Hubris Synthesis

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility” (Shelley 34). Rarely can perfection be attained, or passion resisted, for it is human nature to disrupt that which exists in harmony. Pride and ambition fuel this thirst for change, and result in hubris, a tragic flaw. For while the intention for good can exist, “men’s minds are wild,” (Hamlet 5.2.438-440) and “purposes mistook fall on the inventor’s heads” (Hamlet 5.2.422-426). Despite the existence of peace, there will always be those who are restless with the way things are— those who desire an upset in the natural order regardless of the consequences.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Claudius, fueled by pride and ambition, murders his brother and rises to power, upsetting both the natural order and the divine feudal law of primogeniture. The perversion of these two orders through one fatal act seals his fate and ends his life in misery. Claudius envies the power of his brother, King Hamlet, and chooses to seek his own glory by murdering his brother “with juice of cursed hebona in a vial” whose contents into his brother’s ear “did pour” (1.5.69-70). This pursuit of power through “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,” (5.2. 422-426) sets in motion a chain of events inspiring nothing but death, until the entire kingdom is seethed in turmoil and dispute. Though Claudius shows remorse, stating his “offense is rank, it smells to heaven, it hath the primal eldest curse upon it,” (3.3.40-42) he admits that he is still possessed of the effects for which he did the murder: “my crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.” (3.3. 59). Even when faced with the opportunity to prevent the poisoning of his wife, he lets her die to preserve his power and status. Thus, even on the brink of his wife’s death, Claudius can not make amends for the sins he commits, nor will he acknowledge the consequences of his actions. The divine and natural order restores itself through the fated deaths of all characters entwined in Claudius and Hamlet’s schemes; tragic fate purges the kingdom of all that has been touched by evil, the “eager droppings into milk” (1.5.76) the “incestuous sheets” (1.2.162) and the “salt of the most unrighteous tears” (1.2.159). In the absence of a restoration of balance, nature will find its own way for the guilty parties to recompense.

“Give me children or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her” (Atwood 88). In Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the governmental regime of Gilead seeks to control procreation, a kismet both natural and divine, whose corruption through management borders on the sacrilegious. This regime upsets natural order by taking the choice of whether or not to reproduce away from women, citing that it is their duty to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Atwood 88). The new government, controlled primarily by men, take all power and choice away from women, and enforce “an older form of simultaneous polygamy practiced in old testament times” (Atwood 305), dispelling the idea that “there is more than one kind of freedom, freedom to and freedom from” (Atwood 24) by only allowing the latter. A society founded on the principle of enslaving women and their bodies allows a complete distortion of the way women are viewed, reducing them to nothing but “tulips, opening their cups, spilling out color” (Atwood 12) and “sisters, dipped in blood” (Atwood 9). The result of this corruption of the natural order results in women no longer viewing birth as organic and beautiful, but something they must present, “a made thing, not something born” (Atwood 66). This society intentionally ignores the indescribable damage it creates for men and women for the attainment of a single goal.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s hubris and quest for knowledge result in his desire “penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places” (Shelley 27) regardless of the impacts this intrusion has on nature and society. His work results in the forging of an abomination, a creation so monstrous and unnatural that it disrupts the balance of nature, mocking God himself. Frankenstein’s youth and inexperience draw him to become inspired by great natural philosophers before him, and his ambition and thirst for knowledge entreat him to be “like these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, who have indeed performed miracles” (Shelley 27). On his path to success, he becomes ever urged forward by “a resistless, and almost frantic impulse,” (Shelley 33) to “become capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” (Shelley 31). Blinded by ambition and zeal, Victor Frankenstein goes beyond the boundaries of nature in his endeavors. He fails to see how his actions will result in an imbalance, so affected is he by hubris, “the evil influence, the angel of destruction,” which asserted over him “omnipotent sway” (Shelley 25). Frankenstein realizes that he has created an upset in the natural order of life, but when faced with his creation there is no time for remedial action. He sees in the monster the design of his demise, and “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust” (Shelley 35) soon fill his heart.

In the end, it is not the perversion of the natural and divine order, but rather the inability to restore order that results in tragic downfall. Restoration of the court of Denmark is only achieved through the deaths of all parties caught in Claudius’s scheme, leaving none but “the harsh world draw thy breath in pain” (5.2.383-384) to tell their story. Even when the regime of Gilead is broken up in The Handmaid’s Tale society is never fully recovered, seeming to be “dying, dying of too much choice” (Atwood 25). In the tragic case of Victor Frankenstein, order is not restored, and nothing is left but a bloody trail of collateral damage in the wake of his creation. Without a restoration of that natural or divine order which was lost, only tragedy can befall those that seek to “command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows” (Shelley 27).