Anthony Smith, Rory Beals, Joey Vizmeg, Christina Leung Mrs. Thompson AP English Literature January 30th, 2020 Critical Analysis - Hamlet 1. Title Hamlet 2. Author and publication date 1603, by William Shakespeare 3. Major themes a. Action and Inaction- Throughout the play in Hamlet by Shakespear, the character Hamlet is left with the task of avenging his father after hearing about his death however he hesitates and refrains from avenging his father for the majority of the play. At first, when the ghost tells him that he has been killed and must be avenged Hamlet doesn’t feel motivated enough to go immediately kill him; he begins to make excuses for why he must wait. Hamlet devises a plan to expose Claudius through a play, “I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father… wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. During the time period, ghosts were thought to be linked with the devil; Hamlet needs confirmation that it wasn’t the devil’s work but indeed his uncles. Also in this soliloquy, Hamlet also states his jealousy of the actor’s ability to express such great emotion and claims that he feels like a villain for not showing the same amount of emotion. This plan acts as a distraction to make Hamlet feel like he’s progressing with revenge. While Claudius is praying to atone for his sins, Hamlet has the perfect opportunity to kill but doesn’t. He claims “to take him in the purging of his soul when he is fit and seasoned for his passage? No”. Hamlet doesn’t kill him because he believes that once his sins have been forgiven Claudius will be able to go straight to heaven without suffering. In his mind, Hamlet feels like he wouldn’t truly be avenging his father. b. Reality and Illusions- In Hamlet, many of the characters find themselves acting to uphold their facades to eventually reveal other’s intentions. After King Hamlet dies, Claudius attempts to become a father figure toward Hamlet in order to keep control and power he stole. Claudius does this by telling Hamlet to accept him as his new father, “we pray you, throw to earth this unprevailing woe, and think of us as of a father”. Claudius creates this facade of a fatherly figure in an attempt to help Hamlet with his grief because he feels threatened by Hamlet and worries that he might know the truth of his father’s death. Claudius’ attempts just make Hamlet even more annoyed especially at his mother for being able to move on so quickly. However, Hamlet's depression is the perfect excuse for him to act mad and get closer to Claudius. After first encountering the ghost Hamlet makes Horatio never tell of what happened and to not act upon his odd behavior “as [he] perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on”. Hamlet uses his madness to get closer to Claudius in an attempt to expose him for his crime and to avenge his father. 4. Characters a. Hamlet- Hamlet is the title character in the play Hamlet, so the entire book focuses on the role he plays. He is not the only character in the book that adds to the theme and plot. Hamlet’s father, the previous king comes to Hamlet as a ghost and tells him that Claudius, the current king, killed him in his sleep. This is the thing that drives Hamlet to act. The death of his father is also the thing that puts Hamlet into a state of excessive melancholy, which lowers his action and motivation. Hamlet also struggles with his internal ideologies which affect how he reacts to Cladius. He does not want to do the wrong thing so he goes to excessive lengths in order to maintain his purity. His depression is so bad that he wants to die, but killing himself is a sin so he does not want to do it. Hamlet’s lack of action in what he wants makes him a foil to both Fortinbras and Laertes. All three of their dad’s died, but Hamlet was the only one to not try to act. The other two instantly spring into action to avenge their father and prove themselves. Hamlet creates the story, but he does not act which brings up the theme that action is more powerful than inaction. The root of all the problems come from Hamlet’s tendency to postpone his vengeance. b. Horatio- Horatio acts as Hamlet’s guide and helper during the play. He helps Hamlet come up with ideas and keeps him on track when he starts to wander and stay away. The thing he struggles with most is that when Hamlet starts to break down, he does not know what to do because he is so invested in Hamlet that his own self is invested in him. His role in the play is as a supporting character to Hamlet and a way for Hamlet to express his inner thoughts in an external way. Because he is a side character, he does not really have a direct foil, but he adds to the idea that death is the great equalizer when he talks to Hamlet in the graveyard. c. Claudius- In this play, Claudius plays the role of the antagonist. He has lots of stage time and because of this, his clear strive for power is evident to audiences. Although his need for power and his desire to stay benevolent in the face of his people ultimately leads to