Self-Murder, Killing and Religion Valueness in the “Hamlet” Tragedy
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play rife with moral dilemmas. Religious codes often clash with desires and instinctual feelings in the minds of the characters, calling into question which courses of action are truly the righteous paths. In Hamlet’s case, such conundrums are debilitating and cause a frustrating, eventually fatal lack of action. Indeed, the absence of moral clarity in the play is arguably the root of most of the tragedy that is played out in the final scenes. Because of this, the issues in Hamlet provide an excellent basis from which to delve into an exploration of how religion motivates human actions. The characters’ dilemmas concerning two great moral questions, suicide and murder, demonstrate the centrality of this motivation, both within the confines of the play and within the larger scope of human society.
Hamlet’s ambivalence about suicide introduces topics like death, religion, and the afterlife as recurring themes throughout the work. His despair and confusion produce one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies, the eloquent verbalization of a mental wrestling match between the forces of perseverance and suicide. Yet this oft-quoted “to be, or not to be” speech in act three is preceded by a few more obscure but extremely important lines two acts earlier. The lines express Hamlet’s desire to die and frustration at the fact that suicide is forbidden by Christianity: “O that this too sullied flesh would melt, Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew, Or that the Everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter (Act 1, Scene 2, lines 129-132).” From these words it can be seen that, early in the play, Hamlet is very attentive to the letter of religious law. Yet Hamlet does not state why this religious prohibition is in reality keeping him from committing the deed he so longs to accomplish. Does his compunction spring purely from the desire to follow God’s word, or is he motivated by a fear of punishment for his transgression? This point is unclear, but it is evident from the speech that, were religion not a factor, Hamlet would choose to kill himself.
In contrast, as the play progresses to act three and Hamlet’s well known soliloquy is spoken, the emphasis has shifted away from religion and more towards personal qualms with suicide. Hamlet’s language here clearly conveys anxiety and fear about what may happen after death, yet he never refers to the wrath of God or any punishment for sins. Indeed, no reference to the Christian concept of the afterlife is made at all in the speech; rather, Hamlet speaks of death as an eternal sleep, dangerous in the possibility of unknown and perilous dreams. He enumerates at length the grievances of this world – “the whips and scorns of time, Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, The pangs of despised love… (Act 3, Scene 1, lines 70-72)”-and asserts that, surely, the only thing keeping man from ending his suffering is the fear of even greater suffering in that never-ending sleep. This is the fear of the unknown, not of assured punishment that religion promises. And, while religious thinking usually characterizes suicide as cowardly in its attempt to escape the suffering that man must endure on earth, Hamlet views suicide as the braver alternative. What is cowardly, he states, is to not pursue the possibility of greater happiness for fear of finding greater despair. Thus over the course of the play, as Hamlet delves deeper into thoughts of suicide, he finds himself confronted more by fears of his own imagining than by God’s promised torture.
Hamlet provides further fodder for the exploration of suicide as a theme with the death and burial of Ophelia. In this case, uncertainty arises about what, in fact, constitutes suicide. Queen Gertrude describes Ophelia as having gone mad with grief over the death of her father, and, upon accidentally falling in the river, not having had the presence of mind to extricate herself. But was Ophelia’s fall truly accidental? And, even if it was, does the fact that she allowed the water to overtake her itself amount to suicide? Shakespeare raises these questions by employing the conversation of two gravediggers who wonder over the propriety of allowing Ophelia a full Christian burial. Their dialogue (“Is she to be buried in Christian burial when she willfully seeks her own salvation (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 1-2)?”) conveys the sense that most observers believe that Ophelia killed herself, but most are also willing to overlook this fact in light of her unfortunate circumstances. Those who tacitly condone Ophelia’s actions in this way are navigating the rift between the letter of religious law and what they feel to be right in their hearts. As Hamlet grappled with this issue and chose to follow the law, Ophelia’s buriers instead chose to follow their hearts.
Closely related to these moral dilemmas involving suicide are situations dealing with murder. Both actions entail the taking of a human life, and one would think that the act of murder would require at least as much soul-searching as a suicide. Yet the characters in the play display no hesitancy when it comes to the moral basis of murder for revenge; even though Hamlet has difficulty in actually carry out the deed, he does not doubt that it is the righteous thing to do. Hamlet even carries this zeal for retribution farther than just Claudius, killing in one swift motion the hidden Polonius, whom Hamlet takes to be a conspirator, or at least sympathizer, with his father’s murderer.
Laertes seems to consider revenge-murder in a similarly straightforward, necessary, and even honorable light. Thought the king has other motives for being swiftly rid of Hamlet, he expresses Laertes’s sentiments well when he states, in reference to Hamlet’s killing of Polonius, “And where th’offense is, let the great ax fall (Act 4, Scene 5, line 213).” Depending on one’s perspective, this mentality can be seen as either in conflict with religious guidelines or in accordance with them. The sixth commandment states, “Thou shalt not kill,” yet Hamlet and Laertes accept this rule only under some circumstances. Clearly, more appealing to them and their sense of justice by vengeance is the biblical passage regarding “an eye for an eye.” In these situations, the characters do not feel bound by religious prohibitions; in fact, beyond simply bloodlust, they feel a real moral compulsion to make right by avenging wrongs. As Laertes puts it, the questions surrounding his father’s death “Cry to be heard, as ’twere from heaven to earth…(Act 4, Scene 5, line 210)”, and must be appropriately answered.
One religious issue that does hinder Hamlet from achieving his goal of killing Claudius is his belief that Claudius will go to heaven if he dies while praying. This belief is an instance of Hamlet worrying about the letter of religious law rather than the spirit of religion. He does not consider that Claudius’s murder of Hamlet the elder is morally repugnant and sinful; the mere act of praying is enough, in Hamlet’s mind, to redeem Claudius before God: “Now might I do it pat, now a is a-praying, And now I’ll do’t. And so a goes to heaven, And so am I revenged (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 73-75).” Thus Hamlet refrains from killing Claudius (an act which he considers morally acceptable) because he believes that the repentant words of a murderer, while uttered, will absolve the murderer of sin, but that the sin will return once the praying ceases. This irrational logic demonstrates how religion can influence people into abiding by its technicalities, but not necessarily by its underlying moral spirit.
In a surprising juxtaposition, the murderer Claudius seems to comprehend the spirit of the religious laws better than Hamlet does. Claudius’s speech in act three (“O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven (Act 3, Scene 3, line 36)”) appears to be an anguished, heart-felt expression of repentance. Yet he recognizes that his thoughts are distracted, and acknowledges that his supplications are not valid: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 97-98).” Though Polonius’s actions in the remainder of the play indicate that he is not truly sorry for his transgression, this speech at least shows that he understands the intent of religious regulations. It is ironic that he, more than the relatively innocent Hamlet, actually comprehends moral teachings.
The scene with Hamlet and Claudius in act three emphasizes how the belief in the Christian afterlife of heaven and hell is central to many of the issues in Hamlet that involve suicide and murder. If not for the motivation of these promised lands, few characters would act, or withhold action, based on moral codes. Yet the concept of the afterlife is challenged from the very first scene of the play, in which the late Hamlet appears as a ghost before the palace soldiers. The appearance of a ghost, a spirit neither in heaven nor in hell, is very unnatural and discomforting. Thus when the ghost instructs Hamlet to avenge his murder, Hamlet feels compelled to obey in order to remove his father from his apparent state of spiritual limbo. An additional moral motivation is therefore factored into Hamlet’s actions during the rest of the play. He is very much driven by the purpose of achieving the appropriate religious standings for himself, his father, and Claudius.
As the main and title character of the play, Hamlet is the best example of how the concepts of religion, morality, and afterlife drive the actions of the characters in the drama. Yet the supporting characters also provide strong evidence for this phenomenon, which is particularly relevant to the themes of murder and suicide that pervade Hamlet. From soliloquies to funerals to stabbings, the play pulses with moral dilemmas and characters attempting to reconcile religious doctrine with instinctual emotion. Hamlet, in all its complexity and tragedy, is at once an exhortation to act morally and an exploration of the havoc that moral uncertainty can wreak.
The Theme of Revenge in Shakesphere’s Book Hamlet.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. Rather than immediately exacting revenge upon a person who has done wrong, as sadistic as it may be, it is much more satisfying to meticulously formulate a plan that can inflict the harshest injury. In the world renowned literary work, Hamlet, Shakespeare is the judge, jury, and executioner as he goes about punishing the characters for their selfish and self-serving natures. As a means of revenge, Shakespeare forces the characters in the play to continuously recall their treasonous nature by overwhelming them with religious imagery and by employing Hamlet as his blunt and candid emissary.
