Hamlet Essay Essay, Research Paper
Discuss Shakespeare s use of context in Hamlet. What does it contribute to your understanding of the values presented by Shakespeare in the play?
Context : the range of personal, social, historical, cultural conditions in which a text is responded to and composed.
Values : To assign worth to a text
Shakespeare s work often contains a variety of contexts and we will definitely find that these contexts are associated with the values present in Hamlet. The different contexts includes personal, social, cultural, political and spiritual. To understand these values we need to be constantly challenging ourselves with bright ideas about these concepts in Hamlet.
With economy and grace Shakespeare sets his mood, introduces his major characters, presents his background information, begins his exploration of the play’s major themes, and sets his plot, all within two short scenes. The only major plot strand not established in this section is that of Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia, who appears in the following scene. Other than that omission, the first two scenes introduce all the major strands that will occur throughout the play.
Hamlet s inaction and procrastination is a main issue in the personal context. He intellectualises over what the right thing is and is not a man who yields to passion. Being a man of thought and reason his inactions are contrasted by Laertes and Fortinbras leadership qualities showing Shakespeare s value of action. Hamlet’s father, the king of Denmark, has died suddenly. The dead king’s brother, Claudius, marries Hamlet’s mother and swiftly assumes the throne, a throne that Hamlet expected would be his upon the death of his father. Hamlet’s father’s ghost confronts Hamlet and tells him that his death was not natural, but instead was murder. Hamlet swears revenge. But rather than swoop instantly to that revenge, Hamlet pretends to be insane still wearing black in mourning for the dead king. Gertrude urges him to cast it off, but he replies bitterly that his inner sorrow is so great that his sour appearance is merely a poor mirror of it. Claudius declares that all fathers die, and that all sons must lose their fathers, and that to mourn for too long is unmanly and inappropriate. Shakespeare s view of deception is revealed when Hamlet puts on this antic disposition and delays in killing Claudius. But Hamlet did not swear to his dead father that he, detective-like, would investigate. Hamlet swore revenge. And he has more than enough motivation to exact revenge. Yet he delays. It is this delay in performing the act he has sworn to accomplish which leads to Hamlet’s death. The poison on the tip of Laertes sword is a metaphor for the poison of procrastination, which has been coursing through Hamlet s system throughout the play. The incestuous relationship between Claudius and Gertrude is completely unacceptable. For a man to kill his brother then steal his throne and wife is of the lowest action. Claudius has gained so much personally, but the truth is soon found out.
Another issue is Shakespeare s use of the King s role relating to the social context. The people in Shakespeare s time thought that the Gods appointed the king s role as he represents the land, so the action of the king is always approved by the society. If something is wrong with the king then there must be something wrong with Denmark, affecting the state as he socially affects the law being the leader of the land. The corruption and decay of Denmark and its society is expressed at several different levels. Recurrent imagery, such as the unweeded garden or the decay imagery of corpses, dust and graves and poison present this repulsive image. In Hamlet, most of the images Shakespeare uses highlight the idea that this world is ‘an unweeded garden’, a wonderful image that shows that this is a world, which once was well provided but now has become out of control. Corruption is suggested in the moral sense as well as the physical sense. The dirty deal done between Claudius and Fortinbras to invade a neighbouring country reflects another form of corruption and decay. Also King Claudius speaks to Rosencrantz and Guildernstern. Shaken by the play within the play and now considering Hamlet’s madness to be dangerous, Claudius asks the pair to escort Hamlet on a voyage to England, and to depart immediately. They agree, and leave to get themselves ready. Then Polonius enters, and reminds the king of his plan to hide in Gertrude’s room and observe Hamlet’s confrontation with her. He promises to tell Claudius all that he learns. When Polonius leaves, the king is alone, and he immediately bewails his guilt and grief over his sin. A brother’s murder, he says, is the oldest sin, and “hath the eldest curse upon’t.” He longs to ask for forgiveness, but says that he is unprepared to give up that which he gained by committing the murder, namely, the crown and the queen. He falls to his knees and begins to pray. Hamlet slips quietly into the room, and approaches himself to kill Claudius. Suddenly he realises that if he kills the king while he is praying, he will send the king’s soul to heaven, which is hardly an adequate revenge, especially since Claudius, by killing Hamlet’s father before he had time to make his last confession, ensured that his brother would not go to heaven. Hamlet decides to wait, resolving to kill Claudius when he is sinning. He leaves and Claudius rises and declares that he has been unable to pray sincerely. “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below…” Hamlet reminds his mother that he must sail to England with Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, whom he says he will trust as fully as though they were venomous snakes. Hamlet calls Rosencrantz a “sponge… that soaks up the king’s countenance, his rewards, his authorities.” The injustice actions of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern lead to their very own miserable death. Undoubtedly, moral and ethical values are a key essence in the society.
Shakespeare belonged to the Elizabethan and Jacobean cultures, corresponding to the times of Elizabeth I and her cousin, James I. The King s position during the Elizabethan culture is rather interesting. Everybody acts like sheep, all following the directions given by the king. Many great writers lived during this time, such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, creating a colossal theatrical explosion. There are some passages of prose, used as a contrast to the poetic style. Prose often indicates a different social class or the lower classes, servants or clowns, who were unable to speak in the elevated, educated way that kings and queens, heroes and heroines, did.
On the political side of things with the King s image being exceptionally powerful, the people of the land abide by his laws. His actions inspire the community to be a mirror reflection of him, and to follow the hard earned footsteps of a heroic role model. In the old law, the king represented the land, so if the king did something, everyone else would follow his decisions. His laws reveal that this is not a fare world and if you are not on his pleasant side and decide to oppose such a highly ranked mastermind, you are doomed for a horrific destiny. In this political sense, King Claudius demonstrates how issues may go his way, whether they are righteous or not.
The appearance of the ghost on a chilling, misty night outside Elsinore Castle introduces the element of the spiritual context into the play, and indicates immediately that, “the time is out of joint” that something is wrong in Denmark. Despite the apparent vitality of Claudius’s court, Shakespeare tells us, trouble is clearly on the horizon, Horatio interprets the ghost as a warning about Fortinbras. Hamlet, devastated by his father’s death and betrayed by his mother’s marriage, already feels that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Hamlet’s bitterness, his yearning for suicide, and the other characters’ remarks about his odd behavior indicate the extent to which Hamlet is not his usual self. In fact, nothing in Denmark is usual. The play opens immediately after the disruption of a very long, stable, and uneventful period under the reign of King Hamlet. The appearance of the ghost affords the characters the opportunity to tell the audience about the recent death of King Hamlet and the history of his conflict with Poland, which in turn introduces the idea that Fortinbras has a grudge against Denmark. Claudius’s speech informs us of his marriage to Gertrude, and Hamlet’s bitterness toward Claudius and his following soliloquy establishes his melancholy and desperation over those events. The shock of the ghost’s appearance, and Hamlet’s decision to confront the apparition, sets in motion the main plot of the play, which will culminate in Hamlet’s death. Presumably, the observation of the ghost is a premonition of terrible incidents.
Under these circumstances each context, whether it be personal, social, cultural, political or spiritual they all provide detail of the development of the values in Hamlet. Shakespeare s use of context contributes many values as expected through his exuberant use of language.