conflict within his life. Specifically, Claudius strives for power by murdering the father of Hamlet, Denmark’s ex-king, to become king. Eventually, Claudius is forced to look within and see what he cannot continue with the imbalance his life possesses. Claudius’s foil would have to be Hamlet because Claudius tries to hide everything from Hamlet, and Hamlet tries to deceive and trick Claudius throughout the play. d. Gertrude- Throughout the play, Gertrude generally plays a secondary role to Claudius and Hamlet. Despite this, she does have clear motivations. She desires to stay loyal and honest to the people in her life. This creates a large amount of conflict for her, considering Hamlet and Claudius are enemies. On the one hand, she wants to stay queen and maintain her relationship with Claudius. On the other hand, she wishes, like any mother would, the best for her son. Even though she doesn’t always agree with him, or may question how sad he “seems,” she still just wants for him to be happy. This is shown later in the play when Hamlet kills Polonius and tells his mother the honest truth of the whole situation. While doing so, he tells her to stay quiet about the things that he tells her, which she does. And, during the final scene of the play, she seems genuinely happy for Hamlet’s return. e. Fortinbras- Although he gets a small amount of time on stage, Fortinbras plays a key role in developing the ideas of Hamlet. He is in a similar situation as Hamlet, having had his father killed, and his kingdom’s land taken. So, his motivation is simply to avenge his father and gain back that land. The main thing that he struggles with throughout the play is being able to do so in a manner that his uncle approves of. Initially, he wants to exact revenge by waging war upon Denmark. His uncle finds out, however, and orders him not to. So, although he has suffered this setback, he continues to try and find a way to avenge his father and proceeds to attack Poland. He is significant primarily for his being a foil to Hamlet. Fortinbras, unlike Hamlet, is able to act upon his feelings of grief and anger for his father’s death. He goes forward with his plan to avenge his father, even though in the end it is only over a small amount of worthless land. This effect can be seen after Hamlet runs into Fortinbras and his army as they are marching to Poland. It sparks a soliloquy where Hamlet reflects on all of his reflection, and with the background of Fortinbras’s action, finally understands that all of his ponderings make him weak and that he should act. f. Laertes- Laertes spends most of the time throughout the play in college only to return after his father’s murder. His main motivation is his love for his father and sister because of this he wants to get revenge for his father’s death. His main struggle is to get revenge for his father. He is a foil to Hamlet because he is reckless and takes action immediately. After hearing about his father’s death he rushes back from his studies and storms the castle with a group of armed men demanding what happened to his father. His actions are completely opposite to Hamlet’s because while Hamlet takes his time asking questions and confirming his suspicions, Laertes acts and then asks the questions later. He says in confidence that he must avenge his father or else he should be named a bastard because he didn’t act upon his father’s death. This is different from Hamlet because he allows himself to feel the guilt from the lack of action and calls himself a villain because he knows what had happened but hasn’t done anything. Although he is a foil to Hamlet, both characters die by the same sword. g. Ophelia- Ophelia is Hamlet’s love interest. Her main motivation in the play is Hamlet’s love and also to be a good daughter. When Polonius finds out about Hamlet’s interest in Ophelia he tells her to reject any of Hamlet’s advances, which she does obediently showing her loyalty towards her father. Ophelia is a very innocent feminine character which causes her to harassed by Hamlet because he is a misogynist. Because of this, he is able to further the illusion of his madness when he tells Ophelia to go to a nunnery. This causes Ophelia to struggle because she actually cares for him and worries about his mental state; she wants to save Hamlet. She also struggles with her father’s death. After Polonius dies it is very evident that she has been heavily affected and it shows when she passes out the flowers to people. She isn’t able to handle the news of her father dying so she eventually commits suicide. h. Polonius- As the father of Laertes and Ophelia, Polonius provides protection to his children often throughout the first part of the play. He advises Laertes not to leave the country and Ophelia not to be with Hamlet. Polonius, despite bringing a humorous flair to his scenes, overcompensates in many cases and tries to say too much on top of what is necessary. His uncertainty goes hand in hand with his foil, Hamlet, but in a much more humorous way than