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Key Facts

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The tragic drama of "Hamlet" was written by William Shakespeare in England in the period from 1599 to 1601. The author of the play was born in 1564. He was not a highly educated person. After he graduated from grammar school, he went to London. There he became an actor and playwright. His talent has conquered many people’s hearts. Later, Shakespeare became a part-owner of a theatre in London called the Globe Theater. Three years after his retirement, William Shakespeare died. It happened in 1616. During the years of his life and work, he left a rich heritage in the history of English drama. One of his masterpieces is the play "Hamlet", which has come through generations and is still causing a flurry of emotions, controversy, criticism, and of course admiration.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark describes the events that occurred in the late middle ages in Denmark. The subject of discussion is the climax of Hamlet and his vow to take revenge on Claudius. The antagonist character in this case is acted by Claudius. "Hamlet" can be called a revenge tragedy, because the search of the main character to revenge leads to tragedy every time. Such kind of tragedy we find in ancient Rome, in the works of a writer named Seneca. The play "Hamlet" is based on a story of revenge that has happened in Denmark in the 1100s. The plot brings us to the intention of the protagonist, Hamlet, to revenge on his uncle because of the fact that he killed his father and then married his mother. From time to time Hamlet is overcome by doubts, panic, uncertainty and fear. Sometimes it seems that he is about to go mad.

Hamlet can be considered to be a carrier of ideology of the Reformation. Just at that time the authority of the Catholic Church conceded to Protestants. The Protestant understanding finds its reflection in the character of the prince. The constant interweaving of his intentions with the teaching of religion adds uncertainty to him. After all, a murderer, if you kill him, too, may be in paradise, but not in hell; and suicide is a sin. The difficulties of Hamlet amplify even more when he is overwhelmed by constant excitement and confusion between reality and fiction.

Summary

In the royal castle Elsinore a ghost appears. It is very similar to the recently deceased king. The royal guardsmen named Marcellus and Bernard are very scared. They call Horatio, Hamlet's friend, to come and see the ghost. Horatio realizes that he has to tell everything to the prince. And he does. When Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, he finds out the secret of his death. It happened the way that the King’s brother, Cornelius, had poisoned him in the garden. Moreover, the killer, i.e. the present King, took the widow Gertrude as a wife. Hamlet does not understand how she could do that way after such a short time after the death of her husband. The ghost reveals his desire to Hamlet and asks him to revenge on the murder. 

Hamlet takes a firm decision to avenge his father and his behavior drastically changes. Many of the inhabitants of the castle believe that Hamlet is behaving madly because of love for Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, one of the close men of King. The King becomes suspicious and asks Hamlet’s friends to find out the mystery of such a crazy behavior of young Prince.  They do not succeed. Although Hamlet is actually experiencing a great feeling to Ophelia, he is forced to deceive even her do not make others explore his real intentions.

Wandering actors come in the city. The King and the Queen are told that the Prince invites them to watch the performance. Hamlet himself agrees with the actors that he will voice his own dialogue in one of the scenes. During the play Hamlet reads the part as a brother of the King poisons the monarch and marries his wife. Claudius cannot stand it and stops the play. Hamlet realizes the King is guilty.  His fault is proved. Now the intention of the Prince to kill the King becomes stronger. Suddenly, by mistake, he kills Polonius. The King is in sorrow. He sends Hamlet and his friends to London and orders to kill the Prince during the trip. But it does not come true. On the way Hamlet meets Norwegian soldiers who go to fight with Poland for a tiny piece of land. Hamlet is deeply overwhelmed by thoughts how miserable people are that they worry about such trifles. He realizes his inability to put an end to what he so deeply believes in. Hamlet returns to the castle. The King arranges the battle between the Prince and Laertes, the son of Polonius. Laertes is full of sorrow because of the death of his father and sister. Ophelia got mad affected by what had happened to her father and Hamlet. To make sure that Hamlet is dead Claudius orders to grease the end of the sword of Laertes with poison and fill the cup for the winner with poisoned wine. During the funeral of Ophelia, the Prince cannot stand the hypocrisy of Laertes and starts attacking him. But the King separates them, pointing out that it is not the right time yet. In the final battle, Laertes wounds Hamlet, they exchange swords and Hamlet wounds Laertes. Gertrude drinks poisoned wine and dies. Hamlet wounds Claudius with the poisoned end of sword. Horatio wants to kill himself but Hamlet persuades him not to do it. Fortinbras gives the order to offstage Hamlet with the honors.

Themes

Different critics identify various themes of the play. According to Litchart (2009) the main themes of “Hamlet” are: Action and Inaction; Appearance vs. Reality; Women; Religion, Honor, and Revenge; Poison, Corruption, Death.

Action and Inaction. The protagonist of the play is constantly faced with indecision. His intention to avenge the death of his father is more spinning in his head than shown in fact. Because of some visible and invisible reasons he delays it. His indecision always leads to confusion in his mind, and as a result to the tragedy. The conclusion is that both action and inaction lead to death.

