The Tragedy of Hamlet and “A Doll’s House
There is no doubt that William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen are two of the most if not the greatest authors who ever walked the earth. Considered to be among the most influential and powerful works in the world of literature, ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare and ‘a doll’s house’ written by Henrik Ibsen both incorporate the use of various literary devices to nature the theme that; the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Furthermore, from both dramatic works, the reader can easily identify the fundamental theme of the impossibility of certainty. The certainty of knowledge is dependent on the perfection and genuineness of the conditions upon which the knowledge was derived. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the two dramatic works with the aim of illustrating the presence and relevance of the theme that; ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple’ in both dramatic works. Additionally, the essay will be inclined toward the theme of the impossibility of certainty. Literary techniques such as motif and characterization will be put to use in the development of this paper.
In ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare portrays the main character; Hamlet as one who is in constant search for more certain and genuine knowledge of what he is doing. Hamlet’s continuous search for the truth causes him to postpone his intentions of taking revenge on his uncle for killing his father. In this play, there are certain questions that arise that present the impossibility of certainty. For example, is there any certain and concrete knowledge about ghosts? Are ghosts really what they appear to manifest themselves or are they just misleading fiends? Do ghosts have genuine and valid knowledge about their deaths or are they deluded themselves? All these questions stem from the fact that the actions of Hamlet are as a result of his interaction with the ghost of his father who claims that it is his brother Claudius who killed him. The conditions in which Hamlet gained the knowledge of his father’s death is rather uncertain as they come from a ghost, a creature whose own existence has baffled many. From the play the audience can easily see that Prince Hamlet is uncertain of the reliability of the ghost’s information Furthermore, it is difficult to know for sure the facts about a crime that has no witnesses as was the case with the death of the king. Another instance where hamlet acquires unreliable information is in his assessment of his uncle Claudius’s soul and behavior as he tries to determine the facts of his father’s death. Is it really possible to know someone’s state of mind by reading their behavior? The ‘Hamlet’ presents the audience with the many uncertainties of life and the numerous unknown variables that are disregarded when people judge the actions and behaviors of others.
“The truth is rarely pure and simple”, is a quote coined by Oscar Wilde and its relevance can be pointed out in both the ‘Hamlet’ and ‘a doll’s house’. In Henrik Ibsen’s ‘a dollhouse’, Nora who is the main character lives in constant agony and fear due to a secret she had been hiding from her husband. In the play, Nora reveals to her friend Mrs. Linde that she had actually borrowed money from a man with a tainted reputation in order to finance for a trip to Italy which was essential to save the life of her husband Torvald who was ailing. Nora, however, lied to her husband that she had acquired the money from her father choosing to hide the real source of the money because she knew her husband would not approve of it. It is later revealed in the story that Nora had actually borrowed money from one Mr. Nils Krogstad who was an ill-reputed employee in the same bank in which her husband was working. As the play unfolds, Mr. Krogstad is under the threat of losing his job by being fired by Torvald and upon realizing this, Mr. Krogstad approaches Nora and asks her to stop her husband from firing him or else he will reveal her long kept secret. Krogstad further explains to Nora that he has Evidenced that she had forged her father’s signature on an IOU. Nora becomes deeply troubled by the situation and tries hard to convince her husband not to fire Krogstad but Torvald remains adamant. Nora lives in constant fear of her secret being revealed and even contemplates suicide as the worst-case scenario. When Krogstad delivers a letter to Torvald, Nora declares that she has only thirty-one hours left to live, (Ibsen, 2.5.35). Nora’s continued run from the truth causes her to lead a miserable life because she chose not to confront the reality of her situations. Instead, her hiding from the truth became her source of misery and she enjoyed very little of her life. This instance is a clear depiction of the quote; ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple’.
In Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, the use of characterization has been employed to develop the truth in its complexity. Claudius in the story deceives everyone about the murder of his brother and his intentions of snatching the throne from its rightful heir Prince Hamlet. Claudius tries to mask his deception by attempting to ‘balance out the sorrow’ of his brother’s death by marrying his dead brother’s wife. An act that was not welcome by many. Furthermore, there is an instance in which we see Claudius expressing guilt for his actions in an aside; “The Harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art, is not more ugly to the thing that helps it than is my deed to my most painted word: O heavy burden!” (Shakespeare, 3.1.50). In this statement, it is evident that Claudius rues his actions and is burdened by the thought of what he did. Claudius’s running from the truth causes him to live a burdened life and tangles him in a web of lies which ultimately lead to his demise. Furthermore, Claudius’s deceitfulness causes the death of many people around him and often in an ironic manner. His initial plot to kill Hamlet with a poison proves futile and instead his newly wedded bride Gertrude drinks the poison. His other plan of killing Hamlet with a poisoned sword also fails and instead it is Laertes who is impaled by the poisoned blade. In (Shakespeare, 3.2.44-47), King Claudius illustrates his slight remorse for killing his brother, Claudius further recognizes his own maliciousness and wickedness when he turns pale and ran out during the play and later confesses his actions saying, “what if this cursed hand were thicker than itself with brother’s blood? Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens to wash it as white as snow?” (Shakespeare, 3.2.43). Claudius’s attempts to escape the truth lead him to lead a life burdened with the rue of killing his brother.
Another example of how the theme that truth is rarely pure and simple is portrayed in ‘a dolls house’, is at the end of the story whereby Nora Helmer chooses to part from her husband and the society in which she feels she has been lied to and undervalued. The deceitful activities of Nora Helmer come to the light at the end of the play. Her husband is consumed with the fear that Nora’s secret will be revealed to the world and ruins his reputation. He does not consider for a moment that Nora’s act of deceit was in his own best interests and that he would have died had Nora not done what she did. Torvalds’s reaction towards learning Nora’s secret is what enlightened her and now she knew the truth. She now understood that she had been living a social lie and that she had been the puppet of her husband for a very long time. Her ‘lie’ saves Torvald and enlightens her on the lies of society and enables her to see the rigid undermining of women and the archaic cultures which govern society. Nora sees that her marriage was a lie as she was undervalued and unappreciated for her devotion to the marriage and was only valued for her capability in pleasing the society. Her failure to acknowledge the truth in the first place is what led her to live a lie.
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