Shakespeare initiates his revenge by sending Hamlet off to caustically rebuke his own mother and plague her with reminders of her late husband as penance for her disregard of the sanctity of holy matrimony. Despite the short amount of time that has passed since the death of Old Hamlet, Gertrude refuses to fulfill her role as a grieving widow and immediately takes on a new, more inferior husband, Claudius. She furthers the infidelity as she focuses on the wedding rather than taking time to mourn for the death of her husband and honoring his memory. However, she is unable to happily go about the wedding preparations for Hamlet always serve as a constant reminder of Old Hamlet’s death. Gertrude demands Hamlet to “cast thy nighted color off” because the garment he adorns as he mourns his father continues to fill her with guilt every time lays eyes upon the garb. Nevertheless, Hamlet refuses to do so for he is determined to punish his mother and remind of her unfulfilled duties (I.ii.68). In order to highlight her treasonous act, Hamlet snubs her in the court play and directs the player Queen to recite, “Such love must needs be treason in my breast. / In second husband let me be accursed! / None wed the second but who killed the first (III.ii.164-166). By having the actress proclaim that she shall never remarry for that would be the most treacherous betrayal, it forces Gertrude to remember her own lack of loyalty and effectively guilts her. Shakespeare then sends Hamlet to confront his mother and show her the full the extent of her sinful nature by successfully isolating his mother and proclaiming that he will not let her leave until he has “set [her] up a glass/ Where [she] may see the inmost part of [herself] (III.IV.20-21). When Gertrude coyly avoids his questions and refuses to listen, Hamlet berates her with a harangue of verbal abuses. He begins by comparing his mother’s two husbands and then accuses her of performing a deed that “blurs the grace and blush of modesty, / Calls virtue hypocrite” (III. iv.41-43). He forces Gertrude to witness the vile nature of her own acts and leaves her crying out for Hamlet to speak no more. Ultimately, Hamlet continuously recalls memories of the past in order to fully complete his revenge on Gertrude in Shakespeare’s stead.
As a penalty for abusing his own daughter in a struggle for position and power, Polonius is openly insulted by Hamlet throughout the duration of the play and is forced to endure much humiliation. Throughout out the play, Polonius can be seen as a hypocrite for he continuously tells his daughter, Ophelia, to end her relationship with Hamlet, but is eager to sacrifice her in order to discover what is the cause of Hamlet’s madness and please the king. In secret, Polonius mocks his daughter for believing Hamlet’s affections and asks her if she actually believes “‘his tenders’, as you may call them” (I.iii.104). However, he immediately changes his tune in front of the king, and proclaims that Hamlet is consumed by his love for Ophelia. He then sets up a test where he instructs Ophelia to share pleasantries with Hamlet despite insulting her for previously spending time with him. In light of seeing that Ophelia is being manipulated by her father, Hamlet proclaims to let Polonius “play the fool nowhere but in ’s own house” and immediately rushes off to embarrass Polonius in front of the observing King. (III.i.133-134) Annoyed by Polonius’s eagerness to benefit himself, Hamlet makes an emphatic biblical reference to Jephthah, a biblical character who sacrificed his daughter for a foolish reason and mocks Polonius for his ignorant acts. He calls Polonius by the name Jephthah and cajoles, “One fair daughter and no more, / The which he loved passing well (II.ii.378-379). While Hamlet’s tone remains pleasant, he subliminally warns Polonius to stop using his daughter for personal gains and berates Polonius with insults to punish him for his immoral deeds. Overall, Polonius is continuously scorned and belittled due to his suppliant and hypocritical nature.
Lastly, Shakespeare exposes Claudius as the most sinful character in the play and severely chastises him by incessantly referring to the most ancient of betrayals: the story of Cain and Abel. Hamlet plots his final revenge and causes Claudius distress by forcing him to watch a maliciously arranged play, in which he can observe the wretchedness of his own acts. Prior to the viewing, Claudius was quite content for he had the crown, the queen, and all the power he so desperately craved. However, Hamlet harshly orchestrates a play in which the player king “poisons [the king] i’ th’ garden for ‘s estate…” (III.ii.244) by pouring poison into the king’s ear and tells Claudius that he soon shall see shortly “how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife” (III.ii.245-247). Once Claudius physically sees the action that he himself performed upon his godly brother, he is no longer able to be content with his position as king for he must now begrudgingly acknowledge the fact that he did not rightfully earn the position of king. The effectiveness of the revenge ploy is apparent once Claudius rushes to beg for forgiveness in fear that his crime is so putrid that even heaven can “smell” his sin. However, his confession only brings him more torment and reveals the thoroughness of Shakespeare’s intended retribution. Although Claudius has asked for the Lord’s forgiveness, he knows he will not receive it for he is still “possessed / Of those effects for which [he] did the murder: / [His] crown, [his] own ambition, and [his] queen (III.iii.54-56). As a result, Claudius is left to contemplate whether he wants to cleanse his soul by relinquishing his unjust gains or if he wants to maintain his position as an unworthy king. Throughout the remainder of the play, Claudius is left to be haunted by his own thoughts and the revelation that the play has brought about.
In conclusion, Shakespeare performs an immaculate revenge by forces the major characters to suffer from the recollections of their own insolence. Despite their attempts to forget about their sins and live an ignorant life, Hamlet relentlessly invokes memories and refuses to let the characters live a content life. Instead, Shakespeare utilizes the sufferings of each character as a warning for the audience on the unforgiving nature of remembrance as a means of revenge.
Analysis of Horatio in Hamlet and How I will Bring Horatio to life through My Life Experiences
Our universe is a diverse place with people of different cultural grounds and personalities. We influence each other in unparalleled measure both constructively and destructively. Despite the various traits among people, we always find a way to co-exist as humans. How we perceive the world directly affects our output and relations amongst us. People do not have similar characteristics, and this aspect transcends to the intentions we have for one another. The intents have specific aims according to someone’s personality, and they may impact the recipients positively, negatively, or even indifferently. Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” outlines the bad and good motives different characters possess that inevitably influence the actions of close family members and friends (Williams, 2014). This essay is going to portray Horatio in Wright`s production of Hamlet. I see him as an honest, loyal and true friend who will stick by your side through thick and thin and still not get lost in the deeds of another but remain true to himself and true to the friend. I will use my personal experiences and how I relate to my friends to bring the character to life.
Horatio in the great play Hamlet by Shakespeare may be given a minor role to play, but he is of great importance to the audience that comprises the readers of the play and those who watch it and even of greater importance to the good prince Hamlet. Horatio is portrayed in the play as the dearest and closest friend and confidant to one of the main characters Hamlet. He first performs the role of a steadfast friend to the prince and the doubles this up by being the teller of the life story of Hamlet. Horatio portrays the ideal characteristics that a friend is supposed to have by being true and faithful. He is also always willing to give a helping hand and be of service to his friend Hamlet. Horatio met with Hamlet in Wittenberg University where they undertook studies together and became great friends and scholars (Thompson et al., 2005). Horatio is a reflection of the individual that Hamlet aspires to be, he is good and smart and is not driven by any rush or extreme actions due to his intellectual mind. He is willing to find out the truth and risk his life for the ones he loves, but he is as well willing to accept the world as it comes to him and trusts people. The firm qualities that he possesses attract praise and admiration from Hamlet that Hamlet himself lacks, such as self-control and virtue of truth. “Horatio, thou art even as just a man….as ever my conversation cop’d withal.” Horatio is a strong character that possesses unwavering ideals and friendship, his friend Hamlet most of the time desire the peace of mind that he thinks are possessed by Horatio. “Dost thou hear? As my precious soul was mistress of her choice, and could of men distinguish her election, hath seal’d thee for herself, for thou hast been as one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing, a man that fortune’s buffets and rewards hast ta’en with equal thanks: and blest are those whose blood and judgment are so well commended that they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger to sound what stop she please. Give me that man that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him in my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, as I do thee.” (Shakespeare, 2017)
There is a deep feeling that Horatio possesses for Hamlet and abundant love, despite this he does not attempt to persuade or rule Hamlet. There are differences between the two friends but this differences in how they are do not keep them apart. Hamlet avoids being a slave of passion and remains stable and level-headed throughout. Horatio has the ability and capability to point out what Hamlet intends to express even when Hamlet leaves the other characters of the drama in a state of confusion. The conversations that the two have set a great ground and meaning for the play by bringing to light the numerous mysteries of Hamlet, the prince only trusts and opens up to his best friend. It is easier for the reader t believe and trust Hamlet through his friend Horatio who believes the prince without question in instances that numerous other characters doubt the sanity of Hamlet. Horatio provides an opening to the true insight into the thoughts of our hero, feelings and innermost soul from the conversations that they have. This is in addition to Hamlet`s numerous long soliloquies. There are various reasons that make Hamlet rely on his friend Horatio, Horatio`s intelligent, sensible and calm personality from the time the play starts comes out at the top of all the reasons. Horatio demands that the ghost speaks up if there is anything that they are supposed to be made aware of not depicting any signs of fear of the ghost “If thou art privy to thy country’s fate ….O, speak! Or if thou hast uphoarded in they life extorted treasure in the womb of earth….Speak of it, stay and speak!” At this moment he represents everything that the prince needs in a friend (Shakespeare, 2017). This is why besides Horatio and Hamlet being great friends, Hamlet trusts his friend to the extent of leaving the story and fate of his life and country in the hands of his friend.
