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Explore how and why Shakespeare presents thought and actions in the first two acts of the play.

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AS English Literature: 'Hamlet'- A study of the play Jaffar Al-Rikabi 12 - 2 Explore how and why Shakespeare presents thought and actions in the first two acts of the play. "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" Hamlet famously pronounces in the second act of William Shakespeare's longest drama, and one of the most probing plays ever to be performed on stage. It was written around the year 1600 in the final years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who had been the monarch of England for more than forty years and was then in her late sixties. The prospect of Elizabeth's death and the question of who would succeed her was a subject of grave anxiety at the time, since Elizabeth had no children, and the only person with a legitimate royal claim, James of Scotland, was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and therefore represented a political faction to which Elizabeth was opposed. The Elizabethan era also witnessed the rise of the Renaissance movement in which many old ideals and beliefs were challenged or rejected. In Copernicus and Galileo's discoveries in Astrology, Sir Walter Raleigh's geographic and trade expansion, Machiavelli's revolutionary ideas in political thought and in the discoveries of chemical cures as medicine, the Renaissance was, in essence, the beginning of the modern world, one which clashed with the Catholic Church and thus was seen as a movement of heretics and radicals that all should be opposed to. Such themes of the contrast between the old way of life the beliefs attached to it, and the new, radical way of looking at life as seen through the eyes of the Renaissance men, the theme of the transfer of power from one monarch to the next and the uncertainties, fear and anxiety, betrayals, and upheaval that accompany such shifts in power, represent an integral part of 'Hamlet'. ...read more.


The intensity of Hamlet's disgust here underlines how impossible he finds it to come to terms with the incestuous union of his mother and his uncle and the indecent haste of his mother's re-marriage. Here, Hamlet objects to his mother's show of affection to Claudius and her quick marriage to him as a clear act of betrayal that has shocked him so much so that he rejects all women in the famous quote 'Frailty, thy name is woman'. His show of strong emotions regarding his mother has lead to the critical applications of the famous theory of the Oedipus complex to the tragedy of 'Hamlet' by critics such as Freud who was the first to attempt to resolve the enigma offered by Hamlet's behaviour in psychoanalytical terms. Contrary to Freud's interpretation, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan thinks that the real psychological dimension of the play lies not in Hamlet's behaviour but in his language. In his famous essay, entitled 'Desire and the interpretation of desire in Hamlet', he holds that the most striking characteristic of Hamlet's language is its ambiguity: everything he says is transmitted, in various degrees, through metaphor, simile and, above all, wordplay. His utterances, in other words, have a hidden and latent meaning which often surpasses the apparent meaning. They have, therefore, enormous affinities with the language of the unconscious which proceeds equally by various forms of distortion and alterations in meaning, notably through slips of the tongue, dreams, double entendres, and wordplay. Hamlet is himself aware of the ambiguous nature of his own speeches as well as of the feelings which drive them. Concerned by the dialectic between appearance and reality, and surface and depth, he is conscious that whatever happens to him is deeper and stranger than that which is displayed by the superficial symptoms of mourning. Thus, through the confusion that is apparent in Hamlet's soliloquies, Shakespeare introduces the contrast between Hamlet's actions in public and his inner thoughts as a means of exploring the interior confusion and unrest ...read more.


active: he listens to the ghost (which his friends refuse to do), he adopts a coarse attitude verging on insubordination, he violently rejects Ophelia, he thwarts one after the other plots aimed at revealing his plans, he stages for the court a show which is nothing but a trap in which he hopes to catch the king, he confronts his mother in a scene of extreme violence, and he fights Laertes. Engaging further in pure physical violence he kills Polonius, sends his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths, kills the king, and is indirectly responsible for the death of Laertes. In conclusion, through the first two acts of the play, Shakespeare explores the main themes of the play through his presentation of the conflict between Claudius and Hamlet's thoughts and actions. The main instruments for this include Claudius's opening speech in Act one scene two and Hamlet's first and second soliloquies, which serve not only as a means of sharing Hamlet's feelings with the audience, but also as a way of probing the most daring aspects of the psychology of man and the history of human thinking. A play of unresolved questions, Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is a study of the discrepancy between appearance and reality, as well as an examination of many thematic preoccupations of the time including that of the concepts of disorder, dilemma and indecision, madness and revenge, disease and decay. The conflict between the old way of life, supported by the Catholic Church, and the new, embodied by the Renaissance men is another central theme of 'Hamlet', and yet Shakespeare gives us no definitive answers to these questions. The different interpretations of Hamlet and the play in general is therefore only a natural consequence to the ambiguity and uncertainty that Shakespeare creates from very early on in his play. As one critic, John Dover Wilson remarks, 'Hamlet' is very much like 'a dramatic essay in mystery; that is to say, the more it is examined, the more there is to discover'. ...read more.

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