Drama Essays - Shakespeare's Hamlet

The Issue Of Death In Shakespeare ‘s Hamlet And Its Relation To The Renaissance Thinking

The issue of decease is inseparably linked with a traditional thought of calamity. Such ancient playwrights as Aeschylus, Euripides, Seneca and Sophocles implemented the subject of decease into their dramatic plants to reflect the kernel of their ain times and the attitude of ancient people towards decease. Their intervention of decease was presented through serious and tragic elements that intensified a portraiture of certain events and characters, but the construct of decease was restricted by the antediluvian spiritual tenet. The Renaissance gave birth to new visions and readings of assorted issues of being, particularly refering life and decease. Harmonizing to William Engel ( 2002 ) , The diminution and decay of every person is an old subject with many ways of being expressed during the Renaissance ( p.14 ) . Although William Shakespeare, a celebrated English playwright of the Renaissance period, invariably applies to assorted facets of decease in his calamities, he goes beyond the antediluvian and Renaissance construct on decease. Shakespeare interprets the issue of decease through both tragic and amusing elements, doing an effort to work out one of the most important issues of that epoch. The playwright revives some medieval imposts associated with decease and interprets them through the Renaissance vision. His thought of decease is connected with both spiritual tenet and unbelieving values ; for him, decease at the same time embodies everything and nil. The purpose of this essay is double: 1 ) to analyze the authorization of decease in Shakespeare ‘s dramaHamletand 2 ) to measure the construct ‘s relation with the Renaissance thought of Michel de Montaigne, Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.

In Renaissance England decease was perceived as a cryptic phenomenon that aroused arguments among Elizabethan philosophers, priests and authors ( Cressy, 1997, pp.465-468 ) . The deficiency of cognition in respect to assorted diseases resulted in changeless addition of mortality rates. Therefore, decease was regarded as a leveler that eliminated societal inequality, that is, both the hapless and rich could decease of an incurable unwellness or be murdered ( Duddley, 1999, pp.277-281 ) . Executions and mutilations were normally conducted in public and were instead popular among certain groups of British population. As Michael Neill ( 1997 ) puts it, decease and other funerary issues constitute a important portion of any Elizabethan play that is aimed at transforming single decease into a common remembrance ( pp.12-17 ) . During Elizabethan governing assorted funeral images and edifices were created in Britain, so that people could invariably believe of their mortality ( Gittins, 1984, pp.140 ) . Death became an built-in portion of British being ; as Nigel Llewellyn ( 1991 ) claims, Images reminding people about their ain mortality were to be found in all sorts of public and private state of affairss In early Modern England, Death ever accompanied the person on the streets or at place among the household ( p.25 ) . Therefore, Renaissance literature reflects this aesthetics of decease, as Neill claims ( p.356 ) . In this respect, William Shakespeare ‘sHamletis besides overwhelmed with characters ‘ deceases that normally come out from retaliation or misrepresentation.

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This is merely the instance with about all chief characters of the drama. For case, Laertes, Ophelia ‘s brother, is masterfully deceived by Claudius and dies. Claudius makes Laertes avenge Hamlet who is accused of the slaying of Laertes ‘ male parent. As Claudius claims, Laertes, was your male parent beloved to you? / Or are you like the picture of a sorrow, / As face without bosom? ( Shakespeare, 1985 4.7.107-109 ) . Although Hamlet makes an effort to apologize for Polonius ‘ decease, Laertes garbages to forgive him, because he feels rage and choler, as his sister Ophelia and his male parent Polonius are dead. Laertes utilises the toxicant blade during the double, but Hamlet by chance changes the blade and putting to deaths Laertes. Ophelia ‘s decease does non fall under the class of retaliation ; alternatively her self-destruction is closely affiliated with her sexual desires towards Hamlet. As Jonathan Dollimore ( 1998 ) puts it, Death inhabits gender: perversely, lethally, rapturously ( p.xi ) . As Ophelia experiences strong desires for the Prince, she implicitly wishes decease. Dollimore ( 1998 ) demonstrates that there is a close connexion between sexual desires and decease ; the Renaissance thoughts on love reveal that love is a altering phenomenon, and if it is so, sexual desires are besides exposed to alterations. With the loss of love and desires a individual starts to experience a desire for decease. Harmonizing to Dollimore ( 1998 ) , For the Jacobeans, as for us, what connects decease with desire is mutability – the sense that all being is governed by a constant procedure of alteration inseparable from an disconsolate sense of loss ( p.xii ) . Such a idea is consistent with a Christian tenet that human desires conveying devastation and decease, as is merely the instance with Eve ‘s desire for an apple. Claudius ‘ decease besides conforms to the Christian rules ; he is punished for his cruel actions and is killed by Hamlet. Claudius ‘ compulsion with wealth and power consequences in many deceases and problems ; therefore Shakespeare reveals that Claudius deserves decease.