Horatio supports his friend in all the decisions he makes and believes his friend in every instance in the play except in one occasion which was the decision that led to the downfall of Hamlet just as it was foreseen and predicted by Horatio Hamlet died after going ahead with that decision. The love Horatio has for the prince makes him want to end his life by his own hands by the use of wine that has been poisoned with duty and honor rather than go on living after the demise of Hamlet. However, Hamlet had a different idea, one that places his friend Horatio in a place of high importance. A place for narrating Hamlet`s story so that he may be remembered. The Prince trusts Horatio with the last breaths he takes to find the words and way to reveal the truth about the life of his father and that of Hamlet himself in the difficult times that are about to come to the country of the prince. “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart…Absent thee from felicity a while…and in this harsh world draw thy breath is pain…to tell my story.” (Shakespeare, 2017) Hamlet depicts the true love he had for his friend Horatio by trusting him with this task, a gift that supersedes any other.
There is a great connection between my personal life and that of Horatio as portrayed in the play. I cannot help but see a true reflection of the individual I am through this character. It is that character that one watches in a play or reads and in the end, comes out saying how real they felt the connection with the character was. It is like reliving your life through another individual. Friendship especially true friendship is a great deal to me. I do trust in the power of friendship, and it has been of great benefit to me. The fact that at some point I put my life on the line to save a friend of mine from the imminent threat of a gunman that I managed to disarm puts me in a great position to portray Horatio (Stockton, 2000). Instances of betrayal in life have taught me the true value of friendship and made me a better friend to others going out of my way to make sure that those that I do cherish in life are well and do the right time. I have also learned the importance of staying true to yourself even when there is pressure from my friend as that is the only way to not lose my personality. I strive to remain true to who I am. I have also managed to maintain a friendship right from the pre-school level up to this point. Been successful at helping my friend come out of drugs and be his normal self again this has made him appreciate me and value my opinion strengthening the relationships we have. These experiences in life and awareness of the requirements and the true value of friendship put me in a great position to depict this character Horatio in the play Hamlet (Sobran, 2008).
Horatio is left standing as a pure example of a very precious kind of friendship in the play after the fall of all the other characters. Unselfish and true kind of friendship is what I advocate for as portrayed in the essay. My life and the experiences that I have had bring out what Shakespeare was trying to depict in this play with Horatio. Horatio is the kind of friend that any individual would be proud to have no matter what period of time they live in and their age.
William Shakespeare’s, Hamlet vs. Khaled Hosseini’s, A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns takes place in Afghanistan, where the status of women in the home with their family, and also in society, is extremely limited and they have significantly less freedom than their male counterparts. This story depicts the life of Afghan women, and the struggles and thoughts they live with. Mariam, Nana, and Laila are the three main female characters in the book who experience the life as less equals and only meaningfulness in life is motherhood. Shakespeare’s work, Hamlet, also features sexism against women. Both A Thousand Splendid Suns and Hamlet have stood against the test of time, with the former being written in the mid 1900s, and the latter in the early 1600s; despite their powerful effects on societies all around the world, both texts reveal discrimination against women, and the sexist actions perpetrated on females in Afghan and Shakespearean society cannot be overlooked.
One takeaway one may have from reading A Thousand Splendid Suns is that women in Afghan culture are only used to bare children and be servants to men. This is first shown by relating Nana to Jalil. Nana was a servant to Jalil before she was exiled due to becoming pregnant with a child of Jalil. It is uncertain whether Jalil forcefully put himself onto Nana, or charmed Nana, but with her low stature and status of being a woman, he was able to exile her and their child, Mariam, to a small hut outside of Herat. Mariam decides to leave her kolba, or hut, one day and travel into Herat to see Jalil. Once Nana realized Mariam had left, she did not have anything else to live for because her sense of motherhood was lost. This ended with Mariam coming home to see Nana had hung herself. Jalil, being noted as “one of Herat’s wealthiest men” (Hosseini 6), did not even help support Nana and Mariam, even though he is very capable of doing so. Nana states that Jalil told his wives that she forced herself on him, but in their society, the woman is to blame. Nana being a servant to Jalil is a key factor in this story because the belittlement of Nana and her status at Jalil’s house as a servant, shows that women are not only taken advantage of, but do not have much to live for. Once Jalil’s family finds a husband for Mariam, she gets to experience what being a women is really like in her society. Other than not being able to go to school and get an education, Mariam does not really face the hardships of being a female in her society until she gets forcefully married to Rasheed. Once Rasheed and Mariam get married, Mariam has no power over their relationship. After a week of sorrow, Rasheed finally tells Mariam that it is time she starts behaving like a wife. This entailed servant-like behaviors: washing the house, sweeping the floors, cooking food, and running errands. It also brought about the act of bearing children. With women being financially dependent on their husbands in Afghan society, it shows that women are seen as property and servants, because they cannot provide for themselves.
What women do in their society is not controlled by themselves due to the discrimination and status they hold within the community. They are not only told how to dress, but also told how to live their lives and what to do with them. When Rasheed sees a teacher walking down the street revealing her face and body, he says, “it embaresses me, frankly, to see a man who’s lost control of his wife” (Hosseini 70). Rasheed then goes on to explain how he believes that a woman’s face is her husband’s business. This portrays women as property, and shows that when a women does show control over her own body, it is looked poorly on by other men in the society. Since it is not up to Mariam to decide what she wears, Rasheed eventually tells her that she has to wear a burqa from now on when she leaves the house. Even though Mariam states that “the loss of peripheral vision was unnerving, and she did not like the suffocating way the pleated cloth kept pressing around her mouth” (Hosseini 72), it did not matter to Rasheed. He did not want to disgrace his honor and pride like the other men who bring their wives into his shop. From Rasheed’s standpoint, when a man brings his wife into his shop and they are wearing makeup and skirts, he see’s them as soft. This mentality, that men own their women and women are not free to represent themselves on their own, shows that women in Afghan society have very little control over their own bodies.
When looking at similarities between women in Hamlet and A Thousand Splendid Suns, one can note that women are both portrayed as weak, and both lack decision making in their lives. In both writings, it is clear that women are treated significantly less equal than men. In A Thousand Splendid Sun, women are usually covered head to toe so they can not be seen by other men in society. In Hamlet, Hamlet puts on a play, but it is forbidden by the law for women to act in plays; this was common practice in those times. In Hamlet’s play, men dress up like women due to women not even been given the opportunity to perform. Women in Hamlet not being able to present themselves in the ways they desire, and not having the same opportunities as men shows the similarity of both societies. Another thing to look at with both writings, is the portrayal of women being flawed. In Hamlet, Gertrude is always looking to Claudius in regards to Hamlet’s behavior, even though Hamlet is Gertrude’s son. Also, Gertrude promptly marrying Claudius after her husband’s death can be looked at as Gertrude’s need for attention. While in A Thousand Splendid Suns, each woman character is always looked at as flawed by men in their society. When Mariam cooks Rasheed a meal that he does not like, Rasheed goes outside and gets rocks for her to put in her mouth and chew. Just because one meal that Mariam made is not up to par with Rasheed’s standards, he abuses her, which shows that there is no room for error or flaws for women in their society. Lastly, a common parallel between both texts show us that men are manipulative. In Hamlet, Claudius covers up his manipulative behaviors by acting like a caring person towards Hamlet to gain Gertrude’s trust. Another portrayal of manipulativeness in Hamlet is Hamlet manipulating Ophelia’s emotions throughout the play. Hamlet always leaves Ophelia guessing throughout the play. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Rasheed threatens to beat Mariam unless Laila has sex with him. Rasheed also manipulates Laila by saying if she did not, he would turn her over to the taliban for her relations with Tariq. Although the texts take place in totally different time periods, the treatment of women does not seem to change much.
