Uncertainty in Literature

Uncertainty is a tool that many authors use to keep the reader in suspense. Shakespeare did this in his work Hamlet. In the play, the main character Hamlet aims to avenge his father who was killed by his brother Claudius who then married Hamlet’s father’s wife Gertrude. Hamlet is supposed to kill Claudius because that is what his father’s ghost came and told him to do. And so the reader must wait in suspense for many acts, waiting for Hamlet to finally do the deed. For he had many opportunities, though at first he did nothing more than walk around in a daze and make everyone suspicious. But still, the suspense for the reader, waiting for the big murder scene, is excruciating. At one point, in Act III scene iii, the reader thinks it will happen finally:

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;
And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven;
And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d:
A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven.
O, this is hire and salary, not revenge.
He took my father grossly, full of bread;
With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May;
And how his audit stands who knows save heaven?
But in our circumstance and course of thought,
‘Tis heavy with him: and am I then revenged,
To take him in the purging of his soul,
When he is fit and season’d for his passage?
No!”

But alas- Hamlet backs off at the final moment, after going back and forth about killing Claudius. The reader is constantly sent on a roller coaster of emotions with Hamlet. Does he want to live or die? Does he love Ophelia or not? Is he crazy or not? You can never really tell what Hamlet will do next or what the devil the man is thinking. And so when it comes to whether he will kill Claudius in the end- I am uncertain he will do that as well. He keeps putting it off again and again. He keeps thinking about it more and more, and the murder thus becomes more premeditated. But still, as Hamlet pushes the murder off again and again, the reader can’t help but go a little crazy with suspense. Of course, the uncertainty of the murder does exist for the majority of the story and thus keeps reader and or watcher extremely interested. Thus Shakespeare is able to captivate his audience using uncertainty as a tool.

Overall, I believe though that Hamlet is almost a personification of uncertainty, or if uncertainty came to life, it would be Hamlet. He as a character is never certain in his emotions, and it constantly using opposites to contradict each other, which makes his believes and ideas even more vague. His vague tone and speech that can be exemplified by Hamlet’s great “To be or not to be” speech where he discusses whether to love or die (again, great opposites) helps Hamlet become the exemplary of uncertainty.

Sidenote: this is Kenneth Branagh who is basically the all-star in the shakespeare movies. He also was professor lockheart in Harry Potter and directored Thor. He is my new favorite person. But here he is acting as Hamlet.

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  1. Kenneth Branagh would be THRILLED to know he had won you over…(capitalize Shakespeare and Lockheart, please!)
    This is a moment where the audience may not LIKE Hamlet any more…he is now as cold and calculating as Claudius (are we always reduced to our enemy’s tactics?)

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