Appearance vs. Reality. Litchart (2009) researches what is real for Hamlet in his obsession. They are three main points:  1) he becomes so caught up in the search for reality that he ceases to be able to act; 2) in order to prove what’s real and what isn’t Hamlet himself must hide his “reality” behind an “appearance” of madness; 3) the more closely Hamlet looks, the less real and coherent everything seems to be. The characters of the play are constantly pretending to figure out the information they need from other ones or do not show their true attitude. One of the most complex characters in this plan is Hamlet. He represents the crucial point of the drama which is the difference between reality (“is”) and appearance (seem”). It becomes clear from Hamlet’s respond “Seems, madam? Nay, it is, I know not ‘seems.’” (Shakespeare).

Women. The theme of women in the play appears in two main forms. The first one is a social position of women at that time. The second one is Hamlet’s personal attitude to a woman.  In regard to social position it is clear that a woman absolutely depends on a man. In this case she is not vested with any authority. In this way Ophelia demonstrates her inability to act, waiting for the arrival of Laertes. Likewise, her mother, Gertrude, for fear of losing her position, gets married to the King shortly after her husband’s death. Hamlet's personal attitude towards women is ambiguous. He is able to experience deep feelings of love (toward Ophelia). But on the other hand the act of his mother denies respect for women and forces him to consider them hypocrites which all want to benefit.

Religion, Honor, and Revenge. People in a society have always to behave in a certain way, following or violating its rules. Similarly, the play shows the culture and rules of society at that time. An example for it can be the piece of advice of Polonius to his son to go to study to Paris. Critics rise an important topic of honor and revenge. If someone’s honor is offended then revenge comes. An example is the wish of Hamlet's father to take revenge on his murder, Claudius. But a topic of religion suddenly appears as a contrast to revenge. This uncertainty permeates the whole plot of the drama.

Poison, Corruption, Death. In the Middle Ages it was often assumed that the welfare of a state depended on the prosperity of a king. The residents of Denmark had the same position. When we first find out about the poisoning of the previous monarch, we delve into corruption in the state that prevailed at the time. Many things seem to be deceptive. For example, women with make-up, which try so hard to hide their age. Deception fills the royal palace. The death seems to be the only truth among everything and everyone. Everything else in life is hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal. This is also Hamlet’s opinion and he devotes much time to think of all it.

Structure

Like most works of Shakespeare “Hamlet” has a structure of a play. According to Anderson (2010) the first movement “sets the action in motion in three main rhythms: 1) the Ghost and the revelation of Claudius’ villainy; 2) the Court, the main characters and their interaction; 3) the family of Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia”. The second one is a growing attack of Hamlet upon Claudius and Claudius, the King, spying on the prince. Its structure is: “1) the breakdown of the Hamlet-Ophelia love story; 2) the “hustle and bustle” when the travelling players arrive; 3) the differences between Hamlet’s friends: Horatio vs. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; 4) many other secondary rhythms”. The third movement is the last. It demonstrates the eight days of the drama with brief intervals.

Literary devices

The works of William Shakespeare are rich in the use of various literary devices. His tragic drama “Hamlet” is no exception to this rule. Here are some of them.

Antithesis. Truth and false, life and death, ability or inability and other contrary ideas demonstrate it. "To be, or not to be, that is the question:" (Shakespeare).

Allusion. It is a reference to something what is the reader already familiar with. It can be a person, an event, etc. The author in “Hamlet” uses a mythological reference here “"The fair Ophelia.--Nymph, in thy orisons/Be all my sins remembered." (Shakespeare).

Alliteration. "With a bare bodkin?" (Shakespeare). The writer uses "b" sound as a repetition.

Metaphor. It is also widely used in several parts of the play. One of the examples is “More matter with less art” (Shakespeare).

Pun. One of the example of this literary device is here: “Not so, my lord, I am too much in the sun” (Shakespeare).

The list of literary devices used in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is much bigger than represented here. There is no wonder that this work of the writer is equated to a masterpiece of world drama classics. But at the same time, some critics have expressed their doubts that a person with such an education like only a grammar school could not write such an attractive piece. There are many opinions, who might be its author. The most common suggestions for the role of the writer of “Hamlet” belong to Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. But despite all the doubts our contemporaries still consider William Shakespeare one of the most influential English writers.

Conclusions

The author's attitude to the protagonist of his play is expressed by the fact that Hamlet himself laments the state of his soul, as well as his inaction. He reveals all the secrets and all the hype, he rips the mask from hypocrites and liars. Hamlet does not believe in coincidence. Being guided by religion, he is convinced that there is a higher will. Numerous monologues full of Hamlet's emotions make the reader think about the eternal questions and do not leave any place for the greatest deception that can be. It is that you should not lie to yourself. Eternal values are involved in the drama. For this reason it will always be of current interest. Eternal questions sooner or later make each person think of. Several of them which are topical in “Hamlet” and find their reflection in everyone’s life are following. How to deal with evil and is it in fact impossible to overcome it? What is the sense of life, if it is full of evil and injustice? How can we distinguish the truth from deception? Why do close people betray you?

The play casts light upon themes of love, marriage, relationships between parents and children, friendship, war, disorder in the country, etc. Next to them are psychological and philosophical issues that overwhelm Hamlet’s thoughts. He is constantly searching for sense and purpose of human life, the spiritual strength and weakness, mortality and immortality, crime and the right to revenge. The writer has created an image of a character who is a thinker. In this way he encourages the reader to think and not be indifferent to what is so important.

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