Hamlet’s. Eventually, his and Hamlet’s uncertainty leads to Polonius’s demise at the end of the play. 5. Setting The play takes place in a castle in Elsinore, Denmark. In this play, Hamlet has lots of trouble dealing with his mother’s new relationship with his uncle and mentions his mother’s bedroom multiple times in the play. This setting causes lots of turmoil for Hamlet as he believes his mother’s new relationship is incest and harasses Gertrude for her quick marriage and disloyalty towards Old Hamlet. This place is a turning point in the novel because it focuses on the theme of action and inaction. Hamlet finally makes an attempt to take revenge on his father but accidentally kills Polonius and his death eventually causes Ophelia to go crazy and commit suicide. Another setting of importance is the graveyard. The graveyard represents the finality of death and shows how death is the ultimate equalizer. 6. Symbols a. Poison- The poison that Claudius uses to kill Hamlet’s father at the beginning of the play is not only a physical presence but an imaginary presence as well that travels with Claudius throughout the play. Symbolizing corruption, the poison sticks to Claudius after his murder having an effect on the state of Denmark and Claudius himself later. After killing his father, Claudius orders the death of Hamlet at the hand of Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius. Ultimately, this idea of corruption leads to the demise of Claudius and his helpers. b. Yorick’s skull- Yorick’s skull represents death and how death is the ultimate equalizer. Looking at his skull he realizes that having power is just an illusion and that nothing really matters in death. While looking at the jester’s skull he remembers the former jester and acknowledges the finalization of death. He even compares figures such as Alexander the Great and Caesar, which had lots of power, to dust and says that when they decay they will be nothing more than dirt and will cycle through the soil. This symbol shows how Hamlet’s idea of death has matured. In his soliloquy “To be or not to be”, he contemplates whether living or dying would be better and if he should die. However, he knows that eventually everyone will die and it wouldn’t matter if he had killed himself or if he let time and age kill him. c. Ophelia’s flowers- The flowers that Ophelia brings to everyone near the end of her life symbolize the truth about each and every person who receives one. In Ophelia’s crazed state, she can not say what she truly thinks about each one. Instead, to show what she wants, she gives people flowers that they deserve. They provide meaning to each person without the need for words. The flower crown that Ophelia wears herself, shows her balance before her end. She the flowers show a beautiful side of balance and unity when she goes crazy. They also symbolize how the crown worn by the king is the origin of all the chaos and disruption in the great chain of being. 7. Allusions a. Cain and Abel- Cain and Abel is a biblical allusion, which both of which are brothers and sons of Adam and Eve. Both brothers made sacrifices to God but he favored Abel’s sacrifice more. Cain grew jealous and eventually killed Abel. This allusion refers to Claudius and Old Hamlet, where Claudius, who is hungry for power, murders his brother in order to take his throne. Claudius mentions this biblical allusion in his soliloquy because he understands that killing your own blood may be too great of sin to be forgiven by God. He fears what may come to him after death, which is why he prays for forgiveness. b. Hecuba - Hecuba arises in the play while Hamlet and others are watching a Greek tragedy being performed by a group of actors. The point of this allusion was twofold. Firstly, she is brought up as a foil for Gertrude, in a way. In the play that Hamlet views regarding Hecuba, her husband is killed, similarly to the situation that occurred with Gertrude and her husband. However, in Hecuba’s case, she remained loyal to her deceased husband and did not remarry, which the play depicts as the proper thing to do, in contrast to what Gertrude has done. Hecuba is also alluded to in the story to showcase the skills of the player, who creates great emotion for someone who has been dead for thousands of years. This creates a contrast between the player and Hamlet, who still has yet to act on his father’s ghost’s requests. It sets up the “rogue and peasant slave” soliloquy that gives greater detail to the inner workings of Hamlet’s mind, as well. c. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar- In the gravedigging scene, Hamlet comes to realize the true power of death. Referencing two ancient heroes, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, Hamlet comes to realize that death is inevitable and is the true equalizer. Despite the lasting greatness and effect, these two men had in their times, death came anyway. Here, audiences see the dynamics of Hamlet coming to realize the inevitability of death which he could not see earlier while contemplating suicide. 