LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
- His plays are masterpieces of psychological realism and depth in drama;
- Believable characters that show the rich diversity of humanity;
- Was influenced by classical and Renaissance ideas about the importance of reason and human individualism;
- Progressed from the attitude of classical (Greek and Latin) tragedies to romances and dramas which hold a humanistic message;
- The plays are infused with folklore-inspired supernatural elements;
- Characters are not driven by religious motivations, but by humanistic ones;
- Presents attitudes that are remote from the conventional Christianity of his time;
- Characters act out of their free will, they are not fatalistically predestined to a certain fate;
- Main themes: love, death, immortality (not in a metaphysical sense).
HAMLET (around 1600)
The play represents one of the most iconic tragedies ever written and exhibits all the features traditionally associated with the genre.
- Tragic ending (protagonist dies);
- Many characters die;
- The tragic protagonist has many qualities but is guilty of a flaw (classical term: hybris). Hamlet’s flaw is his desire for revenge. In this respect, the play is a revenge tragedy.
- Elsinore palace, Denmark;
- 14th-15th century.
Main theme: Madness
Hamlet’s mad behaviour begins as a phase, caused by the death of his father and Hamlet finding out that the murderer is his uncle. Then, in an attempt at revenge, he fakes madness. However, as the conflict evolves, the character’s mental state deteriorates and he ends up legitimately insane. On a larger scale, the play raises questions about the nature of human behaviour, performance, and what is real and what is interpreted.
- Performance and art
In Elsinore Castle, Denmark, Hamlet, the son of the deceased king, meets his father’s ghost. The ghost tells Hamlet how he was murdered by Claudius, his brother (the current king), who later married the Queen. He asks his son to revenge him. Hamlet decides to feign madness and test the ghost’s allegations. He rejects his fiancée, Ophelia, while Claudius spies on him. To observe Claudius’ reaction, Hamlet writes a play for a group of travelling actors, including scenes that mimic his father’s murder. He plans to present the play in front of the new King and Queen. Claudius is disturbed by the performance and wants to send Hamlet away from the castle. Gertrude, the Queen calls for her son, who avoids killing Claudius on his way to her. Polonius, the royal attendant (Ophelia’s father) hides in Gertrude’s room to protect her, but Hamlet hears him behind the tapestry and stabs him. The Ghost reappears and warns Hamlet not to delay the revenge. Claudius sends Hamlet to England as an ambassador, but Hamlet discovers that Polonius is plotting to kill him once he arrives. He returns to Denmark, only to find that Ophelia had gone mad and committed suicide. Hamlet confronts her brother, Laertes, and they fight a duel. Claudius conspires with Laertes to kill Hamlet and poisons the rapier and the wine. Gertrude drinks the poisoned wine and dies. The poisoned blade wounds both Hamlet and Laertes and they both die. Before his death, Hamlet kills Claudius and only his friend Horatio remains alive, to explain what had happened.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Hamlet – the Prince of Denmark and protagonist of the play. He is about 30 years old at the start of the play. He is the son of Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet and the present king’s nephew. He is bitter, cynical, filled with hatred toward his uncle, and disgusted by his mother. He is educated, having studied at the University of Wittenberg, reflective and very thoughtful. In his actions, he proves to be indecisive and hesitant but sometimes acts rashly and by impulse.
- Ophelia – a beautiful young woman, she is Polonius’s daughter. Hamlet had been in love with her before he met with the ghost. As he becomes obsessed with revenge, Ophelia is the first victim of his attempt to feign madness. Ophelia is sweet and innocent and depends on the men around her to tell her how to act. She accepts Polonius’s scheme to spy on Hamlet. Even when she becomes insane, she is still innocent and pure. She drowns in the river amid the flowers she had gathered.
- Gertrude – the Queen of Denmark. She was married to the late King Hamlet and after his death, she marries his murderous brother, Claudius, the new King. She is defined by her social ambition and sensuality, and she also tends to use men to accomplish her goals but becomes dependent on them. To Hamlet, she appears to be morally frail, because she bases her choices on instinct. She behaves best in social situations, with natural grace and charm.
POINT OF VIEW
- The point of view in theatre is usually objective;
- It is defined by
- The characters’ speech;
- The characters’ gestures and pantomimic movements.
***DO NOT CONFUSE: dramatic point of view is a feature of prose, in which a narrator reports the events of a scene without revealing a character’s thoughts and feelings.
- In theatre, the tone can belong to:
- The author – present in stage directions
- The characters – present in the characters’ lines.
- Author’s tone:
- Optimistic in the beginning, because it seems that justice could be achieved;
- As the play moves on, the tone becomes bleaker, as it becomes clear that justice is impossible in this situation.
- Character’s tone: relevant for characterisation.
- The nobles talk in unrhymed iambic pentameter (blank verse) – every second syllable is accented in the five iambs rhythmic pattern;
- Ordinary people talk in prose (usually about subjects that aren’t appropriate for nobility).
Shakespeare uses style as an extension of the character, especially Hamlet:
- Philosophical quality of language when the character is alone (“To be, or not to be” monologue). The language in these monologues is filled with rhetorical techniques (hyperbole, metaphor, simile)
“Frailty, thy name is woman!—
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father’s body,
Like Niobe, all tears. Why, she—
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reasons
Would have mourned longer!—married with my uncle,
My father’s brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules.”
- Double-speech that conceals its meaning when he is in the company of others. He uses word plays and symbolism;
“A little more than kin, and less than kind” – in response to Claudius calling him “my son”, Hamlet plays on the meaning of an English proverb, underlying the unnaturalness of Claudius’s marriage to his mother and the new king’s inconsiderate behaviour.
- When he pretends to be mad, Hamlet speaks in prose, like the commoners, and often jokes. Likewise, when Ofelia goes mad, she also speaks in prose and makes little sense.