Hamlet. One of the, if not the, most famous of the plays written by William Shakespeare. In this, the first section, I will be looking at the history of the play, the genre, Shakespeare himself and the globe theatre in which so many of Shakespeare's plays were preformed.
This play, like many other famous plays from this era, was written by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was born in a small English town named Stratford-upon-Avon, located in Warwickshire and although the exact date of Shakespeare's birth cannot be confirmed the consensus is that Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564. He was baptized on April 26, 1564, at the Holy Trinity parish church in his hometown of Stratford. Shakespeare's parents, Mary Arden and John Shakespeare, had eight children. Shakespeare had two sisters named Joan, one born in 1558 and the other in 1569. No one knows first-born Joan’s exact date of death, but it is assumed that she died in infancy. Second-born Joan survived her famous brother by more than 30 years.
Shakespeare probably began his education at the age of six or seven at the Stratford grammar school, which is still standing only a short distance from his house on Henley Street and is in the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Although we have no record of Shakespeare attending the school, due to the official position held by John Shakespeare it seems likely that he would have decided to educate young William at the school, which was under the care of Stratford's governing body. In 1582, at the age of 16, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. When Shakespeare married Hathaway he was still a minor, while she was twenty-six and already several months pregnant. Shakespeare had three children. The first child born was Susanna, christened on May 26, 1583, and twins arrived in January 1585. They were baptized on February 2 of that year and named Hamlet and Judith. We know very little about Shakespeare's life during two major spans of time, commonly referred to as the "lost years". The lost years fall into two periods: 1578-82 and 1585-92. The first period covers the time after Shakespeare left grammar school until his marriage to Anne Hathaway in November of 1582. The second period covers the seven years of Shakespeare's life in which he must have been perfecting his dramatic skills and collecting sources for the plots of his plays. "What could such a genius accomplish in this direction during six or eight years? The histories alone must have required unending hours of labour to gather facts for the plots and counter-plots of these stories. When we think of the time he must have spent in reading about the pre-Tudor dynasties, we are at a loss to estimate what a day's work meant to him. Perhaps he was one of those singular geniuses who absorbs books. George Douglas Brown, when discussing Shakespeare, often used to say he knew how to 'pluck the guts' out of a tome” Tragically, Hamlet died on August 11, 1596, at the age of eleven. We do not know the cause of his death. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. The cause of Shakespeare's death is a mystery, but tradition tells us that: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted." Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in his hometown of Stratford, Warwickshire. His gravestone bears an epitaph which Shakespeare himself supposedly wrote. It warns:
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“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
Hamlet was first published in 1603. Due to the fact that nothing could be copywriter in this time people would not release a work until it was already fully established that it was them that had written it. Therefore although 1603 was when the first publish copy of Hamlet appeared it was likely to have been written several years before this date. In fact, Shakespeare himself is said to have played the role of the Ghost of Hamlet's father. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, mentioned that Shakespeare's role, as ‘the Ghost in his own Hamlet was the top of his performance’.
When it was first preformed the play of Hamlet like many others would have been shown in The Globe theatre. Now, 200 yards from its original site, after almost 400 years, the Globe Theatre has been opened to the public again: the rebuilt playhouse was officially inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen on Thursday 12 June 1997. After the discovery of the remains of in January 1989, archaeologists managed to locate the Globe and to dig up approximately 5% of the of the playhouse. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the foundations lie under , a nineteenth century listed building, and only is now possible. The presence of a concrete slab below Anchor Terrace makes this work even more difficult. On 12 December 1996, Shakespeare's Globe was voted the best attraction in Europe: it was awarded the European Tourism Initiative Golden Star Award by the European Federation of Associations of Tourism Journalists.
In this, the second section of my essay I will be looking at how Hamlet shows his indecisions and his reasons for them through his soliloquies. I will be looking at each soliloquy in turn and then summarising his indecisions at the end in a brief conclusion.
I will now be looking at the first soliloquy. This doesn’t actually have any examples of hamlets indecisions in it but it is important in establishing hamlets mood and views of several of the characters as well as introducing several important story points. The very first words that Hamlet says in this soliloquy, and which sums up his mood through most of the play, are suicidal.
‘O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt
Thaw and resolve itself to dew’
By this he means that he wishes he would die, the metaphor being his solid flesh turning to dew. This is ironic, as most people do not want to die and complain that they are dying to quickly whereas Hamlet in describing himself as ‘too too solid’ is saying he is not dying quickly enough. His next two sentences further prove his thoughts on suicide.
‘Or that the everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!’
