Explore Shakespeares presentation of Kingship in Hamlet. You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors

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Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Kingship in ‘Hamlet’. You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors

In ‘Hamlet’, William Shakespeare presents kingship as a manipulative and Machiavellian affair. The very succession of Claudius, not only plays upon transgressions of the divine right of kings but also reflects the changing nature of kingship from Old Hamlet to Claudius. Claudius’ reign ushers in a new period of instability and corruption, mirroring the latter years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Yet in the end, Fortinbras appears as an order-restoring figure to give resolution to the tragedy.

Shakespeare cleverly comments upon the nature of kingship in the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare uses the paradox of “the body is with the king, but the king is not with the body” to highlight the authority of kingship. The syntactical parallelism creates a confusing effect, which has led many critics to dismiss it as “nonsense” (G. L. Kittredge and Horace Howard Furness). However, I would disagree with such analysis. I would contend that is in fact a contextual allusion to the nature of kingship in the Elizabethan era. Power and authority in Tudor times was exercised not by the state or the law but by the abstract concept of the King. Edmund Plowden, a crown lawyer, in 1561 explains that the “king has in him two bodies – a Body natural and a Body politic”. The Body natural is the mortal, actual version and the Body politic is the abstract power of kingship. In this way, Hamlet’s enigmatic pun is not mere nonsense but a “timely reflection upon this current and widely held theory of kingship” (Jerah Johnson). Plowden and jurist Sir William Blackstone, also state that the Body politic removes all imperfections from the Body natural. This Elizabethan theory when combined with the divine right of kings, as Claudius states, “there’s such divinity doth hedge a king” (this is dramatic irony as Claudius himself committed regicide, thus opposing such divinity), could also explain Hamlet’s reluctance to kill the new king – as the king is perfect and ordained by God. Ultimately, Shakespeare subtly alludes to contemporary Elizabethan theories of kingship in his play, to emphasise how Claudius’ kingship is much more degraded and corrupt than Elizabethan notions of kingship.

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Claudius presents kingship as a diplomatic and deceitful business, fraught with corruption and conspiracy. Hamlet, at the start of the play, deliberately slights Claudius through his response “I shall in all my best obey you, madam”. The caesura after the personal pronoun creates suspense as the audience waits to hear to whom Hamlet is addressing. The delaying of the titular address not only creates tension but also emphasises Hamlet’s rejection of Claudius legitimacy at the start of his reign – such challenges to legitimacy were common for Elizabeth I too, being a woman and allegedly illegitimate. Yet, Claudius casually ...

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