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'Hamlet is primarily a personal rather than a political tragedy

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Introduction

'Hamlet is primarily a personal rather than a political tragedy" Would an Elizabethan audience have agreed with this response to the play? As a member of the 21st century audience, is this how you respond to the play? Watching Hamlet, an Elizabethan audience would feel many resonances with their own world. England, like Denmark, was a troubled country with much drama surrounding its political situation. Therefore, an Elizabethan audience would probably have responded to Hamlet as essentially a political tragedy. Through studying the contextual background-surrounding Hamlet, we can understand their immediate response, however, with the gift of hindsight, the 21st century audience can see through the political aspect and analyse the personal one. Therefore, as a member of a 21st century audience, can see both sides that this argument proposes. Thus, posing a fundamental question to us: How far is Hamlet a personal tragedy, and how far is it a political one? More educated members of an Elizabethan audience may even have seen Hamlet as an attack on the monarchy and the worrying political situation in England. It is arguable that Shakespeare intended to use Hamlet to show his views without the possibility of being labelled treacherous. From the very beginning of the play even the most ignorant, unperceptive member of the audience would find it impossible to ignore the similarities between Denmark and their own Elizabethan England. ...read more.

Middle

Many critics have found in this balanced and careful piece of rhetoric evidence of Claudius' self-assurance and political competence, but Hamlet's opening speeches reject the language of impersonal ritual and insist on private feelings as the touchstone for behaviour. His first soliloquy Hamlet reveals the depth of his pain about his mother's hasty marriage. This unadulterated communication with the audience may have been intended by Shakespeare to create sympathy for Hamlet from the audience. We can learn from historical sources that in the Elizabethan period, Claudius' marriage would have been considered unlawful and incestuous by society. It is also a union forbidden in Leviticus XVIII. His objections also imply that Hamlet is a religious man which also would have been admired by the audience. However, we are also shown that he is aware that it is dangerous in the current climate to reveal his feelings: "But break my heart, for I mist hold my tongue" (Act I, scene ii, line 159.) This line can also be interpreted as the first sign of Hamlet's undying affection for his mother. Many critics follow this line of argument further and apply Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex to Hamlet's feelings for his mother (For example, Earnest Jones.) ...read more.

Conclusion

Another factor that must be taken into account is the associations with Hamlet's genre. It was a common theme with conventional tragedy that the events at the top of the social strata reflect on the entire state. This is emphasised in Act I, scene I, line 69 by Horatio "This bodes some strange eruption to our state." If the political aspect of Hamlet was insignificant, why would it by highlighted at the start of the play? In conclusion, the Elizabethan audience are less likely to have been as well informed or educated as a 21st century audience and therefore may not have been intelligent enough to analyse the relationships between the characters of the significance of the soliloquies. However, we can be sure that they could not ignore the fact that fictional Denmark almost perfectly mirrored their own Elizabethan England; thus supporting my argument that the Elizabethan audience were likely to have seen Hamlet as a political tragedy. Even from a 21st century perspective, the political aspect of the play cannot be ignored, particularly when we are educated of the historical time period in which its first audiences would have viewed it. However, as a member of a 21st century audience, contrasting with my conclusion of the Elizabethan response, my response is to interpret it as primarily a personal tragedy rather that a political one. Charlie Matthews 12 CAS 10/05/2007 1 of 3 ...read more.

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