Father-Child Relationships in Hamlet and Fences
In both William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and August Wilson’s Fences, the emphasis placed on parent-child relationship is vital, as family plays an important role in developing a character’s values as well as his or her upbringing does. While Ophelia, Laertes, and Hamlet show loyalty to their fathers unconditionally, Cory, even though looks up Troy as a figure, eventually exhibits disrespect to him. The relationship that Ophelia shares with her father, Polonius, is rather dogmatic to say the least.
Throughout Hamlet, Polonius demonstrates almost absolute control over Ophelia as if she were a tool with the sole purpose of serving Polonius.
As a result of a weakness of mind caused by a lack of independent thought, Ophelia does not oppose Polonius; for instance when Polonius challenges Hamlet’s intentions with Ophelia, she can only say “I do not know, my lord, what I should think. ” (I. iii).
Ophelia allows herself to be controlled, even rebuffing her love for Hamlet simply because Polonius suggests her not to “give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet,” (I.
v) which illustrates the importance Ophelia place on her familial obligations. The structure and guidance that Polonius provides for Ophelia, leads her to affirm that she “shall obey” him (I. iv). Ophelia is subservient to her father’s wishes and looks up to his patriarchal position. She listens to Polonius’ counsel. She places her father (and family) above other affairs. Polonius seems to be dominant and almost controlling. However, Ophelia is never rebellious. While Ophelia shows her faithfulness to her father dependently, Laertes consciously respect his father.
Though they may not have the best relationship before Polonius is murdered, it was clear that Laertes feels it to be essential that he proves his love for his father after his father has passed. The question is, does Laertes always have a passion for his father, and if not, why does he feel that he has to take revenge for his father’s honor in the second half of the play? Polonius says to King Claudius before Laertes’s departure, “He hath, my lord, wrung from me my slow leave/ By laboursome petition, and at last/ Upon his will I sealed my hard consent. / I do beseech you give him leave to go. (I. ii). These lines show that Polonius is reluctant to let his son leave.
When Laertes finally reaches France, it is discovered by us readers that Polonius still has little faith in his son to take care of himself. However, to keep an eye on his son, Polonius still orders his servant to France to secretly spy on Laertes and to make sure that he is doing alright. Polonius loves his son and daughter in a protective manner. That’s why he gains Laertes and Ophelia’s admiration. Similar to Laertes, Hamlet devotes his later life to an attempt of retribution to his father’s death.
Hamlet looks up to his father because he feels that he is a great leader and the bravest man that he has known, as Hamlet mentions, “so excellent a king” (I. ii). These lines, “See, what a grace was seated on his brow:/ Hyperions curls, the front of Jove himself;/ An eye like Mars, to threaten or command;/ A station like the herald Mercury,” shows that Hamlet is willing to revenge for his father. His act of taking revenge may not completely come from love, but at least it represents the responsibility from a son to his father.
In one of Aichinger’s essays about Hamlet, he points out that “Hamlet’s rejection of the moral standards of his society is crystallized by the events which follow his father’s death. ” Hamlet is even obsessed to the idea of vengeance that remarkably transforms him from an average, responsible, young prince to an apparently mad, raging son intent upon avenging his father’s death. We see responsibility, obedience, and devotion in father-child relationships in Hamlet. But Troy-Cory relationship in Fences is not the case.
Whether the cause is generational gap or Troy’s selfishness or Cory’s noncompliance, Troy never completely gains the love from his own son even after his death. Their relationship never blooms. Initially, Cory may innocently display his admiration to Troy because of his athletic ability and because of a simple reason: a love from a normal son to his father. Through Rose’s word, we know that Cory tries to do as best as he can to earn one compliment from his father, “Everything that boy do… he do for you.
He wants you to say “Good job, son. ” That’s all. (I. iii). Unfortunately, there’s always a conflict in that relation. Cory asks his father, “How come you ain’t never liked me? ” and Troy answers, “Liked you? Who the hell say I got to like you?… / You eat everyday… / Got a roof over your head… / Got clothes on your back… / What you think that is?… / It’s my job. / It’s my responsibility! “(I. iii). This conversation between Cory and Troy clarifies everything. Troy doesn’t “like” his son. Troy takes care of his family including Cory because of his duty. Troy thinks he “owe” Cory.
Of course, there must be some love from Troy to Cory, from a father to his son, but the bitter experiences Troy has in the past soon fence himself in to be a selfish, hostile man. In Wade Bradford’s analytical essay, he claims that ” These set pieces will provide the literal and metaphoric activity of the play: building a fence around Troy’s property. ” So, Cory is not Troy’s “property? ” His selfishness seems large enough to overwhelm his love to the family, especially, to Cory. Troy subconsciously doesn’t want to see Cory’s success in sport which also means Troy is a failure.
If there’s no whole-hearted love, duty becomes tiresome to Troy. The last fight between Troy and Cory is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Cory says “I’m not going to Papa’s funeral,”(II. v). His refusal to participate in Troy’s funeral shows that the wound in their relationship would never be healed. Cory just cannot forgive his father. Their relationship is always bitter and tense. Cory never fulfils his obligation as a son to Troy. Father-child relationship dominates both Hamlet and Fences. It is the scaffold that constructs the storyline in Fences.
While Hamlet also deals with other issues, the parental relationship is the cause influencing most of the characters’ actions and behaviors. The contrast in father-child relationship in both plays is obvious. In the theme of post-medieval time in Hamlet, those connections are more rightfully dogmatic and include the devotion of one’s life to another. In the near-modern setting, the relationship among people may contain barriers of egocentric that separate them from one to another even that is the relationship between a father and his child.
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