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"To what extent do you see Hamlet being constrained by duty and obligation?"

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Introduction

"To what extent do you see Hamlet being constrained by duty and obligation?" Hamlet lives in a society where the church forbids vengeance, however personal honour often overcomes the ecclesiastical law. At the time that William Shakespeare wrote this play these were also the circumstances in England, which would mean that members of the audience would be able to relate to Hamlet's personal conflict. He is a man of great contradictions, being reckless yet cautious, tender yet ferocious. Hamlet's cultural identity causes conflict between his two primary duties. As the son of Old Hamlet, it is Hamlet's duty to avenge his father's murder yet as a citizen and Prince it is also his duty to protect the king and keep stability in society. Because it is Claudius, the King, whom Hamlet would need to kill in order to fulfil his duty to his father, a tension is created as to which duty should take precedence. Hamlet's essential dilemma, and perhaps something that the modern men in the audience would be able to relate to, is the conformation between duty and morality, courage and fear. The Ghost, claiming to be the spirit of Old Hamlet, tells the story of his murder and commands Hamlet to kill the culprit, the newly crowned King. ...read more.

Middle

An audience watching "Hamlet" in today's society would most definitely share more than two religions, some people having very little, if any, religious beliefs, whilst others would have very strong beliefs. Therefore the reaction to this scene would vary, as it would for the original Elizabethan audiences Shakespeare wrote for. Hamlet recognises the problem that the Ghost causes; is he to believe what it says or question its reliability, as some members of the audience would do? Because of these confused thoughts, Hamlet decides it is necessary to prove the King's guilt and plans to do so through the Player's public performance. In doing this he hopes to trap Claudius, confirming that what the Ghost has said is true and confirming to himself that the obligation lies with his father. Hamlet delays killing the King and even though he walks in on Claudius in prayer, a prime opportunity to fulfil his duty, he cannot bring himself to commit the murder. Here, Hamlet is being constrained once again by his religious beliefs. Because Claudius is praying Hamlet believes that, if he were to kill him, Claudius would go to Heaven and not Hell. He may also be uncomfortable with the morality of murdering a King, his religious beliefs still overpowering the promise he made to his father's spirit. ...read more.

Conclusion

Hamlet has been asked to do something that is to all intents and purposes, against his nature. He does not come across as an ardent character, and believes in reasoning and thinking, as he is taught at Wittenberg. This reasoning of mind is something that modern day audience members may be able to relate to, whist a large number of people in an Elizabethan audience would not have been educated as Hamlet was. Additionally, Hamlet's emotional state after his mother marries his father's brother can not help with the decision he is forced into making. Therefore, it is not only Hamlet's duties and obligations that hold him back; it is also his state of mind. After his father dies hamlet must surely feel that there is nobody there for him, especially as he feels his mother has betrayed him. Being a Christian, Hamlet's religion tells him to believe in forgiveness and not revenge. The duty of avenging his father's death completely converts his character, and he uses the pretence of madness in order to undergo the task. William Shakespeare's play presents a situation whereby it is not merely conflicting duties and obligation that constrain Hamlet and prevent him from leading a happy and carefree life; his own character, the way he thinks, and his religious beliefs also play a major role in the progression of the play. ...read more.

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