The basic idea of morality is doing what is right, irrespective of the circumstances and time of the season. Halloween is part of these seasons you know. Philosophers have defined morality using a variety of theories, statements, and postulations and at times, it is up to the individual to deduce and discern an action as either right or evil. This discernment ranges from the motives orientation of the doer, the consequences and repercussions of the act, the defined laws and regulation and the general good of others. George Elliot presents a classical case whereby for one to do right, they sometimes have to do wrong as well. State rules surround us through the constitutions, institution regulations, societal norms, home rules and a lot of other specifications of how right or wrong our actions are (Schlegel, 23). However, these do not bring us the satisfaction or justice we seek, and to attain it, we have to break the laws.
The famous romantic William Shakespeare presented this idea so perfectly in his tragic, passionate play tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. King Hamlet, hamlets father, and the dead king was murdered by his brother Claudius, now King Claudius, as his ghost reveals. Just a month after his death, hamlets mother, the queen Gertrude remarries her husband's brother, Claudius in a royal wedding alongside his coronation as the new king. Hamlet is pissed off with this immediate marriage of her mother, the queen to her brother-in-law. When Claudius refers to him as 'my son' hamlet responds to this introduction by saying," a little more than kin and less than kind" (line 65). He is not happy, but he so well knows his responsibility to his king. In his soliloquy, he clearly expresses his discontent and disgust towards the marriage. It was too soon for his mother to be married again, less than two months and she was already past the mourning and into yet another marriage, and to make the situation worse, to someone not half a man his father was. It is wrong that he is going with the flow instead of defending his father's honor, but he has no choice. "But break my heart; for I must hold my tongue" (line 160). However great a man is, intellectually, morally of affection-wise, they are often confliction and aligned with opposition to the laws sanctioned by the society (Eliot, 261). Through the persuasion of the king and the queen, hamlet resorts to stay and not move to Denmark.
Vengeance is justice at its core. Horatio is hamlets most loyal servant, and Marcellus is his counterpart guard. The two observe the ghost of the king, and they inform hamlet. The three plan on facing the spirit, and it reveals its murder by Claudius, his brother, and the adultery of his wife, the queen committed. The ghost hands Hamlet the responsibility of avenging this death and feigns insanity to mask his plans of killing the king. Going by Emanuel Kant's definition of immorality, the maxim, i.e., the intention of Hamlet to harm or kill his uncle and king Claudius was in itself immoral (Rund, 170). However, Hamlet feels like vengeance will be the most desirable and most achievable justice towards his father's murder. "A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven (Shakespeare, 136). This is hire and salary, not revenge" (Shakespeare, 137). Hamlet believes that whatever he is about to do is the ultimate thing to do but by doing so; he is vulnerable to judgment and condemnation (Eliot, 264). This scenario marks the beginning of the establishment of unending conflict between element tendencies and established statutory laws.
Hamlet is immensely disgusted by the association between his mother and uncle that he mocks it by referring to them as his uncle-father and untie-mother. Well, in the modern day, this is incest at its most back-stabbing form. The text might not say it as clearly, but logic can extrapolate a line from the murder to the coronation of Claudius as king. Leadership is adorable, and marriage is sweet. All good things, right? But the method that this brother utilized to get there is questionable. This is the conflict between desire and law. The impulse of affection sets the bar for the actions of people regardless of the stipulated societal norms and regulations (Eliot, 263). Too much was this affection that made a brother slay his blood and marry his almost-own blood. The abomination, the curse, the disgust, but he did it anyway. The ghost of the former king was so angry to the brother but specifically pleaded with hamlet to have his wits with him and not harm his mother, the queen.
The heart is the most influential organ yet the weakest too. Hamlet's disguise was taken for romantic lunacy towards Ophelia. He transformed entirely in his mode of dressing, his speech and his personality and Polonius sought to learn more about his condition. His determination to avenge his father makes him disregard his reputation and tarnish his public image. Polonius is not sure of his diagnosis, and he sends Ophelia to lure hamlet into revealing his true self. The state is all onto helping hamlet from his ailment or madness, and Ophelia is just the right tool for the work. There is a reason why Hamlet chose her for the 'acting,' and behind the plot, we can deduce that he had feelings for her. By agreeing to connive with Polonius, Ophelia is breaking the trust, and love hamlet had for her, but it is the right thing to do, was Hamlet to be healed. Well, he most definitely kept his wit with him and realized the staged plot to get to the core of his condition. Hamlet sure is a good actor, or dare I say pretender, but he was affected by Ophelia's lack of trust. He artistically presents his hurting words to her for distorting honesty with her deceitful beauty.
