophocles 49). This decision represents his way of punishing himself for all he has done, and his life continues, full of reflections and constant thinking about his past. People need resilience most not at the moment they act but when they have time to reconsider their actions. Therefore, Oedipus is much more resilient than Hamlet, as Shakespeare’s character does not have to reflect on his life.
Overall, Oedipus is more resilient than Hamlet because of the conditions he was raised in, the absence of personal motive, and his complex life, in which he reflects on the consequences of his actions. First, Oedipus is a victim of the inevitable deadly prophecy, while Hamlet is only a victim of the royal intrigue related to seizing the throne. Second, Oedipus’s suffering is not personally motivated, while Hamlet seeks vengeance for his father. Third, Oedipus has had a much more complicated life than Hamlet, and he does not let himself die in the end, giving him time to reflect on his deeds. Everything mentioned above illustrates that Oedipus has to be a much more resilient person than Hamlet to deal with the burdens of his life.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Yale University Press, 2003.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Counter Corporation, 1991.