A Comparison Of Hamlet And One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

2941 words - 12 pages

A Comparison of Hamlet and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


A Comparison of the Character Hamlet, of Shakespeare's Hamlet, and McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest    

It is suggested that in modern literature, the true element of tragedy

is not captured because the protagonist is often of the same social status as

the audience, and therefor, his downfall is not tragic.  This opinion, I find,

takes little consideration of the times in which we live.  Indeed, most modern

plays and literature are not about monarchs and the main character is often

equal to the common person; this, however, does not mean the plot is any less
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  Hamlet and

McMurphy begin at different points with different purposes, but soon meet with a

common incentive.  For Hamlet, this initial impulse is derived from his

embitterment towards his mother for remarrying so soon after his father's death

and for selecting her late husband's brother Claudius, as her second partner.

In a witty statement to his closest friend Horatio, he expresses his

indignation; "The funeral baked meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage

tables."  Entirely unrelated, is McMurphy's need to be "top man".  This is the

original driving force that inspires him to challenge Nurse Ratchet, the

antagonist, for her authority in the ward.  In his first appearance in the novel,

McMurphy's conduct brands him as a leader in his provocation of the other

patients.  "It's my first day, and what I like to do is make a good impression

straight off on the right man if he can prove to me he is the right man," says

McMurphy in an equally witty, yet less subtle passage then Hamlet's comments

about his mother's wedding.


        It is their behavior in the latter half of each story, that ties these

two together.  Revenge becomes a common prompt.  For Hamlet, this is simply

avenging his father's death after much contemplation and indecision.  Until this

point, doubt and procrastination had him deterred from any action against

Claudius.  Painfully stagnant deliberation and an inspiring encounter with

Fortinbras' army (Act 4, Scene 4), finally persuaded Hamlet to assert himself.

He cries at the close of this scene, "O, from this time forth/ My thoughts be

bloody or be nothing worth!"  A similar turning point in One Flew Over the

Cuckoo's Nest comes after McMurphy too suffers through a period of reflection.

For some time he had been "doing the smart thing" and conforming Nurse Ratchet's

rules in hopes that his committal would be lifted.  This episode allows McMurphy

time to contemplate his predicament: "He's got that same puzzled look on his

face like there's something isn't right, something he can't put his finger on."

The turning point arrives as Ratchet decides to take advantage of McMurphy's

subdued state, and reclaim her exclusive access to the "game's room".  The room

is symbolic of her power of the whole ward, and her sly manipulation of them all.


 McMurphy realizes this with her attempted repossession, and thus the revenge

begins.  It is apparent to him what is occurring to the patients and to himself;

he will no longer allow it to continue:


"The iron in his boot heels cracked lightening out of the tile.  He was the

logger again, the swaggering gambler, the big redheaded brawling Irishman, the

cowboy out of the TV set walking to me a dare."


The common theme in each plot is a rise against...

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