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'Hamlet has been read by critics as dramatically presenting a misfit in a politically treacherous world or a weak revenger'

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Introduction

'Hamlet has been read by critics as dramatically presenting a misfit in a politically treacherous world or a weak revenger' In the light of this statement, and using the soliloquies as a starting point, examine how an Elizabethan audience might have understood him and how this compares with your reading. When first introduced to Hamlet he is a character full of pain and confusion, still mourning his father's death, 'But two months dead-nay, not so much, not two'.1 The punctuation here highlights Hamlet's anguish. Significantly, Hamlet is already portrayed as a misfit, as no one else within the court but Hamlet is wearing mourning clothes; in Shakespeare's time it would have been worn for at least a year following the death of a king. This gives an immediate and striking indication of the character's isolation, his alienation and the power Claudius has already obtained within the court. The rhythm of Hamlet's words in first soliloquy 'How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable'2 conveys his weariness. In an emotional speech of anger, and grief, Hamlet explains that everything in his world is either hopeless or contemptible. Evidence of this is his suggestions of rot and corruption, 'things rank and gross in nature'3, and in the metaphor associating the world with 'an unweeded garden'4. This suggests that Hamlet sees Denmark as a paradise destroyed by sexual sin, an interpretation immediately recognizable to an Elizabethan audience accustomed to biblical motifs. As he is isolated within the court he can be seen as a misfit; he is unhappy with the new regime and does not accept the way the court is portrayed. In addition, his powerlessness to counter the Machiavellian dominance of Claudius demands our sympathy. Shakespeare can be seen as presenting Hamlet as not only politically and emotionally alone, but also as a troubled character attempting to deal with complex and contradictory responses to sex and, in particular, female sexuality. ...read more.

Middle

Taking the cue from his own words, they proposed that Hamlet's 'native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.'15 According to Coleridge, Hamlet had 'great, enormous, intellectual activity, and a consequent proportionate aversion to real action.' Coleridge concluded that 'Shakespeare wished to impress upon us the truth that action is the chief end of existence.' I agree with these critics, I especially find Coleridge's view interesting, as when the characters in Hamlet finally act, it brings about their death. Shakespeare presents this in the character's of Hamlet and Claudius. When Hamlet is first introduced to the ghost and he is left to ponder whether it is telling the truth, he is left confused. Hamlet is depicted as a weak revenger, for example, 'The spirit that I have seen may be a devil, and the devil hath power t'assume a pleasing shape'16. This soliloquy shows Hamlet wondering whether he is a coward for delaying his revenge, Shakespeare shows that Hamlet is unsure of whether he should exact revenge and from my view he doubts whether taking revenge on his uncle is the proper course of action. He admits to doubts on the ghost's honesty, not to doubts on the morality of revenge. Hamlet delaying maybe an unconscious attempt to avoid it as he does not think it morally right, showing him to be weak as he cannot admit this to himself, and so he carries on to tragically exact his revenge. The critic William Hazzlit, is in agreement with this, 'he scruples to trust the suggestions of the ghost, contrives the scene of the play to have surer proof of his uncle's guilt, and then rests satisfied with this confirmation of his suspicions, and the success of his experiment, instead of acting upon it. Yet he is sensible of his own weakness, taxes himself with it, and tries to reason himself out of it....Still he does nothing; and this very speculation on his own infirmity only affords him another occasion ...read more.

Conclusion

At the end of the play, Hamlet can be seen as a misfit in a politically treacherous world as during the play he has been subject to many plots and stratagem from Claudius, Polonius and he was also betrayed by his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. For example when he gets sent to his death by Claudius, 'By letters congruing to that effect, The present death of Hamlet.'27 Claudius' scheming mind and scheming court is no match for Hamlet, as here he gives Hamlet his own death letter to take with him. Towards the end of the play Hamlet no longer plays victim to Claudius' schemes, for example when he sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their death, 'Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not near my conscience'28. In Hamlet's narrative with Horatio he displays a new-found awareness and optimism. He dismisses Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as insignificant, indicating the change in his conscience as he no longer moralises the situation. In the dramatic resolution of the play, ultimately, Hamlet does what he sets out to do: he kills Claudius. Yet, crucially, he does it for himself and not out of a sense of loyalty or duty to his father. Claudius is the usurper, the king who has 'pop'd in between the election and my hopes, thrown out his angle for my proper life and with such coz'nage'29 The possessive pronouns show that Hamlet now acts as a result of the treachery that has been done to him, he should have been king and now he wants it for himself. In the end Hamlet can be seen as both a weak revenger and a misfit. There is evidence to support both readings. He is a misfit in a politically treacherous world because of the corrupt court, and a weak revenger because of his self-knowledge and lack of will power. In the end Hamlet's reconciliation and the presentation of his new sense of life and enthusiasm would have made him a good king, as he too could play the part of the politically treacherous court very well in the closing scene. ...read more.

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