8. Archetypes a. The Villain- In Hamlet, the antagonist, or “villain” is Claudius. Murdering the ex-king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father, Claudius claims the throne as king of the state. When prince Hamlet attempts to avenge his dead father, Claudius orders spies to deceive Hamlet on his quest. Ultimately, Claudius, the villain, meets his demise due to the disruption of the “Great Chain of Beings” a central motif in Shakespeare’s tragedies making it clear that if one kills someone of power, the entire structure of the kingdom collapses. In this case, the murder, Claudius, meets his end along with others. b. Tragic Hero- Hamlet is a tragedy, and all of Shakespeare's tragedies start with someone in a high position who loses everything. Hamlet fits this archetype of the tragic hero because where he was before the story, and where he ends after. The tragic end of Hamlet happens with the death of the king, as well as other people, but in the end, Hamlet achieves his goal. Similar to Odysseus, a man who experienced much loss and downfall, Hamlet must crawl his way from the bottom of his emotion to finish his job. Shakespeare’s use of Hamlet as a hero who does not act because of his depression builds the idea that action is necessary to insight change even if it means self-sacrifice. c. Sidekick- In “Hamlet,” the main hero is clearly the eponymous character, Hamlet himself. However, he is not alone in his ventures throughout the novel. He is aided by Horatio, who effectively acts as his sidekick. During the play, he aids Hamlet whenever he can, perhaps by offering him advice, or potentially through simply listening to his rants and agreeing with what he says. Regardless of what his assistance is, it is clear that he wants the best for Hamlet. This archetype is significant because throughout the play Hamlet can, at times, seem less than admirable. Unlike a classic hero, even in the scope of a Shakespearean tragedy. So, having his sidekick tag along with him gives a sense of trust to the audience, trust that he is, in fact, the hero, and the morals he fights for are the correct ones. 9. Organization a. Style- Shakespeare is well known for using Iambic Pentameter when people of knowledge and status are speaking. When people do not have the education or high mental functionality they revert to plain prose speech. This change helps readers understand the state of mind that characters are in, for example when Ophelia starts to go crazy, she starts singing and speaking in prose instead of iambic pentameter. Shakespeare also shows the character's emotion through word choice and the way someone says something. Polonius has a lot to say when he does not need to say it for as long as he does. Gertrude calls him out on this when she says, “More matter less art.” This expresses how he considers his time more important than all other people’s time. b. Structure- Hamlet is a play with five acts each showing a different part of Hamlet’s story. The introduction to the play is where the entire plot comes from because after Hamlet finds how his father actually died, he spends the rest of the book finding what he should do. The middle three acts are all the points that express the character’s internal conflicts and conflicts with each other. At the end of the third act, there starts to be more action, and the events pick up their pace. The accidental killing of Polonius catalyzes the rest of the action in the play. It starts with Ophelia’s reaction to this followed by Laertes springing into action, which eventually leads to the climax of the story where multiple plot lines merge into the final scene which restores the great chain of being and the chaos ends. Hamlet is a very linear play, but it has key details that change the flow. 10. Soliloquy- “rogue and peasant slave” a. Context- Prior to speaking this soliloquy, Hamlet watches a short performance done by a few players, who are acting out the scenes of a Greek tragedy, specifically, a play with Hecuba, a queen during the time of the Trojan War. During this play, one of the players gives a striking performance following the death of Hecuba, with believable emotion and angst to spare. Following this performance, Hamlet is left alone and speaks the soliloquy, where he talks a comparison between his own situation and that of the player. b. Translation- O, what a horrible and disreputable man am I! Is it not terrible that this actor here, in a work of fiction, in fake passion, could force his soul to feel the emotions of the fiction, with tears and a broken voice, all for something fake? And all for nothing! For Hecuba! How does Hecuba matter to him, or he matters to Hecuba, to warrant tears? What would he do in my situation? He would drown the stage in tears and burst the audience’s ears with his words, drive the guilty spectators crazy, strike fear into the innocent ones, confuse the ignorant ones, and astound everyone’s senses. Yet I, a dull and weak rascal, cannot act, cannot