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In what ways does Shakespeare create sympathy for Hamlet in the first two acts?

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Introduction

In what ways does Shakespeare create sympathy for Hamlet in the first two Acts? Hamlet is a revenge tragedy, typical of many plays written during the late Elizabethan era, such as Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and John Marston's Antonio's Revenge. We thus expect the plot to follow a predetermined route, and although Hamlet initially appears to be the typical hero of an Aristotelian revenge tragedy, there are a variety of mostly unpredictable factors in the first two Acts which deviate the play from the norm in revenge tragedies, and consequently augment the sympathy which we have for the tragic hero- Hamlet. "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" These seemingly caring words spoken by Claudius to Hamlet, when Hamlet's character is first introduced in the play, bring to our knowledge the fact that Hamlet is troubled. Hamlet is grieving the death of his father, donning a "nighted colour" in both his mood and dressing, and as human beings who understand the pain of death, we pity him. We feel even greater compassion for him when we discover that he mourns his father's death alone, for everyone else- including his mother Gertrude- appears to have ended their period of grieving. It is unusual how Gertrude seems to sweep over the subject of the death of his father, stating "...all that lives must die." ...read more.

Middle

Claudius says, "It is most retrograde to our desire" that Hamlet return to Wittenberg, employing again the royal "we". Hamlet therefore, though already perturbed by the events in Denmark such as his mother's marriage, is forced to remain where he does not really want to be, and amongst people who, being less scholarly, may not see things from the same point of view as he does. He expresses these feelings of isolation through his soliloquies, such as where he says "How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable/ Seem to me all the uses of this world!" The use of his soliloquies help us understand his point of view, and the use of lists in this excerpt places emphasis on how isolated and different he feels from the rest of the world. The punctuation of the sentence with an exclamation mark further relays Hamlet's frustration at the world. The people whom Hamlet considered his friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, spy on him, indicating the extent of his isolation. As a result of Hamlet's intelligence, he always seems to be a step ahead of the other characters. He knows and understands what they are thinking, and their likely reactions to situations. He seems almost perfectly knowledgeable of Polonius in particular, and makes Polonius believe that he is mad out of love for his daughter, such that even when he refers to Polonius as a fishmonger, he also adds, "Have you a daughter?" ...read more.

Conclusion

This brings in the thematically significant issue of "Appearance versus Reality." Michel de Montaigne, a 16th century French philosopher, holds the view that the world which we know of is in fact a world of appearances, and human beings could never hope to see past those experiences into the 'realities' that lie behind them. This idea stems from Plato's philosophy, and Shakespeare works on this view by placing his characters in this world of appearances. Hamlet, in avenging his father's death, is trying to correct an injustice which he can never properly have full knowledge of. Even if he gets proof from Claudius' reaction to the Murder of Gonzago, how much will that tell him of the actual situation and all that happened? Thus, living in the world of appearances is a difficult world, just as the experiences faced by Hamlet are difficult. Understanding this amplifies the sympathy which we have for Hamlet. Through the first two Acts of the play, Shakespeare thus seeks to evoke great sympathy in the audience for Hamlet. Although Hamlet may not necessarily be the most endearing character, especially when considering his attitude towards Polonius and his later treatment of Ophelia, Shakespeare employs various techniques which enable us to see and understand Hamlet's character better, and consequently feel sorry for him. Hamlet is confined in a situation which he neither fully brought upon himself, nor can he help, and thus we pity him greatly. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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