But despite so many deceases, Shakespeare ‘s intervention of the issue of decease is particularly obvious through his portraiture of Hamlet who is presented as a individual preoccupied with the thought of decease and the Ghost of King Hamlet. It is through these characters that the playwright reveals his equivocal representation of the chief subject. From the really first Hamlet reflects a vernal adoration of decease, populating life as a journey toward decease ( Engel, 2002, p.10 ) ; although he is afraid of the Ghost, he tries to acquire in touch with him. Initially Hamlet is dying about decease, because he does non cognize what awaits him after decease. Hamlet reflects his anxiousness in his celebrated monologue To be or non to be, where he demonstrates the contention of the issue of decease. As he claims, But that the apprehension of something after decease, / The undiscovered state from whose bourne / No traveller returns, puzzles the will / And makes us instead bear those ailments we have / Than to wing to others we know non of ( Shakespeare, 1985 3.1.86-90 ) . However, as Hamlet collides with inhuman treatment, slayings, unfairness and deceases, he seems to organize a certain unconcern towards decease. In his hunt of retaliation, Hamlet thinks much about decease and hereafter.

But these efforts to avenge for his male parent are merely a requirement to Hamlet ‘s ideas of perpetrating self-destruction. This compulsion with decease bit by bit drives him huffy ; William Shakespeare demonstrates this compulsion with inexplicit jeer. For case, when Hamlet kills Ophelia ‘s male parent, he is non able to retrieve, where he hides his organic structure ; alternatively he starts to frantically talk about the worms that eat a dead organic structure. Shakespeare demonstrates that even Hamlet ‘s visual aspect shows his compulsion with decease ; he wears black apparels and looks depressed. In the cemetery scene Shakespeare intensifies Hamlet ‘s preoccupation with decease, uncovering Hamlet ‘s glooming ideas. As he claims, No, faith, non a jot ; but to follow him there with modesty plenty and likelihood to take it ; as therefore: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returned into dust ; the dust is earth ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.1.201-206 ) . In fact, the image of the grave is shown several times throughout the drama to uncover the character ‘s attitude towards decease. With the exclusion of Hamlet, all characters demonstrate fright and commiseration at the sight of the grave that they associate with decease. As Hamlet invariably thinks of decease, he does non value his ain life, every bit good as other people ‘s lives. As a consequence, Hamlet appears to be besides responsible for the decease of Ophelia, Claudius, Polonius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

Therefore, Hamlet ‘s compulsion transforms him from a suffering young person into a barbarous liquidator. However, contrary to other characters ‘ deceases that are portrayed with a certain grade of sarcasm, Hamlet ‘s decease is depicted in more serious footings. From the really beginning of Shakespeare ‘s drama each decease seems to be blackened and is shortly forgotten by other characters. For case, Hamlet demonstrates that his male parent ‘s decease is already neglected by people, although King Hamlet died merely a twosome of months ago. When Horatio claims, My Godhead, I came to see your male parent ‘s funeral, Hamlet responds: I prithee, do non mock me, fellow pupil. I think it was to see my female parent ‘s nuptials ( Shakespeare, 1985 1.2.183-185 ) . Such an dry point of view reveals that even the most generous people are forgotten. The decease of Polonius is besides ignored by the chief characters ; Ophelia and Laertes are excessively preoccupied with their emotions and feelings to retrieve their male parent, and Hamlet who by chance kills Polonius expresses merely some sympathetic words: Thou wretched, roseola, irrupting sap, farewell ( Shakespeare, 1985 3.4.38 ) . Ophelia ‘s decease is described in even more ironical portraiture, as the playwright presupposes that her decease is a consequence of self-destruction and asks: Is she to be buried in Christian entombment, when she willfully seeks her ain redemption? ( Shakespeare, 1985 3.4.38 ) . Similar to Ophelia ‘s decease, the deceases of Gertrude, Claudius, Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are able to elicit merely understanding in readers. In this respect, Hamlet ‘s decease stands out against a background of other deceases ; it evokes regard and powerful emotions towards the character. Although Hamlet expresses sarcasm to decease throughout the drama, his decease is a calamity for those who knew him.

