Love in Hamlet, Popol Vuh, and Candide
The theme of love is omnipresent in literature; no matter what nook or cranny you search in a library, it is there. However, this theme conveys more than just kisses, heartbreak, and rampant sexual tension. It describes a culture through their passion, or lack thereof, and how they care for love; do the characters cherish what they have, or are they careless and throw it away. Hamlet, Popol Vuh, and Candide all exemplify a story with imperfect love, but it is in the imperfections that we gain understanding about the culture from which these stories emerged.
From Europe to Guatemala, Englishman to Mayans, the love displayed in these texts give the reader an inside look into the way these people thought, and even show that the modern view of love is not as different as one would think. In the 1500’s, the world was ever-changing, expanding, metamorphosing, yet at the same time shrinking. People, word, and information was traveling faster than ever between cities, countries, and continents. Men were exploring and conquering “new worlds” that were not really new at all. Reformations were occurring, people were becoming more and more concerned with moral guidance and creating a well-lived life. In all of this hustle and bustle emerged a good, old-fashioned fairytale about a prince, his love, a king and queen, and, not to mention, murder. Lots of it. Forget a moral, well-lived life. Instead, take a castle and flood it with insanity, betrayal, and death. Discard the political logic and structure brought about by Machiavelli’s The Prince, and substitute anarchy. Amidst all of this sadness, there is also love; which, given enough time in this retched environment, is also reduced to death. The love in this play is multifaceted with each character that possesses it. The king, whose familial love—or better yet, lust for the crown and Gertrude—seemed to skip over his brother and straight into the loins of his sister-in-law, is a dark symbol of what no love brings about: evil. However, those characters who do find love do not fare much better. King Hamlet’s idea of love rides on one’s status as his ghost exemplifies by describing the love he and Gertrude shared as “that of dignity” (Simon Vol. 1,1824). The queen is the epitome of the naïve, blonde, beautiful woman; she clings to love, wherever she may find it, and once it is gone, quickly searches out another; whether she is driven by fear or loneliness, her portrayal of love is one of insincerity and, according to her son, “makes marriage vows/As false as dicer’s oaths” (1862) . The ill fates of Gertrude and the King can be connected to the strong Christian views of those at the time. Gertrude’s insincerity can be considered lying and therefore a sin; similarly, the King’s sins of murder, lying, coveting, and theft can atone for the especially terrible way in which he died—having to watch his friends, nephew, wife, and eventually himself be slain. Hamlet’s love for his father is likely the truest of all. For arguments sake, adapt the theory that Hamlet was only appearing to be crazy. If this is so, his love for his father was so great that he threw away his love with Ophelia, cut all ties with friends (to the point that he murdered them), and discarded any care for his public image, which as an heir to the throne carries quite a bit of weight. Continuing on with the theory of his false mental illness, the letter he wrote to Ophelia could have been a desperate attempt to preserve their love through the emotional storm that he knew was inevitable seeking revenge for his father; he is almost pleading with her to “never doubt I love” as though there would be circumstances that would tempt her to do so (1834). The love Hamlet and Ophelia share is difficult to dissect because it is shrouded in mental illness—be it on Hamlet’s part or hers. Ophelia inevitably succumbs to the same love madness her father saw in Hamlet. However, her madness is brought about by how violently her loves were torn from her: her father being murdered at the hands of the man she loved made the loss of them even more unbearable. Her suicide in response to losing these loves shows the importance of the theme to the English: if one cannot have love, then life is not worth living. The madness and lengths that Hamlet goes to in order to avenge his father’s death shows the respect that this culture has for love and the power they see it possessing.
The enlightenment brought about turmoil, war, and anarchy. People were no longer inclined to blindly follow the monarchs who claimed to be ruling by choice of god. For lack of a better word, people began to think. They turned on the monarch way of government. Turmoil continued as the classes became more distinct and divided with the rich aristocrats living in leisure and governing the impoverished, working masses. Religious and political differences resulted in rebellions and succession to thrones became the new battlefield. The characters in Candide seem to venture through many of the social classes—although they tend to linger in the less fortunate ones—on their mad dash around the world. Though they seem to be apart more than they are together and their situation continuously worsens, they hold on to the love they have for each other as their last hope; after all, they are living in “the best of all possible worlds” (Simon Vol. 2, 101). Through their journey, they see those who are much less fortunate than they are, namely the old woman, and see that they are still capable of love and hope. This shows that in this time in English culture, the belief that, although life is filled with strife, love is motivation to continue on and love is the hope humans need was prevalent. After years of fighting slavery, enduring brutality, and losing each other a few times, it came as a bit of a surprise that “at heart, Candide had no real wish to marry Cunégonde” (157). Had he seen all of the evil the world had to offer and lost his hope for love? Or was he being shallow and was not attracted to her physically anymore? The readers almost gives up on true love themselves after watching these two fight so hard for the love they had for each other and then it amounting to them marrying over a feeling of obligation; to be quite frank, what the hell? This is almost a direct contradiction to the cultural belief found in the previous paragraph. Could it be that this culture is much more cynical than previously thought? They could in fact believe that no matter how much you fight for love, you will end up disappointed. In every culture, there are many sides to what people believe. There are those who chose to believe in love and cherish it: the Cunégondes of the world; and there are those who give up on love and settle: the Candides of the world. The not so new world Christopher Columbus stumbled upon was in for a rude awakening. Their whole world about to be ravaged by disease and weapons they had never seen before.
In the 1500’s, the European countries began their decent on Central and South America. Despite the violence and death they brought in their wake, the appreciation of the culture and literature preserved texts such as the Popol Vuh. Popol Vuh is unlike Candide and Hamlet in that there is almost no love. In the beginning, the gods want to be worshipped, so they attempt to create beings that will give them the love they desire. They try a few methods to no avail until the very end of Popol Vuh. This is about the only love we see in this story: a desire for it. However, the lack of love says more about these people than a love story could have. Even though there are many children in this story, there is little familial love, and even familial loathing. So enthralled in their religion and gods, these people make no time for love. Instead, there is only war, sacrifices, and deceit. This is a culture fueled by fear of gods rather than a quest for love and happiness.
Through the minds of the writers of these works, we are given a peek inside the culture of these three time periods. Some views of love are not unlike those held in modern times, while others are much darker, bleaker views of love. These works illustrate the dangers of a life without love and the pain that comes from a love lost. Altogether, these texts show that love is an integral part of every culture, be it the way its people view love, or the lack of love in their society.
Works Cited Simon, Peter, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginning to 1650. Shorter Third ed. Vol. 1. New York City: W. W. Norton & Co, 2013. Print.
Simon, Peter, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginning to 1650. Shorter Third ed. Vol. 2. New York City: W. W. Norton & Co, 2001. Print.
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