A Level English: The mirage of perfection in “Hamlet”

Hamlets ideals ideals The ideal- a perfect person, a standard, or a desirable ‘perfect’, existing only in the imagination. Your ideal day might include taking a day off work to go to the moon, where you take a selfie. Your ideal person could be someone you greatly admire, like a friend or family member; they could be an imaginary perfect person you are waiting to meet, or yourself. Your ideal might be a virtue such as honesty or generosity.

In the “corrupted” world of Hamlet, where “rank things grow to seed”, ideals become particularly significant. They are things that should have been, things that once were, but no more, things that remain, to remind of us of what has been lost… The golden days of King Hamlet are gone, symbolised by the imagery in the ghost’s revelation, of the King being poisoned in his “orchard”, its similarities to the Garden of Eden being unmistakable. “Hamlet” seems to look nostalgically to the past, yearning for an ideal which seems to have died with the old king.

Some of Hamlet’s ideals- balance, honour, justice- are explored below:

Hamlet's idealsA considerable amount of Hamlet’s ideals existed only in his imagination, a haunting reminder of the lack of justice on earth and the weakness of humans- both in body and mind. Hamlet says of his father ” ‘A was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again”. Man, once  so “noble in reason, infinite in faculties… admirable… how like a god: the beauty of the world” has crumbled into “dust”. Perfection in man seems unattainable.

Perhaps Shakespeare presented ideals as wholly fictitious, intending to show the audience the reality of a harsh world. However, note that not all ideals are presented as having melted into oblivion in “Hamlet”. Horatio, who is valued by Hamlet for his balance of character, is an example of a living ideal, described as “just”; a man who is “not passion’s slave”. Horatio possibly serves as a reminder to the audience of the preciousness of honour and nobility of character in a person, but perhaps more importantly that whereas absolute flawlessness (symbolised by King Hamlet) is unobtainable, Horatio’s virtuous characteristics, on the other hand, are symbolic of being realistic ideals we can all achieve; the play could be seen to have the intention of projecting a powerful message to the its audience through the moral character of Horatio.


Can you think of any other of Hamlet’s ideals? Comment below!

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