As Horatio claims, Now cracks a baronial bosom. / Goodnight sweet prince. And a flight of angels sing thee to thy remainder ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.2.397-398 ) . Hamlet ‘s decease is the calamity for the whole state, because it has lost its baronial male monarch and can barely happen another great individual. Fortinbras considers that For he was likely, had he been put upon, to hold proved most royal Speak aloud for him ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.2.443-446 ) . Hamlet ‘s baronial decease corresponds with the thoughts of decease maintained by such a Renaissance philosopher as Michel de Montaigne ( 1910 ) who claims that decease uncovers the true kernel of a individual. Harmonizing to him, a individual can be truly judged at his/her last minutes. The similar attitude towards decease is revealed by Sir Walter Raleigh who claimed that merely decease could supply people with existent apprehension of life. During his imprisonment Raleigh demonstrated existent bravery and was non afraid of decease. As he wrote in the latter to his married woman, I perceive that my decease was determined from the first twenty-four hours ( Raleigh, 1940, p.82 ) . In this respect, Hamlet ‘s existent ego is obvious merely after his decease. At the terminal of the drama Hamlet accepts his decease with bravery and inevitableness. However, Shakespeare demonstrates that, despite Hamlet ‘s indifference to life, he needs much clip and bravery to fix himself for killing and decease. As Hamlet observes legion deceases, he becomes immune to his ain luck. He starts to comprehend decease with sarcasm, gaining that life has no value for him. To a certain extent, it is Hamlet ‘s insanity that helps him to set to the thought of decease and win in his retaliation. As Hamlet collides with cruel world, he seems to be mentally destroyed by it: Who does it, so? His lunacy. If’t be so, / Hamlet is of the cabal that is incorrect ‘d ; His lunacy is hapless Hamlet ‘s enemy ( Shakespeare, 1985 2.233-235 ) .

Simultaneously, the chief character manages to make an ironical attitude towards decease that is intensified by the use of Biblical and classical allusions. For case, Hamlet ‘s retaliation resembles the classical narrative of Priam and Pyrrhus ; when Priam kills the male parent of Pyrrhus, the latter decides to kill Priam in retaliation. In Hamlet ‘s instance the sarcasm is explained by the repeat of the state of affairs, but Hamlet finds it hard to win in his retaliation ; he avoids some fortunate state of affairss and putting to deaths Claudius merely at the terminal of the drama. Another allusion is taken from the Bible: when Shakespeare ( 1985 ) mentions the cardinal firstborn expletive A brother ‘s slaying ( 3.3.40-41 ) , he draws a analogue between the narrative of Cain and Abel with the slaying of King Hamlet by Claudius. Although Claudius seems to inquire for forgiveness in the church, he does non truly atone of his action. When Hamlet recognises the truth about his male parent ‘s decease, he decides to do a drama ‘The Murder of Gonzago ‘ , where he implicitly depicts the slaying of his male parent by King Claudius. Ironically, the drama has a great impact on Hamlet who has to stamp down his desire to kill Claudius and his female parent Gertrude. As he states, Let non of all time the psyche of Nero enter this house bosom. / Let me be steadfast, non unnatural. / I will talk stickers to her, but use none ( Shakespeare, 1985 3.2.426-429 ) .

As Agrippina, the character of the drama ‘The Murder of Gonzago ‘ , is killed by her boy Nero, Hamlet is afraid of his desire to besides kill his female parent. Another component of decease that Shakespeare strengthens in his drama is the Dance of Death that is important for understanding the playwright ‘s reading of the issue. In the Renaissance this dance was performed in the signifier of a carnival, during which some people disguised themselves into skeletons and guided other people into ‘afterlife ‘ . As a humourous celebration, the Dance of Death was popular among different groups of people and was depicted in many dramatic plants ( Freedberg, 1989 ) . The image of the Dance of Death occupies the chief topographic point in Hamlet ‘s graveyard scene. In Hamlet ‘s conversation with the gravedigger, Shakespeare uncovers many of import issues of being. For case, Hamlet asks Did these castanetss cost no more the genteelness but to play at loggets with them? Mine aching to believe o n’t ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.1.91 ) . The Dance of Death has a great impact on Hamlet, particularly when he sees the skull of his friend Yorick who occupied a place of sap in the tribunal during his life ( Triggs, 1990, pp.73-76 ) . Hamlet realises that decease is inevitable for all people, as he puts it, We fat all animals else to flesh out us and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat male monarch and your thin mendicant is but variable service – two dishes but to one tabular array ( Shakespeare, 1985 4.2.21-24 ) .

