Approaching questions on Hamlet

“Hamlet is a play in which action speak louder than words.” How far and in what ways do you agree with this view?

 

Formalist Perspective…

Shakespeare presents us with a play where action happen off stage, and words dominate; ha also presents us with a protagonist who repeatedly refuses to act, but whose words, especially his soliloquies, most deeply affect the audience. If it is Shakespeare’s intention to present the inability to act in the tragic flaw of his protagonist, he also presents the audience with the most fully realised character, whose words cause the tragedy as much as his refusal to act let it happen. Across the play contrasts between the different parts of the acts portray characters impressions of the lack of trust in the relationships and their suspicions laced between them. The family of Polonius, Ophelia and Laertes show constant distrust as they consistently advise one another, mostly for personal gain rather than protecting the ones they love. This is shown when Laertes advises Ophelia about her “chaste treasure” as in Shakespeare’s time women were only desirable as pure. However, the ulterior motive behind this is to make sure his self-image is protected – ultimately Laertes knows Ophelia’s sensitivity and understands his words will affect her more than his actions.

 

Historical Perspective…

Shakespeare presents us with a play where actions happen off stage and words dominate; he also presents us with a protagonist who repeatedly refuses to act, but who’s words, especially his soliloquies, most deeply affect the audience. If it is Shakespeare’s intention to present the inability to act in the tragic flaw of the protagonist, he also presents the audience with the most full realised character whose words cause the tragedy as much as his refusal to act let it happen. However, in the early 17th century the audience directed the vast majority of their focus on the actions in the play and would have paid little attention to the depth of the words. Hamlet states “poison in jest” which is the first time poison is specifically mentioned and suggests that’s how he believes his father died. Later on the King speaks of “a brothers murder”. At the time of Shakespeare, the audience will have considered this as the most important parts of the play whereas in modern times, the audience focuses more on the meanings behind the words and soliloquies and values  Shakespeare’s writing for these features, showing a modern bias amongst views of the play.

 

Feminist Perspective…

Shakespeare presents us with a play where action happen off stage, and words dominate; ha also presents us with a protagonist who repeatedly refuses to act, but whose words, especially his soliloquies, most deeply affect the audience. If it is Shakespeare’s intention to present the inability to act in the tragic flaw of his protagonist, he also presents the audience with the most fully realised character, whose words cause the tragedy as much as his refusal to act let it happen. One way in which Shakespeare reflects the patriarchy in the 16th century is through the lack of a female voice in comparison to the dominant voice of men throughout the play. In particular, Hamlet’s attitude towards women is almost constantly voiced throughout the play, in “Frailty, thy name is Woman”, where he presents women as weak and inferior, with reference to Gertrude, almost as if she is controlled by her base instincts. In comparison, the views of women in the play are under-represented. For example, when Ophelia and Polonius discuss Hamlet, she answers in short, vague sentences that may make the audience wonder whether they truly reflect her views, such as “I do not know, my lord, what I should think”. Her apparent lack of opinion is a suggestion towards her inferior mind in the eyes of men.

Psychoanalytic Perspective…

Shakespeare presents us with a play where actions happen off stage, and words dominant; he also presents us with a protagonist who repeatedly refuses to act, but whose words, especially his soliloquies, most deeply affect the audience. If it is Shakespeare’s intention to present the inability to act in the tragic flaw of his protagonist, he also presents the audience with the most fully realised character, whose words cause the tragedy as much as his refusal to act let it happen. Shakespeare’s protagonist’s words seem particularly effective in gaging a reaction from many other characters, in addition to the audience, regarding Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s sexual relations. Freudian critics steer towards the sexual implications of symbols and imagery, since Freud theorized that all human behavior derives from sexual energy. In Act One of Shakespeare’s play, the text states “Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast” in support of both the Freudian approach, and the exploration that Hamlet’s words affect a great number of people in the play. It is possible that Hamlet’s reaction to the rapid re-marriage of his mother to his uncle is based on jealousy and spite, leading to his hurtful and offensive insults that he directs not only to his mother, but also to all women in the 16th century society, when this play was created, causing the audience of the time to understand Shakespeare’s negative views of the patriarchal society that he lived in. Women were often considered significantly weaker and inferior to men; it was often the case that they were only really recognised for their sexuality and virtue. This furthermore relates to the Oedipus complex, as Freud suggests that Hamlet is played by Shakespeare as scolding his mother for having sex with Claudius, while simultaneously unconsciously wishing that he could take Claudius’s place: “adultery” and “incest” is what he both loves and hates about his mother.

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