Discrimination towards women in modern-day American society does not compare to the inequalities they faced throughout history, with the perfect example being the treatment of women in A Thousand Splendid Suns. In today’s America, there are countless feminist movements that would not have been tolerated in the past. Women are gaining more rights as time goes on, and a huge factor in this process is the abundance of feminist movements spreading awareness about sexism and discrimination. While women are discriminated against, it is even harder for women of minority groups, who face more sexism and stereotypes than white women in American society. Nowadays, some people regard women wearing hijabs or burqas as being ‘oppressed’, but it is very different in modern day America. Muslim women today choose to wear their religious garment of choice to express their faith and devotion; nowadays, it is less a symbol of oppression, and more a showing of gratitude and faith.
It is shown in A Thousand Splendid Suns that women are not only seen as property, but they also have little to no control over the most basic type of property, their own bodies. Women are manipulated, taken control of, and treated with little to no respect. Through the description of the three main women characters: Mariam, Nana, and Laila, this story shows the reader that women in that society are portrayed as servants and used to bare children. When women can not even forego even those attributes, they are deemed as useless in that society. It is shown by Nana’s death, and also through Rasheed taking Laila as a wife because Mariam can not bare children and is presumed worthless. The comparison with women from A Thousand Splendid Suns and Hamlet can be looked at through the manipulative aspects of men, and the view of women as flawed. The views of women in some places have changed for the better but sadly, some places such as Afghanistan still may suffer with the belittlement of women.
Venom and Compulsion. The Ears. Its Consequences in “Hamlet”
Implicit in the schema of Hamlet lies the idea that an immoral world order has established itself, imposing political and social significance onto the once purely corporeal sense and function of ears and hearing. Although one must necessarily rely on the ear in order to learn the truth, the ear is also predisposed to faulty perception. Thus, the previously trustworthy sensory organ of the ear has become a zone fraught with danger and deception, subverted by the feudal figures of Claudius and Polonius to serve as both literal and metaphorical vehicles for murder and for the distortion of truth. In a system replete with deception and disguise from all sides, the listener emerges not only as the potential victim but also as the perpetrator of infiltration and dishonesty – in other words, a spy. This subversion can be observed not only in the pervasiveness of the language of aural assault but also in the construction of both parent-child and ruler-subject relationships, interactions necessarily contingent on inequitable auditory communication. Unaccustomed and still naïve to the pragmatically ruthless ways of the court (having just returned from his scholastic endeavors abroad), the insular and isolated Hamlet positions himself in direct opposition to his society through rejecting their accepted and promoted modes of hierarchical hearing in favor of the establishment of a radically reciprocal means of aural transmission with his friend Horatio.
The tragic trajectory of the play can be traced in Hamlet’s attempt to outmaneuver his political rivals and take revenge in the contextualization of an aural arena. The royal court is presented as a place which, insofar as silence and speech are problematized, closely resembles the conception of the ear as it is developed throughout Hamlet. Shakespeare’s profuse references to ears routinely present them as vessels for violence, characterized by their vulnerability to both verbal and physical assault. That the receptacle for Claudius’s use of poison should be King Hamlet’s ear is thus rendered significant. It is this visceral image of the literally corrupted ear that is echoed in the many rhetorical descriptions that follow. The larger decay of the Danish state, reflected in the Ghost’s statement that “the whole ear of Denmark” has become “Rankly abused” (1.5.38), is itself manifested on a more localized and individual level, so that assorted ears become liable victims to all kinds of attack. Hypothetical and actual ears are variously “take[n] prisoner” (2.2.401), “cleave[d]” (2.2.484), “mildewed” (3.4.65), and metaphorically stabbed by “words like daggers” (3.4.96). The inevitable susceptibility of the “porches” of the ear as a sensory organ and the subsequent duality of function that arises from it is one of the major obstacles that Hamlet must confront in the play (1.5.63). Hamlet’s growing consciousness of this dichotomy finds resolution (however haltingly) in his own adoption and exploitation of the sensory faculty of hearing.
Correspondingly, hearing in the play is rendered as a function more political than it is anatomical, due to definitions and demarcations of both familial and social relationships by the fundamental act of listening. In Hamlet, Shakespeare expands upon the longstanding linguistic and conceptual link between hearing and obedience: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “hear” is “to perceive, or have the sensation of, sound” but it alternatively means “to obey” and “to belong.” In the hierarchical structure of the family unit, listening (as a vital precursor to obedience) is necessarily an act of submission: the receptive child is one who subjugates himself to parental authority. From the very start of the play, Hamlet seems to rebel against this inequitable conception of hearing. He makes no attempt to listen attentively to Claudius, interrupting and even mishearing (accidentally or purposefully) the king’s address to him (1.2.64-67). Hamlet’s refusal to listen to Claudius in the appropriate manner thus indicates his complete rejection of Claudius as a surrogate father: instead, he shifts his dutiful compliance to his mother in a pointed remark, “I shall in all my best obey you, madam” (1.2.120). His denial is twofold: by refusing to listen to Claudius, Hamlet both shirks his responsibilities as both son and prince and also denies the controlling power of Claudius’s speech. In doing so, Hamlet exposes Claudius’s weakness and deceit as a ruler even before the full extent of his crime is revealed. Ultimately, Claudius is revealed to be nothing more than a politician who exploits other people’s ears, working through the devious methods of both poison and persuasion.
When the ghost of old King Hamlet appears, Hamlet’s recognition and acceptance of the ghost as that of his father and the reaffirmation of the father-son relationship are both again appropriately presented in the figurative terms of ears and hearing. The ghost refuses to speak to Horatio: the son alone must be the hearer and recipient of the father’s speech and authority. Establishing himself as patriarch, the ghost’s control of Hamlet is accomplished through his command of Hamlet’s hearing:
GHOST: Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing / To what I shall unfold.
HAMLET: Speak. I am bound to hear.
GHOST: So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear (1.5.5-8)
Whether or not the ghost really is Hamlet’s father is left purposefully ambiguous; this vagueness is complemented and heightened by the Claudius-like way in which the Ghost operates. The ghost’s power is contingent upon compelling Hamlet to listen and obey, a “commandment” that exploits both the constructive and destructive functions of hearing (1.5.103). By listening, Hamlet will not only fulfill his filial duty (“List, list, oh, list! / If thou didst ever thy dear father love”) but also be “bound” to realize and complete the ghost’s thirst for revenge (1.5.21-22). In the ghost’s account, Claudius literally poisons King Hamlet’s ear; by telling the story to Hamlet, the ghost metaphorically poisons Hamlet, to the extent that Hamlet even begins to feel physical symptoms: “Hold, hold, my heart, / And you, my sinews, grow not instant old” (1.5.93-94). Hamlet’s lingering suspicion and mistrust of the ghost is implied, though never directly stated. Even after claiming the ghost as the father, Hamlet remains reluctant to obey; his underlying resistance to listen to the ghost manifests itself in the delay of the actual revenge plot and Hamlet’s misdirection of blame towards his mother, which the ghost explicitly warned against.
In contrast to Hamlet, who cannot find an adequate paternal figure to fully acquiesce to, Laertes acts every bit the loyal son and subject, attending carefully and unquestioningly to both Claudius and to his father. Appropriately, his behavior is reflected in his diction, which is as polite and straightforward as Hamlet’s is discursive and pun-riddled: towards Claudius, he affirms his “duty” and praises the king’s “gracious leave and pardon” (1.2.53-57). Laertes is equally as respectful towards his father, attending to his father’s every word despite the tedious and seemingly facetious nature of pedantic Polonius’s advice. He does not interject as Hamlet does and only speaks when he is about to depart: “Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord” (1.3.81). Laertes’ compliance can be traced to the speech that precedes it: although Polonius does not immediately appear to the reader as an apt father figure, closer examination of his speech reveals that his advice, while not succinct, is acute and perceptive. In his parroting of trite sayings like “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice. Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgement,” Polonius expresses a savvy, worldly sort of wisdom; he indicates that the way to survive and succeed in society is through being a good, but guarded, hearer (1.3.67-69). His words bear relevance to the critical issue at hand; it is clear from Hamlet’s actions and words that the prince, Laertes’ foil, has not been the willing recipient of such paternal guidance.
The aural language that pervades the diction of both Polonius and Hamlet is an interesting linguistic commonality which juxtaposes two characters who represent entirely different worldviews and express antithetical variations on the thematic motif of ears and hearing in the play. As “councillor” to the king, Polonius is positioned as Hamlet’s essential enemy, being the man who most dutifully listens to Claudius. Polonius derives his influence from listening to the king, whereas Hamlet’s power stems directly from the opposite action – it is in rejecting Claudius’s speech that Hamlet is able to behave most independently. Outstepping the boundaries of Hamlet’s moralistic sense of hearing (“For God’s love, let me hear!”), Polonius is always trying to hear what he should not: “by indirections find directions out” (1.2.195, 2.1.63-65). His subversive acts of overhearing extend beyond the political realm so that Polonius problematically conflates both his parental and courtly roles: not only is he ordered to eavesdrop for Claudius, Polonius also appoints Reynaldo to spy on Laertes and uses his daughter Ophelia as bait for his schemes.