But this scene besides reveals that the gravedigger and Hamlet are profane in their intervention of decease, although to a different extent ( Frye, 1979, pp.17-22 ) . As the gravedigger prepares the grave for Ophelia, he sings vocals ; Hamlet see this action as atrocious, although his farther action is more barbarous. When he finds Yorick ‘s skull, he begins to mock at him, at the same time express joying at decease: Where be your shots now? your plaies? your vocals? your flashes of gaiety that wont to put the tabular array on a boom? Not one now to mock your ain smile? Quite chapfallen? ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.1.196-199 ) . Such an dry vision of the chief character reveals Hamlet ‘s interior debasement ; Ewan Fernie ( 2002 ) considers that Hamlet involves into the deepness of mortality and devastation, because he feels shame that makes him see decease in an easy and vague mode. Hamlet thinks that the interior devastation is a necessary requirement of retaliation, and the failure of this tragic hero plants against the semblance and the dictatorship of the ego ( Fernie, 2002, p.225 ) . Although decease is a natural phenomenon, Shakespeare demonstrates that people imagine and endure decease before they truly die, as the ancient civilization forms an attitude of people towards decease based on agony and purgatory. As Stephen Greenblatt ( 2001 ) puts it, by the late Middle Ages in Western Europe, Purgatory had achieved both a doctrinal and a societal success ( p.14 ) . In other words, it non merely concerned the spiritual side and the thought of being, but was besides associated with society and its attitude towards world. In the 16th century there were two spiritual groups in Britain – Catholics and Protestants ; the first group maintained the thought of Purgatory, while the 2nd group opposed it.

Although during the Renaissance period Protestants made everything to extinguish the rules of Purgatory, Shakespeare demonstrates that Purgatory was besides closely connected with cultural beliefs of British people. In this respect, the Ghost of King Hamlet confirms to the tenet of Purgatory, as he appears as a animal that suffers much because of his slaying and that demands retaliation. In fact, the really image of the Ghost brings up the inquiry of decease and supernatural elements, at the same time showing an equivocal attitude of Renaissance literature towards the issue of decease. On the one manus, on the illustration of his chief character Shakespeare reveals people ‘s wish to pass on with dead people, but, on the other manus, he shows the want of the dead to pass on with human existences. Therefore, the Ghost in the drama seems to inquire non merely for retaliation, but besides for remembrance. Despite the fact that Shakespeare does non use the word ‘purgatory ‘ in respect to the Ghost, the playwright implicitly mentions that the Ghost comes back from this peculiar topographic point. As Shakespeare ( 1985 ) provinces, Doomed for a certain term to walk the dark / And for the twenty-four hours confined to fast in fires, / Till the disgusting offenses done in yearss of nature / Are burned and purged off ( 1.5.11-14 ) .

Purgatory, enigma dramas and assorted mediaeval rites were prohibited by the Church of England in the epoch of Reformation, destructing many of import facets of English civilization. Purgatory was closely connected with the beliefs in apparitions, that is why the Church made everything to stamp down the spread of these beliefs. However, Renaissance calamity seems to resuscitate some earlier traditions and imposts associated with the dead, and Shakespeare is considered to be one of the chief Renaissance playwrights who combine medieval and Renaissance cultural traditions. Making the Ghost come back from Purgatory, Shakespeare at the same time signifies the resurgence of the really construct of Purgatory, although in a changed signifier. In this respect, William Shakespeare resembles a celebrated Renaissance philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus ( 1994 ) who besides rejected many spiritual tenet of Protestants and tried to resuscitate some traditions, such as Purgatory. In his workPraise of Folly( 1509 ) Erasmus reveals an ironical vision towards the issue of decease, although he believed in God. Harmonizing to Greenblatt ( 2001 ) , Shakespeare ‘s drama takes portion in a cult of the dead ( p.203 ) , look intoing in deepness assorted facets of decease. Shakespeare demonstrates that Purgatory is an of import tool for continuing a connexion between society and continuity, between life and decease ; therefore the rejection of the rules of Purgatory is considered by the playwright as the devastation of the Renaissance cultural traditions. In this context, Shakespeare ‘s reading of the issue of decease corresponds with the thought of such conservative philosophers as More, Erasmus, Montaigne and Raleigh. In peculiar, Sir Thomas More in his plantsThe Supplication of Souls( 1529 ) andThe Last Thingssdemonstrates the importance of Purgatory for salvaging the shades and set uping dealingss between the quick and the dead.