In this he is referring to the sixth commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ that also prevents suicide. This also shows that Hamlet is more than slightly Christian as he is not willing to defy the will of God even for something considered as important as revenge. He compares life to a garden and says his life is like an ‘unweeded garden’. He accepts that bad things are a part of life just like weeds are a natural part of a garden but he says that ‘things rank and gross in nature, Possess it merely’ meaning that his life only consists of bad things. He goes on to explain part of the story saying that just less than two months past the king died, his father. He says that he was as a ‘Hyperion to a Satyr’ in comparison to his brother, hamlets uncle. He explains how much he loved Hamlets mother saying:
‘That he might beteem the winds of heaven
Visit her face to roughly. Heaven and Earth!’
He then says that his mother married Hamlets uncle and makes it obvious that he thinks she didn’t’ morn long enough saying:
‘O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourn’d longer’
He describes there relationship as ‘incestuous’ and ends the soliloquy by saying that although he believes ‘it cannot come to good’ he will not say anything; ‘for I must hold my tongue’.
I am now going to look at the second soliloquy, which is the shortest one. This sees Hamlets first chance to exact his revenge, which he doesn’t act upon. Firstly Hamlet describes the time to be ‘the witching hour’ which is ‘When Churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out’. This shows Hamlet to be superstitious like most people of the time. He then says:
‘……………now I could drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on them’
He does mean this literally but it is instead a metaphor, meaning he could do evil deeds so bitter that daylight would be scared to look at them and do the ‘bitter business’- killing Claudius. He then sees his mother and explains his plan to get a sort of revenge on her for marrying Claudius. He explains that he intends to ‘speak daggers to her but use not’. By this he means that although he will act like he hates her he will only be acting which he further enforces when he says ‘my tongue and soul shall be hypocrite in this’. He also says that the things he says he will not even mean: ‘to give them seals never, my souls, consent!’
I will now be looking at the third soliloquy. This takes place when Hamlet sees his uncle at prayer. This soliloquy shows Hamlets greatest moment of indecision, as he sees the perfect opportunity to kill his uncle yet he makes an excuse why he couldn’t do it. Although the excuse was a reasonable one it is still an excuse all the same. He begins the soliloquy by saying ‘Now might I do it pat’; just the same as he did in the previous one, saying that he will do it. Then, as in the previous soliloquy he begins stop think about the act too much. He believes that if he were to kill his uncle at prayer then he would send him to heaven-
‘A villain kills my father; and for that,
I, his sole son, do the same villain send
He says that this would be ‘hire and salary, not revenge’ meaning that this would be beneficial to Claudius as it would in fact insure his entrance to heaven. He says that when his father was killed by Claudius he was ‘grossly, full of bread’ meaning that he was sinful (gross) and not fasting (full of bread). This shows that although he held his father in high opinion he did not think he was perfect. Hamlet then goes on to say that instead of killing Claudius now, whilst he was at prayer, he will wait until he is doing something sinful:
‘When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed;
At game, a-swearing, or about some act
That has no relish of salvation in’t;’
He ends the passage saying his mother waits and that this ‘physic but prolongs thy sickly days’ meaning that his praying merely prolongs his life.
I will now be looking at Hamlet’s fourth and final soliloquy. In this soliloquy Hamlet finally decides that he will kill Claudius and is also quite philosophical. He begins the soliloquy by saying that all events ‘inform against’ him meaning that they accuse him and that they ‘spur his dull revenge’. It is interesting that he described his revenge as dull. He then asks if it is mans only job to is to eat and sleep. He then says that god gave us the power of reason. He says that people waste it by leaving it
‘To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event’
It is ironic and hypocritical that he says that people think to precisely on event as this is the main reason that he never got around to killing Claudius
In conclusion, through his soliloquies Hamlet shows several different reasons for his indecisions. In each instance it is because instead of just killing Claudius he begins to reason the act out and therefore always finds reasons why he can’t do it at that time. The reasons he uses always have certain merit and do make sense. On the other hand they do still seem to be just excuses as opposed to reasons he has a real believe in.
In this third and final section of my essay I will be looking at how I would direct act 1, scenes 1 and 2. I would try to make my production follow the story and Shakespeare’s script very accurately yet still make it original. I would do this by representing all the different characters with animals.
To make my version of Hamlet interesting and original I will use animals to represent each of the different characters. The animals that would play each character would have to reflect their characters. I would have it so that the animals were based on how Hamlet viewed their characters. Therefore you could get an insight into Hamlets views on characters by what animals play them. So for example I would have his father as a lion (something powerful and proud) his uncle as a weasel or a snake (something devious and cunning). Hamlet would be the only character in the play that would actually be a human, because in his mind he is normal. With regards to scenes 1 and 2 I would try and keep them as close to the originals as possible. I would have it so that the change between scene one and two were very sudden so that the contrast between them is exaggerated. May have scene 1 ending with a flash of lighting with thunder. The lightening would merge with the bright light of the hall and the thunder would become the shouting and laughter of the party guests.