say anything, no, not for a king whose property and life was taken. Am I a coward? Is there anyone who calls me “villain,” who might hit me, pluck my beard and throw it in my face, tweak my nose, call me a liar? Ha! I would take it, for I am weak and don’t have the courage to fight back, otherwise, I would have fed birds with this enemy’s guts: terrible, awful villain! O, revenge! Why, what an ass am I! This is astute, I, the son of a murdered father, given direction from heaven and hell to get revenge, must, like a whore, speak instead of act, damn it! Work, brain! I have heard that guilty people sitting at plays of scenes of their guilt can be so struck so as to show their guilt outwardly. For murder, although it cannot speak, can speak, it will proclaim itself. I’ll have the actors perform something similar to the murder of my father by my uncle: I’ll watch him, if he flinches, I’ll know he’s guilty. The spirit I have seen could be the devil, which has the power to assume a figure I would trust; yes, and perhaps from my weakness and sadness, he is attempting to make me sin. I will get more evidence: the play will show me if the king is guilty. c. Analysis- To start the soliloquy, Shakespeare immediately gives us a feeling of the tone of the speech. Hamlet is angry, furious, even, with himself for his lack of action. By coming out yelling about what a “rogue and peasant” slave he is, the audience immediately understands what Hamlet is feeling in the moment. Another important part of this speech is the sentence length. Very noticeable is the fact that most of the sentences in the soliloquy are very long, adding to the exasperated and frustrated nature of Hamlet during this time. He is ranting, essentially, going on and on about how wretched he is in comparison to the player. Speaking of the player, the allusion to Hecuba adds depth to this speech, giving the reader insight on how clearly minimal this player’s relationship to the queen should be. Hecuba would have died more than a thousand years prior to the performance of the play within the play. Thus, the actor should clearly have no relation to the queen. This explains even further Hamlet’s astonishment to the player’s true and realseeming emotion. Another interesting part of the soliloquy is the continual questioning that Hamlet includes. Every time he poses a question in his speech, he answers it himself. This helps to illustrate that Hamlet is very sensible and capable of analyzing his situation. He should be able to act because he knows what he has to do. And yet he cannot because he is “pigeon-liver’d,” and would take any bullying that he was given. Also part of the speech is a set of parallel sentences, where Hamlet explains what the player would do should he have the potential for the emotion that Hamlet does. This continued use of parallel sentence structure again sets up the idea that this speech is less of a profound spiritual revelation and more of a rant. He thinks so much about what the player would do, driving home the point that the player would do so much more than Hamlet has thus far. Which brings up the next point, being the irony of the speech as a whole. Hamlet is self-deprecating the whole time he is talking, bringing up how he is weak and should be able to act more strongly. And yet, he is still standing in the same room, talking to himself about how he should be acting. He is, by scolding himself for thinking too much, ironically thinking even more. Following his repetition of questioning, Hamlet repeats himself again, seemingly using every possible synonym for “awful” that he can think of to describe the potential villain that he has brought up. Clearly, however, he has once again returned to self-deprecation, saying that no matter who was to humiliate him, he would still be unable to act. After that, Hamlet brings in a periodic sentence, where he explains the crazy situation that he is in, as a son of a murdered father being unable to act. This use of a periodic sentence emphasizes Hamlet’s point, that he is “like a whore.” Returning to the beginning of the speech, the word choice of “monstrous” creates an interesting element in the soliloquy. Monstrous is a very strong adjective, bringing with it plenty of negative connotations. Thus, the word choice here shows that Hamlet understands how terrible it is that he cannot act upon his emotions, while the player can. One last thing that deserves analysis is the hyperbole during Hamlet’s descriptions of the actor’s potential actions, given Hamlet’s situation. The fact that he would “drown” the stage with tears, and “make mad” the guilty demonstrates the magnitude that Hamlet believes his situation holds. Although the player already gave an incredible performance over a fake event, Hamlet believes that giving that event an aspect of reality would cause the actor to reach impossible standards of acting. To improve from the level of where he is now, in regards to Hecuba, to the point where Hamlet should be, his response should truly be legendary.