I think that the use of opposites isn't a technique that is unique to Shakespeare, but is in fact, very commonly used in literature. In the case of Hamlet, Shakespeare most predominantly uses juxtaposition for the purpose of characterization. It is difficult to assign an attribute to a character or indicate to what degree the character may possess this trait without some standard for comparison in the form of another character. For example, Hamlet and Gertrude respectively represent a preoccupation with the past and with the future. The fact that Hamlet still mourns his father's death prompts the reader to view Gertrude as insensitive and unfeeling; however, without Hamlet's presence, Gertrude's eagerness to move on may be perceived as optimism and as a coping mechanism for the recent tragedy. Perhaps it is Shakespeare's use of opposites that exaggerates the characters' traits (and most frequently, flaws) and casts a harsher light on the characters.

In any work of writing (fictional writing, that is), opposites are needed to advance the plot. If there were no juxtapositions between characters, the play would be meaningless - there'd be no central conflict, no tension among the characters, etc. In essence, there would be no way to understand the motivations behind any of the characters' actions - how can a character be classified as insane if that insanity isn't juxtaposed with another character's saneness? 

I think that there are many opposites in Hamlet in order to establish just how out-of-place Hamlet is acting (or possibly, simply, just to contrast).

For example, Hamlet seeing the ghost at the end of Act 3 (while Gertrude doesn't) uses perception vs. reality to introduce the idea of Hamlet's insanity.

Also, by showing how Gertrude has moved on since the death of the king while Hamlet hasn't, Shakespeare uses the past vs. present opposite to show how Hamlet is grieving much more than many of those around him (which may have affected his actions later in the play).

Finally, the impact of opposite character traits can be seen in Laertes' and Hamlet's opposite character traits. As we know, Laertes had a father and a loving family, contrary to Hamlet's broken family. We also know that he attempted to murder Claudius when he thought that Claudius murdered his father (something Hamlet had a very difficult time doing). In my opinion, these differences serve to make Hamlet's inaction seem almost insane or illogical.

I personally think that the use of opposites in literature in general is common because it helps build contrast. We can see the differences between Hamlet and Gertrude BECAUSE they take such opposite views on how to cope with the death of King Hamlet (one looking to the past, and the other to the future). Juxtaposition, in general, is a highly effective literary tool. It's the same for other playwrights. For example, Anton Chekhov used juxtaposition to pit the capitalist Lopakhin against the aristocrat Mrs. Lyuba.

I think so many contrasting affects and moods were used in Hamlet to really bring out the drama in the play. The play is like a rollercoaster - a rollercoaster would not be fun if you just always went up or always went down - you need the series of ups and downs to make the journey fun. Similarly, Hamlet needs the climactic ups and downs to really emphasize the characters and environment itself. 

Hi Guys,
For the final question to sum up our discussions, we wanted to see why you guys thought that Shakespeare incorporated so many opposites in the play Hamlet. We've touched on a few (including perception vs. reality, past vs. present and opposite character traits) but feel free to bring up any others that you see or even relate it to his other texts if you can!
Thanks
Effie and Zach

I do not think that their obsessions with times that aren't the present could be used as an explanation for their "insanity". Both Hamlet and Gertrude are coping with the death of King Hamlet, just in different methods. Hamlet is trying to keep the image of his father alive by dwelling on the past, whereas Gertrude is erasing King Hamlet from her memories and moving on altogether by stepping into the future. I think they have valid reasons for their actions. The death of a father/husband is definitely an event that can cause one to act out of the norm. 

a.  The idea is that Hamlet is living in the past and Gertrude is living in the future is not the what I see is the cause of their craziness, but rather its their way of trying to cope with their craziness.  The two characters do not want to stay in the present because the pain of having recently lost a loved one is heartbreaking, so they deal with the pain in their own ways.  Hamlet looks to the past and yearns for what used to be and tries to fix what he knows had happened while Gertrude seeks to see past what has occurred and focus on "moving on" rather than living in the now or the past.  

a. I think I would argue that their obsessions with times not including the present are not quite enough to call them crazy. Hamlet's view on the past seems quite reasonable, considering that it's his father that died. On the other hand Gertrude, may be attempting to block King Hamlet from her memory to avoid feeling pain. This could explain her view towards the future. Both are reasonable reactions to the death of King Hamlet, and I think they are just characteristics that are indicative of their ties with King Hamlet, not ties with their levels of sanity. As a result, I would have to disagree. They are not crazy BECAUSE of their obsessions with other times. Their focuses really seem to me to be a different point on mourning, rather than sanity.

b. By opposite correlation, I'm guessing you mean where two characters act in opposite ways? In that case, I think that Rosencrantz/Guildenstern and Polonius might be opposites (warning, what follows may not be coherent thoughts. It just "raw thoughts"). The three of them might be the most "normal" people in the play, in that none of them seem to be particularly caught up in the insanity of everything else. However, they handle life in different ways. Rosen/Guilden are essentially background characters, taking the view of the audience/spectator. On the other hand, Polonius almost seems to try to take center stage, clueless to the guises that other characters have donned. Whereas it can be argued that Gertrude and Hamlet are both insane, Polonius and Rosen/Guilden seem to form two standards of "normality" which we can use to judge everyone else's actions. It seems like Polonius speaks both ignorantly and fully faithful in his statements, whereas the other two simply don't speak at all. All the other characters, with their assorted levels of insanity, speak just as confidently as Polonius, but we, the audience, can never be as sure as we are with Polonius that they actually believe what they say. Again, I might just be drawing ideas out of no where, but I felt like I oughta give this question a go.

a. I think the time periods which Hamlet and Gertrude find to be more important do not necessarily equate to insanity, but mark the two characters discrepancies. Hamlet ponders about the past, grieving over it while Gertrude lives in the present presumably forgetting the past. I  think it merely symbolizes the dwindling relationship between Mother and Son.
b. Hamlet and Opehlia- most likely because of their two different motives and values in love and perception.
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