The weakness of the heart is stronger than its massive muscles and more alive than its blood-filled veins and capillaries. The king comes to his senses and realizes how much of a demon he was for draining the blood of his brother with his hands, just so to get to his wife. He attempts to repent his sins and confesses the murder. In his heart, this is the right thing to do because it is already too late to bring the brother back. Hamlet hears him confess and is determined to avenge his father's death and take the villain to heaven. He unexpectedly and surprisingly changes his mind and heads to his mother. He verbally tortures her with her transgressions and disloyalty that her ears hurt. The ghost reappears and leads with hamlet to be lenient with its wife. Polonius is the collateral damage of this argument, stabbed by Hamlet. He was spying on him and his mother. He boldly holds himself accountable and is ready for whatever consequences the heavens will bring with his death. Hamlet forbids his mother from joining his uncle in bed, or from seeing the two of them together, and he is sent off to England.
Claudius is a tyrant prone to criticism, and through his contagious evil deeds, he has contaminated and infected others around him. Hamlet is doing all he can to implicate him, but he ends up harming the people he (the king) surrounds himself with. Good is relative. Whatever is good to you might be evil to someone else, were we to keep the legal and societal norms constant. To king Claudius, the good to him is his reputation, his leadership, and his wife, or should we say, his brother's wife. To protect all these, he plans to exterminate hamlet, the only obstacle to his happiness, in England but he fails. His monologue reveals his plans, but his accomplice fails to accomplish his will. When Hamlet is back in Denmark, Claudius plans to poison him with a drink but instead, Gertrude his wife takes the cup, drinks from it and falls, dead(Shakespeare, 224). Collateral damage maybe? No. this is a tragedy. The one person he genuinely cared about has once again succumbed on his hands. The one reason he was committed to terminating hamlet, he has ended himself. Shakespeare purposefully presented this cup to ensure that Gertrude, the treacherous wife of the former king, drank from the same cup her husband died off; murdered by someone close to their hearts and kin too.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. This slogan was the perfect justice from years back (Stephen, 10). Ophelia and Laertes sought the justice for their father, Polonius killed by Hamlet. Ophelia is driven mad by his death that she takes her own life trying to avenge her fathers. Laertes challenges hamlet in a duel. Hamlet subconsciously realizes that this is the one way that justice can be served and he accepts the challenge. During the fight, Laertes draws the poisoned sword into Hamlet, and on the exchange of swords, Hamlet does the same. Hamlet learns that his mother's death was caused by Claudius, alongside his inevitable death too from the poisoned sword (Shakespeare, p. 229). He stabs the king with the poisoned sword and forces the poisoned drink down his throat. It is over now. Death levels the wild and unending quest for justice.
The relativity of justice, morality, good and evil leaves a lot of unfilled gaps that render the human intuition and conscience the points of reference. A man who can dare to do right must also be daring to do wrong as an act can sometimes attract repercussions from both ends of the moral spectrum (Steinbeck, 220). As much as the intention of action makes it wrong, sometimes it is that intention that triggers justice. It is the commitment towards that intention that changes systems, and it is the execution of that intention that brings forth soul-reviving self-satisfaction. Laws might not cover within them individual differences, nor compromises and factually speaking, some paperwork cannot predict life with sections and paragraphs. "Reformers, martyrs, and revolutionists never fight against evil only; they are also placing themselves in opposition to a good- to a valid principle which cannot be infringed without harm (Eliot, 264)."
Eliot, George (1963). Essays of George Eliot; the Antigone and its moral. New York. Columbia university press. Pp. 261-265
Rund, Shaffer- Landau (2014). The fundamentals of ethics. Oxford university press. 3rd edition. Pp.160- 174.
Schlegel A.W. (1871). A course of lectures on dramatic arts and literature. London. p.23
Shakespeare, William (1601). The tragedy of Hamlet, prince of Denmark. Pp.1- 238
Steinbeck John (1939). The grapes of wrath. The Viking press. James Lloyd. P.220
Stephen M.P. (2004). Morality and ethics; the introduction. Volume 22. Pp. 8-12
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