Definition:

The act or process of achieving understanding or knowledge of oneself; or becoming aware of one’s true potential, character, motives, etc.

Throughout the play, Hamlet’s complicated path to self-discovery is demonstrated though:

  • His soliloquies
  • His attitude toward other characters

Hamlet is known to continuously question himself through his soliloquies, which shows he has lost faith in humanity and free will. He thoroughly analyzes himself and life in general. Hamlet has many insecurities and uncertainties about getting revenge. Due to his hesitation in killing Claudius, he feels more and more isolated, and thinks he can only look within himself for answers. Here is an example of Hamlet questioning himself in a soliloquy:

“O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?

And shall I couple hell?”‘ (1.5.92-93)

This is the first time Hamlet questions himself and it is evident that the knowledge of his father’s murder has triggered this. In addition, Hamlet is under a lot of pressure. Pressure to accept his mother’s marriage to his uncle, pressure to accept Claudius as the new king, pressure to be emotionally strong in regards to his father’s death and the pressure from the ghost to get revenge all challenge Hamlet’s strength to self. His alteration into insanity was a direct consequence of stress.

However, Hamlet’s character has changed because of the events that have occurred throughout the play. He is now considered as an informed and determined man. In his final soliloquy, a different side of Hamlet is seen. He has returned from England and is prepared to kill the king, and even though he is still questioning himself, Hamlet has a strong sense of determination.

Hamlet’s self-discovery finally comes along when Hamlet accepts death, does not question it or lose himself like how he has previously done. He realizes that death is something that happens to everyone and is inevitable, and all that matters to him now is being prepared for what is to come.

“If it be now, ’tis not

to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it

be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t

to leave betimes? Let be.” (5.2.210-214)

Despite the change in himself, his previous self has made the tragedy what it is.

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