Critical Study of Texts Shakespeare’s Hamlet Theme Quotation “O villain, villain, smiling, damned • villain. ” “That one may smile, and smile, and be a • villain. ” “Seems, Madam? … I know not seems” • “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another” Context Political and religious upheaval “inquisition” Elizabethan society was censored, cautious, private (spies, informants and espionage) Political and religious upheaval generating an air of suspicion and speculation Deception / Appearance & Reality • • Duplicity of characters translates into • their scheming and manipulative actions • Underlying motives and ntentions are • often revealed through their schemes • • Integrity of characters with highly formidable statuses i. e. King Claudius are compromised a? he is the corrupt heart of the state of affairs o Coldly calculating and cruel o Self-? justifying Revenge • • Political / Personal: Hamlet avenges the • death of his father, the late king • Personal: Laertes quest of justice, blaming Hamlet on the death of his father and beloved sister • Hamlet begins a self-? destructive process of retribution and revenge • Divine punishment to those who offend against moral law • Subplot revenge a? Fortinbra’s quest to seize territories from Old Hamlet Ambition & Loyalty • • • “Adieu, adieu. Remember me. I have • Ghost referring to Wheel of Fortune sworn ’t it. ” a? allusion to fate o Hamlet destined to fulfill the fate “Yea, from the table of my memory, I’ll of a tragic hero wipe away trivial fond records … and thy commandment all alone shall live within • Chaos, a direct repercussion of the the book and volume of my brain, Chain of Being is disrupted. unmixed with baser matter” o Only God has the will to induce death o
The murder of a monarchy consequently propels society into a state of turmoil “I have sworn ’t it. ” “O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else? And shall I couple ell? Oh, fie! ” “Yea, from the table of my memory, I’ll wipe away trivial fond records … and thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter” Action / Inaction • Initially does not show hesitation to act upon his fathers murder • Inner conflict as Hamlet represses his feminine side (mercy, rationality, reason, emotion) in lieu of his masculine side (violence and assertiveness) • Arguable that Hamlet’s inaction is a reflection of his rationality vs. Laertes action deemed as naive, reckless & negligent Evil • The world is consumed by corruption stemmed from the lust & exploitation f human desires • Hamlet’s world is compromised, tainted by evil which spreads undetectable and relentless as a repercussion of Claudius’ initial betrayal • Evil envelops and ultimately destroys all major characters o Gertrude; adultery, incest o Polonius corrupted by greed, he is cynical, unprincipled and selfish o Rosencrantz & Guildenstern corrupted by Claudius, swayed by the prospect of furthering their own political careers • • • • • • • • • • ‘is ‘t not perfect conscience / to quit him with his arm’ (Hamlet to Horatio on the morality of revenge) “O all you host of heaven! O earth!
What else? And shall I couple hell? Oh, fie! ” May I take upon the task of cruel justly retribution and regicide, my soul condemned to the depths and fury of hell” “Report me and my cause aright” “cut his throat i’ th’ church” (Laertes on killing Hamlet) “O most pernicious woman! ” “An unweeded garden” “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” “Through the natural gates and alleys of the body” “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life” • • Black Bubonic Plague – an infection alluding to the poison used to murder King Hamlet Garden of Eden – biblical allusion whereby the snake seduces the perfect human with free will into defying God’s will Existentialism • A philosophy that mphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts. • “To be or not to be, that is the question. • Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…” Defies the Chain of Being, exploiting humanity’s free will Readings Traditional • A concentration on Hamlet’s character and his ‘tragic flaw’ o A C Bradley views Hamlet’s fault as something that corrupts his virtue in which he suffers in excess melancholy • A reluctance o address the social and political aspects of the play • A stress on supernatural and mysterious explanations i. e. fate and divine will • An assumption of coherence and unity in the play • Rejection of theory to provides ways to understand Hamlet • A claim to objectivity, free from ideological bias Modern • Skeptical of character approaches • Concentrate on political, social and economical factors determining Shakespeare’s creativity • Plays down on the supernatural and mystery theme
• Identifies contradictions, discontinuity and fragmentation • Questions possible happy or hopeful endings • Produces readings that are subversives of xisting social structures • Identifies how the play express the interests of dominant groups i. e. rich powerful males • argues all readings are political or ideological Textual Integrity • • The themes presented within Hamlet are inextricably bound within the human condition, thus making it universally identifiable and relatable throughout time. The core values presented in Hamlet are upheld by modern day society, however the degree of adherence of these values is dependent on an individual’s context. Structure/Form Features of Tragedy 1. Tragedy must end in some tremendous catastrophe involving in Elizabethan practice the death of the rincipal character. 2. The catastrophe must not be the result of mere accident, but must be brought about by some essential trait in the character of the hero acting either directly or through its effect on other persons. 3. The hero must nevertheless have in him something, which outweighs his defects and interests us in him so that we care for his fate more than for anything else in the play.
The problem then is, why should a picture of the misfortunes of some one in whom we are thus interested afford us any satisfaction? No final answer has yet been found. Aristotle said that the spectacle by rousing in us pity and fear purges us of hese emotions, and this remains the best explanation. Just as a great calamity sweeps from our minds the petty irritations of our common life, so the flood of esthetic emotion lifts us above them. Features of revenge tragedy • Dumb show • Machiavellian villain • Soliloquies • Disguise • Madness and feigned madness • Murders and corpses • Ghosts • Physical torment • Sudden reversals The typical structure of a Revenge Tragedy had five parts: §? Exposition where the ghost usually provides motivation for revenge §? Anticipation in which detailed planning of the revenge takes place §? Confrontation between the hero and the intended victim ? Delay as the hero hesitates to perform the killing §? Completion of the hero (often with the death of the hero). Features of revenge tragedy in Hamlet • A play within a play • Scenes of madness • A vengeful ghost • One or several gory scenes • A central character who has a serious grievance against a formidable opponent • This central character takes matters into his own hands and seeks revenge privately, after justice has failed him in the public arena o It should be noted that hamlet is the only protagonist in any Elizabethan revenge play who can be considered a hero, aware of the moral implications involved in exacting his revenge