Like the other father figure of Claudius (and arguably, the ghost), Polonius exploits the function of the ear for his own gains; his fraudulent practices are characterized by the manipulation and interception of hearing. There are no people with which Polonius can relate and interact on an honest level: his distrust of his own offspring and his eagerness to pry into and “o’erhear” the private bond between mother and son leads to his downfall and ironically appropriate death “in the ear / Of all their conference” (3.1.183, 3.3.32). Although Polonius proclaims himself to be “a man faithful and honorable,” Hamlet ultimately exposes him and condemns him as a “wretched, rash, intruding fool” (3.4.31). Hamlet’s accidental murder of Polonius is perhaps not quite so incidental then; rather, it can be interpreted as more than instrumental to his ultimate goal of revenge. Claudius poisoned the ear of Hamlet’s father, and Hamlet has now killed Polonius, Claudius’ symbolic, extended avatar of an ear (“Behind the arras I’ll convey myself / To hear the process […] I’ll call upon you ere you go to bed / And tell you what I know”) (3.3.33-34).
If Hamlet seems to place his entire identity in jeopardy by refusing to listen to Claudius, his defiance should not be construed as a byproduct of irrational, adolescent stubbornness but rather as the reflection of his willful, intellectual resolve and new cognition. Kettle writes in his essay, “From Hamlet to Lear,” that “Hamlet can no longer base his values and actions on the accepted assumptions of the conventional sixteenth-century prince” (Kettle 147). Hamlet attempts to rearticulate the terms and relationships of hearing in order to create an identity for himself that is based not on his status as a prince, but rather “as a man, a sixteenth-century man, imbued with the values and caught up in the developing and exciting potentialities of the new humanism (Kettle 147). Society dictates that Hamlet, as the prince, should listen to and obey his father and king, and subsequently that the courtiers and nobles should listen to Hamlet. Shakespeare elucidates Hamlet’s rejection of the former relationship through the construction of disruptive dialogue; similarly, the latter relationship is also upended through the act of hearing. However, this time, it is accomplished not by a refusal to hear but by the exact opposite: Horatio demands of Hamlet to “season your admiration for a while / With an attent ear” to Hamlet’s reply of “For God’s love, let me hear!” (1.2.192-195).
Their conversation can be interpreted as an affirmation of the ear’s integrity and thus as an entire reversal of formerly supposed hierarchical structures of hearing. Hamlet’s conception of hearing as of this scene is that of a sanctified rather than corrupted function; he acknowledges that hearing is not his natural activity as prince in appealing to God to “let” him hear. While Hamlet’s words seem to imply that he somehow lacks the permission or ability to hear, what is most prominent in his conversation with Horatio is his driving desire to be a listener. Engaging in a fundamentally human act of hearing allows Hamlet to assert his essential personhood. In a coinciding departure from tradition, the lower-ranking subject is given the authority to speak with such volition and autonomy so as to subjugate the prince to the passive role of listener. Even more radically, Hamlet is not just a willing participant but an active agent in his own dethroning, correcting Horatio when he calls himself Hamlet’s “poor servant”: “Sir, my good friend. I’ll change that name with you” (1.2.162-163). Shakespeare, too, seems like a conspirator in this revolutionary plot: if Horatio’s discourse places him in the ambiguous grey area between being Hamlet’s subject and his conversational equal, so too does the playwright reject the restricting labels of stratified society. Unlike other characters in the play, Horatio is not clearly defined by his status at court. Rather, Shakespeare simply identifies him as a friend of Hamlet’s, making Horatio an apt interlocutor in their humanist dialogues and accordingly the most appropriate, perceptive survivor and successor of the tragic drama that unfolds.
It is in the final scene that Horatio once again breaks with established feudal custom to demand the hearing of a prince: “let me speak to th’yet unknowing world / How these things came about. So shall you hear” (5.2.352-354). This time, however, it is Fortinbras who answers – but his response (“Let us haste to hear it, / And call the noblest to the audience”) indicates that although Hamlet is now dead, his enlightened sentiments might still yet live on (5.2.360-361). Horatio has been charged with the task to persist and tell Hamlet’s story, but it is in Fortinbras’ words that we directly hear the lingering echo of Hamlet’s “dying voice” (5.2.330). This reverberation is at once haunting and hopeful, containing a promise of redemption from the current dire state of affairs wherein “the ears are senseless that should give us hearing” (5.2.343). Ultimately, Fortinbras’ bold reaffirmation of the integrity and equitability of hearing presents the euphonious possibility that the wounded ear of Denmark will finally heal and regain its capacity to hear fully – so that it is no longer sophistry that resounds in the land or even Hamlet’s predicated “silence” but “music” (5.2.332, 372).
New Version of the Vengeful Hero
Hamlet challenges the conventions of revenge tragedy by deviating from them.
– Sydney Bolt, 1985
The typical Elizabethan theatre-goer attending the first production of Hamlet in 1604 would have had clear expectations. The conventions of Elizabethan revenge tragedy, initially dating back to the Roman poet Senecahad, had already been well-established. Later, Thomas Kyd established the “Kydian Formula”, a framework comprising all of the elements of a typical revenge tragedy, when he published The Spanish Tragedy in 1586. The event that fuels the plot of Kyd’s play is a murder, committed by a future King, who is thus placed beyond the reach of the law. The victim’s ghost, returning from Purgatory to instruct his son to avenge his death, functions as a Chorus over the course of the play. His son pretends to be mad and presents a dumb-show in court so that he may be assured of the murderer’s blame. This play, full of melodrama and rhetoric, ends with the death of almost all of the characters, including the murderer, the son, and the son’s accomplice. In Hamlet, Shakespeare adheres to all of Kyd’s salient elements. I would, therefore, challenge Bolt’s declaration that Shakespeare deviates from the conventions of revenge tragedy. In fact, I would suggest that Shakespeare actually transcends these conventions, producing something far more powerful than a traditional, conventional revenge tragedy. Shakespeare builds on the structure of a conventional revenge tragedy and creates a psychological drama, focusing on the tortured personality of the protagonist and his motivation, rather than on the act of revenge itself.
Shakespeare uses Hamlet’s soliloquies to convey his protagonists’ instability and depression. In Act I Scene II, he exclaims, “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,” because he sees all the ways of ordinary life simply as “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable.” Shakespeare uses the image of an “unweeded garden” as a metaphor for Hamlet’s own existence: both the garden and Hamlet’s life are full of worthless things that are virtually choking the breath out of him. From this torturous despair and self-doubt stems his indecision, even concerning his own hopelessness: “To be, or not to be – that is the question.” Hamlet’s dilemma as to whether he should end his life or not is followed by a sequence of rhetorical questions:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
These questions further Hamlet’s philosophising about suicide and his uncertainty about his situation. Indeed, there seems to be very little consistency in Hamlet’s life; his father has been murdered, and his own mother has (in ignorance) married the murderer; his lover, Ophelia, has “denied him access,” at her father’s prompting. The fact that both of the women in his life seem to have rejected him obviously fuels his ardent misogyny. In Act I Scene II, he exclaims “Frailty, thy name is woman!” In Act III Scene I, the tension between Hamlet and Ophelia is obvious from the outset. She addresses his as “Good my lord,” but what dominates the conversation is Hamlet’s discussion about his loss of faith in women. Abandoning verse for savage prose, Hamlet’s disjointed speech communicates to the audience that he believes all women (he uses the address “yourselves”) are treacherous deceivers; that “jig”, “amble”, “lisp”, “nickname God’s creatures” and make their “wantonness” their “ignorance”. Hamlet later expands upon his hatred for women when he confronts Gertrude with her sins: “As kill a king, and marry with his brother.” With his violent and repellent imagery of what he considers incestuous conduct by the Queen (“It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen”) he not only greatly upsets his mother (“O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain”) but, by implication, also condemns all womankind.