Thomas More besides discusses the issue of decease through the Seven Deadly Sins that are closely connected with Purgatory ( More, 1997, pp.142-160 ) . On the other manus, Shakespeare does non explicitly uncover his support for the issue of Purgatory. Although he challenges the Reformists ‘ rejection of Purgatory, he avoids taking one or another side. Shakspere shows that the image of the Ghost is important for the Renaissance populace, as Ghost narratives were an built-in portion of British cultural traditions. Despite the fact that other Renaissance calamities besides portray the images of Ghosts, Shakespeare ‘s reading of the issue greatly differs from other readings. As Greenblatt ( 2001 ) puts it, Shakespeare ‘s shade is presented in three different images: the Ghost as a figure of false guess, the Ghost as a figure of history ‘s incubus, and the Ghost as a figure of deep psychic perturbations ( p.157 ) . All these images demonstrate that Shakespeare treats the Ghost in a instead serious manner, sing that it can give replies to some issues of being, albeit the playwright does non uncover these replies ; he merely points at the possibility to acquire these replies. The fact is that Shakespeare deliberately makes the Ghost a controversial animal, so that readers can construe this image in their ain ways.

The contention of the Ghost reflects the controversial attitude of Elizabethan society to the issue of decease and hereafter. If the Ghost is thought to come back from Purgatory, so Hamlet may believe that it is the Ghost of his male parent who suffers much and is in hunt of retaliation ( Low, 1999, pp.463-472 ) . However, the Ghost may besides look to come back from Hell ; in this respect, his purpose is to turn Hamlet into insanity. William Shakespeare reveals this contention, but he does non work out it. The issue remains unfastened throughout the drama and is aggravated with the disappearing of the Ghost. Greenblatt ( 2001 ) even claims that purgatory exists in the fanciful existence of Hamlet and [ it provides ] many of the deep inventive experiences, the tangled yearning, guilt, commiseration and fury evoked by More ( p.252 ) . However, the deceases of Hamlet and other chief characters of the drama uncover the truth about these people. In peculiar, throughout the narrative Hamlet pretends to hold a secret, although he does non uncover it, but at the terminal he seems to expose his bosom and all his secrets: Thou wouldst non believe how sick all ‘s here about my bosom ; but it is no affair It is but folly ( Shakespeare, 1985 5.2.208-211 ) . Hamlet tries to gull other characters, but alternatively he fools himself, as he is non able to acknowledge that he is besides afraid of decease.

Analyzing the intervention of decease in William Shakespeare ‘s dramaHamlet, the essay suggests that the drama contributes much to the Renaissance argument on the issue of decease. In peculiar, the playwright goes beyond the antediluvian and Renaissance apprehension of decease, resuscitating some mediaeval decease imposts inHamletand disputing the traditional spiritual tenet in respect to decease. Introducing the image of the Ghost of King Hamlet, Shakespeare brings up the important issues of life and decease and eliminates the suppression of the Purgatory constructs.

Harmonizing to the playwright, the suppression of some earlier beliefs, such as the belief in Purgatory, destroys Renaissance civilization. Shakespeare ‘s thought cooperates with the ideas of such philosophers as Erasmus, Raleigh, More and Montaigne who besides demonstrate the necessity to continue the medieval beliefs and traditions and who believe that a individual reveals his true ego merely at decease, while life is a readying for decease. However, Shakespeare avoids back uping either side of the Renaissance decease argument ; although he revives some constructs, he does non supply an expressed reply to the controversial issue of decease. In this respect, the grounds for his characters ‘ decease are besides different ; such characters as Hamlet and Laertes die because of their choler and retaliation, Claudius dies because of his homicidal actions, Ophelia dies as a consequence of her lunacy and sexual desires towards Hamlet, while her male parent Polonius and Hamlet ‘s female parent dice from an unwilled slaying, similar to Guildenstern and Rosencrantz. Using to these characters ‘ deceases, Shakespeare reveals both serious and ironical attitude to decease that, on the one manus, reflects Renaissance preoccupation with decease, while, on the other manus, demonstrates his ain philosophical intervention of this important issue.


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