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How does death dominate in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"?

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How does death dominate in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"? Shakespeare has dealt with the subject death and its connection with life in many of his writings. But none of them is so much concerned with the subject as in Hamlet. In fact the whole play is darkened by the shadows of "death" and "life after death". In the opening scene we see a dead's man spirit appearing on the stage; the very first time we see Hamlet, we see him in black-mourning for his dead father; whenever he is left alone by himself all he ponders on is either his own death, or revengeful murder, or dealt in general. In fact, the whole play consists of a "series of murders" and suicide, and ends with the major characters death. In the opening scene an aspartic appears on the stage which resembles the visage of the late King of Denmark. This ghost bridges the world of life and the world of death. It disturbs the normal calmness of the night; it seems to bring some kind of message from the region existing beyond this world. Later on in the fourth scene of act I, the ghost communicate with Hamlet and tells him that it is the ghost of his father and commands him to avenge his death. We also come to learn how the late king was murdered by his own brother who "now wears his crown". The episode of the ghost remind us of Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy", where the ghost of the murdered Andrea, along with the spirit called Revenge appear from the underworld and roam around on earth to witness the process of vengeance. ...read more.


This murder of the king by Claudius is similar to the first murder that shattered the human family. This very murder given rise to all the mishaps in the play; Claudius kills the Senior Hamlet by pouring poison into his ear while the latter was sleeping the orchard. Rene Gurard expounds this murder from the psychological point of view. According to him the two brothers suffered sublime rivalry and since the one achieved all (the throne, the woman they both love) the other kills him. Even after achieving what he wanted Claudius is often haunted by the memory of murdering his brother and strives in prayers to wash off the stain of blood in his hands. But unfortunately before shaking of his first guilt, he plans a second murder, this time of his nephew. He decides to send Hamlet to England to breath his last. But instead, Hamlet's succeeds in getting Rozencrantz and Guildenstern killed, who were carrying the King's letter. Hamlet secretly changes his name and writes the names of his two friends in the letter and thus sends them off to England only to be executed by the English King. Hamlet's killing of Polonius mistakenly is a very important phase in the play. From this murder the catastrophe of the play steams. It initiates the second cycle of revenge for a murdered father, that of Leartes for Polonius. This revenge attains success and ends in the death of Hamlet. ...read more.


Earlier when Claudius had asked Hamlet about the body of Polonius, he replied that worms are feasting on it. But in the grave-digging scene, Hamlet reminds himself that death diminishes all vanities in man, for it is the ultimate end of every man. Yorick's jaws that made the courteous roared with laughter are shapeless now. Therefore, he sarcastically tells the skull of Yorick to go and tell the women who in order to beautify themselves "paint an inch thick on their faces", must meet their ends just the same way as he did. Afterwards he dejectedly asks Horatio - "To what base uses we may return Horatio!" At the end of the play Gertrude is killed by chance, Leartes and Claudius are slain by Hamlet and Hamlet dies wounded by the poisonous sword of Leartes, only Horatio lives to tell the story to the Danes. But the end does not only consist of human deaths but also death of beautiful things. "The King that's dead" is referred to as "the majesty of buried Denmark". Much later the first words of the mad Ophelia are "Where is the beauteous majesty of Denmark?' this suggests that the death of the old King marks the end of an era. The story of Hecuba and the dounbshow called "mousetrap" are also concerned with 'death" similes of death, for example "bosom black as death' recur in the play. The play is in fact, envelope by the smoke of "death", rendering it the mysterious darkness that critics have found interesting for ages. No other play of Shakespeare is so much obsessed with the subject as is Hamlet. ...read more.

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