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How effectively does Shakespeare introduce the characters and themes of 'Hamlet'?

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Introduction

How effectively does Shakespeare introduce the characters and themes of 'Hamlet'? By Phillip Preston 12.8 'Hamlet', written by William Shakespeare around 1600 is one of his most famous and popular plays. Hamlet as a character is created as a complex man who is struggling with powers and plots beyond his ability to control in an effort to seek justice. In the early part of the play, Shakespeare creates some of the themes and introduces the main characters that shall continue throughout it, including Hamlet himself and his Uncle Claudius. Hamlet knows that there was something suspicious concerning the death of his father, and he strongly dislikes his uncle who married his brother's widow and became King. Whilst Hamlet in the opening scenes does not outrightly accuse his Uncle of killing his father, the dislike is evident to the audience and this constitutes one of the main themes - appearance versus reality otherwise known as hypocrisy. Act I, Scene II creates this theme when Claudius and Hamlet are introduced to each other. The first thing that Hamlet says is 'A little more than kin, and less than kind!'. This aside is destroying the image that Claudius is trying to create - that Hamlet is his son. The pun, playing on the word 'kind' meaning offspring, is displaying Hamlet's ready wit and intelligence. ...read more.

Middle

Therefore, in the first scene, Shakespeare has managed to introduce two themes through dramatic, structural and linguistic techniques. The themes that are introduced are very dramatic and have a large effect upon the audience since what they represent is that something very bad is about to happen, and this creates tension. This is built upon by the relationship between Claudius and Hamlet in scene II, and whilst it is good to have tension, it is not a pleasant experience for the audience since they start to fear for characters they have sympathy for. And an audience may at this stage of the play have sympathy for Claudius. Bertram Joseph says that 'when the play begins, there is no indication that Claudius is a villain'. This is true, and the audience can in scene II sympathise with his character. What the audience sees is the very image that Claudius is presenting to his court as a new king, and so he must come across as pleasant and strong. This he does and the audience empathises with him, more so when they see Hamlet and his attitude towards him. They feel sorry for Claudius as what they see is him trying to be conciliatory towards Hamlet, declaring him a son, and making an effort to be nice only to have it thrown back at him, from what the audience perceives as a rebellious teenager. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is something that is not easy to do, and as such needs a very powerful character to be able to do so. The opening scenes, and indeed the act, are all used by Shakespeare to create his main characters and themes that will continue throughout the play. Some of these themes are very evident, yet Shakespeare subtly creates others by the development of the original, such as danger from the sense of disorder in the first scene. This layering of themes, and therefore emotions, is incredibly effective since it draws the audience into the play, allowing them to empathise with the characters on a higher level. The two main characters - Hamlet and Claudius, are also created very effectively. Shakespeare uses them to play off each other and create two 'false' characters and opinions about each one. This is very skilful, but as examined, the portrayal of Hamlet's double personality is not as good as Claudius', and so it decreases the impact of his entrance into the play. Later on though, when he is developed, it becomes evident that he is a person who is the protagonist to Claudius' antagonistic ways. This means two very powerful men have been created, ones that the audience can both fear and respect, yet sympathise with at the same time. By doing this, the effectiveness of the play as a whole is increased vastly. ...read more.

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