In Act I Scene VI, Hamlet talks to Horatio and scorns not only Claudius, but also the Danish nation for its “custom” of holding grand “feasts”. He disapproves of the Danes’ way of celebrating because he considers this one flaw to let the country down, giving it a bad reputation. Hamlet compares this idea to a man, saying that if a man is born out of nature he will have a fundamental flaw that will bring him down as it gradually grows. This idea causes the audience to pity Hamlet since, with hindsight, they know that he is actually describing himself when talks about this man. In keeping with the traditions of revenge tragedy, Shakespeare provides Hamlet with one fatal flaw, but ironically the flaw is an inability to fulfill what his father’s ghost asks him to do. For the hero not to take revenge would have considerably surprised the Elizabethan audience. In Act III Scene III, Hamlet is presented with a perfect opportunity to kill Claudius when he finds him apparently praying in the chapel (“Now I might do it pat”), but he eventually decides not to do so, a decision perhaps borne out of his scholarship. The student Hamlet’s fatal flaw stems from the way that he begins to think carefully and consider the consequences of committing the murder. Indeed, in his soliloquy, Hamlet says “that would be scanned” and begins to contemplate his actions. In keeping with the religious beliefs prevalent during the time, Hamlet genuinely believes that if he kills Claudius while praying, Claudius’ soul will go straight to Heaven. At any other time, Claudius would have gone to Purgatory, which is where Hamlet’s father now resides, since he did not receive absolution for his sins before being murdered. However, if Hamlet had been the conventional avenger that his Elizabethan audience expected, he would not have stopped long enough to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions; he would have rather killed Claudius as soon as he got the chance.
Hamlet’s awareness of his fatal flaw makes him even less of a conventional revenge hero; in his soliloquy in Act III Scene I, he declares, “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” He calls himself a “rogue and peasant slave”; while the Player is distressed simply for acting in the dumb-show (“And all for nothing!”), Hamlet himself is unable even to conjure up the same emotion. He speculates:
What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?
He would drown the stage with tears.
Hamlet feels guilty for his inability to do so, calling himself “unpregnant of my cause.” He questions, “Am I a coward?”, interjecting his soliloquy, already punctuated with exclamations such as “O vengeance!,” with broken sentences and verse that dissolve into the single syllable line, “Ha!”
Hamlet’s inner turmoil at his inability to act is only heightened when Shakespeare juxtaposes his protagonist’s situation with two similar ones in which the heroes are actively seeking revenge. In Poland, Fortinbras fights to recapture a tiny, worthless “little patch of ground”; Hamlet compares himself unfavourably, and accuses himself (quite correctly) “Of thinking too precisely on th’ event.” He believes it a mark of greatness to “find quarrel in a straw” (over a trivial matter) “[w]hen honour’s at the stake.” He realises that his own honour is far more at stake than that of Fortinbras, and yet he is willing to “let all sleep.” Fortinbras’ activity seems to spur him to act (“My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”), but there is no more evidence in the play after this point to suggest that he is plotting to kill the king than there was before.
The second contrasting character that Shakespeare offers is Laertes. After Hamlet killed his father, Polonius, and was indirectly responsible for Ophelia’s madness (‘desperate terms’) and death (since she most likely committed suicide), Laertes, spurred on by the Machiavellian Claudius, desperately seeks revenge. Laertes is furious at Claudius when he hears of his father’s death, and immediately rushes back to Denmark to avenge the terrible insult to his honour. Shakespeare presents us with the powerful symbolism of “The ocean, overpeering of his list” – the rising tide of Laertes’ “rabble” quickly covering the seashore, and continues the sense of tense urgency with Laertes’ aggressive dialogue: “That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard.” Laertes refuses to be calmed, protesting that to do so would deny his status as his father’s son. When Claudius relates to Laertes his desire for Hamlet to be killed by “accident”, to ensure Gertrude does not suspect anything Laertes immediately proffers himself as the “organ” of Hamlet’s death. Although Claudius manipulates him, Laertes plays an active role in formulating the conspiracy, himself conceiving the idea to poison the already “unbated” sword; so strong is his desire for revenge that he would even be willing to kill a childhood friend. However, Hamlet, the unconventional revenge hero, cannot himself kill a man who murdered his father and then immediately married his mother! When Claudius questions him as to what he would be prepared to do to avenge his father’s death, Laertes’ response is violent and unequivocal: “To cut his throat I’ the’ church.” This, ironically, parallels Hamlet’s earlier inability to kill Claudius in church, as seen in Act III Scene III.
Laertes’ aggressive response reveals that he is a man of action, and thus a Mediaeval man. Hamlet, on the other hand, is very much a thinker; a Renaissance man. I believe that it is entirely consistent with Shakespeare’s approach of transcending the elements of revenge tragedy that rather than keeping Hamlet as a conventional seeker of vengeance in the Senecan mould, he sculpts a contemporary figure. Shakespeare presents a protagonist, who, far from a conventional Roman Catholic, is actually part of a new breed of man. Hamlet goes to university in Wittenberg in Germany, the birthplace of Martin Luther’s Protestantism and of the Reformation. Shakespeare also crafts a humanist quality in Hamlet, with his thirst for knowledge and a pre-occupation with the complexity of man’s personality (“What a piece of work is man”). By creating a university-educated Renaissance Humanist, Shakespeare sets Hamlet apart from other revenge heroes such as Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy and Laertes, thereby emphasising Hamlet’s unconventionality.
Some critics argue that the final scene of the play sees Hamlet transformed into the conventional revenge hero that he always aspired to be, as he kills Claudius in a fit of passion. Indeed, it is certainly true that the final scene, where the stage is littered with bodies, complies with the traditions of conventional revenge tragedy. The Elizabethan audience would have gone home satisfied! However, Shakespeare’s treatment of revenge in Hamlet is unusual because while revenge is clearly the subject matter fuelling the plot, it is only a subsidiary issue. Far more central is Hamlet’s inability to exact revenge, a byproduct of his instability, indecision and misogyny. Shakespeare creates a conventionally-structured revenge tragedy, but ensures that his hero is not trapped within these confines. By making use of theatrical conventions such as soliloquies and asides, Shakespeare not only builds a relationship between the hero and the audience, but allows the audience to see into the mind of the hero and understand what he is feeling. By erecting a psychological drama within the structure of a revenge tragedy, Shakespeare ensures that the essence of the play is not revenge in itself, but is rather a psychological and emotional study of Hamlet’s disturbed character. Shakespeare thus transcends the conventions of revenge tragedy, rather than deviating from them, as Sydney Bolt argues.
Movie Interpretations of the “Hamlet” Tragedy
How many different interpretations can be derived from one source? Due to the ubiquitous distinctions that exist within each person, the result we perceive from an event changes with each individual perception. Out of the various editions of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version pairs historic visuals to the original script. Equally critically acclaimed is Gregory Doran’s 2009 television film adaptation, embodying a modern take on the timeless tale. The various elements in each not only allow for the viewer to understand the plot of Hamlet, but also facilitate differing perspectives on one scene: the death of Polonius, and Hamlet’s subsequent reaction and treatment of Gertrude. Although they share the same plot, the differences between Branagh’s and Doran’s rendition of that scene illuminates the contrast between a literal interpretation and a contemporary retelling.
Upon first glance of Gertrude’s bedroom in Branagh’s film, one immediately takes note of the opulent mise-en-scene in which an abundance of regal furniture and antique ornamentation garnish the spacious set. Dusty pinks, sky blues, and gold-plated goods dominate the colour scheme, reinforcing the immense wealth possessed by the royal family. In fact, Gertrude’s gilded dress is a prominent source of colour within the scene. The combination of these hues creates a cheerful, calm ambience – A complete juxtaposition to Hamlet’s pure black outfit and “antic disposition.” The high-key lighting crafts an illusion of a more voluminous room, which ironically symbolizes freedom out of the characters’ reach. On the contrary, the setting in Doran’s film features a completely dissimilar colour palette, with black, grey, and brown shades overshadowing much of the embellishment in Gertrude’s bedroom. By using neutral undertones for the majority of the props, a portentous atmosphere is created, amplifying Hamlet’s aggressive actions toward his mother. Furthermore, the colour pattern hints toward minimalism, an especially popular design in the modern era. In Doran’s case, Hamlet’s frenzied behaviour complements his gloomy surroundings. Low-key lighting manipulates the hostile mood of the scene by emphasizing subtle shadows. A sombre environment is fashioned with the use of underlighting. Stark contrasts between light and dark areas of the shot allude to Hamlet’s psychological self-division stemming from both internal and external conflicts. As a result of the colours and lighting representing opposite ends of the spectrum, each film reflects elements of different time periods.
