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AS and A Level: Hamlet
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Shakespeare and 'Hamlet' - some contextual knowledge to include in your response
- 1 Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest, most popular and most performed play.
- 2 There are several quartos and folios or editions which make it very difficult to date, but it is generally thought to have been written between 1599 and 1603.
- 3 Hamlet is classed as a tragedy and draws on many features of the revenge tragedy genre, which originated in catholic countries such as Italy and Spain – consider the portrayal of Old Hamlet in purgatory in Act 1.
- 4 Being set in Denmark and being written around the time of the reformation, Hamlet also embraces many protestant ethics, drawing on differing religious traditions and beliefs. Horatio’s rationalism perhaps counters the superstition attached to the ghost of Old Hamlet in Act 1.
'Hamlet' and revenge
- 1 Hamlet embraces many themes typical of tragedies contemporary to Shakespeare: treachery, murder, moral corruption, madness, incest, revenge. What evidence can we see of each of these in Hamlet?
- 2 Bacon referred to revenge as a ‘wild justice’ since the revenger figure was positioning himself with God in his desire to exact a justice which should only be ‘divine’. This creates the sense of a flawed protagonist, even an anti-hero, whose quest will ultimately fail. Can this view be applied to Hamlet himself?
- 3 Shakespeare subverts many of Aristotle’s notions of classical tragedy, most notably in his depiction of Hamlet himself. The play could be said to dwell on character far more than on action (consider Hamlet debating whether or not to kill the praying Claudius)
- 4 Hamlet’s duality and feigned madness has been viewed as problematic in terms of revenger tragedy codes – some critics see his ‘delay’ as a device by which to merely prolong the action of the play.
- 5 Hamlet can be compared to other more traditional revenger figures such as Laertes, whose impetuous action contrasts strongly with Hamlet’s own indecision and unwillingness to become corrupted by the society he seeks to purge.
Different readings of 'Hamlet'
- 1 Freudian interpretations suggest that Hamlet’s Oedipal desire for his mother prevents him from murdering Claudius, as Claudius has done what he secretly desired to do (i.e. killed his own father) and he is plagued by guilt/aligns himself too strongly with Claudius to act. Close analysis of the closet scene between Hamlet and Gertrude is useful here, but avoid speculation without using the text!
- 2 Feminist theorists argue that Gertrude has no knowledge of Claudius’ actions and that there are many ambiguous moments in the play which are read as signs of her guilt. Can you find evidence of this?
- 3 Feminist critics argue that both Gertrude and Ophelia are entirely constructed by and according to the men, who use them as pawns and/or objectify them as sexual territory. Ophelia’s madness is caused by the abandonment of the three men who have controlled her identity: her father, brother and Hamlet.
- 4 Much of the play can be seen to comment on Elizabethan England – Polonius is thought to have been modelled on the Queen’s chief counsellor; the visiting theatre troupe is thought to have been a reference to a contemporary troupe which was forcing the Globe actors to go on tour.
- Marked by Teachers essays 24
The verb â€œunfoldâ€ suggests that hiding oneâ€™s identity was quite common in Elsinore, similarly Elizabethanâ€™s had to be constantly careful on how they behave in public and who they associate with, as anyone could be the Queenâ€™s spy, thus they could get in trouble. A sense of constant fear and threat meant Elizabethans could not trust anyone as appearances can be deceitful. Furthermore, same question is repeated when Horatio enters, emphasising how the same insecurities, uncertainty and need to have someone reveal themselves before talking remain.
- Word count: 827
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Explore Shakespeares presentation of the theme of duty in Hamlet. In the course of your writing, show how your ideas have been influenced by your reading of the The Revengers Tragedy.
Horatio appears to have no motive to be loyal to Hamlet apart from simply wanting to help him, this presents Horatio?s duty to be purely honourable and from his conscience. However this is in contrast with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?s friendship with Hamlet which is much more superficial, this means their duty towards Hamlet is temporary and false. Their motivation to be around Hamlet is sinister compared to Horatio?s motivation which is simply because he is a friend of Hamlet?s. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have a stronger sense of duty towards the king who has asked them to uncover why Hamlet has become mad; it could also be seen as a duty to themselves as Claudius promises them a reward.
- Word count: 1411