Hamlet and Marlowe Hamlet Prince of Denmark and Heart of Darkness





Prince Hamlet, of Shakespeare’s famed tragedy, and Marlowe of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, are similarly situated characters. Despite superficially different settings and plots, there is a remarkably similar thematic element shared between both works. Prince Hamlet and Marlowe are brought to the very brink of insanity by their immersion in worlds gone mad, yet still succeed. At their roots, the similarities of the environments they are immersed in are remarkable. Whether their environment is a “too too sullied” (1057) Royal Danish court, or the dark madness of a murderous Congolese jungle, the relationship between a sane man’s mind, and a man’s insane world is openly explored.
In Hamlet: Prince of Denmark and in Heart of Darkness many similarities exist between the madness that both stories are surrounded in. Despite the obvious differences of the Congo and Copenhagen, both worlds are places where evil abounds and territory where man has brought on that evil. The destructive greed and lust for power that drove Hamlet’s uncle, Cladius, to murder his own brother, have tainted and steeped the Danish court in corruption. In Heart of Darkness, the madness stems from the desire for power in the form of valuable ivory. The power of ivory in Heart of Darkness is not only apparent because it drives “civilized” men like, Mr. Kurtz to commit his savage acts, but also because how quickly Marlowe becomes aware of its power. Upon Marlowe’s arrival to the Central Station he observes, "The word \'ivory\' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it.” (1639). In Hamlet and Heart of Darkness, the ultimate motivation for the evil that both Prince Hamlet and Marlowe nearly become pawns to, is a timeless and cruel avarice.
Not only are the natures and causes of the evil present in both Hamlet and Heart of Darkness remarkably similar, but also each character’s introduction to it. Interestingly, Prince Hamlet and Marlowe share a certain naïveté when they first come upon their evils. Hamlet returns home after hearing of his father’s death from studies in Wittenberg, not yet knowing the cause of his death. Marlowe sets off from Brussels to explore “a blank space…a place of darkness” (1618), with an innocent childhood dream to explore the reaches of civilization. Neither man could have known the immense corruption and evil that awaited them at their destination, but both would quickly learn.
Hamlet returns to Denmark to quickly find that a hasty “incestuous” marriage between his widowed mother and his uncle would all too quickly follow his own father’s funeral. Perhaps the most significant sign that all was not right in Denmark was the apparition of the slain former King. Hamlet’s father’s apparition is viewed by Hamlet and his company as an open sign that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (1068). From this first revelation, Hamlet learns by degrees of the evil that attempts to hide itself behind the “legitimate” passing on of the throne. Hamlet gets a first glimpse of the evil in the appearance of the restless soul of his father, later, more so with that ghost’s revelation of the murderous truth to Hamlet, up until Hamlet’s own observation of Cladius’ unique reaction following the performance of the players. Through each of these progressive steps he slowly comes to fully understand what he has returned home to.
In Heart of Darkness, Marlowe too is quick to learn of “the horror” that he ventures into. Marlowe’s journey to the “heart of darkness” (1662) begins with his voyage aboard ship from the Continent to the Congo, both literally and psychologically. It is en route via sea that Marlowe gets his first taste of insanity, French Legionaries being carelessly thrown ashore and a quarantined man-of-war shelling a desolate shoreline, Marlowe describes: "In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent" (78). These events begin to shape his perception of what awaits him ashore. Once ashore Marlowe will learn, like Hamlet, through successive steps - Outer, Inner and Central station - of the terrible, cruel, greed-driven and amoral men that hide behind the “legitimate” operation of the Company.
In both Heart of Darkness and Hamlet,