The death of a family member or close friend is traumatic, life altering experience and everyone has their own methods of dealing with grief. In Shakespeares, Hamlet, adversity and the murder of a parent causes Hamlet, Fortinbras, Laeters to engage in self destructive behavior which is a factor of shaping ones character. This is demonstrated in Hamlet when Hamlet discovers that his father has been murdered by his uncle he puts on an antic disposition, (I. v. 173) which causes Hamlets great stress and causes his life more difficult. Subsequently, Prince Fortinbras father is murdered at the hands of the Danish king. As leader of Norway, the young Prince makes several hasty political decisions in response to his fathers death that jeopardise his own well being and the safety of Norway and Denmark. Lastly, Polonius is murdered by Hamlet so when Laertes learns this, he acts impulsively without thinking of the harm he is inflicting upon himself. To conclude, Laertes, Fortinbras and Hamlet all respond to death in a way that is dangerous to themselves and the people they care about.
The most prominent example of a character making rash decisions as a result of a murder of their parent is Prince Hamlet. From the moment Hamlet’s ghosts revealed that Claudius is the murderer, Hamlet feigns insanity to hide his intentions of revenge. By pretending to be insane, by pretending to be insane, Hamlet ruins any chance at leading a better life. Ophelia describes an encounter with Hamlet to Polonius, describing how Hamlet breaks into her chambers while she is sewing. Ophelia discusses Hamlets mad appearance and says as if he had been loose out of hell, to speak of horrors he comes before me (II. i 84-85). This is an act of self destruction, since Ophelia is Hamlets girlfriend. By frightening
Ophelia in her bedroom, Hamlet compromises his only romantic relationship therefore making his life that much more miserable. It is this action that convinces Polonius that Hamlet is lovesick, further complicating his situation with Claudius. After Hamlet presents the Mousetrap, he is called upon by his mother Gertrude to discuss how the play offended his uncle. As a response to Gertrudes comment, Hamlet acts out of hostility and says come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge: you go not, till I set you up a glass, where you may see the inmost part of you (III. iv 19-22). By allowing his passion to take over he fails to realize that Gertrude is one of the few people that trust him. Despite the fact that he tells his mother he is only faking madness, Hamlets behavior only causes his mother to worry about him. Another example of Hamlets self destructive methods of dealing with the murder of his father is when Claudius confronts him about the location of Poloniuss body. Hamlet responds to Claudiuss request and says that Poloniuss corpse is at supper, (IV. iii 18) meaning it is decaying and being eaten by worms and maggots. By speaking about Poloniuss murder in a morbid and shameless manner Hamlet only makes himself out to be more of a threat to Claudius, endangering his own life in the process. Hamlet clearly does not think of an excuse or convenient way out of the situation. Hamlet merely speaks on impulse which, in turn, leads to him being murdered, the ultimate consequence of self destructive behaviour in a Shakespearean Tragedy. There is no doubt that Hamlet faces a difficult dilemma in dealing with his fathers murder, however, his response leads to his downfall.
While Hamlet imperils himself by pretending to be insane, Prince Fortinbras does so by making reckless political decisions. Prince Fortinbras loses his father as a result of a war started by Hamlets father. The Norwegian Prince risks his own life and the lives of his own people by dealing with the issues left by his father. After Horatio witnesses the ghost, he describes the conflict with Norway and says to recover of us, by strong hand and terms compulsatory, those aforesaid lands so by his father lost (I.i 102- 104). This demonstrates that Prince Fortinbras is dealing with his father?s death by acting
violently towards the nation of Denmark which puts himself at risk, too. By demanding the land that his father lost, Fortinbras is creating conflict with Denmark, which makes him appear to be a threat. Furthermore, when Hamlet is about to leave for England, he is greeted by Fortinbras captain who states that we go to gain a little patch of land that hath no profit in it but the name (IV.iv 17-18). Even after Denmark managed to settle the agreement with Norway earlier in the play, Prince Fortinbras is still persisting on obtaining land in Poland for the sake of his father. This illustrates that Fortinbras has no concern for his own life, since he is once again prepared to go to war. It is evident from Fortinbras behavior after his fathers death is self destructive as shown by his conquests for land in both Norway and Denmark.
While Fortinbras is a Prince with access to an entire army, Laertes is lower on the social scale. Laertes father, Polonius, is murdered by Hamlet. When Laertes discovers this, he makes several bold decisions that ultimately lead to his downfall. When Claudius confronts Laertes about taking his revenge on Hamlet by killing him in a fencing accident Laertes says and for that purpose Ill anoint my sword (IV, vii 141). By accepting Claudius plan to fence with Hamlet and kill him through betrayal, Laertes is putting himself at risk as well. Laertes merely takes the first opportunity he is given to seek revenge for his fathers murder. By entering a fight with Hamlet, he has the chance to do so. Laertes never rules out the option that Hamlet has an opportunity to kill him in the duel too. In addition, Laertes displays self destructive behavior at Ophelias funeral. During the funeral, Laertes jumps into the grave in front of everyone and holds Ophelias body saying forty thousand brothers / Could not, with all their quantity of love, / make up my sum (V.i.254256). While this may seem like an appropriate act of love for his sister, it shows Laertes has lost all respect for himself. Firstly, there is the actual physical harm that Laertes is inflicting upon himself by jumping into a grave and he fails to take into consideration what everyone thinks of him. It is an act of self destruction since he didnt pay his actions a second thought and just jumped in his sisters grave. Laertes behaves carelessly after the death of Polonius and he does things that make the reader question whether or not he has any self respect left.
In Shakespeares Hamlet, Fortinbras, Hamlet, and Laeters display careless, self-destructive behaviour due to tragic adversity conditions which shapes the character. Prince Hamlet loses Ophelia, the trust of his mother and puts himself at risk of being murdered by Claudius, all by pretending to be mad. Prince Fortinbras attempts to resolve his fathers conflicts by sending his army to obtain land, putting himself at risk. Lastly, after Polonius dies, Laretes acts impulsively and loses his dignity. The pain of parental death is a good test of character and Shakespeare uses this scenario to drive much of the plot in Hamlet.