Characterisation in Hikayat Hang Tuah
CONCLUSIONIt does seem quite obvious to us now that characterisation forms an important aspect of Hikayat Hang Tuah. If it is possible to talk in terms of the highest event in the story, that event is surely the rebellion of Hang Jebat. And this rebellion would not have taken place had there not been the revolutionary character of Jebat, the conservative character of Tuah, the rashness of the Sultan, the jealousy of the courtiers and the wisdom and flexibility of the Bendahara. The event, in its entire movement from the jealousy-inspired plot (its personal level) to the ideologically determined duel (its social level), in indeed directed by an inspired hand. It is a masterly combination of isolated incidents (when the plot was made, Tuah was not in court (1) and when Jebat avenged his friend, his friend was not dead) and the character-tendencies, which in the end achieves an integrity of its own. (2)
But, as we have said before, it is in the nature of the epic narrative, on the whole, to concentrate on the happy few and neglect the others.(3) Tuah is the most exhaustively treated character, we follow him form the beginning to the end. Jebat’s character is concentrated in the last few, but most exhilarating, pages of his life. Then come the Bendahara, Tun Teja and the Sultan. These form the company of the happy few in the epic. The others – more than a hundred of them – are simplified and standardized human beings who make up the vast and vague background against which the entire movement of this drama is placed.
1) He had taken the whole of his family to Ulu Melaka for a holiday. (Cf. p. 304).
2) The Sultan soon learned that the Laksamana had not been at court for some time, but that did not seem to matter to him. The mere mention that somebody had dared to encroach on his most royal and private rights of relationship with his ‘gundik’ was outrageous. That person deserved to be condemned. As for Jebat, when Tuah suddenly turned up to fight him, he was not sorry for what he had done. The Sultan’s decree on Tuah was most unjust and ungrateful anyway and deserved to be challenged. And if Tuah thought that he had done wrong and wanted to fight him, Jebat could not, not on a point of hour – which is a heroic cult – surrender to him. The jealous courtiers, of course, had by their action, brought about an inversion of their selfish desires. Their plan had been to oust Tuah in order to to get more royal attention. Jebat came and snubbed them all. In the end they got Tuah back, thus putting them again in the position where they had begun. Viewed as whole, therefore, this episode is a complex of personal and social interrelationships, the conception of which indicates a remarkable insight into human life.
3) The phrase is Brown’s. (Cf. footnote 1. p. 23).
4) Cf. Sejarah Melayu: Chapter 14, 16 &28 (Tuah); chapter 14 (Jebat); chapters 13 & 16 (Bendahara); chapter 29 (Teja); chapter 14 (Patih Gajah Mada).
(5) Ibid, chapters 14 a& 16.ole of his family
(6) A study of the summary that we have prepared (Appendix II) would make this evident.
(7) Tuah is a probable exception. His activities in Inderapura (pp. 180-212) may not pass for private, but his holiday with his family up in Ulu Melaka while a serious accusation was being made against him at the court can certainly be seemed so.
(8) Towards the end the Sultan shows a tendency to develop from within. Tuah’s deteriorating health and that of his own, the loss of the crown, the experiencing of the “getting-into-the-grave” incident all play their part in determining the development of his character in the last years of his life.
Installment # 15: Appendix 1 – An Abstract of Exercise (in Malay)