Another key point for analysis is Hamlet’s treatment of the people around him. Branagh’s screenplay does not deviate from Shakespeare’s script in regard to how Hamlet treats Gertrude. Utilizing belligerent actions to restrain his mother, it is evident in Hamlet’s punitive language that he aims to determine whether or not Gertrude had a role in his father’s murder. The audience is left to their own judgement as to whether or not she is guilty, as seen by her anger and bewilderment at Hamlet’s ‘madness’. Moreover, Polonius’ death also adheres to the original story. Each film’s protagonist shows no hesitation in killing who they believe to be Claudius. Hamlet’s lack of remorse at his extreme blunder goes so far as to even insult Polonius’ corpse, calling him a “wretched, rash, intruding fool.” The 2009 rendering does not diverge from the above. However, the main difference lies in Hamlet’s final words to Polonius. In Branagh’s portrayal, the prince speaks with a seemingly reverent tone, whereas Doran’s Hamlet spitefully spits out a few last remarks. Despite the variance, one may conclude that these vital plot elements supersede contrasting historical eras.
Incidentally, Hamlet’s reaction to his father’s ghost varies greatly with the actor. In Doran’s depiction, the ghost is seen as a domineering figure that still maintains control even from beyond the grave. Upon his arrival, Hamlet cowers on the ground in distress, holding his head in his hands. His foetal position and body language implies that Hamlet is fearful of his father due to his procrastination in revenge, which is also shown by his frightened and high-pitched words. Non-diegetic sound plays during the ghost’s visit, establishing a sombre mood that intensifies Hamlet’s apprehension. The ominous instrumentals build a foreboding aura that soon climaxes at the ghost’s departure. In comparison, Branagh’s Hamlet gazes upon the ghost with longing and nostalgia. Through his tears and the soft tone of his voice, one can see the extent of Hamlet’s grief and love for his dear father. Parallel sound complements the raw, emotional scene, with melodious harmonies featuring soft violins. Although this is only the second time that he has seen the supernatural figure, Hamlet treats him with the same respect as if he were alive. Consequently, people in the middle ages would be more disposed to believe in superstitions and omens, such as the appearance of a deceased being. This explains how readily Branagh’s Hamlet accedes the ghost’s manifestation, whereas Hamlet in Doran’s neoteric version recoils in alarm.
The most compelling evidence of each film’s different time period is the choice of props within the scene. An effort to emulate the historical setting of the play is clearly seen on Branagh’s set. Richly illustrated murals blanket the expansive walls of the royal bedroom. Vintage luxuries such as marble pillars and ornately framed paintings supplement the eloquent ambience of the environment. Gertrude dons a golden, Victorian-era gown, with a modestly high neckline and a snug bodice. A principal example of the old-fashioned décor is clearly seen when Hamlet presents the pictures of his father and Claudius to Gertrude. Encasing the images are small wooden lockets, flaunting intricate carvings that are not common in the 21st century. Contrarily, Doran’s precise visuals compel the idea that his film is set in the present day. The simple nature of the bedroom furniture hints toward a modern lifestyle, as there is not as much material lavishness as one would expect of the royal family of Denmark. Gertrude wears loose, casual nightwear consisting of dark green fabric with a low-cut neckline that is a staple in present-day sleepwear. The flagrant display of her smoking and drinking is behaviour commonly seen in today’s films that showcase adults under stress. Even more jarring is Hamlet’s use of a handheld gun to kill Polonius, who foolishly hides behind a mirror. Given the social scene in today’s urban society, guns are increasingly becoming a household item. Pulled from a bedroom drawer, this would explain Hamlet’s easy access to such a merciless weapon. This is in direct contrast to Branagh’s edition where Polonius dies as a result of primitive stab wounds by Hamlet’s dagger. These inconsistencies only bolster the audience’s perception of the disparity in eras between the two films.
In essence, Kenneth Branagh’s historic rendition and Gregory Doran’s modern adaptation shed insight on varying perspectives of the same play. William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a classic story of hubris and hamartia, depicting the tragic descent of human nature. Through the discrepancies between the time periods in which the films take place, one is able to fully grasp the intricacies of Hamlet’s quest for revenge. Along the journey, the audience learns that an eye for an eye may yield unforeseen consequences. Despite the differences in use of lighting, colour, props, and human behaviour, both films achieve their goal of exhibiting the universal themes of death and moral corruption.
The Craziness of Acumen of Hamlet
“Hamlet is no abstract thinker and dreamer. As his imagery betrays to us, he is rather a man gifted with greater powers of observation than the others. He is capable of scanning reality with a keener eye of penetrating… to the very core of things”
-Wolfgang Clemen (1951)
The question of Hamlet’s madness or his facade of madness has been the central issue of discussion among the “Hamlet” readers throughout the ages. Yet no one ever considers the sanity of the surrounding characters under the given conditions and circumstances of the play. How credible is Claudius in proclaiming Hamlet to be mad when there seems to be a clear lack of sanity and decency in his murder of his own brother and marital union of his sister-in-law? Furthermore, if Hamlet is mad, how sane is Gertrude for she remarries nearly immediately and to the brother of her deceased husband? What about the Danish court? The countenance of indifference and the passing of consent to such an incestuous act must warrant this society the sanity and credibility to label someone mad, of course. If Hamlet is diseased by madness, it is the madness of his insightfulness. As Clemens had said, Hamlet possesses “greater powers of observation … and a keener eye of penetrating” than the others. It is precisely because of Hamlet’s ability to see the depth of his time and people that allows for those who are not as intelligent and perceptive, thus intolerant of his seemingly “insane” or radical views, to call him mad.
Indeed, Hamlet’s being as a revolutionary thinker and philosopher of his time is the cause of his famed “madness”. Hamlet is capable of seeing beyond his time and criticizing “to the very core of things” (Clemen, 1951) the flaws and foibles of the Danish society. Because of such iconoclastic, perhaps even precocious, views, such as his criticisms of “a custom (drinking) more honored in the breach than the observance… this… makes us traduced and taxed of other nations… they clepe us drunkards and with swinish phrase soil our addition” (“Hamlet”, Act 1. Sc. 4), other characters who conform to the beliefs and behaviors of the time and setting perceive Hamlet as a dangerous man with “mad” ideas. Perhaps, even more apparent in Hamlet’s isolation because of his elite intelligence is his solo stand against the marriage. In his soliloquy where he criticizes the hasty marriage, “why she (O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason would have mourned longer) married with my uncle, my father’s brother, but no more like father than I to Hercules. Within a month… she remarried… with such dexterity to incestuous sheets” (“Hamlet”, Act 1. Sc 2), Hamlet demonstrates an enormous amount of frustration, for it seems as though he is the only one who sees the lack of ethics and prudence in this marriage. Hamlet’s exact and unconventional belief in maintaining marital fidelity even after a spouse’s death confirms Clemen’s analysis of him as a “gifted” thinker who’s beyond his time2E
Perhaps, that exemplifies Hamlet’s superior thinking most is his famous soliloquy of life and death. While others foolishly give into the ambition of affected honor, such as the sacrifice of the 20,000 soldiers for a worthless portion of Polish land, Hamlet ponders “to be or not to be” (“Hamlet”, Act 3. Sc. 1) His intelligence expounds upon the suffering and troubles of life, and the “sleep” which all desires, for it ends these troubles, yet repulses from it, for the fear of the unknown. If Hamlet had been an ignorant brute, the encounter with the Ghost would have already driven him to immediate actions, therefore death of Claudius. Yet, even when the ghost of his murdered father itself calls upon Hamlet to vengeance, he thinks and reasons. It takes the death of both of his parents to stir him to actions and overcome his complex brain.
Moreover, Hamlet is the epitome of reason and observation. His complex ideas and beliefs sequester him from the rest, thus creating an aura of “madness” around his character. Here, Shakespeare recounts history, as Galileo, Martin Luther, and other revolutionary thinkers of their own respective times evince the all-too-familiar inquisition of those who are different. Like Galileo and other precocious thinkers, Hamlet is socially persecuted for his intelligence and untraditional thinking. His only madness was in his intelligent perception of ethics which happens to not conform to that of the Danish court. If madness is defined as seeing what isn’t there, then Hamlet is as mad as madness allows, for he truly sees and embraces what nobody else can see: the ethics, or lack thereof, of the incestuous union of two adulterers.
Note of interest: In demonstrating ethical relativism in the play, which delineates the sequestering and social persecution of a lonesome hero with a just cause by a society that embraces incest and debauchery, Shakespeare might have implied the acceptance of his own homosexuality. In a world certainly intolerant and violent toward any deviations, Shakespeare might have wanted to demonstrate the absurdity of what is defined as “accepted” or “conventional”. In Hamlet’s world, Hamlet is the only person who finds the marriage unnatural. In the real world, Shakespeare is the lonesome hero with a radical belief of tolerance and sexual preference.
