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Hamlet Essay Research Paper Literature of the

Hamlet Essay, Research Paper

Literature of the Renaissance was far different from that of the

previous eras. Man was now thought of as the center of life, as opposed to

God being the center in earlier times. Also, man was thought to have free

will over his life, not being simply a pawn of the Gods. These new ideals

were presented in the theaters as well as written literature. The esteemed

William Shakespeare incorporated many of these components into some of

the greatest performed classics in the history of theater. Shakespeare’s

Hamlet contains elements that are derived from the Renaissance way of

thinking and influenced from it’s earlier writers.

The play continuously incorporates themes of free will of man in

controlling his destiny. This is ever present throughout the play as Hamlet

contemplates each of his actions. Some look at this as cowardice or

procrastination, but his deliberation is clearly recognized as his choosing of

his own fate. In previous eras, man came across as being locked into one

action, without a choice of what to do. In Act I Scene IV, Hamlet

provides three possible answers to the cause of evil. The first is an

inherited fault: “As, in their birth- wherein they are not guilty”, which does

not involve human responsibility. Another claims the individual as being a

victim of fate: “Fortune’s Star.” If that were the answer in Hamlet, then

the play could not be classified as a Renaissance tragedy, but one based on

the Medieval theory that individuals have no choice in their life. The

second offering includes “the o’ergrowth of some complexion, oft breaking

down the pales and forts of reason. . .” Here human responsibility is

obvious, defining the moral theory of the Renaissance.

Act II Scene II contains a speech by Hamlet to Rosencrantz and

Guidenstern that outlines the way man was viewed in Renaissance thinking.

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in

faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like

an angel, in apprehension how like a god- the beauty of the world, the

paragon of animals!” Even though Hamlet goes on to say that “man

delights not me”, the speech still shows the Renaissance view on life. This

ideal was evident in the work of earlier Renaissance writers such as Pico

della Mirandola. In Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, the “great

miracle” of humanity was discussed. “There is nothing to be seen more

wonderful than man. . .man is the intermediary between creatures, the

intimate of the gods, the king of the lower beings, by the acuteness of his

senses, by the discernment of his reason, and by the light of his intelligence.

. .”

Also in Act II Scene II, the loveletter of Hamlet to Ophelia is being

discussed by Claudius, Gertrude, and Polonious. Although thought of as a

ploy by Hamlet to make everyone think he is mad, the first few lines may

have some distinctive significance: “Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt

that the sun doth move. . . .” Doubts to the stars and the sun in the

universe came about in the Renaissance and represented a challenge to the

traditional view of the universe. Here Shakespeare incorporates the

current learning of the time period in the theater. This can also be

interpreted that Hamlet lost faith in traditional values after experiencing evil

and heartbreak.

Also in Act II Scene II, Hamlet is spurned by his two friends

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and comes to the conclusion that man has a

terrifying capacity to reject reason and descend to the bestial level: Brother

may kill brother, friends may betray the sacred principles of friendship.

This is the case as Rosencrantz and Guidenstern allow themselves to be

used as spies of Hamlet by Claudius. The idea of descending to lower

levels of humanism was also derived from Pico’s Oration. “With freedom

of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou

mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have

the power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish.”

Another symbol of the Renaissance idealism is the nature of

Claudius, who, although showing guilt over his actions, can be seen as a

Machiavellian. This of course comes Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote The

Prince, the book that supposedly theorized how an ideal prince should rule.

Machiavelli describes how the nature of man is evil and one should

whatever is neccessary to maintain power: “Taking everything into

account, he will find some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he

practices them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be wicked

will bring him security and prosperity.” These Machiavellian concepts are

clearly defined by Claudius as he first kills his brother to claim the throne,

later sends his nephew Hamlet to be executed in England, and finally,

inadvertantly causes his wife’s demise from another plot to kill Hamlet.

The themes and ideas used in Hamlet are clearly seen as that of the

Renaissance thinking. Shakespeare’s use of notions first brought on by

early Renaissance writers shows his ability to incorporate modern thought

in drama. This modern thinking combined with old ideals characterized

what the Renaissance was all about.

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