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Hero Without a Face

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The Hero Without A Face

Our world has given us a thousand forms of archetypical heros, from Greek mythological characters such as Hercules, to modern day characters such as Superman. All of these heros were given a path that they must follow in order to discover their ultimate destiny and become a hero. Joseph Campbell book, “A Hero With A Thousand Faces” has best explained the important stages that every hero needs to go by in order for fulfill their destiny, “ A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won" (Campbell 1). It is in this storyline that most storytellers need to go by in order to create the most closely related idea of a hero. Even though some heros do not follow these stages and their journey becomes more complex in relation to society, Shakespeare’s character Hamlet, seems to be the most hard to understand. Shakespeare created Hamlet as a hero who corrupts the archetype so much that the basic stages of his heroic journey must be changed in order to recognize him as a hero. Aristotle defined a hero as “a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him. His own destruction is for a greater cause or principle”. Aristotle simply states that the hero's downfall is usually cause by his own fault. Usually the hero’s death is seen as a waste of human potential but usually results in greater knowledge and awareness for whoever hears of the hero’s story (Aristotle). In most traditions of the hero archetype, the journey of the hero follows a path that can be split up into three different sections. The departure, initiation and return. Journalist and writer, Rob Thorp writes about these stages and how they can apply to Shakespeare. Within these three stages or acts, there are multiple sub-stages (Thorp). Hamlet’s journey doesn’t follow all of these stages because of the complexity of his own character development. Most of what Hamlet has to go through clearly shows how Shakespeare stills tries to follow the hero archetype. During the phase Joseph Campbell calls, Departure. The hero experiences a call to adventure by some force or character that presents the hero with a problem, challenge, or adventure. Hamlet receives his call from when he is informed of his father’s death and heads back to Denmark. More often though, the hero refuses this invitation, or delays it until they are more prepared . “Most myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest” (Thorp). It is in this reaction then, that the qualities of the hero will become the hero are first tested. Hamlet denying of the ghost existing is a good representation of the refusal. Sometimes if the hero does not accept the call the use of the supernatural needs to come into the hero’s journey as an aid (Thorp). Hamlet’s supernatural call came from the ghost of his dead father which gave Hamlet a clear mission to avenge his father’s “foul and most unnatural murder" (Shakespeare 59) Hamlet accepts the call immediately, “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation, or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge” (Shakespeare 57). Even though Hamlet accepts the call immediately he delays to fulfill his journey despite his own instinct. This decision which is often debated among scholars causes Hamlet to not undertake the common archetypal path of the hero. During the departure phase the hero crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and going off into an dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known” (Campbell 43). This crossing first appears when Hamlet meets Ophelia secretly and alarms her by him acting crazy, accusing her of immorality and telling her “to a get thee to a nunnery” (Shakespeare 131). Hamlet makes Ophelia into the archetype of what psychologist Carl Jung calls the “Sacrificial Lamb”. In every hero’s journey, there must something of importance that the hero must lose in order to complete their quest (Jung). Hamlet had to sacrifice his feelings for Ophelia in order to make others believe that he has gone crazy. The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person's lowest point. “This experience is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself” (Campbell 73). In Hamlet, this separation comes much later in the story and is evident in the sea voyage, for it is at the same time that Hamlet experiences what Campbell would call, “A form of self- annihilation”. This stage of departure makes the hero realizes what needs to be done in order for him to fulfill his journey. After departing and crossing the threshold to a new place where the old rules of life had disappeared, the hero must now confront the fears that until now have lied unrecognized (Thorp). Campbell writes, “ The regions of the unknown are free fields for the projection of unconscious content. Incestuous libido and patricidal destruction are thence reflected back against the individual and his society in forms suggesting threats of violence" (Campbell 231). Hamlet’s projection of hatred and “incestuous libido” towards his mother directly linked to the death wish for Claudius have already occurred. It then becomes clear that Hamlet’s journey is not one towards realization, it is one towards action. The second stage of the hero’s journey is the initiation phase. The new knowledge that has been gained this far must be put to use in order to approach and defeat what that hero has been looking for in the beginning. The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation (Campbell 52). Hamlet’s first test was to fool everyone into thinking he was crazy, he then had to discover the truth of the actual meaning of why Rosencratz and Guildersten were to visit him. Hamlet was also faced with the trial of getting off the boat to England in order to save himself and to fulfill his goal. When Hamlet returns from England he discovers that Ophelia has died. At the burial scene, Hamlet has an encounter with the revengeful brother and son, Laertes. Shakespeare has created a scene where the confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes had made Hamlet lose sight of his true mission again. Campbell calls this phase, “Woman as the Temptress”. “At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest” (Campbell 207). For Campbell, the woman is a metaphor for the temptations of life. Even through Ophelia’s death, Hamlet is tempted by her which causes him to sidetracked from his journey. “Atonement with the Father” is the step where “the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life” (Thorp). In many stories this is the father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the hero’s journey. In order for the transformation to take place the old self must die off in order for the new self to take it’s place. When Hamlet kills Polonius, it marks for the first time of Hamlet actually turning his reason into action. Also after the death of Polonius, the ghost of King Hamlet comes back in order to remind his son of his purpose. This meeting with the father sets a spark in Hamlet and begins the transformation of his actions. The “Ultimate Boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the hero went on the journey to get” (Campbell 374). All the previous stages prepared the hero for this step. since in many stories “the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself”. The boon for Hamlet was when he finally killed Claudius. The elixir for Hamlet was not life itself, it was the complete opposite. The poison was the elixir for Hamlet because it had given Hamlet the ability to become born again through death. If Hamlet had not been poisoned then he would have most likely committed suicide. Instead, Hamlet was able to die knowing that he completed his journey. Once the hero completes his journey and moves on into another realm there is always a character left behind to tell the story. Jung calls this archetype the “Messenger”. Horatio is the messenger who carries out the story Hamlet and his downfall. The reason that Hamlet wasn’t able to complete all of Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey was because Hamlet couldn’t fix his fatal flaw. Hamlet's fatal flaw would be his failure to act immediately to kill Claudius. Aristotle would have called this “Hamartia”, which means that the tragic fall will eventually lead to the hero’s downfall. Hamlet was well aware of his fatal flaw from the beginning, he constantly questions himself on why he continues to delay the fulfillment of his mission which delays him from acting. Hamlet finally acts to kill Claudius only after realizing that he is poisoned. “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we come to the center of our own existence” (Campbell 396). Though Hamlet’s journey was to kill Claudius he killed himself along with the ones who were close to him. As Hamlet ventured farther into his journey he became more intertwined with his own self, which threw him into a Shakespearian world. A world that he could’t understand or control. Hamlet’s heroic quest ended in a hero’s most tragic flaw, himself.

Works Cited
Boeree, George C. "Carl Jung." My Webspace Files. 2006. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. .
Thorp, Rob. "UniversalJournal/AYJW." The Association of Young Journalists, AYJW - News Media, Travel, Games, and More - College and Media Directory. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. .
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Washington Square, 1992.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008.

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