Analysis Of Hamlet And Gertrude Relationship In Shakespeare’s Tragedy
William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet, is acknowledged as a representation of the inner workings of the human mind and illuminates the internal struggle Hamlet faces following the death of his father. The cause of Hamlet’s conflict is the sudden death of his father, his strained relationship with his mother, and the decisions she makes immediately following the death. In the tragedy of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, Hamlet’s turbulent relationship with his mother, Gertrude, elucidates that dramatic changes in one’s circumstances can negatively impact one’s psyche. A
t the beginning of the play, the death of Hamlet’s father leads to Hamlet isolating himself from others and becoming increasingly self-deprecating and cynical. Hamlet’s speech contains self-deprecating language that indicates his many attempts to convince himself to take action. Hamlet chastises himself by declaring himself a “rogue and peasant slave”, signaling that he is upset with his inability to take action or to avenge his father. Hamlet further pins himself down to inaction by berating himself repeatedly. He calls himself a “muddy-mettled rascal” and an unmotivated “John-a-dreams”. Hamlet recognizes that he doesn’t have the courage to seek revenge, so he reinforces that his intentions are merely dreams that will fail because they are based on a false reality.
Additionally, he questions his own ambition emphasizing his inner failure to take action. Hamlet continues his self-deprecation by calling himself “pigeon-livered”, since he has not developed the bravery to take action. Psychologically, Hamlet finds the only way to face his fear is to repeatedly state his weakness. Hamlet calls himself an “ass” for failing to act and then bitterly remarks on how he has been “most brave” neglect his “dear father” who was murdered and whose “dear life” was defeated. Towards the end of his speech, Hamlet recognizes the futility of his thoughts, arguing that he must “like a whore unpack my heart with words”. Hamlet’s sole method of coping with his self-doubt and indecisiveness is through his soliloquies. Hamlet recognizes the existence of a motive in his case, namely the Ghost’s rousing narrative and his mother’s behavior; therefore, Hamlet dreams about fulfilling his function to avenge the death of his father.
While Gertrude initially showed profound grief over King Hamlet’s death, she quickly turned to the comfort of others in order to find solace. Hamlet finds wherever he turns that people are not as they seem, beginning with his own mother. His sense of justice becomes blurred — and his view of women is distorted because of his feelings about Gertrude. Moreover, his mother’s dejection appears to be the catalyst that turns an expressive young man into a hesitant, reserved man who hides his innermost feelings. The characterization of Gertrude – as sensual and selfish – is provided by Hamlet and the Ghost. Hamlet frequently mentions his mother’s sexuality, and obsesses over her relationship with Claudius, describing their relationship as “incestuous”. The Ghost in addition to Hamlet, cites Gertrude’s licentiousness as the cause of her swift marriage to his brother. Gertrude’s relationship with Claudius defines her character for both her son and deceased husband, and even taints the reader’s perception of her as an effete and lustful individual.
However, Gertrude does nothing to confirm or deny this judgement. Hamlet and Gertrude both handle their grief in different manners, causing a rift between the two and damaging their formally strong relationship. Hamlet’s feelings about his mother’s betrayal of his father augments the pain he feels. Hamlet directly says to her that she has dishonored the memory of her deceased husband: “Mother, you have my father much offended”. Hamlet’s pent-up resentment and confusion over Gertrude’s actions causes him anguish, which he unleashes upon her after trying to prove Claudius is the murderer. Not only does Hamlet feel betrayed, but he is unable to understand how his mother could abandon her former husband, his father, and he sees her hastiness as a reflection on the weakness of all women: “And yet, within a month / (Let me not think on ‘t, frailty thy name is woman!) /…married with my uncle”. His mother’s “weakness” in marrying Claudius proves to Hamlet that women cannot be trusted. Gertrude’s betrayal and apparent lack of sound judgement confuses Hamlet and causes him great distress. Hamlet is conflicted by the actions of Gertrude because he feels betrayed and does not trust his mother. Hamlet’s sentiments of self-doubt and even animosity create a conflict that makes up an essential part of his distress. Shakespeare displays the inner workings of Hamlet’s mind through Hamlet and Gertrude’s turbulent relationship, as Hamlet comes to terms with the death of his father and Gertrude action’s under their drastically changing circumstances.
Thematic Exploration Of Deceit In Hamlet: Analytical Essay
Hamlet’s life is centered around deception. Not only is he frequently the victim of deception from others, but he himself is also deceptive. Mostly everything he believes is false, and most of his manipulation is with the intent to help himself rather than hurt others. Deception is a major theme in Hamlet; he always uses it to get his way. With deception as a central theme, it is proving that truth can always be manipulated for the benefit of the manipulator and in order for them to reach the truth they are seeking.
One way that Hamlet is deceptive in the play for his own benefit is when he fakes madness; he does this to cover up suspicious activities he is partaking in to prove his father was killed by his uncle Claudius. He tells this directly to his friend, who is also the man he idolizes, Horatio, ‘How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself, / As I, perchance, hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on, / That you, at such times seeing me, never shall, / With arms encumber’d thus, or this head-shake, / Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase, / As ‘Well, well, we know’; or ‘We could, an if we would’; / Or ‘If we list to speak’; or ‘There be, an if they might’; / Or such ambiguous giving out, to note / That you know aught of me: this is not to do, / So grace and mercy at your most need help you’. Hamlet’s ‘antic disposition’ is used mainly whenever he talks to anyone he knows is close to Claudius, such as this line he speaks to Polonius, “For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion – Have you a daughter’ Whenever he is around an acquaintance of Claudius, his words turn into gibberish, and nothing he says makes sense. Why would he be asking Polonius if he has a daughter? Hamlet knows Ophelia and loves Ophelia…or at least pretends to – another act of deception, in fact.Not only is Hamlet deceptive to those surrounding Claudius, he is also deceptive directly to Claudius. Again, he speaks to Horatio on the matter, saying, ‘Give him a heedful note / For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, / And after we will both our judgments join / In censure of his seeming’. Hamlet’s intent in this specific scene is to uncover that Claudius is in fact his father’s killer by staging a play within the play, called The Murder of Gonzago, which contains scenes very similar to what he believes happened, what the ghost of his father told him. He wants Claudius to react in a way that reveals he is the murderer of his father, which is again using deception for his own benefit. He is also trying to deceive his mother Gertrude with The Murder of Gonzago – his intent with her is to show that she is in the wrong for her marrying Claudius so soon after the death of King Hamlet by portraying his own character as performing similar behaviors.
Putting on The Murder of Gonzago is another way in which Hamlet is deceptive to the others around him for his own gain, and The Murder of Gonzago itself carries the theme that deception can sometimes be a necessity for gaining the truth. Hamlet’s deception affects more than just him, however. Because of the way Hamlet behaves to get his way, his so-called ‘antic disposition,’ Ophelia actually goes insane and kills herself. Claudius states that Ophelia is “divided from herself and her fair judgment” because of Hamlet’s behavior. However, Ophelia herself is also deceptive; she hides her father Polonius’s manipulative behaviors from Hamlet. In the act of trying to uncover the truth regarding whether or not King Hamlet was truly killed by Claudius or if the devil sent the ghost, Hamlet feigns insanity in order to gain information about his father’s death, and as a result, causes many more deaths. One of these deaths is Polonius, the father of Ophelia; in fact, Ophelia’s madness is partially caused by the accidental murder of Polonius by Hamlet. ‘How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead’ is what Hamlet says when he accidentally kills Polonius. He believes Polonius is Claudius, but Claudius has predicted this would happen and sent Polonius in his place to deceive Hamlet. Claudius is another character who uses deception to get his way; in this case, he uses it to prevent his own death, which causes a world of trouble in Hamlet. Hamlet using deception to gain truths he otherwise would not know is ironic, as he is set up from the first scene that he appears in as a character who values real truths, telling Gertrude, ‘Seems,’ madam? Nay it is. I know not ‘seems.’ / ‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, / Nor customary suits of solemn black, / Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, / No, nor the fruitful river in the eye, / Nor the dejected havior of the visage, / Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, / That can denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem,’ / For they are actions that a man might play: / But I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe. He is telling her that despite his outward appearance, though it indicates he is grieving King Hamlet, no one can truly tell what he is feeling, because what he is feeling is all internal and his internal feelings are much more intense than his external appearance denotes, and that his mother, Claudius, and the court are all fake because all they truly care about appearance.
Despite all of this, Hamlet is also disingenuous throughout the play and uses his outer appearance to define himself – this deception is to gain the truths about his father’s death that he desires. Because of the way Hamlet and the other characters in the play behave, using deception for their own gain, at the end of the play, everyone important in Denmark is dead. Hamlet is not only frequently deceptive to his own acquaintances and family, but they are also incredibly deceptive to him. Hamlet’s deception is for his own gain, as is the deception of others for their own gain, which is most likely why it hurts so many more people rather than helping them.
- Shakespeare, William, and Cyrus Hoy. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.